I hope you missed me a little while I was gone last week. It was a long trip and I am almost over the road wear. I also have some good fishing tales. I have been to New York and was fishing in cooler weather with low humidity. It was nice, but when I first got back our hot and humid weather worked on me for a few days. Thankfully the fishing has been good and took my mind off the heat until I was almost re-acclimated.
I heard good things about the fishing while I was away, especially for the end of July and first of August. All the rainwater runoff still has the water discolored in many placed, but the fish have adapted and are biting Ė surprisingly well.
In the creeks and along the channels out to the inlets, plus at the nearshore rocks and reefs, flounder are biting. There havenít been any huge ones, but the 3 to 5 pounders will keep most fishermenís attention. Red drum are feeding in shallower water and a surprisingly good number of summer trout are feeding too.
Fish get lethargic in the summer heat, but a struggling live bait usually creates attention and draws fish in. Scent is very helpful with the final convincing to bite when fishing artificials. Topwater lures are fun to fish and have been productive, especially early in the mornings, as they have motion and sound to fire fish up.
There are some tarpon in Pamlico Sound and the lower Neuse River, plus scattered along the beaches. There were several releases during the Oriental Rotary Tournament and a number of swings and misses. There were some reports of tarpon in the lower Cape Fear River, but no one has sent me a picture yet. Occasionally a tarpon surprises a king mackerel fisherman fishing close to the beach and things get exciting for a while. Unfortunately, the small treble hooks used for kings are rarely a match for a tarponís hard mouth.
Large red drum are showing well in Pamlico Sound and the lower Neuse River. This is the first wave and they are hungry. Many are feeding along the edges of the deeper channels and on the rises of the shoals. Remember that from 7:00 P.M. until 7:00 A.M. the short leader circle hook rig is required in the sound and its tributaries. A diagram of the rig is available at www.ncdmf.net.
King mackerel fishing is improving. The kings have moved to the beach in places and almost daily there are catches from the piers in Onslow Bay from Carolina Beach to Atlantic Beach. The water color is a little off, but the kings are there and biting. They are also spread on the wrecks and reefs out to about 100 feet of water.
Fishermen are catching a few dolphin mixed with the kings that are off the beach. There are also some sailfish feeding with the kings and an occasional wahoo. The better king action begins at about 60 feet deep and continues offshore.
Spanish macks are biting well too. Fishermen trolling Clarkspoons and other small lures are catching smaller ones around the inlets and along the beaches. Some larger Spanish are being caught from the piers and fishermen either anchored or slow-trolling live baits
Now for my fish taleÖ Many of you regular readers will remember back at the first of the summer I regularly mentioned the Ultimate Fishing Town Poll hosted on the World Fishing Network website. Several N.C. towns received nominations, but only Hatteras lasted beyond the preliminary rounds. Hatteras actually led the poll until the last few days and was finally passed by Point Breeze, N.Y., which is in northwest New York on Lake Ontario. Records showed the 2012 winner was Olcott Beach, N.Y., which is only a few miles west of Point Breeze and also on Lake Ontario.
This had to be more than coincidence, so I checked it out. My first call for information was to a fellow outdoor writer and outdoor tourism director I had met many years ago at a deer hunting camp in Ohio. Bill Hilts, Jr. is with Niagara USA (www.niagara-usa.com) in Niagara Falls, N.Y. and these towns are in his area. When I asked him about this, he was polite and said it with humor, but he basically said they won because the fishing is that good. He then extended an invitation to see for myself and I accepted. That is where I was last week.
Let me tease a little by simply saying the fishing was very good (Iíll have details in a few paragraphs), but talk a little about the area first. Obviously, this area centers around Niagara Falls. For those of you, whose mental image of New York is New York City, forget that. The closest city is Buffalo, but it isnít extremely large and has a long waterfront on Lake Erie and the Niagara River with huge marinas and lots of opportunity to get on the water.
There are a few high-rise buildings in the city of Niagara Falls (more high-rise buildings are across the Niagara River in Niagara Falls, Canada), but Niagara County and the surrounding counties are surprisingly rural. This is a very pretty area and, with the exception of some hills, many locations resemble eastern N.C. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly shocked.
