I've been really happy to wake to rain the past two Monday mornings, but it has only been what my grandmother used to call "a lick and a promise" toward the rain we need. Eastern North Carolina continues to bake in a state of extreme drought. The drought is so severe, there was a certain part of me that was hoping that Tropical Storm/Hurricane Emily would pass close enough to give us some much needed rain without being close enough to do damage.
Now, that doesn't look to be the case. The cone of uncertainty has shifted to where we are just beyond the far west edge of it. Please understand, I wouldn't wish even a category 1 hurricane on anyone, but really wanted some of that rain. My other question is with how we got this far into the Hurricane Season and through the "D" names before I had to mention a storm in the fishing report? However, that is a good thing and only a rhetorical question.
The temperatures continue to be brutal too. The heat backs off a couple of degrees occasionally then returns with ridiculously high humidity and creates heat indexes in the triple digits. If you are out in this, wear plenty of sunscreen, dress for sun protection and drink plenty of water. Don't shortcut on this. I am hearing almost daily of healthy folks who are suffering from too much heat, or sun exposure, or some combination of both.
A potentially bad story had a good ending Sunday night when a missing group of kayakers were found unhurt. The kayakers, who were from Maryland, were reported missing in the Fort Fisher area at about 5:30. Fortunately, someone was expecting them and made the report early enough they were found just before dark. This is another example of how filing a float plan with someone can be your saving grace. This probably wasn't life-threatening, but it would have been extremely uncomfortable spending the night in the marsh with all the mosquitoes and other bugs.
The fishing reports for this week have been really varied. Some fishermen had really good trips and others said their fishing efforts only amounted to boat rides. If you read the news, listen to the radio or watch TV with any regularity, you are already exposed to way too much bad news. I'll try only to report the good.
Flounder were one of the fish that were most consistently caught last week. They are bottom dwellers and typically are the least affected by even local rainwater runoff and heat. However, a good number have been caught on sand bottoms and in deeper water, which are usually cooler. Capt. Matt Lamb of Chasin' Tails Outdoors said flounder were biting well along the wall at the State Ports wharfs in Morehead City. Fishermen in the Southport area caught them well too.
Some fishermen had better luck chasing flounder in deeper water, including the ocean, while others said they did their best in shallow water in the marshes and area creeks. The methods for catching them were diverse also. Some fishermen relied on live baits, which is a tried and true way to catch flounder. Other fishermen used bucktail jigs and some sort of artificial grub or bait strip and a few went after the flounder with artificial shrimp and jerkbaits on jig heads, much like they were drum fishing.
The good news is that many fishermen caught flounder to some degree. One fisherman in the TJM Kayak Tournament said he caught 11 flounder inside the wall at the Basin and Second Bay at Fort Fisher and all were on artificials. He said he preferred light jig heads with five inch Berkley Gulp jerk baits, but ran out and also caught them just as well on smaller baits. He said the biggest problem with the smaller baits was the flounder hit them so hard the hooks were deep and difficult to remove.
Yeah -- that sounds like a big problem, especially to the folks who weren't catching any.
Red drum fishing remains rather hit and miss, but many times finding one means finding a small school or feeding group. This week there were some good reports of pups in the creeks and bays off Core Creek, around Swansboro, behind Topsail and Lea Islands and in the lower Cape Fear River. Some are also being caught close to the inlets looking for cooler water from the ocean.
There has also been a little drum action in the surf, which is not generally considered a good place to find them during the heat of summer. Don't tell that to the successful fishermen as they were pretty pleased. The inlets are good places to try and several good reports came from Topsail, Rich and Masons Inlets. Shoals and flats with deeper water right beside them have been good places to check.
The Crystal Coast and the Brunswick County Beaches are south facing beaches and generally have a flatter profiles and no real pronounced slough running just off the beach during the summer. However, with all the wind we have had this summer, the current has formed a little slough and some fish are feeding in it. The fishing is usually better for a couple of hours around the high tide and especially so if that is at first or last light. Live baits or chunks of cut bait are the better baits. Sometimes a flounder doesn't realize these baits aren't for him and bites one too.
Last week I mentioned that in the heat many fishermen are finding puppy drum seem to prefer live or freshly caught natural baits. I received several calls and e-mails from fishermen who agreed. Drum are a perfect fish for using circle hooks to prevent deep hooking them and I recommend using them with natural baits. Some fishermen said the drum were also pretty aggressive with topwater baits, but primarily in the very early mornings when the air is cool and the winds are calm.
