As long as I can remember, we were always told the Atlantic Hurricane Season begins on June 1. Last Saturday, we found out Mother Nature doesnít pay any attention to the calendar as the National Weather Service announced Tropical Storm Alberto had formed about 120 miles south of Myrtle Beach. That was wrong on two fronts. It was too early and too close.
Even though it passed well offshore, I couldnít help but watch it. Iíve been through more than a dozen hurricanes and a handful of tropical storms, but still I respect them. They seem to have a mind all their own and occasionally do things the weathermen donít see as possible. Tropical Storm Alberto did play nice and passed far enough offshore it wasnít much of a weather factor near the beaches.
Unfortunately, there is another disturbed area down in the southern Atlantic pushing a swell our way again. As recently as Thursday morning it wasnít supposed to develop, but Thursday evening the probability of development began increasing and now it is expected to become a tropical storm over the weekend. This will be the second storm that doesnít know how to read a calendar.
The wind forecast for the weekend is all over the place and changes with every update. Everything depends on how fast this system forms and moves. It has caught a lot of people by surprise. They have planned a long weekend at the beach and many were planning on heading offshore after some gaffer dolphin. The forecast is too uncertain to make a prediction on that and now the beach weather forecast has changed from bright and sunny to a good chance of rain. Come on Mother Nature, this is Memorial Day Weekend and we are supposed to have nice weather.
While Easter was the "official" opening of beach season, Memorial Day is the "official" beginning of summer, even though the calendar says it is still more than three weeks away. The crowds at the beaches, boat ramps and on the water will be large, so allow enough time a delay isnít critical. Safety is of prime importance and a little good old-fashioned courtesy goes a long way too.
The wind has been breezy off and on from the middle of last week but folks have been enduring it as the fish have been biting. It definitely is easier to head offshore and fish in rough conditions when reels are singing and fish are being added to the fish box.
The action from the piers has picked up in the past few days. The big bluefish made runs at several piers. Still, the only kings have been landed at the southern coast piers, but conditions are good and the king bite could turn on any day. Pier fishermen are catching a mixture of flounder, pompano, sea mullet, small bluefish, blowfish, black drum and more.
Small boaters didnít venture too far last weekend, but worked nearshore to catch lots of Spanish macks around the inlets and nearshore artificial reefs. Flounder fishing in the ocean has been surprisingly good for so early. Jigging bucktails with gulp shrimp has been the hot ticket for flatfish on nearshore hardbottom areas and artificial reefs. The biggest complaint from the flounder fishermen has been the black sea bass eating everything that went down. Next Friday, June 1, black sea bass season opens and some of those pesky black sea bass can be invited home for dinner.
Ocean bottom fish continue to bite well any day the ocean conditions allow going after them. Just like for the nearshore flounder fishermen, black sea bass are a nuisance trying to eat every bait sent down. By working through them and showing a little patience, you should be able to catch limits of beeliners, grouper, grunts, porgies and more. The rocks and wrecks from 80 to 120 feet deep have had the best variety of catches.
Offshore trollers have been catching good numbers of gaffer dolphin. The wind from Tropical Storm Alberto broke up the weed lines that had formed, so the grass has been spotty. We were hoping the grass lines would reform soon, but it looks like this next storm will keep them chopped up for another week or so. In the meantime, fish any current or temperature edge you find. The gaffers may be anywhere from about 120 feet on out and a few early slingers have been reported as close 80 to 90 feet.
Blackfin tuna fishing spiked a little this week. I find that going to smaller lures, much like inshore for Spanish macks when the water gets hot, sometimes gets the blackfin to bite in warmer water. Blackfin taste excellent and you really should bleed them immediately and chunk them in ice so you can break out the wasabi and soy sauce on the way in. Just donít clean one to the point it isnít easily identifiable. That is against the law.
Those tales of encounters of the billfish kind continue to grow. There was a pretty good billfish bite off Cape Hatteras last weekend for the Hatteras Village Offshore Open and expectations are it will be good this weekend for the Swansboro Rotary Blue Water Tournament.
Iíve lightly mentioned this for a couple of weeks, but it is time for some emphasis. The offshore water has warmed to the point some offshore pelagics, primarily dolphin and sailfish, are breaking away from the Gulf Stream and following baitfish closer to shore. During the heat of the summer, they often move to within 10-15 miles of the beach and occasionally get even closer. Wahoo also move inshore occasionally, but with them, this typically happens more during the late summer into the fall. The spring has been so warm these fish are moving inshore already, so donít bee too surprised if you have one pop up in your baits.
The water has warmed enough king mackerel are spreading almost everywhere. North Carolina is fortunate to have two migratory groups of kings. One winters offshore and then moves inshore as baitfish arrive and the water warms, while the others are nearshore coastal migrators and winter off Florida, then head back up the coast as the water warms in the spring. Schools of both of these fish are here right now and kings are being caught from the piers at the southern end of the state out to the edge of the Continental Shelf.
Kings have been caught from the piers at Wrightsville and to the south and it is only a matter of time before that bite spreads up the coast. The conditions are right! Hey you Atlantic Beach fishermen, the repairs on Oceanana Pier are almost completed. Meanwhile, a few kings are being caught around the rocks and wrecks in 60 to 80 feet of water. They have bitten for several weeks at Yaupon Reef, which is only 1.5 miles off Oak Island and in less than 40 feet of water. The kings are definitely working their way closer in farther up the coast too. If the weather permits, there should be kings caught all along the Carolina Coast over Memorial Day Weekend.
