Other than it seeming like someone just twisted the thermostat to full hot, this weekend has the potential to be the best of the fishing year to date. You probably should invest in some high SPF sunscreen and buy a good hat if you are going to spend any time on the water, but you really should have already done that anyway.
I've just reviewed the marine forecast through Monday and Friday and Saturday the winds are forecast at 5-10 knot with seas of 2-3 feet. Sunday is almost as nice, with a 5-10 knot wind forecast throughout most of the day and then a chance of it breezing to 15 late. Monday looks really nice also, with just a 10-15 knot and 2-4 foot sea forecast.
The 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season began Sunday with a bit of a push as Tropical Storm Arthur had already made landfall in Belize. It was one of those times when you realize how small the world is and that you never really get away from these things. Even though the storm was 3,000 miles from here, I had friends whose skiff took on enough rainwater to sink while tied to their dock in Belize. Thankfully they did fine otherwise.
I've been on the road in N.C. and S.C. much of this week and have talked to a lot of excited fishermen. Some of them are headed into town for the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, but everyone has been asking about the billfish bite. The word has spread of the excellent catches at the Hatteras Village Open and the Swansboro Memorial Day tournaments and there is definitely an excited edge on people's voices when they ask.
I just tell them it should be a great week of fishing. The ladies will set the tone on Saturday and this is one of a (very) few good forecasts for them. After a day to recuperate on Sunday, the full tournament begins Monday morning. I'll go out on a limb and say I believe this might be the best Big Rock Tournament ever. It's the 50th anniversary, so it would be a fitting tribute!
One fisherman offered a theory on why the billfish bite had been so good this year and it made enough sense for me to repeat. He said the abundance of dolphin and shortage of tuna had brought the marlin to the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream to eat dolphin. I don't know what they call it, but a chunk of grilled mahi-mahi sounds pretty good to me too.
The fishing at the offshore end of Bogue Inlet Pier ratcheted up a notch this week also. While we were printing last Friday's paper, Brad Berryman, of Chester, Va., was busy catching the first king of the year at Bogue Inlet Pier. It was a nice one too! Berryman's big king weighed 32 pounds and 5 ounces.
A catch like that brings out more fishermen and more fishermen equates to more baits in the water, which equates to a higher possibility of attracting a strike. Lee Throckmorton, of Emerald Isle, took advantage of that Wednesday when he caught and released a tarpon estimated at 120 pounds. That's a big tarpon for any time, but especially so this early in the season.
Some nice Spanish mackerel have arrived too. There were lots of 3 and 4 pounders weighed at the Bogue Inlet Pierhouse this week, but Throckmorton landed a 5 pound, 2 ounce Spanish just a few minutes before withstanding his early tarpon attack. While a 5 pound Spanish is very nice, is there any doubt which one fought harder? Congratulations to Throckmorton and Berryman.
The dolphin bite continues to be red hot! The water is warming (Bogue Inlet Pier reported 75 degrees on Wednesday) and the dolphin are moving closer to the beaches. This places them in the range of more boats and usually equates to more being caught. There are also some really big bull dolphin in the mix right now. Could this be the year for a new state record?
A few tuna and wahoo are being caught along the Gulf Stream, but the hot dolphin and billfish bite is what is attracting fishermen to the area. Both are fun to catch and the dolphin is exceptional table fare and can be prepared a variety of ways. Dolphin have been caught around Big 10/Little 10, 14 Buoy and out to the 90 Foot Drop and should be moving closer to the beach almost daily.
King mackerel are also moving closer to the beaches. The one from Bogue Inlet Pier is the first there for the year, but there should be kings showing up at all their favorite summer haunts from 13 Buoy to the Trawler, plus a couple of big kings always seem to find their way into the ship channel near Beaufort Inlet.
Offshore bottom fishing continues to be good. There are good numbers of black sea bass, beeliners, porgys, grouper and grunts. This week there were also a few spots holding some red snapper. Know the regulations and how to measure these fish. There are some special size and number regulations and not knowing isn't an acceptable excuse.
Spanish mackerel fishing is about as good as it gets. They are being caught almost everywhere from the inlets to a couple of miles offshore. Trolling Clarkspoons along the beaches and around the artificial reefs is a good way to catch a limit. Most folks jigging from the piers prefer to tempt the Spaniards with Got-Cha plugs.
I mentioned the king and tarpon caught from Bogue Inlet Pier earlier and the pier fishermen are catching several more species. Usually the big chopper blues are gone by now, but not yet this year. Cobia are always a possibility as are Spanish mackerel, sea mullet, black drum, red drum, gray trout, speckled trout, pompano, flounder and sharks.
I was told much of the inside water has cleared up and the trout and red drum bite is taking off again. The marshes and creeks off the Newport River and the North River are favorite places for both. Generally the drum will be in shallower water, while the trout prefer it a little deeper. Capt. Dave Dietzler said he has been catching a lot of red drum in the surf along Shackleford Banks.
The flounder catches have people talking also. They are too big or small, and either too many or not enough. Our flounder have been over fished for several years, but seem to already be making a little comeback. There have been more caught so far this year than last, but will it hold for the entire year? Some of the better catches have come from the nearshore artificial reefs.
It's taken a little while to get going, but the cobia bite is starting to pick up. I wasn't able to get a lot of details, but several cobia, up to 90 pounds, have been caught between Beaufort inlet and Cape Lookout. Several have been caught in the channel that runs behind Shackleford Banks, several in the ocean just outside the hook at Cape Lookout and several more inside the hook.
Legislative bills, H 2408 and S 1695, are still active in the N.C. legislature regarding width, permits and licensing for trailering boats. The Finance Committee re-inserted the requirement for permits, and their fees, for boats between 102 and 120 inches wide, but otherwise they look pretty good. Even better, they're worded to become effective as soon as they are passed. If you would like, you can track the progress of these bills and find the contact information to let your legislators know how you feel at www.ncleg.net.
Michael Witlatch of Morehead City caught a 52.65 pound cobia to win the CCSA Cobia Tournament last weekend. Congratulations to Michael and his crew.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament (www.thebigrock.com, 252-247-3575) begins with Final Registration for the Ladies Big Rock on Friday, June 6. The ladies will fish on Saturday, June 7 and the regular tournament begins on Monday, June 9.
A very special event will be held Saturday, June 7, on the Morehead City waterfront. The 2008 Military Appreciation Day (www.militaryappreciationday.org) is a day of fishing to show those who serve our country their efforts and sacrifices are appreciated. Please visit the web site and see how you can volunteer or contribute.
The Cabela's IFA Redfish tour will visit Surf City this weekend. Final Registration will be Friday, June 6, with fishing on Saturday, June 7. For more information, visit www.redfishtour.com.