The oppressive heat of this summer hung on for longer than anyone expected, but finally lost its stranglehold over last weekend as cooler weather and some rain pushed it away. Every the fishermen I spoke with, including who postponed trips due to the thunderstorms and rain, were glad to see the cooler weather.
Don't misunderstand me on this, it's still hot! However, after weeks when the mid 90s was the norm, dropping into the mid 80s is a welcome relief. The lower humidity of earlier this week was nice too, but that has begun creeping back up. We are still way behind on rainfall for the year, but we have made a few surges in the past couple of weeks. It sure would be nice to get a slow soaking rain without all the lightning.
It may simply be a better attitude because of cooler weather, but I believe the fishing is improving a little too. Sure, we are all looking forward to the fall, but more folks caught flounder, Spanish mackerel and other species this week and the attitude in tackle shops and at launching ramps and marinas is more upbeat. The temperature is forecast to continue with daytime highs in the mid 80s through the weekend, with the chance of rain increasing early next week. Let's hope fishing continues to improve also.
One thing that looks to be improving is the probability that the shallow coastal N.C. inlets will be dredged and maintained this year. The federal government removed the earmark monies that have funded these projects, so new resources had to be found. The state stepped up and offered to provide half of the approximately $450,000 required for each inlet through June 2012, but made the offer contingent on the local governments providing the other half. This is in various stages in the different areas, but is expected to be done. The affected inlets are Bogue Inlet (Emerald Isle); New Topsail Inlet (Topsail Beach): Carolina Beach Inlet (Carolina Beach) and Lockwood Folly Inlet (Oak Island/Holden Beach).
While there was a swell running most of last week, it was a ground swell that was spaced far enough apart that fishermen could comfortably get offshore several days and returned with some really mixed bag catches. Many fishermen headed out to catch kings and dolphin and they were in tight groups that led to a bunch of hit or miss fishing. Those fishermen who found the pods of fish, had good catches, but the fish weren't spread everywhere.
Usually when you find a school of dolphin and get one to bite, if you leave it in the water the others will come to it and you can catch a bunch. I had several fishermen tell me this didn't work this week. One said he threw all kinds of cut up bait to a big school and they just milled around. Another said he experienced a similar thing, so he said the heck with it and began trolling again and the dolphin them began biting. Sometimes you have to try different things to be successful.
The sailfish bite had been very good in the waters from about 80 feet out to the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream, but it slowed a little in the last week. Thankfully, the numbers of white marlin showed an increase, especially from Cape Lookout to the north. This bodes well for fishermen in the Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament that will end Friday afternoon.
Offshore bottom fishing has been and continues to be good, as in very good. I find it hard to believe that black sea bass are endangered as fishermen continue telling tales of releasing twice as many "just shorts" as they catch keepers. The grouper bite is hot too. Many fishermen are catching large scamps and gags and lots of reds.
Beeliners, pinkies, grunts and porgies are also biting well. Triggerfish are on some of the coral bottoms and around wrecks, but are a little difficult to catch with circle hooks. I was told smaller, wide bend circle hooks work best for triggers, but haven't had the opportunity to try them.
Several fishermen reported the Spanish mackerel bite improved as the weather cooled over last weekend. They said the trick for trolling was to set lines farther back than usual, so the fish didn't associate the motor noise with the bait. They were cleaning several limits, so it sure appeared that tactic had worked for them.
Another group of fishermen said they had their best success by finding a school of feeding Spanish and positioning the boat upwind of them and shutting off the motor. This allowed them to silently drift into the school and cast to the fish. They said they were casting some of the smaller Jigfish lures by Sea Striker and retrieving very quickly. They had several limits also.
It wasn't anything dramatic, but the general overall fishing at the ocean piers picked up a little last week. One fisherman said it was because the cooler weather made fishermen more energetic and feel more like fishing. As hot as it had been, I'll agree that may have had some effect. However, I believe the change in weather may have spurred the fish to bite a little more too. There weren't any kings caught from the piers, but as the baitfish supply grows and the water cools, they should find their way back inshore.
Flounder and Spanish mackerel were the leading pier catches again and that shouldn't be a surprise. Early mornings and late afternoons are good times for pier fishing and may even be a little better if the tide is high. In addition to flounder and Spanish, pier fishermen are catching a few red drum, sheepshead, pompano, bluefish, whiting, black drum and speckled trout.
Flounder are a favorite of many fishermen and have been one of the most consistently caught fish through the summer. While live mullet minnows, mud minnows and peanut pogies have long been considered the favorite baits for flounder and have been catching them for years, in the past handful of years, fishermen have found flounder will hit a variety of artificial baits too. I catch a surprising number of flounder while fishing lures for puppy drum and expect others do also. Soft plastics usually produce best, but I have caught them on spoons, spinnerbaits and MirrOlures.
Flounder are being caught on the nearshore ocean hardbottoms and artificial reefs, plus in the inlets, at creek mouths, on channel edges and along the port wall at the state port. Capt. Matt Lamb or Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said he weighed several large flounder last week, including one huge 10 1/2 pound brute that came from the port wall.