The Niagara Falls area is mainly considered a tourist area, but the fishing is exceptional. There is easy access to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, plus the Niagara River. If you visit there, do yourself a favor and go fishing. I now see Niagara Falls as a fishing destination with many things for any non-fishermen in the family to do.
Niagara Falls State Park (www.niagarafallsstatepark.com) is a great place to visit. The falls are in the state park and a visit can be as simple as hiking the park or a full-blown visit to all the attractions. When visiting the attractions, a Discovery Pass is the way to go and includes admission to the Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Adventure Theater and Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Allow a day to see everything.
I really enjoyed the Cave of the Winds, which isnít a cave at all, but a series of steps and decks that take you to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls and right beside the American Falls. One deck is called the Hurricane Deck and rightfully so. Water from the falls splashes off the rocks and hits you much like stepping out on a dock in the sound during a hurricane. They supply sandals and a poncho that work well on the other levels. Not so on the Hurricane Deck. Carry soap and shampoo and you can shower.
The Maid of the Mist is a tour boat that travels to the base of all three falls (American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls). This is a unique perspective that has to be seen to be appreciated. I also enjoyed the history of the falls as shown in the Niagara Adventure Theater.
There are many other tourist attractions in the area. We stayed in Lewiston, about 8 miles downriver at the Barton Hill Hotel (www.bartonhillhotel.com). This is a very nice boutique hotel overlooking a town park and the Niagara River and within walking distance of almost everything in town. While the Barton Hill appeared way too nice for fishermen, the staff made us feel at home and went out of their way to make the stay enjoyable, including freezing and storing our fish.
Lewiston prides itself on being a walking friendly community that highlights its relationship with the Niagara River. Historians say Niagara Falls were located at Lewiston about 12,000 years ago. It was a prominent spot in the Underground Railroad and the site of the first attack during the war of 1812. Modern Lewiston history includes a Rand McNally 2012 Top Ten Small Towns in the US award and a Best for Food award from a USA Today/Rand McNally poll. Recently the Earl W. Brydges ArtPark State Park was added with indoor and outdoor concert venues and a full schedule. We saw The Machine do their Pink Floyd tribute show, complete with the laser light show, and easily walked there from the Barton Hill
Niagara County has numerous tourist attractions in addition to the falls. One day we rode the Whirlpool Jet Boats (www.whirlpooljet.com) up the Niagara River and through Devils Hole and the Whirlpool below the falls. It was lots of fun and very wet. That afternoon we slowed the pace with a leisurely Erie Canal Cruise at Lockport, N.Y. This cruise includes a trip each way through Locks 34 and 35 on the Erie Canal which raise and lower boats a total of 49 feet (www.lockportlocks.com).
Knowing we were from N.C., the home of NASCAR, the locals assumed we enjoyed racing and invited us to Ransomville Speedway (www.ransomvillespeedway.com), which is only about 20 miles from Niagara Falls. They were having a Patriot Sprint Tour event (www.patriotsprinttour.com) and the racing was excellent until the rains came. We have a newfound respect for those who drive winged sprint cars on dirt tracks. The Patriot Sprint Tour is a regional version of the World of Outlaws and they were fast!
OK, enough of that Ė It was fun, but this is a fishing report. To a man, every guide and fisherman we spoke with in New York told us the last week of July and first couple of weeks of August are the toughest fishing of the year. If this is the toughest fishing of the year, Iíve got to go back and fish when fishing is good. Even with our limited experience, the quality of fishing that earned back-to-back Ultimate Fishing Town titles was obvious.
We began our fishing in Lake Ontario with Capt. Matt Yablonsky of Wet Net Charters (www.getthenetwet.com). We fished off the mouth of the Niagara River a handful of miles west of Olcott Beach and a little farther west of Point Breeze. There were no other boats fishing and I had to ask why it was so uncrowed with such good fishing? Capt. Matt said more boats are here when the fishing is at its best earlier and later in the year, but during the Dog Days they fished right out in front of their inlets. We fished from early morning until about 2:30 P.M. and never had another boat close to us. If the fish hadnít been biting so well, I might have thought we were in a bad spot.
