Wind can be our friend or our enemy. A light breeze helps move air and keep us cool while fishing and puts a light chop on the water to help hide fishing lines. However, there is a point the wind blows hard enough to make conditions uncomfortable to the point of not going fishing, or at least not crossing open water to get to preferred spots. A lot of last week was in the uncomfortable zone, but there were a few nice days and fishermen scored well when they went fishing. There were more nice days earlier this week.
This week's early forecast doesn't include a lot of wind, but the potential for thunderstorms begins increasing on Friday and holds through the weekend. Keep an eye to the sky while fishing and head for shelter if dark clouds begin building. Thunderstorms often move quickly, so don't wait too long before moving.
July begins Saturday and this is one of the busiest several weeks of the year along the N.C. Coast. Everywhere will be at or slightly beyond full capacity with fishermen, tourists, beach goers and more. This is time to have a chill pill with your coffee every morning. There will be lines everywhere, most noticeable at boat ramps, filling stations, restaurants, grocery stores and in left turn lanes. Allow extra time for anything that requires driving. Planning ahead and understanding we all do foolish things from time to time will help keep a positive attitude and a smile.
One of many good things about the 4th of July is it is a free fishing day in N.C. Whether in fresh or salt water, no license is required for July 4. It's going to be hot that day, with chances of thunderstorms increasing during the afternoon, but it might be a good time to get up early, enjoy the sunrise, and wet a hook. You can play catch and release, catch and fillet, or many folks new personal favorite of CPR (catch, photograph and release). Take a youngster with you too. Both of you will be glad you did.
With less than ideal fishing conditions for much of last week, there aren't an excess of fishing reports. The better ocean reports came from the Outer Banks where the run to the Gulf Stream is about half what it is elsewhere along the N.C. Coast. Many fishermen avoided the wind, but many of those who went had good catches. Some of the good catches were in places not ordinarily fished, but fished last week for shelter from the wind. Finding fish in these areas is a good sign and bodes well for good fishing this week as the weather moderates early.
Fishermen who headed offshore last week had mostly fair to good catches, but worked for them. The most consistent ocean fishing has been offshore bottom fish and the productive zone has been structure in 80-120 feet of water. There are good numbers of grouper, snapper, triggerfish, grunts, porgys and more. Some fishermen are also catching African pompano, amberjacks and sharks.
Dolphin and a few scattered sailfish are moving into these same depths. If there is bait suspended in the mid depths over structure, there is usually something pushing it off the bottom. This is a sign to stop and see what it is. You could be in for a very pleasant surprise.
There are also, dolphin, plus a few scattered blackfin tuna, sailfish and maybe a wahoo working the currents, rip lines and weed lines at the edge of the Gulf Stream along most of the coast. Yellowfin tuna join the catch north of the Big Rock and a few bigeye tuna are still in the mix off Oregon Inlet. The Hatteras Marlin Club Invitational Release Blue Marlin Tournament is underway this week and the numbers of releases is growing steadily each day.
King mackerel are typically a little closer in and are occasionally found holding over bottom fish. The best action for kings has been in 50-80 feet of water and structure holding bait is key. Just like farther offshore, suspended bait is even better. Many fishermen are slow trolling live baits for kings, while others are doing pretty well slow trolling dead baits. I prefer to fish my live baits naked, but often use small skirts and dusters in front of dead baits to create motion.
Spanish mackerel are closest to the beaches and may be anywhere from just beyond the surf out a few miles. They usually concentrate around schools of smaller bait and along tide lines around the inlets. Most fishermen troll Clarkspoons or other small shiny spoons to catch Spanish. In recent years, Mackerel Tree Rigs, which use several pieces of colorful surgical tubing and a lure at the far end, have become popular and often draw multiple strikes.
Spanish mackerel will also hit live baits and fishermen working the ocean artificial reefs for flounder will be wise to drift a live bait or two behind the boat in the current. A small cork or partially inflated balloon will hold the bait near the surface.
