We just can't get a break in the weather this summer. Even with thunderstorms scattered across the area, there were several record high temperatures set across the region during the last week, including the most recent one Sunday at Wilmington Airport on Sunday. We had a couple of seasonal days at the beginning of this week, but by Thursday returned to temperatures that were flirting with setting new heat records.
The other thing that has pounded fishermen so far this summer is the wind. It has blown just enough to be uncomfortable very regularly and gotten to marginally safe a few times. While a breeze is nice and will cool you some, once it increases to being wind, it makes fishing difficult in a variety of ways. Friday looks to be gusty, Saturday the normal 10 to 15 knots and Sunday is shaping up to be the best day of the weekend at 10 knots and 2 foot seas.
The Southport area received a bunch of rain Monday and Tuesday. That same rain went immediately offshore and barely wet the ground anywhere above Wilmington. Scattered showers have proven to be just that, even though they may be a downpour where they occur.
It has been so excessively hot so long that I believe some of the fish may be getting acclimated to it. Fish are surprisingly adaptive. One excellent example of fish acclimating themselves to their conditions is a project of the aquaculture class at South Brunswick High School near Southport. Students there have successfully spawned flounder in salt water and then switched the fingerlings to fresh water to grow them to release size. An example of fish adapting to hot water is the fish that live in Sutton Lake, near Wilmington.
For those not familiar with Sutton Lake, it is the cooling lake for Progress Energy's Sutton Power Plant just outside Wilmington. This lake stays warm in the winter and when electricity demands are high to power air conditioning during the summer it heats into the mid-nineties. I have heard stories of water temperatures there exceeding 100 degrees and if that happens, the past several weeks have been an excellent opportunity.
At one time, Sutton Lake was managed as a trophy bass lake and stocked with the Florida largemouth strain of bass. Then flathead catfish were introduced to the lake and a battle between these two top predators began. The lake is no longer managed as a trophy lake, but there are some special regulations, which are available in the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Regulations Digest. Both of these fish, channel catfish, some flounder, some carp and multiple varieties of panfish have adapted to the warm to hot waters of the lake and continue to prosper as well as their natural predation allows.
The inshore fishing picked up a little this week and I'm wondering if a month of oppressive heat has been long enough to help the fish adapt to the warmer conditions. I'm not aware of any other changes, so maybe they actually did get used to it. I've heard that from folks who live in areas with extreme heat or cold or rain or drought and now it seems the fish might be adapting also.
Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said the flounder were biting pretty well along the port wall at Morehead City and in the channel headed to Beaufort Inlet. This is deeper water and maybe they are dodging the shallower water which is usually a little warmer.
Capt. Jeff Cronk of N.C. Charter Fishing in Swansboro said the flounder are biting well on the rocks and artificial reefs just out Bogue Inlet and this is water deep enough to be a little cooler too. Capt. Lamb said the sheepshead were also biting well along the wall.
Flounder are also biting well in Snows Cut and the Lower Cape Fear River. Some friends and I have pulled several flounder from shallower spots in the Lower Cape Fear River. It may get muddy with the local downpours of earlier in the week, but many spots had been unusually clear until then. We fished one spot where I could see the bottom clearly in waist deep water. I even got to see one flounder chase and hammer my bait and I had never seen that before.
I caught a couple of keepers and a couple of shorts, but the one that got away would have been the exclamation point to the trip. It was a very nice fattie flattie that boiled up to the top in the shallow water on the strike. My guess would be around eight pounds, but I can call it anything I want because it wasn't weighed and wasn't photographed. Heck, it wasn't even caught.
I was using a reel with some older line on it and there must have been a nick or chafe in the line. It broke during the flounders first run. This was a case of knowingly using older line because it hadn't broken yet. Well, it has broken now and will be changed. Hopefully, you learn from my mistake and don't have the same thing happen to you. I was using a combo lure I had put together. It was a gold blade spinnerbait, with a 1/8 ounce red jig head and a white, five inch, Berkley Gulp jerkbait
I keep wondering how speckled trout will respond after the extended harsh cold of last winter and this week there were a couple more good signs. Last week I reported a nice trout on my weekly trip to Camp Lejeune to fish with some of the Marine Wounded Warriors and this week we caught three more. The trout this week weren't as large as last week, but all were keepers.
The other two good reports I received were from folks who caught four to six inch specks in their cast nets while trying for shrimp. These are young of this year, which means some trout survived to spawn. The other good part of this is that if they were already hanging out around shrimp, so they were feeding and growing.
Red drum fishing had been sketchy at times, but this past week there were some good catches and in a wide-ranging variety of places. The drum are hitting soft plastics fairly well and in the early morning and late afternoon they will chase down a topwater bait, but using live or natural bait is an advantage in the heat. Several fishermen have said catching some pogies and carrying them live has made a world of difference in catching puppy drum.
