We have eased into summer with weather and fishing conditions that are several weeks ahead of schedule. The water temperature in the surf and near shore areas is a sweltering 81 degrees. The air temperature on the cooler days has been hot and on the hot days has been real hot. When you factor in the coastal Carolina humidity, it has been downright muggy. Some fishing has suffered and some is ahead of schedule. Considering that there are some patterns developing in the weather and fishing, but that they are slightly different than in past years, the one thing that stands out as consistent is the difference.
Speckled trout, flounder, and red drum are the mainstays here. The speckled trout are in deeper water looking for a cooler place in the heat. Several successful trout fishermen have been heading back up the creeks to where they are brackish and the mixing fresh water is helping keep things cooler. Red drum are working the shallows of many coastal creeks but can be a little spooky in the shallow water. Smaller reds are at the mouths of creeks, in coves, and off points in many of the larger creeks and rivers. They are up the Neuse almost to New Bern and the Pamlico almost to Washington. If the weather continues to be dry, they may well move even farther up the rivers, with the brackish water.
Flounder are biting along the entire coast. Creek mouths, river mouths, and around the ocean inlets are all great places to catch them. There have even been a few reports of strip baits outfishing live baits. Be aware that both the size and number limits are different inside and in the ocean. You are considered to have caught any fish in your possession in the waters where you have it when you are checked. Do not venture into the ocean with too many and/or too small flounders that were caught legally in inside waters. It is still a violation to posses them there.
Surf and Piers
The hot spanish and bluefish action of a few weeks ago has slowed down on many of the piers. The reasons range from dirty water to hot water. There is still some activity, but it is early in the morning and late in the evening. Kings are being caught off the piers along most of the coast. There have even been a few genuinely large ones. In addition to the usual bottom feeders like croaker, spots, pompano, and such, the Oak Island piers have been experiencing an early summer run of speckled trout. The secret to catching the trout is using live shrimp, fished just up off the bottom. Some flounder are also being caught off the piers, but a fair portion of them are too short to keep.
The king mackerel action is heating up in the waters near the beach. A surprising number of tournament placing fish have been caught between the beach and the sea buoys. Even in the waters off the Cape Fear River, the water is much cleaner than usual. It is several degrees warmer also. The running debate between king fishermen is "When will the large numbers of kings arrive?" versus "Have the large numbers of kings passed by already?"
Some dolphin are showing up in king mackerel catches from within sight of land. For the most part, they are not large fish nor consistent, but they are occasional inclusions in the fish box. In 80 feet of water and farther out, they are becoming much more consistent parts of the catch.
Even though the water is very warm, there are a lot of cobia being caught by king mackerel fishermen. Last weekend, I had three myself. The cobia are spread out from Little River Inlet to Drum Inlet for sure. Above there, live bait king mackerel fishing is not a summertime pursuit, but the cobia should be around. Many times a pinfish or eel, dropped beside a buoy, will provoke the strike of a cobia that is resting in the shade. This might be something to try in the northern part of the state.
Big dolphin are everywhere. I have heard of more 50 and 60 pounders in the past 2 weeks than I do in most summers. There are also many shingles and bailers under almost any floating weeds or debris. Some yellowfin tuna are still being caught along the southern and central coast but Oregon Inlet is the hot spot. There are reports of boats limiting out and returning to the docks by lunch time. Apparently, the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream are hitting at just the perfect angle to keep these fish around.
Last week during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, 196 boats caught 135 billfish. Of these billfish, 126 were released and 9 were brought to the scales. The winner was the "Summertime Blues" with an 831 pound blue marlin. This is a new record for the tournament. This catch is tournament fish only and basically for the waters between Wrightsville Beach and Cape Hatteras. Numerous other billfish were caught and released north and south of the tournament area and by boats that weren't in the tournament.