Flounder are biting at the nearshore artificial reefs and other nearshore secret and no-so-secret shipwrecks. Many fishermen use live baits on the bottom on Carolina rigs. Other prefer to jig vertically using bucktails of 2-4 ounces and a bait or artificial strip on them. This allows covering more area and on many days produces more flounder. You will be fishing in structure, so be prepared to donate some tackle to the reef. If you aren't losing some tackle, you aren't fishing deep enough in the structure.
Flounder are also biting well inside the inlets. They will typically be somewhere the current carries baitfish by them. This includes around creek mouths, plus along bulkheads, oyster rocks and other structure. During July, the Southport waterfront is one of the most productive flounder areas in N.C.. It is loaded with structure from past fish houses, shrimp houses, assorted other docks and several railways. It can be fished by boat, pier or from the bank in many places. This area is productive because of all the old structure, so be prepared to lose some tackle.
Trout, puppy drum and black drum fishing is pretty good too. The generality that trout prefer water 6 feet or deeper, puppy drum like 4 feet and shallower and black drum don't care is good to remember, especially during the heat of the day. However, in the low angle light of the early morning, they might all be feeding together and often in water only 2-4 feet deep.
They will all hit live shrimp and live minnows, with specks and pups also hitting soft plastics and hard lures. The most fun way to catch specks and pups is by casting topwater lures. There is nothing like a trout or pup exploding on a lure on the surface.
I didn't hear much about sheepshead and tripletail last week, but I'm sure they are still around. Sheepshead should be around vertical structure along most of the N.C. Coast, while the larger tripletail population is in the lower Cape Fear River between Snows Cut and Southport.
Pier and surf fishing has slowed some in the warmer summer water, but there are still some fish biting. Typically the best action is earlier in the morning, especially if the tide is high, but the bite could spike at any time. The pier catch should be described as slow and steady and includes flounder, trout, pompano, drum, bluefish Spanish.
There have been a few king mackerel caught by pier fishermen, but the big pier catches last week were tarpon scattered along the southern and central N.C. Coast and a 33 inch dolphin landed from Avon Pier in Avon.
The surf fishing action hasnít been hot action, but it beats not fishing and most fishermen can find a fish dinner during a day. Pompano catches should be increasing and there should be some flounder and drum in the surf too.
Red Snapper Blowout
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council had just announced they would be looking for ways to allow fishermen to keep some of the red snapper fishermen find abundant in the South Atlantic, but fishery managers see as rare and threatened. There are limited seasons in the Gulf of Mexico and I had hoped to catch a few and report on what we are missing and hopefully would be coming for 2018. Unfortunately Mother Nature and old age conspired against me and interrupted my quest.
After a trip to my ortho doc, my knee is working again and continuing to improve. I may get back to the Gulf of Mexico before too long to try for red snapper again, but am hoping the South Atlantic regulations are modified and we can keep some here in the future. Fishermen targeting other species catch quite a few red snapper that must be released, even when deemed their potential for recovery is low.
Marine Fisheries Warns About Mistaking Small King Mackerel as
Fishermen may keep up to 15 Spanish mackerel each per day, with a minimum size of 12 inches fork length (tip of nose to middle of fork of tail). The limit for king mackerel is 3 fish per person per day, with a minimum size of 24 inches fork length.
There are several ways to differentiate between these species, but the most reliable is to look for a black spot on the leading edge of the forward dorsal fin. If the fish has the black spot, it is a Spanish mackerel. If the dorsal fin is all gray, it is a king mackerel. The news release and more information are available at the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
Saltwater Anglers May Receive Fishing Survey
It is very important that anglers participate and answer as many questions as possible. By completing the survey, anglers help ensure that fisheries managers receive the best possible information about the economic effects of regulations. Individual responses will be kept strictly confidential. Results from the study will be aggregated to present an overall view of the economic status of the recreational fishery and published in a report that will be made available to the public at: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/social-economic-data-reports.