Someone said it was because of all the baitfish in the creeks, but red drum fishing has improved over the past few weeks. I was looking forward to spending several afternoons last week chasing them in the flooded marsh during the full moon tides, but between my schedule and the thunderstorms only got out one day. It was pretty good that day and I spoke with other fishermen who said it was worth dodging the showers on the other afternoons too.
It wasn't the showers that bothered me, but the lightning that was with them. In case you haven't looked, there isn't any place to hide on a skiff and when you are in a flooded marsh, you are definitely the highest lightning rod around. I get caught in that situation often enough by accident, so I don't like tempting fate.
The afternoon I went, we were a little ahead of the tide, so we caught a net full of peanut pogies to fish along the edges while we watched the marsh ponds fill and waited for the drum to come to dinner. It was a smart move. We saw more drum moving along the creek edges looking for ways into the ponds than we did in the ponds -- and had just the bait they were looking for. The tide was a little late and was just getting optimum for fishing in the ponds when we left just before dark.
Trout fishing remains slow. It is encouraging to occasionally see some nice trout, but they obviously are in short supply after the extremely cold winter. Surprisingly enough, the best trout reports of the past couple of weeks have come from the cooler waters of Hatteras and Manteo.
The reports from the Pamlico Sound and lower Neuse River are of a red-hot and still building old red drum bite and a few tarpon. The tarpon bite should spike at least one more time as the moon fades back from full to the new moon and begins building again. The old drum bite should be good through at least the September full moon.
Attention aspiring fly fishermen! There may be a similar class closer to you, but this is the one that has been brought to my attention. If someone knows of others, please pass the information to me. Brunswick Community College will be offering a "Basics of Flyfishing" course beginning Sept. 26. The class, which will be taught by Bobby Sands, will meet Monday evenings for five weeks and will be followed by an advanced class during the winter. The registration fee is $50. For more information contact Brunswick Community College at 910-755-7300.
Local interests are coming up with innovative ways to offset the budget cuts in education. One of them is the South Brunswick High School Class Acts Golf Tournament on September 24. This tournament is being sponsored by St. James Properties LLC and will be held at the Members Club at St. James Plantation, near Southport. The proceeds will be donated to the Dance Team and Aquaculture Program at South Brunswick High.
I don't know much about dance, but I know this is an exceptional aquaculture program. I'm not a golfer, but have volunteered to help otherwise. There are provisions for volunteering or donating and the tournament field will include 48, four-person, teams in a scramble format. There will also be a banquet with raffles, live and silent auctions and more. For information or to register, contact Lizabeth Dorris, Dance Teacher, 910.265.6632; Barry Bey, Aquaculture Instructor, 910.477.0078; Meggen Calderwood, 910.253.4966; or Janey & Dave Pearce 910.253.3096.
The initial comment period to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) 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. The period for rebuttal comments ended on August 15. This issue will be followed at www.BoatUS.com/gov. The Coalition to Save Our GPS is also monitoring the situation and posting updates at www.saveourgps.com
We should also be sure our congressmen are aware how this affects us as boaters and how widespread the use of GPS is in everyday life. Senator Burr has signed a Senate letter requesting further review, but Senator Hagan has not. Representative McIntyre was not listed on a similar letter from the House of Representatives. These letters are available for review at the website of the Coalition to Save Our GPS at www.saveourgps.com. The contact information for our senators and Representatives is available at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting originally scheduled for August 10 to 12 in Raleigh has been rescheduled for August 30 through September 1. This will also require rescheduling several MFC Advisory Committee meetings scheduled for later this month. The Advisory Committee meetings were to discuss items to be voted on at the MFC meeting, so they serve no purpose occurring prior to it.
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 30 and at 9:15 A.M. on August 31. For more details or an agenda visit the Commission website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet Monday, Aug. 22, at 6:00 P.M. at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office in Washington. For more information, visit http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home or contact division biologists Sean McKenna at 800-338-7804 or Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or Lynn Henry at 800-405-7774 or Lynn.Henry@ncdenr.gov.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) will conduct a series of four public hearings from North Carolina to Florida regarding measures proposed in Amendment 24 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan for red grouper. The public hearings will be held August 22-25, 2011 from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM. Council staff will present an overview of the amendment and will be available for informal discussions and to answer questions. Those attending will have an opportunity to go on record at any time during the meeting hours to record their comments regarding Snapper Grouper Amendment 24 for consideration by the Council.
A copy of the Public Hearing document for Amendment 24 is available from the Council's website at www.safmc.net or by contacting the Council office at 843-571-4366 or toll free 866-SAFMC-10. Written comments will also be accepted and should be sent to Bob Mahood, Executive Director, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, North Charleston, SC 29405, or via email to SGAmend24PHcomment@safmc.net. Written comments will be accepted until 5:00 PM on September 1, 2011.