They said the drum will chase down smaller live pogies, but while they won't always go after larger live pogies or big finger mullet, they want them extra fresh. Their hot tip was carrying the larger pogies and mullet live and then cutting them in half for fishing. They said it worked wonders for them and even worked better than their live baits. Several hits on the chunk baits supposedly came before the rod could be put in a holder and the line cranked tight.
When I'm fishing specifically for puppy drum with live or natural baits, I modify my Carolina rig to avoid deep hooking them. This might make you miss an occasional flounder or trout, but it usually hooks pups right in the corner of their jaw and makes them easy to release. I start with a 2/0 to 4/0 circle hook and only use about 5 to 6 inches of leader up to the swivel at the sinker. I then pin the sinker so it won't slide. This turns the hook right into the corner of their mouth as soon as the drum moves away. This is my smaller version of the Owen Lupton Rig that is required for fishing at night in Pamlico Sound during the summer.
Speaking of fishing in Pamlico Sound, Capt. Gary Dubiel of Speck Fever Charters said tarpon and big drum were showing in the sound and the lower Neuse River. When fishing in Pamlico Sound 7:00 P.M and 7:00 A.M from July 1 to September 30 and using a hook of 4/0 or greater size, a circle hook rig with the barb mashed down or removed and a sinker of 2 ounces or heavier fixed at not more than six inches from the hook is required. This rig is known locally as the Owen Lupton Rig, which is a tribute to the fisherman who researched and designed it.
Tim Corn, of Southport, caught (and released) a huge tarpon last week in the Cape Fear River at Southport. Using the measurements and the generally accepted formula of Girth X Girth X Length divided by 800 equals weight, the big fish was near the state record. Corn's tarpon was 78 inches long and 44 inches in girth. Using these numbers and the formula; this fish would have weighed 188.76 pounds. The state record is 193 pounds, 5 ounces and was caught by Malcolm Condie from SeaView Pier at Topsail in 2008.
Pier fishing picked up a little this week too. There were some excellent catches of sheepshead, flounder and more. A king mackerel skied on a bait, but didn't hook up at Bogue Inlet Pier and an 18 pounder was caught on Kure Beach Pier. Pier fishermen also decked some Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, sea mullet, black drum and a few speckled trout. The fishing wasn't hot, but seemed to be better just after first light and just before sunset.
Spanish mackerel continue to be the most consistent nearshore fish. There would probably be even more of them caught if the weather would stabilize and the wind slow a little. We are rapidly approaching the Dog Days of summer and they are supposed to be incredibly still. As hot as it has been, the conditions might be nearly intolerable if there wasn't some wind, but it sure would be nice to find out. The general consensus is the Spanish have moved offshore just a little and are holding in water about 30 feet deep.
Flounder have been biting on the nearshore artificial reefs, but the conditions have been a bit bouncy most days. If you catch a calm morning and can run out early, you should be able to catch some flounder on the nearshore reefs and rocks, plus some of the wrecks. Peanut pogies and finger mullet are good baits for using on the reefs. Dropping one down on a Carolina Rig and dropping one back with a size six treble and a short trace of wire can be productive for flounder and Spanish.
While a few folks are making the run offshore, most are not going unless they are in larger boats. From off Cape Lookout to the S.C. state line, the reports have included king mackerel that begin showing at about 60 feet deep. There are also some small dolphin feeding with the kings and a few lucky anglers have connected with sailfish. Fishermen said as they ventured a little deeper, they caught a few more dolphin. There are amberjacks on almost any reef for those who would like to go "mano-a-mano" with a reef donkey.
In this heat, the offshore trolling bite has slow to spotty, but there can be some big schools of dolphin at times. Part of the problems, especially for fishermen in smaller boats, has been making the trip to and from the fish.
Much like offshore trolling, offshore bottom fishing has been good when sea conditions allow getting there. The issues are that the offshore fishing has been better in around 100 feet of water, so it is a longer trip to get there and it is much harder to feel a subtle bite in a boat that is constantly rocking and rolling. Grouper have been very aggressive and three fish limits have been pretty easy to fill.
Other offshore bottom fish in the catch include beeliners, black sea bass, grunts, porgies, amberjack and an occasional surprise. Remember that non stainless steel circle hooks are required for bottom fishing beyond three miles offshore and that dehookers are also required for bottom fishing in federal waters.
Notices continue to come in expressing concerns with the future reliability of the Global Positioning System (GPS) across the U.S. The first notice I received was from BoatUS, which is the largest recreational boaters group in the U.S. BoatUS said this threat is serious and must be dealt with. They are urging boaters to speak out during the 30-day comment period that ends on Saturday, July 30. Boaters and other GPS users can log on to www.BoatUS.com/gov and send their comments to the FCC and their members of Congress. More information is available through the Coalition to Save Our GPS at www.saveourgps.org.
