Welcome to summer! Before you run check your calendars to see if you overslept for a couple of months, just take a deep breath and relax. It's still May and the calendar shows summer beginning on July 21, but those of us who live at the coast know summer, at least the summer beach season, actually begins on Memorial Day Weekend and runs until Labor Day.
This year the early forecast is for an exceptional Memorial Day Weekend. We have been fighting windy weekends, with severely volatile weather piled onto the mix, but that isn't in the forecast for this weekend. Along the Crystal Coast we are looking at an early weekend forecast that is near perfect. The temperatures will be a few degrees shy of normal, with some northerly breezes, but not enough to notice except that it should keep the atmosphere calm and limit, maybe even prevent, thunderstorm formation.
That sounds great to me. We've had some really nasty storms, complete with nickel --size hail, earlier this week and the opportunity to relax and not worry about them is very welcome.
The wind forecasts look pretty good too. Friday through Sunday should be slightly cooler northern breezes and 15 knots is the highest wind velocity mentioned. Monday, depending on exactly where you are, the wind should swing back somewhere between east and south and be a little warmer. The forecast for the extra day of the weekend has the wind between 5 and 10 knots, so you might want to plan to take advantage of it before returning to work.
Bogue Inlet Pier is reporting water temperatures of 70 degrees and slightly higher, so the water is warm enough for most fish. There was a report this eased to 72 degrees just a few miles off the beaches and rose into the mid-70's in the inshore creeks and marshes around low tide.
With this weather forecast, I want to talk about the offshore fishing first. It has been bumpy offshore, but the larger boats have been going and returning with fish boxes loaded well with dolphin, a few wahoo, some scattered tuna, and king mackerel.
I was invited on an offshore trip last Saturday that I had to miss and my not being there brought them good luck. At about 1:30 the day was fading fast and then the water exploded with tuna. In the midst of trying to quickly load the fish box with the feeding tuna, a blue marlin slammed one of the baits and began grayhounding away. George Butts, who had taken my slot on the trip, was next in the chair and took about an hour to subdue the big blue, which was estimated at 500 pounds. All I got from the trip was a few pictures and told, "You should have been here."
Those who stopped to bottom fish were rewarded handsomely also. I had one captain tell me his Wednesday's catch included the largest average of black sea bass he had ever seen. He said all they kept were three pounds or heavier and several surpassed four pounds. He said they also had a limit of grouper and some beeliners.
I'm hearing of mixed catches in the 14 buoy to 90 Foot Drop area. Fishermen are reporting lots of king mackerel, plus some early smaller dolphin. The kings seem to be spread at roughly this depth all along the state. They are being reported off Southport at the Horseshoe, Carolina and Wrightsville Beaches at 23 Mile Rock, Sneads Ferry and Topsail at Christmas Rock and Jesse's Ledge, Swansboro at Jerry's Reef and off Hatteras on the wrecks and Bad Bottom areas inshore of Diamond Shoals Tower.
One of the local king hotspots has been around Big 10 and Little 10 Rocks. This is only about 20 miles from the inlet and the kings have been really gnawing. I haven't heard of any larger fish, but limits have been filled regularly. They haven't been picky about baits either. Live baits, frozen cigar minnows or sardines and a selection of lures have all been producing well.
While I'm talking about mackerel, the numbers of Spanish mackerel have been growing steadily. They are being caught from just outside the surf to several miles offshore. They like trolled Clarkspoons and cast Got-Cha jigs. Clarkspoon has also just released a Clark Caster. This is a small weight with a spinner, designed to allow casters to use Clarkspoons. The initial order was being delivered a couple of weeks ago, so your favorite tackle shop should have them in stock and ready to go catch fish.
Most of the kings being caught are well above the 24 inch minimum length, but some are not and these smaller kings look a lot like Spanish mackerel. Because this is Memorial Day Weekend I'm going to repeat this one more time. Both Spanish mackerel and small king mackerel have gold spots on their sides. The lateral line on a king dips much more sharply as it passes the rear dorsal fin, but with smaller fish it is not always a good way to differentiate between the two.
