I would like to welcome everyone to summer 2007. If you are one of those traditionalists that believe summer begins on June 21, as I learned many years ago in school, then this may sound wrong but I assure you it is correct. Summer is the beach season and it begins on Memorial Day Weekend and ends on Labor Day Weekend. If you would like to verify this, just check out the crowds and look over the pricing for coastal accommodations.
While we have seen a few larger than just local crowds, such as Easter and Spring Break, this weekend will be the first major crowd of the season. Some fortunate folks arrived earlier in the week, but the roads will cramp and the crowds will swell as we progress through today (Friday).
There have been some far-less-than-perfect weekends this year, such as the near freeze for Easter Weekend, but the weather forecast for this weekend is near perfect. As late as Thursday, the National Weather Service was predicting high temperatures in the high 70's and low 80's through Monday, with virtually no chance of rain. Even better, the winds are forecast at 5 to 10 knots along the center of the coast (this just happens to include Cape Lookout to Surf City), with a slight increase to 10 to 15 knots for the southern and northern coasts.
I was invited Monday to fish offshore with David Bradley, owner of the former Sportsman's Pier and Doug Leister of Fort Macon Boat Sales. We departed from Fort Macon Marina bright and early and worked our way through some pretty sloppy seas to the northeast corner of the Big Rock. The forecast was for the wind and swell to fall out during the day and thankfully it did. We caught a bunch of nice gaffer dolphin, a few smaller dolphin, a king mackerel and had a baker's dozen of pulled hooks and bite-offs. Thanks guys, I enjoyed it.
Gaffer dolphin are the mainstay of the offshore fishing right now. There are also a few tuna being caught and most fishermen collect at least one wahoo. The billfish bite is picking up and there are growing reports of seeing, hooking and landing them.
Speaking of billfish, there have been the usual expected billfish bites at the far offshore spots around the Big Rock and Swansboro Hole, but Capt. Mike Webb and his Monday charter on the Pelagic Too had a sailfish strike much closer to the beach. They had been grouper fishing near the 210/240 Rocks area and decided to troll for a few kings on the way in. The sail hit a cigar minnow on the longest line and thrilled them for several jumps and long runs before parting company with the small treble hook.
The offshore bottom fishing was good again this week. Gag and red grouper are the prized catches with a few red snapper, beeliners (vermilion snapper), black sea bass, pinkies (red porgy), porgies, triggerfish and an occasional tilefish also being caught.
King mackerel are moving closer to the beach almost daily and this week's warm weather should only help. The king reports have moved inshore to many places in 60 feet of water and less. The piers from Oak Island to Topsail have reported king catches, but there hasn't been one from Emerald Isle to the north yet. That "yet" is a big word and should be removed this weekend. The conditions are right.
Cobia have arrived along the entire state. The cobia reports include the piers and boats along the southern N.C. coast, but mostly boats from Bogue Inlet northward. Currently the larger cobia have been caught between Beaufort Inlet and Cape Lookout. One has been reported in the 90's, another in the 80's and a growing number of smaller fish.
The surf and pier report remains a mixed bag. Big bluefish have been the mainstay from the offshore ends of the piers, with king and cobia reports increasing. Smaller bluefish and Spanish mackerel are being caught by jiggers and a few more keeper flounders are showing also. The pier catch also includes some pompano and sea mullet.
In the surf it is big blues almost everywhere, with a scattering of large and puppy drum from Cape Lookout to Cape Hatteras. A few flounder, trout, black drum and sea mullet are biting just beyond the breakers.
In the sounds and creeks the red drum are biting well and the flounder bite is improving. The warming water has slowed the trout bite some, but the good trout fishermen continue to find them. Mud minnows, finger mullet and peanut pogies are excellent live baits for the flounder.
For trout and drum, put live shrimp at the head of the list and move mud minnows to the end. They are also hitting a variety of soft plastics and MirrOlures. The drum have been showing off on topwater baits and it is a treat to see one roll up and nail one of the topwater walking baits.
I've said this a few times now and, while the warming water may slow the bite at any time, it is still true this week. The closest thing to a sure thing right now is bluefish in the inlets. They are ranging from not quite a pound to more than 10 pounds.
I didn't hear of much for sea mullet and gray trout in the Morehead City Turning Basin this week. It appeared most of those boats were out at Beaufort Inlet catching bluefish. There were a few sea mullet and gray trout mixed with the bluefish. The gray trout bite is picking up in Wallace Channel at Portsmouth Island.
Congratulations to the tournament winners from last weekend. Backlash topped the Hatteras Village Offshore Open with a 613 pound blue marlin and the release of another smaller one. Mike Fields claimed the Aggregate and Flounder wins in the Fisherman's Post Spring Inshore Challenge and Brent Banks caught the largest trout. The Job Site topped the Far Out Shoot Out with a tuna, dolphin and wahoo aggregate that surpassed 100 pounds.
The tournaments this weekend include the Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water and King Mackerel Tournaments (252-723-0002 or www.swansbororotary.com). This is actually a king mackerel tournament and a billfish tournament that are run together. The other tournament is the Pirate's Cove Memorial Weekend Tournament (252-473-1015 or www.piratescovetournaments.com).