Welcome to the heat of summer. Unfortunately it isn't quite summer yet, so we can only imagine what the heat may be once we reach later July and August. The good news is the fishing is running a dead heat (no pun intended) with the temperatures and it is just about red hot also. It's tough to get excited about being outdoors when the heat and humidity are so high it is difficult to breathe. What makes it all possible is knowing the fish are biting and the odds are very good you will have a great day on the water.
Because the heat and humidity is so high, I'm going to lecture a little on being prepared for it. Being properly prepared can keep a great day great, without any side effects from excessive sun, heat or dehydration.
There is clothing designed for wearing in sunny hot conditions. Shirts come with UPF protection and made from materials that help cool you. Take advantage of them. My favorites are made by Breathe Like A Fish (www.breathelikeafish.com). The shirts use a wicking microfiber rated at UPF 30 to keep you cool and offer some sun protection. Vents under the arms and on the sides allow any moving air to come through the shirt and help cool you. These shirts are available with or without a built-in UPF 50 sun hood that can be pulled up to protect your neck, ears and face. I am not aware of a place that stocks them locally, but they are available on-line through the website.
A long-billed cap or wide brim hat are a must. I use a long-billed cap and then pull the sun hood from my Breathe Like A Fish shirt up over it. Sure, I look a little like a mummy, but I'm very protected from the sun. As an extra benefit, this also helps hold my cap on while running the boat from place to place.
Don't forget sunscreen! There are many companies that make good sunscreens, with high SPF factors. I prefer the ones labeled sport or kids. These seem to hold in place better and not run into my eyes.
Polarized sunglasses are another must. Not only do these protect your eyes, they also help you see through glare and down into the water. Many companies make good sunglasses, but over the winter I was introduced to some made specifically for older eyes. Ono's Trading Company (www.onostradingcompany.com) makes polarized sunglasses with small magnifying readers built into the lower part of the lens. They look like bifocals and the readers come in varying levels of magnification to help with tying knots and such. I have been impressed with how well these work.
After getting dressed properly and all lathered up with sunscreen, it is very important to stay hydrated while on the water. Water, and lots of it, is the best thing to drink while on the water. Sports drinks are good if not overdone and can add a little short-term boost, but they shouldn't be a steady diet. Adult beverages and soft drinks are the worst thing you can do. They actually can bring on dehydration rather than help. Put something besides Diet Coke and your favorite 'Lite" in the cooler to help keep cool and hydrated.
If I seem a little overly-concerned with all this, let me tell you it is from experience. I was lucky and it didn't progress to heat prostration or heat stroke, but I pushed myself and didn't follow these suggestions one summer during a string of tournaments and ended up with a personal invitation for an early Sunday morning visit to the Emergency Room for a couple of bags of IV fluids. If you would like to read a little more about preparing for summer heat, I have an article on it that will be coming out in the July North Carolina Sportsman Magazine, which should be arriving to subscribers this week and be on local newsstands by the weekend.
Not only is the air hot, so is the water. The water temperature passed 80 degrees late last week and it is several weeks early. However, some of the hot water fish have arrived with it. Tarpon are the big boys, and while I haven't yet heard of a catch, Capt. Dave Dietzler reported he has been seeing some big ones rolling at several places along the beaches and Capt. Gary Dubiel has already seen some in Pamlico Sound. Other hot water fish include jack crevalle, with one already caught from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island, and ladyfish, which have begun trying to steal shrimp and lures from trout and drum fishermen in many creeks from Calabash to Camp Lejeune.
The offshore bite is still going strong, with dolphin being the primary catch. There are also some tuna, primarily blackfin, a few wahoo and a growing number of billfish. Blue and white marlin are in the area and the prime focus this week is big blue marlin during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. A huge blue marlin has already been landed and the tournament continues through Saturday. I'll have more details a few paragraphs down.
Just a little inshore of the Gulf Stream, fishermen are finding a nicely mixed catch. Dolphin are again the primary trolling catch, but a few blackfin tuna and king mackerel are also being caught. Bottom fishermen and those who prefer deep jigging are catching snapper, grouper and other bottom fish, plus amberjack and an occasional cobia.
