NC Pamlico Slam
by Capt. Gary Dubiel

The mechanical voice of NOAA came across the air ways, “Winds east northeast twenty to twenty five knots for tomorrow.” I dialed the phone to break the bad news to a couple of anglers who had been waiting for six months to tangle with a little tunny at Cape Lookout.

“I know you all came to fish Harkers for albacore,” I said, “but its going to be blowing pretty hard tomorrow. We could give it a try, but if there’s more east than north in the wind it could get tough down there. Most of the fish have been off the beach and I’m not sure if we’ll do much in the Hook. Would you consider trying to catch the Pamlico Slam?” “What’s a Pamlico Slam and how will we fish for them?” my client responded.

Anglers from across the globe come to the tiny island know as Harkers every fall in quest of false albacore. It is a heart pounding, run and gun fishery that will make the most seasoned fisherman weak in the knees with anticipation. But when the weather and the wind don’t cooperate, many of these anglers spend there off days wondering through Beaufort and Morehead City.

An alternative does exist, however. It’s just a short distance up the road or the waterway and in its own right is as world class as the albacore fishing at Harkers. The Neuse River and its tributaries and the Intracoastal Waterway that connects the Neuse to Beaufort offers these anglers hundreds of miles of shoreline to pursue redfish, spotted seatrout and flounder, aka “The Pamlico Slam”.

The Neuse River and its tributaries remain largely undeveloped and its shorelines are protected by pine and hardwood woodlands. With numerous area creeks that are large enough to be called rivers elsewhere, anglers have ample space to fish. There are also many public and private boat ramps giving boaters protected access to much of the area.

In a place with so much to offer, anglers might anticipate large crowds and few fish. This is certainly not the case here. Healthy fish populations and little competition are the rule, as my clients found out that day. They had opted to fish for the slam and we had a very successful trip. In return visits, they have chosen to spend their day stalking the back waters near Oriental, catching the Pamlico slam.

Learning the water:

The Neuse River is the widest river in North America. It is five miles wide at Oriental and nearly eight miles at the point in which it empties into the Pamlico Sound. From that point to New Bern, the River is over twenty miles long and it is home to the three species that make up the Pamlico slam. In addition to the main river, countless larger tributaries join the Neuse on both its northern and southern shorelines. One of these branches is Adams Creek. It is part of the Intacoastal waterway and connects the Neuse to Beaufort Inlet through the Newport River. This is also an area where puppy drum, specks and flounder are readily taken and it is easily reached by boat from the Harkers area.

The tides that influence Harkers, Beaufort and the Newport River dwindle to one inch of fluctuation in Adams Creek and there is no lunar rise and fall of tide in the Neuse. However, wind can elevate or drop water levels depending on its direction and speed. East winds will push water into the river, raising water levels, while west winds will do the opposite. Strong winds from the east, as we experienced that day, can create a whole different outlook on the day fishing. It was the equivalent of fishing the flood tide all day.

The water in the Neuse can be off-colored; often it has a green or brown hue. The bottoms of the creeks, in particular, are dark and locating fish by sight is often out of the question. Look for shorelines that are irregular with many small points and perhaps a large one. Position your boat in water that is 3 to 4 feet deep and about 60 to 100 feet away from the bank then begin blind casting towards the shore. An electric motor can be very helpful in covering enough water to locate a school of fish. Many times a combination of a point, flat or oyster bed will hold more game fish. Remember that with out tide or local knowledge, anglers will have to stumble on the oyster beds. Generally, you will catch fish or snag an oyster. Once you catch a speck, flounder or red, do not rush off to the next area. Many times the other species will be close by.

Closer to Harkers, the water can become very clear and with sandy bottoms, sight fishing is more plausible. Many saltwater anglers from the Southeast would feel very comfortable fishing theses waters; however, much of the protected shoreline that exists further inland does not exist here. There is also much less space to spread out and avoid other boaters.

Gearing up:

Assembling the proper tackle for a trip to the region will obviously improve your odds of success and even if you are an experienced back country fisherman, unique area conditions may dictate a few changes in tackle and lure selection.