The number and size of Spanish mackerel continue to increase. Fishermen shouldnít have much difficulty catching a mess for supper and many limits (15 fish with a 12 inch minimum size) are being caught. A lot of the early Spanish were under or just at the minimum size, but there are more 15 inch and longer fish now. There are also enough three to five pounders and the occasional citation size (six pounds) Spanish to think your next one could be a big one.
Trolling 00 and 0 size Clarkspoons and Drone Spoons is a very popular way to catch Spanish from boats. Fishermen from the piers catch them well casting Got-Cha plugs and retrieving very quickly. Spanish also like live baits. One way to target the larger ones is to fish peanut size pogies, much like you would fish for large flounder, suspended just under the surface with a float or balloon. This is especially fun to do with lighter tackle, but occasionally a king or cobia decides to eat that smaller bait and the smaller tackle wonít always handle them.
There were a few cobia caught this week, but the fishing is still a little spotty. Maybe that will change this weekend with all the fishermen on the water. Cobia are big fish that may hit something as small as a flounder bait or a pogy or bluefish being fished for a king. They will feed anywhere from right off the bottom to the surface.
Cobia have a dorsal fin and often come to the surface and circle a boat before allowing themselves to be reeled in. Do not make the mistake of incorrectly identifying them as a shark and cutting one off. Always play a fish close enough to positively identify it before cutting or intentionally breaking the line. Breaking off a cobia means missing a lot of good eating.
Flounder continue to bite. Capt. Jeff Cronk reports the two to four pounders are thick at the nearshore hardbottom out of Bogue Inlet, Capt. Matt Lamb said his customers are catching them at AR 315 and Capt. Jimmy Price said they are biting at AR 425. They are biting in inside waters too. Many fishermen like to fish live baits in the inside waters, but vertically jigging bucktails with Gulp shrimp and pogys has been the best producer in the ocean.
The warming water has slowed the trout bite, but they can still be tempted by live baits. Live shrimp are best, but everything in salt water eats shrimp and they may not last long around a bunch of bait thieves. Mud minnows and mullet minnows work fairly well, but I really like three to four inch long spots, croakers and peanut pogies suspended about a foot off the bottom under popping or rattling floats. Trout are also hitting soft plastics, especially the scented bio baits, and suspending MirrOlures, Rapalas and Bombers.
Puppy drum have spread through the creeks and marshes. There still are a few larger schools in some of the marshes, but many schools have broken up and spread out. Pups will pounce on any of the live baits mentioned for trout, but they are aggressive right now and are also hitting lures well. Right now pups are feeding heavily and are charging after topwater lures. I hate to handle them with treble hooks, but the chase and strike is so exciting I deal with it.
The mouth of a drum is at the bottom of its head. This is great for grubbing along the bottom, but makes it difficult to grab a bait on the surface. They have to roll to at least on their side to make the strike and if you are paying attention you can see them coming. There is a push of water moving up behind the lure and then the fish rolls and strikes.
Many fishermen get so excited they try to set the hook before the fish has actually gotten the bait and miss. It is sometimes difficult to do, but you must wait until you feel the fish before setting the hook. Sometimes the fish just misses on its own and that makes them mad and they chase it even harder. This is fun fishing and you really should try it. I like the MirrOlure Top Dog Junior in the 808 color and tie it on with a loop so it has the most action.
Drum tend to hang out in places where baitfish and shrimp must move out of the marsh grass on a falling tide. Mouths of smaller creeks are some of the more obvious places to try, but there may be a fish or two at any little trickle than runs from the grass into the creek. Shallow isnít an issue either. They will sometimes go in water where their dorsal fin and part of their back sticks out of the water. Most will be in water two to four feet deep.
Surf fishing hasnít been on fire, but fishermen are finding a few fish. Some of them are big blues and overslot red drum. One of the things to try in the surf is finding a place with soft sand and digging some sand fleas (mole crabs) and using them for bait. This is a hot tip for pompano, but drum, bluefish, whiting and more will eat them too. Once you find the soft sand holding the sand fleas, stay there and fish. The fish will find these spots because they know dinner is there.
If you arenít aware of the Military Appreciation Day (MAD) organization, you should be. This group hosts fishing trips for active duty military personnel each year. They do a spring event in Morehead City and a fall event in Southport. This is the seventh year and MAD 7 Morehead City will be on Saturday, June 2.
Currently there are more servicemen who would like to go fishing than they have boats to take them. This does not require a captainís license, but is for fishermen who would just like to show their appreciation by taking servicemen and women fishing. They also need volunteers to assist on land with getting things organized and having lunch ready when the fishermen return. If anyone is interested, please visit the MAD website at www.militaryappreciationday.org and apply through the forms or contact information there.
There is only one tournament on tap for Memorial Day Weekend, but it is a good one. The Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water Fishing Tournament was will be held this weekend with tournament headquarters in Swansboro and weigh stations in Swansboro and Morehead City. The tournament was originally scheduled to fish Saturday and Sunday, but with the less than desirable offshore forecast, the tournament format has been changed to a captainís choice event with Monday added as a fishing day and each boat may fish two of the three days. This is the second event in the 2012 N.C. Governorís Cup Billfish Series. For more information visit www.swansbororotary.com.
This is a couple of weeks off, but it is a unique tournament and I want to be sure the ladies know about it. The Ladies Pier King Tournament will be held at Ocean Crest Pier on Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10. This event is for ladies only and has a limited number of spots. About half of them are already filled, but there are openings. For more information call Ocean Crest Pier at 910-278-6674.
This is Memorial Day Weekend. As you celebrate it and enjoy time with your families, also take time to remember the American veterans who fought and died for our rights and freedoms. Say a little prayer for those who love and loved their country enough to lay their lives on the line to protect our American way of life. Thank you veterans.