The jury is still out regarding how badly the severe cold of last winter affected speckled trout, but a few more positive signs are emerging. The fishermen in the TJM Kayak Fishing Tournament reported catching enough trout to be pleasantly surprised. They weren't huge trout, but there were some numbers and it was a catch, photograph and release tournament, so they were released to continue growing and spawning.
On my weekly trip to Camp Lejeune, we caught a few more trout again this week and they were in surprisingly shallow water. Several of the Marines caught keeper trout in water roughly knee to waist deep. The best fishing was early in the day and ended by about 10:30. A white, three-inch, Berkley Gulp shrimp on a 1/8 ounce jig head was the hot ticket. This was over a sand bottom with lots of rip-rap scattered across the bottom. As the sun continued to rise, the catch slowed but we caught some small puppy drum and flounder.
We all thought the water felt cooler early in the day and then warmed as the sun rose. This wasn't checked with a thermometer, but done by standing in it. I can't speak for the others, but I don't believe my feet lie about water temperature.
Keep this in mind as you get out fishing this week. I believe it might work similarly in spots in area rivers and the sounds. During the winter, we concentrate on fishing over dark mud bottoms as they often help warm the water. Light bottoms do not collect the heat and should be cooler during the summer, especially early in the morning. Add in a little rock strewn across the bottom to help hold some bait and it has potential to be a good spot to fish when the water and sun are hot.
While a few tarpon have been hooked, there hasn't been much king action from the piers in a while. A couple more kings were caught from Carolina Beach and Kure Beach Piers late last week and over the weekend and that is encouraging. The next king bite could come at almost any time as king fishermen are on the piers every day. One fisherman on Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island got a big surprise last week when a tarpon decided it wanted his Got-Cha jig. At least the big fish jumped a couple of times so it could be identified before departing the area.
Tarpon and big red drum are being caught in Pamlico Sound and the lower Neuse River. Fishermen in the Oriental Rotary Tarpon Tournament released seven tarpon and several guides have reported the numbers of big drum are growing almost daily. The August full moon is late next week and that is usually a peak in these fisheries.
Flounder and Spanish mackerel continue to lead the pier catches. Some nice pompano are also being caught, plus bluefish, sea mullet, sheepshead, black drum and a few red drum and speckled trout. First light and just before to a little after sunset have been more productive enough days it has become noticeable. Higher tide at these times seems to help too.
Fishermen trolling along the beach a few hundred yards beyond the ends of the piers are finding some scattered Spanish mackerel. They are also around the inlets and on the tide lines just outside the inlets. Spanish are being caught primarily by trolling size 0 and 00 Clarkspoons, but they will also readily hit small live baits.
Flounder fishermen anchored on the nearshore artificial reefs and hardbottom areas will agree that Spanish mackerel like small live baits. Occasionally they get a hit from a Spanish while dropping a flounder bait to the bottom. Drifting an unweighted small live bait back into the current while anchored and flounder fishing is a sure way to get a strike. Sometimes it's a Spanish and sometimes it's a shark. Sharks like small live baits too. Finger mullet and peanut pogies are everyone's favorites.
There were several days in the past week with lighter winds and fishermen headed offshore. Some king mackerel are holding over structure beginning at about 60 feet deep. These closer kings are mainly smaller fish, with more in the high teens being a little deeper. Some folks wanted to proclaim the king bite as red hot after some big fish were caught in Saturday's Raleigh Salt Water Sportfishing Club King Mackerel Tournament, but that seems to have been an anomaly. There were one or two big kings caught from a half dozen or so popular spots east of Cape Lookout on Saturday.
Skip Conklin and Sandy Conklin and Jay Russell found the genuine anomaly in that king bite and it came from the Atlas Tanker wreck. Occasionally some large kings in the high forties and low fifties are caught during this tournament, but their 60.30 pound king that won it was a surprise even to these accomplished fishermen. Other large kings were caught Saturday too and the tournament results are below.
A few dolphin have followed baitfish inshore to some of the same areas holding kings and are feeding with the kings. If you see dolphin in your area, switching to smaller baits and lures should increase your hookup ratio. Dolphin have smaller mouths than kings and eat smaller baits easier.