The problems stems from a conditional waiver the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted to LightSquared in January. LightSquared is a broadband wireless communications company and the waiver allows them to use a frequency bandwidth that is directly adjacent to the frequencies used for GPS and is known to cause interference with the GPS signals. LightSquared has proposed to build 40,000 ground stations using the satellite frequencies and the high-powered ground-based transmissions from these stations have been shown to cause interference in hundreds of millions of GPS receivers across a wide range of uses.
GPS is no longer just a marine navigation system, but has numerous additional uses including aviation, emergency response and turn-by-turn automotive navigation, plus industrial users such as delivery and trucking companies. A new report requested by the FCC says, "All phases of the LightSquared's deployment plan will result in widespread harmful interference to GPS signals and service and that mitigation is not possible." This is even more important after last year's decision to end Loran C, which was the electronic navigation predecessor to GPS and had recently been upgraded.
The Marine Fisheries Commission will meet in Raleigh on August 10 to 12. Two items of particular concern to be discussed will be the possibility of developing a commercial hook and line fishery for striped bass and ways to meet the legal requirements of the speckled trout fishery management plan ending overfishing within two years and having the stock rebuilt within 10 years. The management requirements are included in Session Law 2010-13 that was passed last summer and the version of the speckled trout fishery management plan that was tentatively approved last year does not meet these requirements.
The meeting begins with public comment sessions at 6:00 P.M. on August 10 and at 9:15 A.M. on August 11. For more details or an agenda visit the Commission website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
The Carolina Boat Builders Tournament was held July 21 to 24 from Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo. This is a release only billfish tournament, with a gamefish category. The tournament helps fund the Dare County Boat Builders Foundation whose mission is to develop, encourage and promote public awareness of the historical and cultural heritage of boat building in Dare County and to support educational opportunities for students.
The fishing was excellent as 18 boats released 54 billfish in the fish two of three days fishing format. A tie at 700 release points for first place between the Big Oh and Tarheel had to be broken on a time-based tiebreaker. The Big Oh released their last fish earlier and was declared the winner. Bi-Op-Sea was third with 600 points.
Gray Ingram, on the Big Oh, claimed Top Angler honors with 400 release points. Tiffany Ramsey, who fished on the Ravaganza, held the lead in Top Angler points until the final day, but scored 300 points and won the Top Lady Angler award. Grayson Zimmer scored 300 points to earn Top Junior Angler honors for the Smoker.
Hatteras Fever II weighed the only wahoo of the tournament at 15.41 pounds to win the Wahoo Division and added a 56.5 pound tuna to win the Tuna Division. Penta Gone caught a 21.5 pound dolphin to win the Dolphin Division and also had a 51 pound tuna to secure second place in the Tuna Division. For more information visit www.dcbbf.org.
This weekend promises to be the busiest tournament weekend of the summer to date. I don't know how so many schedules collided, but there are eight saltwater tournaments at seven locations between Southport and Oriental this weekend. Depending on how you look at it, three or four tournaments will be held in Morehead City this weekend. One of those is actually two tournaments from the same location at the same time.
The Ducks Unlimited Band the Billfish Tournament will be held July 28 to 30 from the Big Rock Landing on the Morehead City Waterfront. This is a billfish tournament that also has offshore gamefish categories. For more information visit www.ducks.org/north-carolina.
The Raleigh Saltwater Sportfishing Club will hold their annual king mackerel tournament on July 30 from Jaycee Park. This year they will add a flounder tournament to run concurrently from the same site. For more information visit www.rswsc.org.
The first Core Sound Delta Waterfowl Redfish Tournament will be presented by the Core Sound Chapter of Delta Waterfowl on July 30 from Portside Marina. For more information visit www.coresounddeltaredfishtourney.weebly.com.
The Oriental Rotary Tarpon Tournament will be held from Whittaker Point Marina in Oriental on July 29 to 31. This is the only tarpon tournament in N.C. and follows a release-only format. For more information visit www.towndock.net/tarpon.
Two tournaments are being held at Wrightsville Beach. The Capt. Eddy Haneman Sailfish Classic will be held from the Bridgetender Marina on July 29 and 30. This is an all-release sailfish tournament that has boundaries. For more information visit www.bridgetendermarina.com. The other Wrightsville Beach tournament is the TJM Celebrity Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament held from the Hook, Line and Paddle kayak shop. Fishing is for red drum, speckled trout and flounder. For more information visit www.hooklineandpaddle.com.
The final tournament of the weekend is the Cape Fear Flounder Classic On July 30. This tournament is hosted by the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce and will be held at Southport Marina in Southport. More information is available at www.southport-oakisland.com or by calling 910-457-6964.