The Spanish mackerel bite begins at the ends of the piers and goes out, with kings being within sight of the beaches, but none landed from the piers this week. I saw one fisherman Tuesday afternoon with three Spanish that looked to be citation size (6 pounds) or very close. He said he caught them with live baits near the Cape Lookout Jetty. A few cobia are also cruising the beaches and the nearshore artificial reefs and some are moving through the inlets. Dolphin have been reported a few times within sight of the beach off Emerald Isle, but aren't consistent that close in.
Pier fishing is pretty good right now. The red hot king fishing has slowed a little this week, but a few were caught from the southern piers. The big Hatteras bluefish are still biting at the end of almost every pier, but with the water this warm it is time for them to move farther north. Spanish mackerel and smaller bluefish are hitting Got-Cha plugs well, while enough keeper flounder are biting to keep a dedicated contingent of fishermen working the pilings just beyond the surf. Some nice pompano are also being caught.
One of my favorite pier reports is from the piers at Oak Island and is just in time for the Oak Island Open Pier Tournament this weekend. These piers ordinarily have a trout fishery that usually begins earlier in the year, but our specks took a big hit over the winter from the cold and an abundance of hungry porpoises and this is just getting going this year. I am really happy to hear a growing number of speckled trout are being caught from these piers. Live shrimp, fished about a foot off the bottom, is the hot ticket for catching the pier specks.
Speckled trout fishing inside the inlets is still rather slow overall. There are a few places that stand out and the speck action seems to be slowly improving. Some specks are being caught in Core Creek and along the edges and in the creeks of the lower Neuse River and Pamlico Sound from above Oriental out to Cedar Island. The speck bite also seems to be improving up the Cape Fear River above Snows Cut.
Puppy drum and flounder fishing has been pretty good. I managed to sneak in a quick trip with Capt. Noah Lynk Tuesday afternoon and we caught over a dozen flounder, but most were shorts. We released most of them anyway, but the one I took home for dinner sure tasted good.
There are pups and flatties in many of the local creeks and marshes from Manteo to Sunset Beach. The flatties are also in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the edges of the channels at most inlets. Any structure that disrupts the flow of the tide has potential and deserves a good look. Sheepshead are also biting and along bridges and jetties is a good place to find them.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) met last week in Orlando, Fla. and approved (9-4) Amendment 17A to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. This is the amendment to close the ocean bottom between Melbourne, Fla. and the Ga./S.C. state line, in depths of 98 to 240 feet, to all bottom fishing. The closure area in the Amendment was modified, by moving the northern boundary southward to approximately Brunswick, Ga. All red snapper fishing from N.C. through the east coast of Florida will remain closed and this approximately 5,000 square mile area will be closed to all bottom fishing. For more information visit www.safmc.net.
Many N.C. recreational and commercial fishermen are concerned this total closure will force commercial fishermen from southern Ga. and northern Fla. to venture northward into waters off North and South Carolina to fish. Their worry is that concentrating more fishermen in a smaller section of the ocean could create situations of local depletion in the grouper, black sea bass, grunt and beeliner stocks in waters local fishermen usually fish. The Amendment must be reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and approved by the Secretary of Commerce before it can become law. The Recreational Fishing Alliance already has a legal challenge in federal district court in Jacksonville, Fla.
Another item of concern comes from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). This is Amendment 6 to the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan and is about increasing commercial striper allocations, even though all the biologists and fishery managers oppose it. A series of meeting are scheduled for the Atlantic states. The N.C. meetings are scheduled for June 29, with location not yet known, and July 7 at the Division of Marine Fisheries office in Morehead City. For more information visit www.asmfc.org or www.ncdmf.net.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) Central Regional Advisory Committee will meet Monday, June 21, at the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) office in Morehead City. The meeting will begin at 6:00 P.M. and there is always a public comment period at the beginning of advisory Committee meetings. For more information call the DMF office at 252-808-8023.
A kayak fishing Meet and Greet event is scheduled for Saturday (June 19) at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, near Wilmington. Kayakers will meet and launch at the newly refurbished Federal Point Ramp at the end of Hwy. 421. After a morning of fishing, lunch and some social activities will be held at Access 3 of the Fort Fisher ORV trail. More fishing will follow the lunch. Participants are asked to log onto the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association (NCKFA) website at www.nckfa.com and connect through the Meet and Greet topic to confirm they are coming. This event is being organized by Ashley Williams, AKA "druminator" on most kayak fishing boards, and more information is available on the NCKFA website.