The survey is a follow up to a previously conducted data collection in 2009. It seeks information on the economic characteristics of coastal recreational anglersí fishing trips, as well as social and demographic characteristics. The information gathered in the survey will be used in fishery management plans and in developing economic impact models to help fisheries managers make informed decisions on various fisheries topics. The survey is being funded by the Marine Resources Fund which seeks to manage, enhance and protect the marine resources of North Carolina based on sound science and strategies. For more information, contact Adam Stemle, NCDMF Economics Program manager, at 252-808-8107 or Adam.Stemle@ncdenr.gov.
WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host Ongoing Fishing Programs
There are numerous evening and weekend classes and programs offered at the Pechmann Center each month. For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab. The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page. There are always interesting programs at the Pechmann Center that include kayak fishing, fly tying, lure making, fishing tips and boating safety.
The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head. The local aquarium is at Fort Fisher and the other aquariums are at Pine Knoll Shores and Manteo. Approaching summer the aquarium will offer programs on surf fishing, exploring the marsh, canoeing and more. For more information, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select the Fort Fisher Aquarium.
Wildlife Photo Contest
Only photographs taken in North Carolina since Sept. 15, 2013 are eligible for the competition. The categories include birds, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, animal behavior, outdoor recreation, wild landscapes, wild plants and fungi, youth photographer 13-17 and youth photographer 12 and younger.
Entries will be judged by a panel of staff from the Commission and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, as well as professional photographers. The grand prize winner will have his or her photo published on the cover of the January/February 2018 issue of Wildlife in North Carolina and will receive a check for $200. All winning photographs will be published in the magazine and exhibited at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. First place in all categories pays $100; second place, $75; and third place, $50.
The Commission is accepting entries online only ó no slides, negatives or prints will be accepted by mail. Entrants may submit a maximum of two photos per category. Each photo must be in JPEG format and no larger than 2 megabytes each.
For more information or to submit a photo, visit the Commissionís Wildlife in North Carolina Photo Competition webpage (www.ncwildlife.org/contest). A video of last year's winning photos is posted on the Commissionís Facebook page.
USSA Schedules Kids Fishing Day for August 11 from Southport
After an arrival and welcome at Comfort Suites the afternoon and evening of August 10,fishing is scheduled for 8:30 to 1:00 the next morning from Southport Marina. Lunch, provided by the Lions Club, will follow fishing. This is not an offshore trip, but more of a nearshore or backwater experience and often simply being on the water is extremely therapeutic. However, having some bites and tight lines puts an exclamation point on the experience.
John Cranford of the Winston-Salem Saltwater Fishing Club is heading the local committee and can be reached at 336-312-3458. More information on the event and USSA is available at their website, www.childswish.com.
Ocearch Hosts Contest with Shark Tagging Adventure as Grand Prize
August 8-10: Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Philadelphia Courtyard Marriott, Philadelphia, PA, www.mafmc.org.
August 16-17: NC Marine Fisheries Commission, Doubletree by Hilton Raleigh Brownstone-University Hotel, Raleigh, www.ncdmf.net.
Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other
July 6-8: Hatteras Grand Slam, Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, Village Marina, Hatteras, www.hatterasgrandslam.com.
July 8-9: East Coast Got-Em-On Classic King Mackerel Tournament, Carolina Beach Boat Docks, Carolina Beach, www.gotemonliveclassic.com.
July 11: Free Introduction to Flyfishing Class, St. James Community Center, www.capefearflyfishers.com.
July 13-15: Barta Boys and Girls Club Billfish Tournament, NC Governorís Cup Billfishing Series, Beaufort Town Docks, Beaufort, www.bartaboysandgirlsclubbillfish.com.
July 15: Topsail Island Inshore Challenge, Surf City, Fishermanís Post, www.fishermanspost.com.
July 15: Pogies Redfish Series Tournament 3, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.
July 15-16; CCCF Spanish Mackerel Challenge, The Boat House, Beaufort, 252-222-6222.
July 16: Pogies Kayak Redfish Series Tournament 4, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.
July 21-22: Cape Lookout Shootout, The Boat House, Beaufort, www.capeshootout.weebly.com.
July 25: Take a Kid Fishing, Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Swansboro, www.takf.com.