The one difference that won't be confused is Spanish have a black coloration on the leading edge of their forward dorsal fin. This spot is approximately the size of your thumb and kings don't have it. A king's dorsal fin is totally gray.
The pier fishermen are enjoying a mixed catch. Bluefish are probably the main fish in the pier catch, but it also includes Spanish mackerel, sea mullet, black drum, red drum, gray trout, speckled trout, a few pompano and flounder and some small sharks. Some kings and a cobia have been caught off Ocean Crest Pier on Oak Island and it's time for this action to spread up the coast.
There are still reports of sea mullet and gray trout being caught in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the edges of the channel out to Bogue Inlet. Good reports of sea mullet are also coming from the hook at Cape Lookout.
There are a variety of methods to catch these fish and I prefer drifting and jigging speck rigs and jig fish jigs. I make my own speck rigs using 1/8 ounce bucktail jigs from Sea Striker. The jig fish jigs are also from Sea Striker. They are metal jigs, similar to others made for this type of fishing, but with a variety of colors and bright paint schemes. I believe they catch fish as well or better than their competition, but they are pretty enough they catch fishermen better.
Because there are some undersize trout that must be released, I switch the treble hooks on my jig fish to single j-hooks. I may miss a few strikes, but I release those undersize fish much quicker and easier and give them a far better chance of surviving the encounter.
There are still some speckled trout holding in the haystacks, North River Thorofare and creeks off the ICW. As the water continues to warm, they are showing a preference for slightly deeper and cooler water. The specks like to hold just out of the current and see what it brings by. Look for them behind oyster rocks, around points, in holes in the bottom or bank and other places they can hide.
The schools of red drum are breaking up and pups are scattered through almost all of the area marshes and creeks. They aren't everywhere, as they prefer certain features, but around oyster rocks that are near smaller marsh creeks with deeper water close by is about as good a location as you could hope to find. The Haystacks, Newport River and North River are favorites of boat fishermen, while the many small creeks behind Bear Island are becoming very popular with kayak fishermen. Give an area like this several tide changes to let the fish show you exactly where they are and what they prefer for baits.
While it's still a little early, the flounder bite is good enough to mention. Different fishermen are giving different reports, but there are enough flounder being caught to be noteworthy. One common denominator is they seem to be holding around structure that is more pronounced. Several nice catches have already been reported from the nearshore artificial reefs.
Flounder also have some new restrictions this year. The possession limit remains at 8, but the coastal size limit north of Browns Inlet at Camp Lejeune is 15-1/2 inches and south is 14 inches. There are also some areas in western Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds where the size limit also reduces to 14 inches. A listing of these areas, with a map, is on the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
Cobia are beginning to show along the N.C. coast. Several have been landed from behind Shackleford Banks, near Harkers Island, in the hook at Cape Lookout and west of the Atlantic Beach Bridge in the ICW. Cobia like a big chunk of bait that will last a while with bait thieves and crabs gnawing on it. The largest cobia reported to date this year is a 67 pounder caught at Ocracoke. With the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend, we should see some big ones by next week's report.
A pair of bills to ease the restrictions on trailering boats are working their way through the short legislative session in Raleigh. All either bill offers is increasing the maximum width and relaxing Sunday, nighttime and holiday restrictions. The House bill (H 2150) is less restrictive, but isn't set to begin until July 1, while the Senate bill (S 1589) is not as liberal with towing sizes, times and permits, but is worded to begin as soon as it is passed and signed. Progress on both can be view on the N.C. legislative website at www.ncleg.net. You can also find the contact information for your representative and senator and let them know how you feel.
The Hatteras Village Offshore Open is the first of the N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series tournaments and it was held last weekend in Hatteras. Brothers Pride recorded the largest billfish with a 454.5 pound catch and Rameseas topped the points category with 3 blue marlin releases for 1200 points.
The Swansboro Rotary Club Memorial Day Weekend Bluewater and King Mackerel Tournaments will be held this weekend. These are actually two different tournaments, but held jointly. The Bluewater Tournament is the second 2008 event of the N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series and the King Mackerel Tournament is the first 2008 Southern Kingfish Association Division Two (N.C.) tournament. More information about both tournaments is available by visiting www.swansbororotary.com.