The only tournament this past weekend was the Keli Wagner Big Rock Lady Angler Tournament, held Saturday, from the Morehead City Waterfront. The forecast of good weather helped the tournament significantly as a record 77 boats of enthusiastic lady anglers set forth to catch and release billfish.
Figment, captained by Glynn Loftin of Swansboro and led by blue marlin angler Katharine Hesmer of Wilmington, topped the record field Saturday to win the 13th annual Keli Wagner Big Rock Lady Angler Tournament. The ladies on the Figment caught and released a blue marlin just 44 minutes into the tournament and held on to win.
Figment has enjoyed good luck in recent Big Rock tournaments. Last year they took the inaugural lead eventually won $318,380. The win in this year's Keli Wagner Big Rock Lady Angler Tournament added another $8,181 to their jackpot.
"I'm so excited I can hardly stand it," said Hesmer, the angler on the winning fish. "I've never been deep sea fishing in my life but this was my chance to show my stuff. It was so much fun. I had the best coaches. The fish fought hard and it fought the entire time. I didn't expect it to be that difficult. It was a quite the workout."
Click Through, a boat captained by Matt Mauldwin out of Gulf Breeze, FL, finished second with a blue marlin release at 11:12 a.m. Two other boats -- Wet & Wild and Eye Catcher -- recorded white marlin releases.
The boat with the biggest payday was the Bankwalker, captained by Bryant Montague of Raleigh. Bankwalker lady angler Texanna Montague reeled in a 47.8-pound dolphin to win $28,652.05. This total includes $25,925 for winning the Winner-Take-All dolphin TWT category and $2,727.05 for capturing the dolphin division. No tuna or wahoo were weighed.
Competitors and non-competing supporters of the event raised $21,615 for the Raab Oncology Clinic, where Keli Wagner received so much support before she lost her battle with cancer. All money raised from this event is donated to the Raab Clinic in Wagner's name and is used to aid the comfort of patients receiving treatment at the clinic.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament began Monday, June 14, and what a beginning! The largest blue marlin in the history of the tournament was weighed late Monday afternoon. The Citation, with Capt. Eric Holmes and very tired angler Andy Thomasson, brought a gigantic 883 pound blue marlin to the scales to the delight of a huge crowd. A second blue marlin, weighing 528 pounds was brought to the scales by the Carnivore, with Capt. Ed Petrilli and angler John Parks on Wednesday. The Citation is from Frisco and the Carnivore is from Cape Carteret.
As of my deadline Thursday, the Sea Creature, the 2009 winner of the Big Rock, was holding the lead in the Winner Take All Dolphin Division with a 52.4 pound bull and the Miss Judy was leading the Release Division with a pair of blue marlin releases from Tuesday. The tournament will continue through Saturday, June 19.
The Big Rock is one of the largest billfish tournaments on the East Coast and drew a field of 156 boats from around the world. Weigh-ins are each afternoon on the Morehead City Waterfront. Proceeds are donated to many worthwhile charitable and civic causes. For more information and to track the tournament on-line, visit www.thebigrock.com.
Several other tournaments are on tap for this weekend and next week. The Oak Island Open Pier Tournament, run by the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department, will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 19 and 20. OIOPFT participants can fish on either Oak Island or Ocean Crest Piers, from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Saturday and 6:00 A.M. until noon on Sunday. The tournament features multiple categories that cover ability levels and species from pinfish to king mackerel. For more information visit www.oakislandpiertournament.com or call 278-5518.
The Jolly Mon King Classic will be held this Saturday and Sunday, June 19 and 20, from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle. There are numerous special activities including a Kids Jolly Mon on Friday. The tournament is for king mackerel and has a unique format where fishermen are allowed to choose either Saturday or Sunday to fish. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
The Carousel Center Flounder Tournament will be held Saturday, June 19, from Inlet Watch Marina in Carolina Beach. Proceeds from this tournament will benefit the Carousel Center for Abused Children. For more information call 910-279-5713.
The Hatteras Marlin Club Blue Marlin Release Tournament will begin Monday June 21 at Hatteras and fish through Saturday, June 26. This is the 51st annual running of this event. For more information visit www.hatterasmarlinclub.com.