By Memorial Day Weekend the ocean fishing was smoking. The water temperatures had recovered from being a few degrees below normal, at the beginning of the month, to being a few degrees above normal, at the end.
The first thought is that the warmer waters have run some of the cooler water fish off a bit early, but I am afraid that the January freeze really hurt the speckled trout populations in the central and northern NC Coast. The spring run of sea mullet and gray trout have not been up to expectations either. Hopefully both will be better in the fall.
One thing that has been the best in many years is the cobia fishing. There have already been several dozen cobia, over 50 pounds, caught in the Morehead City area. An 82 pounder came from the Bogue Inlet Pier, while several 70 pounders, a few 60 pounders, and numerous 50 pounders came from the waters just inside and outside of Beaufort and Bardens Inlets. The attached photos are of Joe Davenport and Quinn Morris, with Joe's 75 pounder and Matt Williams, with his 67 pounder. On the weekend that Davenport and Morris caught this cobia, they also had a 51 pounder, a 62 pounder, and several smaller fish.
In the southern part of the state they are catching speckled trout, red drum, and flounder. This becomes mostly small red drum and flounder through the Carolina Beach to New River area. From Swansboro to Morehead, there are some short speckled trout and growing flounder catches. The speckled trout are picking back up on the northern side of Pamlico Sound around Rose bay and Swanquarter. Then across the sound, behind Ocracoke and Hatteras, there are some good catches of gray trout. The cobia are thick in the Morehead City area and are picking up at Ocracoke and Hatteras.
Surf and Pier
Spanish mackerel and bluefish are still pretty easy pickings for pluggers off the ocean piers. Many of the piers are not repaired yet, but work is progressing and they will be back soon. A scattering of kings and cobia are finding the live baits off the pier ends, with the best reports coming from Topsail. Hogfish are the top bottom feeder and are filling coolers on a daily basis.
Bluefish, some scattered sea mullet (whiting, Virginia mullet) and gray trout, and a few flounder are making up the majority of the catch from the surf. At Cape Hatteras and northward, the water is still cool enough to see a few more red drum. The surf temperature is above 75 in Long Bay, 74 in Onslow Bay, and 71 in Raleigh Bay. The warm summer water is upon us.
While spanish mackerel are the greatest part of the nearshore catch, some kings and cobia are moving into the area. The warmer water has brought some early visitors to the shallower depths too. This past weekend, a sailfish was caught just out of sight of land off Southport and a lot of fishermen reported catching dolphin in 60 to 70 feet of water. These fish do not usually move in this close until at least the end of June. While the dolphin were all less than 10 pounds, the kings ranged from not quite legal to up into the 40 pound range. If the water stays clear and the weather stays warm, there is no telling what might be caught in these waters. Cobia are off the mouth of the Cape Fear River and in the general area of Cape Lookout to the Western Slough Buoy.
The yellowfin tuna bite is slowing some below Cape Hatteras, but the gaffer dolphin have moved in to replace them. Right now there is an abundance of dolphin over 25 pounds. This past weekend was a very hot billfish bite off Hatteras. There were well over a dozen caught and released both days. A nasty weather cell moved in late Sunday but the fishing should be back to good as soon as the wind and swells subside. There are daily reports of wahoo, but the really large ones are few and far between.
Pictures of the Week