Capt. Matt began in deep water near the Canadian/U.S. Border and Ontario, Canada was prominent in the background. He used a combination of trolling lines that included divers, downriggers, wire lines and copper lines to fish the water column from about 75 feet deep back towards the surface. This was lure fishing with a variety of spoons and trolling flies and regardless of the complex set, tangles were minimal. One of the thoughts I couldnít shake was how badly this would be tangled if trying to use it with live bait for kings.
This was our first fishing trip of the week and Capt. Matt set the bar really high. We found limits of king salmon, Coho salmon and some huge steelhead trout. We also released a few, missed a handful of strikes and managed to pull the hooks on a few more. With four on the boat, we kept 12 fish and must have had at least double that many strikes. The first strike came before Capt. Matt had all the lines set.
Steelhead and smaller salmon were more prevalent in the deeper water, so we moved closer to the mouth of the river and found some larger fish. I have always heard not to leave fish to find fish, but this time it worked Ė and worked well. The size of the king salmon jumped from the teens into the mid twenties and the numbers improved also.
Capt. Matt knows his fish. All morning he had been talking about the 2:00 P.M. bite and saved some of the limit for then. I was a little apprehensive, but was proven wrong. At about 1:55, the bite began and we had 6 strikes by 2:15. Those last few fish were caught pretty quickly and strikes came from every depth. It was wide open for a while.
Our second fishing adventure was with Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charter Service (www.niagaracharter.com). We traveled the approximately 25 miles around Buffalo to Lackawanna on Lake Erie and fished the lake and where it becomes the upper end of the Niagara River. We had hoped for some walleye, but a recent weather change had pushed them across the lake into Canadian Waters and we decided not to visit without passports.
We switched our target to smallmouth bass and immediately the action changed and began to heat up. The smallies hit a variety of tube lures, soft plastics and live crawfish. While we were catching nice smallmouth, Capt. Frank wanted to catch larger ones. We caught several around 4 pounds, one that didnít quite make 5 pounds and a bunch of 2 and 3 pounders. Capt. Frank wanted a 6 to 8 pounder for a picture, but we just couldnít pull it off and had to settle for catching a lot of them. Life is rough sometimesÖ
There are also freshwater drum, locally called sheepshead, that couldnít stay away from my hooks. Capt. Frank and donna caught a few, but I caught them on every different bait or lure I tried. I guess Iím just a drum fisherman and they knew it. The good news is the freshwater drum were excellent fighters, but the down side is they arenít considered much as table fare. I really bent Capt. Frankís and Billís ears telling them to promote freshwater drum for catch and release fishing. It sure works here for red drum.
Our final fishing adventure was with Capt. Stephen Drabczyk of Drab 6 Fishing (www.drab6fishing.com) in the lower Niagara River. We met Capt. Steve at the ramp in front of the Barton Hill. We began the day fishing for smallmouth and walleye, but the walleye still hadnít settled out from the weather shift and werenít biting. We caught lots of smallies.
Once Capt. Steve decided we could handle drift fishing, he asked if we would like to run up into the Niagara Gorge, near the Devilís Hole and see if we could find a musky. Musky is one of the fish on my bucket list, so I quickly agreed and we were on our way.
Fishing the Niagara River Gorge is tedious. You are constantly adjusting line length to feel the bottom but not snag on it. Anchoring is not possible and the drift is quick. Unfortunately the musky werenít in a mood to come out and play either, so after several unproductive passes we decided to call it a morning.
The fishing in northwestern New York earned my respect and caught my attention. Iím pretty sure I will return. In addition to being pretty country, with friendly people, activities for the whole family and excellent fishing, the weather was very pleasant. We only had a single day when the high passed 80. The other days made the 70ís with low humidity, which is prefect for fishing, touristing and other outdoor activities. The first point for information on the entire area is Niagara USA. Their website is www.niagara-usa.com and they also have a Facebook page.