The many fly fishermen who visit Harkers will want to bring along a little lighter gear. Six, seven and eight weight outfits are more suitable for the quarry on the inside. Fly line selection will be your most important variation from the norm. With fish located from the bank to the boat, anglers should attempt to cover as much water as they can. Floating fly lines work well in shallow water, but will not keep the fly in the strike zone when fishing water depths to four or five feet. Intermediate lines are the best solution for the situation. The water here may often look green or tannic brown, but often has little sediment in it. Therefore, clear lines fished over the backs of the Pamlico game fish will prove a bit more productive.

A number of fly patterns will work well in the region. Clouser deep minnows, Lefty’s deceivers and Dubiel’s finesse fly and lil’hadden are all prime choices. Fishing these selections with a slow irregular retrieve will elicit more strikes. All white, dark green and white, and olive and white are more productive color selections than the ever so popular, chartreuse and white.

Similarly to many other locations, medium-light to medium action spinning rods with reels holding 6 to 8 pound test are ideal for fishing here. However, many traditional “flats” style lures do not. With such an abundance of bait our fish seem to be lazy and they are generally not willing to run down top water or fast swimming plugs. Redfish are seldom tailing, and with a limited sight fishery and miles of shorelines with varying depths to cover, spoons too have their limitations. The best choice for all three species of fish is jig heads in 1/8 and ¼ ounce and soft body combos. They work well in all areas of cover and structure and will induce strikes from fish that are actively feeding or just cruising the shoreline. A variety of soft plastics work well. Jerk baits, twister tails or shads are all effective. Color choices and combinations of white, silver and green are all top notch choices. It is usually not necessary to tip the baits with shrimp or squid as this will often invite more pinfish and croakers than puppy drum, trout or flounder.

In an area with no tidal flow, wind can become an ally. Just as areas of tidal flow, the wind current here moves bait and attracts game fish. Locating and fishing a windy point can make for a long day of easy catching. Look for large partially exposed points and note the flow or current. Simply anchor your boat casting distance from the shoreline and starting fishing. With all the additional breeze, feeling bites with wind generated slack can make fishing soft plastics more difficult. The situation certainly is not fly rod friendly, either. It’s here that the bait fisherman has a big advantage. Several variations in presentation will all work but one of the most enjoyable, especially when fishing the family, is simply a cork, two split shots and a circle hook. With the abundance of live bait, cast netting finger mullet, menhaden or shrimp generally requires only a few tosses. Hook the bait, toss it towards the shoreline and let the bobber drift with the current. Another method that can be even more productive at times is fresh cut mullet, either rigged on a Carolina rig or a jig head. The scent of the fresh fish is better than ringing the dinner bell.

Places to find a specific species:

There are certain places where one or two of the Pamlico slam will tend to be more often than all three.

Large shallow sand flats will often have pieces of eroded shoreline. Look for old stumps and logs. These are great places to find feeding puppy drum. The redfish will often cruise right around the stumps, looking for food. When the water is clear, it is also a perfect location to sight cast to reds and it is an area very suited to fly rodders. Flounder are also found on these flats and it would not be unusual to catch a three to five pound flat fish here.

Specks will congregate on large points and will often school in large numbers there. Anglers working these places should be sure to fish the outside or non shoreline side of the boat as well. Trout can often be found in a little deeper water. Similarly, when catching specks toward the shore, anglers casting to the outside of the boat may find weakfish, bluefish or more specks.

Getting to the fishing:

The Neuse and the Newport Rivers can be accessed from Harkers Island, Beaufort, and Moorehead City via boat through the ICW. Access to the Neuse can also be done from a number of ramps near Oriental, Bayboro and New Bern. There are a number of places to stay throughout the region, but the Village of Oriental is the best location to access the many miles of protected shorelines of the Neuse. Because of the remoteness of the area, there are a limited number of tackle shops and guides who can assist you in your quest for the slam. It is always a good idea to plan early for you trip here; however, you may not want to wait to long to get in on this wonderful fishery and catch your Pamlico Slam.

Captain Gary Dubiel is an outdoor writer, IGFA world record holder and guide. He lives in Oriental, NC and runs Spec Fever Guide Service. He can be reached at or 252-249-1520.