The North Carolina meeting regarding Snapper Grouper Amendment 24 will be Monday, Aug. 22, at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside in Wilmington. The meeting will begin at 5:00 P.M. and run through 7:00 P.M. Check the SAFMC website (www.safmc.net) for an agenda and more information.
The Onslow Bay Open King Mackerel Tournament was held from Casper's Marina in Swansboro on Saturday, August 13. This was the second tournament in SKA Division 2. Even with the gusty easterly winds, 66 boats fished the tournament.
Team Pro Build/Blue Water Candy, with Captains Roy Jarman and Jody Gay caught a 46.53 pound king to claim the win. Second place was awarded to D. and David Logan on Logan's Run, who caught a 44.03 pound king. Justified finished third and caught a 42.48 pound king.
Team Pro Build/Blue Water Candy kept the good times rolling by winning the Amberjack Category with a reef donkey that weighed 28.75 pounds. They also finished third in the Dolphin Category. My Honey Do won the Dolphin Category with an 11.92 pound fish. For more information visit www.obokmt.us.
Billfish week at Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo began on Sunday, August 14, with 61 boats of lady anglers headed out for the Alice Kelly Ladies Only Memorial Billfish Tournament. It was a good day of fishing as the ladies caught (and released) 50 billfish that included 45 white marlin, 4 blue marlin and 1 sailfish.
The ladies on the Penta Gone, with Capt. Ed Szilgyi caught 5 white marlin to score 350 release points and score the win. Hunter, with Capt. Walt Spruill, and Rigged Up, with Capt. Charles Haywood, both caught 3 white marlin and 1 blue marlin to total 330 release points. Hunter released their last fish first and earned second on the time-base tie-breaker while Rigged Up finished third.
Olivia Ingram fished on the Big Oh and caught a 15.8 pound dolphin to win the Largest Dolphin prize. Elise Keithley caught a 51 pound yellowfin tuna aboard the Trophy Hunter to earn Largest Dolphin honors. The Top Lady Angler was Kelly Francis, who fished on the Boneshaker and Brooke Smith claimed Top Junior Angler honors.
After a day of rest and final registration, the Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament began on Tuesday and fish through Friday, August 16 to 19. This is also held at Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo. Haphazard and the Hooker were tied for the lead with 630 points at the halfway point. I'll have the final results next week. For more information visit www.fishpiratescove.com.
The Mike Martin Memorial Pier Tournament was held at Surf City Ocean Pier on Saturday and Sunday, August 13 and 14. This is a multi-species event for pier fishermen and included a kids division.
The largest fish caught during the tournament was the 3.50 pound Spanish mackerel caught by Kenny Burgess to top the Spanish Mackerel Division. Daniel Lee caught a 2.28 pound Spanish to finish second. J.M. Dupree dominated the Sheepshead Division by catching the first and second place fish at 2.87 and 2.22 pounds respectively. Doug Keicher won the Pompano Division with a 2.65 pound fish, while Mary Eastman was second at 0.46 pounds and also won a bonus $50 for being the closest to 0.75 pounds. Mike Martin won the Flounder Division with a 2.37 pound flatfish while Chad Smith was only .08 behind at 2.29 pounds for second.
Donald Hall collected both places in the Bluefish Division with fish of 0.99 and 0.92 pounds. Daniel Lee caught the largest spot at 0.36 pounds to win the Spot Division and Rick Lafreniere was second with a 0.35 pound spot. Myrtle Williams topped the Va. Mullet Division with a 0.92 pounder, while Al Eastman was second at 0.69 pounds.
Nick Burghardt decked a 1.68 pound flounder to win the Children's Division. He also caught a 0.73 pound bluefish to secure third place as well. Conner Lee finished second with a 0.94 pound Va. Mullet. No red drum, black drum or speckled trout were caught. The prizes in those divisions will increase to $1,000 for 2012. For more information visit www.surfcityoceanpier.com.
The Cape Fear Sailfish Classic fished Friday and Saturday, August 12 and 13 from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. This was an all-release tournament for sailfish, with a weight category for dolphin and included a circle hook rigging seminar at the captains meeting on Thursday night.
The 18 Reeler, with Capt. Vance Forbes and crew, won the tournament with a pair of releases on Friday. Daddy Rabbott, captained by Reggie Abbott, earned the coveted prize for releasing the first sailfish and House Divided caught a 16.62 pound dolphin to win the Largest Dolphin prize. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
The Sneads Ferry Rotary Club will hold their annual king mackerel tournament on August 20 also. This is the third tournament in SKA Division 1 and will be held from New River Marina. For more information visit www.sneadsferryrotary.com.
The other tournament scheduled for this weekend is the Wilmington/Cape Fear Home Builders Association Fish Tales Tournament from Dockside Restaurant and Marina in Wrightsville Beach on Saturday, August 20. This is an inshore-offshore tournament with categories for red drum, flounder and speckled trout on the inshore side and king mackerel on the offshore side. For more information visit www.wilmingtonhomebuilders.com.