For several weeks I have said there are some sailfish scattered throughout the area from approximately 60 to 100 feet of water. A few are caught every week incidental to king mackerel and dolphin fishing. This past weekend, there was a concentrated effort in this range off Wrightsville Beach by fishermen in the Capt. Eddy Haneman Sailfish Tournament and 29 sailfish were landed (and released). The hot spot was 23 Mile Rock and the tournament results are below.
Offshore bottom fishing is going well also. There are some black sea bass, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys closer in, but the grouper bite has been best in about 100 to 110 feet of water. Remember that non stainless steel circle hooks are required for bottom fishing with bait beyond three miles offshore and that dehookers are also required for bottom fishing in federal waters.
The comment period for the issue of allowing LightSquared, a broadband wireless company to operate on a frequency that is known to interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) signals ended on July 30. I sure hope we got enough responses to stop this. This week I was reminded how much sensitive surveying and marine surveying relies on very precise GPS measurements. It probably wouldn't hurt to make your congressmen aware of this issue and hopefully swing some influence from them. BoatUS, which is the largest recreational boaters group in the U.S, was recruiting hard and should keep us posted. You can review their information at www.BoatUS.com/gov and information from the Coalition to Save Our GPS at www.saveourgps.org.
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. These 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.
This past weekend was the busiest tournament weekend of the summer to date. Several tournaments were held in the area, with others down to Southport. The Ducks Unlimited Band the Billfish Tournament was held July 28 to 30 from the Big Rock Landing on the Morehead City Waterfront. This is the sixth tournament in the N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Conservation Series. The sailfish bite continued to be hot as 47 boats released 51 billfish and 48 of them were sails. The remaining three were white marlin.
The Carolina Time, with Capt. Shane Brafford, was the winner with 750 points from five sailfish releases. They were also the winner in 2010, which makes them the first back-to-back winner in the history of the tournament. Tuna Duck, captained by Dan Rooks, and Bill Collector, with Capt. Stephen Draughon, tied for second place with 450 points for three sailfish releases. The tie was broken by the meatfish pounds weighed by each boat and Tuna Duck had 65.6 to claim second place, while Bill Collector settled for third with 49.8 pounds.
The Run Off, captained by Brian Harrington, landed a 55.4 pound wahoo to top the Wahoo Category. Islander, with Capt. Bobby Schlegel at the helm, won the Dolphin Category with a 16.7 pound dolphin. The top small boat was the Reel Love, owned and captained by Jeff Vreugdenhil who scored 300 points on a pair of sailfish releases. John Kirkpatrick secured Top Greenwing Angler honors with three sailfish releases and Jennifer Coleman earned Top Lady Angler honors with a pair of sailfish releases and 31 pounds of meatfish. For more information visit www.ducks.org/north-carolina.
The Raleigh Saltwater Sportfishing Club held their annual king mackerel tournament on July 30 from Jaycee Park in Morehead City. They also had a flounder tournament running concurrently from the same site. The weather forecast for the day was excellent and 117 boats entered.
Skip Conklin and the crew of the Ocean Athlete came to the scales early with a 60.30 pound king that won the tournament for them and vindicated their second place by just more than an ounce in 2010. The big king earned Top Lady Angler honors for Sandy Conklin and set a new record for the tournament.
The Brown Eyed Girl, with Capt. Kevin Radford and crew was second with a 40.58 pound king that also earned Top Junior Angler Honors for Brooke Radford. John Parks and the Animal House crew finished third with a king that weighed 39.38 pounds.
Mike Witlach led the flounder anglers with a flatfish that weighed 6.43 pounds. For more information visit www.rswsc.org.
The first Core Sound Delta Waterfowl Redfish Tournament that was scheduled to be held from Portside Marina in Morehead City on July 30 was postponed due to concerns with the heat. Plans are being made to reschedule it for cooler weather in September or October. For more information visit www.coresounddeltaredfishtourney.weebly.com.
The Oriental Rotary Tarpon Tournament was held July 29 to 31 from Whittaker Point Marina in Oriental. This tournament was release-only and benefitted the Rotary Scholarship Fund and local civic projects.
Henry Frazer and crew had an excellent weekend on the way to winning the tournament. They successfully released three tarpon and won the general tournament, the Sportsman Division and the Championship Division. Frazer and crew pocketed $6,405 for their efforts.