Fishermen should be aware and carry enough coolers. We carried a 65 quart Engel cooler to bring some fish home and filled it to overflowing on the first day. The fishing really is that good. It was catching at its finest and we left the fish biting every day. The fillets are tasty too. Salmon doesnít get much fresher than when you catch it yourself.
Our tagged great white sharks are still offshore of the Continental Shelf roughly east of Hilton Head, S.C. They have begun spending days at a time under water and someone asked if it might be to escape the heat of the upper water column? I donít know, but that is a good question. In the past, we have always thought these were colder water sharks, but they have been in the south all summer. Follow the travels of Mary Lee and Lydia by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
Last week I reported the N.C. Legislature had included Senate Bill 58 (Increase Funding for Dredging) into the budget bill and this legislation will increase boat registration fees and defers 1/6 of 1 percent of highway fuel taxes to the Wildlife Resources Commission to pay the states share (50 percent) of the cost of dredging the shallow draft inlets along the N.C. Coast.
Several other hunting and fishing license fees were also increased during the recent legislative session and the increases will help support the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Observer Program. The fee for the Recreational Commercial Gear License (RCGL), which allows recreational fishermen to use limited amounts of commercial gear, increased on August 1 from $35 to $43.75 (residents) and from $250 to $312.50 (non-residents). North Carolina law requires fishermen to hold a RCGL to use commercial gear, such as gill nets, for recreational purposes. RCGL holders must still abide by recreational fishery limits.
The Marine Fisheries Commission Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet August 12 at 12:30 P.M. at the Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Tina Moore or Trish Murphey at 252-808-8082 or 252-808-8091 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov. A copy of the meeting agenda is available at www.ncdmf.net.
The Marine Fisheries Commission Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet August 15 at 1:00 P.M. at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. One of the topics they will discuss is not allowing recreational shrimping. For more information contact Trish Murphey or Chris Stewart at 252-808-8091 or 910-796-7215 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov or Chris.Stewart@ncdenr.gov. A copy of the meeting agenda is available at www.ncdmf.net.
Gov. Pat McCrory has announced the appointment of three new members of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission. The governor has appointed Paul Rose, a commercial fisherman, Charles "Chuck" Laughridge, a recreational fisherman, and Mark Gorges, a fishing guide, to seats on the nine member commission. Rose will replace Rob Bizzell as the groupís chairman. Those members not reappointed to the commission include outgoing chair Bizzell, Dr. Chris Elkins and Bradley Styron.
For those of you who follow the tournaments, here are some basic results from the tournaments that happened while I was away.
After a free week, several tournaments are on tap for this weekend. The Onslow Bay Open King Mackerel Tournament will begin and end with the Captains Meeting and Awards at the Swansboro Hampton Inn and the scales will be located at Casperís Marina on the Swansboro waterfront. This is the second of five tournaments in the Southern Kingfish Association Division 1. For more information visit www.obokmt.us.
The Hook and Bones Redfish Shootout will be held August 10 in Swansboro. This event is being presented by the Swansboro Parks and Recreation Department, with assistance from Hook and Bones Fishing Apparel and will benefit Heroes on the Water (www.heroesonthewater.org). For more information visit www.hookandbones.com or call Brittany Wood at Swansboro Parks and Recreation at 910-326-2600.
The 21st Annual Rotary Club of Sneads Ferry King Mackerel Tournament will be held August 17 from New River Marina in Sneads Ferry. This is the third of five tournaments in Southern Kingfish Association Division 1. For more information visit www.sneadsferrykmt.com.
The 23rd Annual Alice Kelly Memorial Ladies Only Billfish Tournament will be held August 11 from Pirateís Cove Marina in Manteo. The tournament benefits cancer research and is the warm up event for the 30th Annual Pirateís Cove Billfish Tournament, which will follow August 12 through 16. For more information visit www.pcbgt.com.
The 29th Annual Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament will be held August 13 to 16 from Pirateís Cove Marina in Manteo. This is the final of eight tournaments in the Governorís Cup Billfish Series. Prizes will be awarded for billfish release points and weighed blue marlin exceeding a 400 pound or 110 inch minimum. There will also be prizes for offshore gamefish. For more information visit www.pcbgt.com.