We've got to be in the middle of summer now as the heat and humidity are jacked so high we can have a thunderstorm form from cloudless skies in a matter of mere minutes. The good thing is the fishing is just about as hot. From the marshes to the Gulf Stream the fish are biting and, when we can keep the weather in check, it has been a lot of fun.
The forecast is for another breezy weekend. I don't care for the gusty winds, but when it's this hot they are a little bit of relief. The forecast is a little worse around Cape Lookout, with 15-20 knot winds forecast through Monday and backs down to 10-15 Knots around Cape Fear. It really shouldn't bee too bad for the Wrightsville Beach Tournaments as both have boundaries below the stronger winds.
I'm going to start this week's column with an excellent report of billfish. There have been some incredible catches of both blue and white marlin and sailfish for the past several weeks. The billfish bite peaked last weekend during the Barta Boys and Girls Club Billfish Tournament when 125 billfish were caught (and released) in 2 days, even though strong winds and rough seas kept over half of the field at the docks on Saturday. There were several boats that reported grand slams (a blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish on the same trip) during the tournament.
Congratulations to Capt. Glynn Loftin and the crew of the Frequent Flyer. They scored one of those grand slams in route to tallying 12 billfish releases and claiming the win in the tournament. Frequent Flyer junior angler J.D. Carter also claimed Top Junior Angler with 5 releases of his own.
Staying in offshore waters, the dolphin bite continues to be very good. This starts with smaller dolphin, often within sight of the beach, and carries offshore to large gaffer dolphin along the weedlines and temperature breaks of the Gulf Stream. Some wahoo, a few kings and an occasional tuna are also being caught.
King mackerel tournament season is in full swing and the kings have arrived. It took a while to develop this summer, but there have been some excellent kings caught from the piers and offshore to about 70 feet of water.
Schools of bait began accumulating in the area several weeks ago and many old-timers said the kings wouldn't be far behind. Once again their wisdom proved correct and we've got a pretty good king bite going. Even the fishermen from the piers are getting involved and catching some nice ones.
There was a 45 pound king checked in one of the Atlantic Beach weigh stations in the last week, but it wasn't a tournament king. I bet a lot of tournament fishermen would have liked to have caught it.
Last weekend's king tournament was the King of the Cape Classic in Southport and it was won by Capt. Stacy Wester and the crew of the Big Bad Wolf. Their winning king weighed 39.20 pounds. Congratulations!
There is some activity in the surf and just beyond, but after the king activity the pier catches are slightly in the summer doldrums. There are some nice fish being caught occasionally, but the bite is sporadic and mixed. One of the most exciting reports has been of several tarpon being hooked, but none have been landed.
There have been enough legal flounder and Spanish mackerel to keep things interesting and this week some slot-size red drum and a few speckled trout were also caught. The pier catches also include spadefish, bluefish, croakers, small sharks, and pompano.
One of the more popular summer fish is Spanish mackerel. They are easily reached and have been just outside most inlets and along the beaches. The better time to catch them has been just after sunrise, with the very late afternoon following as a distant second. When you see schools of Spanish jumping, but they aren't biting, it's often because your lures are too large. Try downsizing your lures and putting them farther behind your boat and your success should improve.
Flounder fishing has been improving for several weeks and is pretty good right now. There has been good flounder activity along the edges of the channels leading to the inlets, in deeper holes in the marshes, in the sloughs between the bars in the inlets and on the nearshore ocean artificial reefs.
I know there are some year classes missing in the rebuilding of the red drum population and have heard many theories and arguments about why, but it appears the Red Drum Management Plan is working. The red drum have been biting pretty well all summer. They are in the deeper channels through the marshes on low tide and move into the marshes to feed as the tide rises. Even better, they haven't been too picky about what they are eating. These are mainly smaller drum, from just under to just above slot size.
Larger drum are being caught in Pamlico Sound during the late afternoons and evenings. The better areas have been off Swan, Raccoon and Cedar Islands. The drum have been moving about half way up the slopes around the islands to feed. This is a release only fishery and care should be taken to prevent deep hooking the drum and releasing them in good condition for survival. The Owen Lupton Drum Rig is a good starting point as it helps prevent deep hooking. You should be able to find this rig at your favorite tackle shop.
Some tarpon are also being caught in Pamlico Sound. They have been reported from the middle of the sound up the Pamlico River to Indian Island and up the Neuse River almost to New Bern. Tarpon fishing is much like fishing for big drum except you do it during the daytime. Oh yeah--the tarpon jump a lot and the drum don't.
There have also been a few tarpon caught (and released) along the east beach of Bald Head, between Cape Fear and Fort Fisher. Several more have been hooked by live bait king mackerel fishermen around Carolina Beach Inlet and the Cape Fear River Inlet.
Four tournaments are scheduled for this weekend. The Capt Eddy Haneman Sailfish Tournament (910-256-6550) is in Wrightsville Beach, the Ducks Unlimited Band The Billfish Tournament (www.nc.ducks.org, 252-237-3717) is in Morehead City, the Greater Wilmington King Mackerel Tournament (www.gwkmt.com, 910-350-0952) is in Wrightsville Beach and the Oriental Rotary Tarpon Tournament (www.towndock.net/tarpon, 252-249-1014) is in Oriental.