Second place went to Gene Wooster and crew with two releases. Tracy Maynor and crew released one tarpon to finish third. The "Pancake Tarpon" trophy for catching the most cow-nosed rays was awarded to Wade Gaskins and crew who caught 38. For more information visit www.towndock.net/tarpon.
The Third Annual TJM Celebrity Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament was held Saturday, July 30, at Wrightsville Beach. This tournament is hosted by the Hook, Line and Paddle Kayak Shop in honor of Terrance Jackson Meddock, to raise money for Alzheimers North Carolina, Inc (www.alznc.org). In spite of a weather forecast with potential record high temperatures surpassing 100 degrees, 78 kayakers came from across N.C., plus Va. and S.C. to compete in the tournament.
The top two redfish would have been too large for anything but a catch, photo and release type tournament. Cameron Kinlaw won the Redfish Division with a 29 1/2 inch red and last year's winner, Joey Sullivan, caught a 27 1/4 inch redfish to finish second. Michelle Little represented the ladies well by finishing third with a 25 7/8 inch redfish.
William Ragulsky won the Trout Division with a 17 incher. Wayne Bradby and Calvin Almond tied at 16 1/2 inches, but Bradby checked in earlier and time was the designated tie-breaker. Bradby also won the "Slam" award with a total of 62 inches of one each trout, flounder and redfish.
Ken Maus topped the kayak fishermen seeking flounder with a very nice 20 inch flatfish. Joe Little was second at 18 15/16 inch and followed very closely by Erick Bell at 18 1/2 inches.
Winners in each species division were awarded new kayaks, while second and third places received paddles and other prizes. Bradby received a gold cup for winning the Slam Division. A copy of the gold cup Bradby received as the "Slam" winner will be kept in the Hook Line and Paddle shop, with his name and future winners engraved on it. For more information visit www.hooklineandpaddle.com.
The 12th annual Capt. Eddy Haneman Sailfish Classic was held Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30, from Bridgetender Marina in Wrightsville Beach to honor Wrightsville Beach charter and fishing legend Capt. Eddy Haneman. The proceeds from the 2011 tournament will be donated to help a three year old youngster who is battling Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that only affects 3 of a million children.
The sailfish bite was on and the 60 boat field released 29 during two days of fishing. Chicken Ship, with Capt. Adam Thompson, released three sailfish on Friday and it would prove to be enough for the win -- barely. Whipsaw, with Capt. Robbie Wolf, had just a single release on Friday, but added two on Saturday to tie Chicken Ship. However, neither could find the fourth release, so Chicken Ship won the time based tie-breaker by having released their final sailfish earlier in the tournament.
Chicken Ship also released the first sailfish on Friday and Whipsaw released the first sailfish on Saturday. Reel Quick, with Capt. Carroll Thomas, received the award for releasing the 12th sailfish of the tournament and the Reel Escape, with Capt. Taylor Pleasant, released the last sailfish of the tournament. Offshore Account won the Dolphin Division and Parker Plott earned Top Youth Angler honors.
The Cape Fear Flounder Classic, hosted by the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce was held July 30 from Southport Marina in Southport with 54 boats participating. The weather was hot and the fishing was too.
The winning flounder weren't huge, but were all larger than citation size. Adam Sellers of Bolivia and the crew on Magic Stick won the tournament and pocketed $3,147.50 for catching a 6.50 pound flounder. Blake Stone of Supply fished on Let Er Soak and was just a tenth of a pound behind to claim second with a flounder that weighed 6.40 pounds. Andy Broadwell of Oak Island rounded out the top three with a 6.10 pound flounder caught while fishing on Pop A Top. For more information visit www.southport-oakisland.com.
The only tournaments listed on the NCDMF saltwater tournament schedule or who have sent notices for the coming weekend are oriented for youngsters. Starling Marine will host the Summer Celebration Youth Fishing Tournament at Crocker's Landing in Wrightsville Beach on Saturday, August 6. For more information visit www.starlingmarine.com.
The Oak Island Open Youth Pier Tournament will be held Saturday, August 6, at Ocean Crest Pier. This is a tournament for the youngsters and has multiple opportunities to win. For more information visit www.oakislandnc.com or www.oceancrestpiernc.com.
The Top Dog Mighty Mite Pinfish Derby will be held on Saturday, August 6. This event is headquartered at Wildlife Bait and Tackle. For more information visit www.topdoginc.org.