Wow! What a week. The weather was nice and the fishing varied from good to great at times, but the wind has picked up a little right now as we are feeling some of the distant effects of Tropical Storm Fay. I'm a big-time fan of both good fishing and nice weather and to have them come together is a real treat. The only thing then is to make some time to take advantage of it. Several folks had some outstanding catches in the past week and I tried too. I had a good time, but came away with only tales and no scales.
Weather is always a concern during Hurricane season and when a tropical depression gets named, we pay closer attention. Earlier in the week it appeared Tropical Storm Fay might build into a hurricane and we might feel some effects--especially some much-needed rain. Well, as things sometime happen, these predictions all but totally reversed themselves during the week.
Tropical Storm Fay has hit Florida three times now and is moving back across the state from east to west as I write this. The storm stalled for a while yesterday off Daytona Beach and they received a deluge of rain. Conservative estimates were over 11 inches and estimates approached 20 inches in several areas. Needless to say there is extensive flooding. We would have gladly taken a little of that rainfall.
As for our weather; we are just a little north of the farthest bands of rain (Myrtle Beach on Thursday morning), so we won't get any rain, but will see some gusty winds through Friday. By Saturday the winds will begin laying out, but are forecast to remain from the east until Monday.
Probably the biggest fishing news--all 1,228.5 pounds of it--is the state record blue marlin Trey Irvine landed Friday out of Oregon Inlet. Irvine, who was fishing in the Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament, was on his boat, Mimi, when the monster blue hit. Irvine's catch eclipsed Jack Herrington's 1,142 pound N.C. state record blue marlin by 86.5 pounds. Herrington's record had stood since 1974. Irvine and crew easily won the tournament, sweeping all the billfish categories and pocketing almost a half-million dollars.
Probably the most important news for Tar Heel boaters is that Governor Mike Easley waited until virtually the last minute, but held true on his threat to veto H 2167, the bill to allow wider boats to be towed without a special permit and at night. The bill, which removed the permit requirement for boats less than 10 feet wide, also allowed boats up to 9 1/2 feet wide to be towed at night and allowed boats up to 10 feet wide to be towed on any day.
Currently, boats wider than 8 1/2 feet require a special permit to be purchased from the state and can only be towed during daylight hours, Monday through Saturday. Towing of boats wider than 8 1/2 feet is also forbidden from noon the day prior to a holiday until noon the day after.
Despite a lack of any documentation to support his claim, Easley criticized the bill as being unsafe and cited that as his reason for the veto. Bill sponsor, Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, challenged Easley's claims that the measure is unsafe, saying that the wider boats would be resting on the same sized trailers and that an extra five or six inches on each side would not jeopardize motorists' safety.
Several supporters of the bill pointed out that wider boats had been traveling the states roadways for 15 years or more and had no problems until about a year ago when the Highway Patrol decided to enforce some older laws. Williams also said he is confident there are enough supporters to override the veto should the General Assembly return to Raleigh.
With Easley's veto, the bill is returned to the General Assembly and the legislators who passed it so overwhelmingly (43-0 Senate and 108-5 House) must decide whether to accept Easley's veto or reconvene to attempt to override it. Overriding the governor's veto requires a 3/5 majority of the House and Senate members present. Easley urged lawmakers to wait until next year to revise the law so there is ample time to study the consequences of the legislation.
Senate President Pro Tem, March Basnight, stated he and the N.C. Senators were ready to return to Raleigh and override the veto, but since the bill originated in the House, that decision must be made by House Speaker, Joe Hackney. A spokesman for Hackney said House leaders were evaluating the situation and have not yet decided if they will call the members back to Raleigh to try to override the veto.
Supporters of the bill are asking boaters to contact their senators and representatives and urge them to return to Raleigh and override the veto. They also recommend contacting House Speaker Hackney and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.
Hackney's office phone is 919-733-3451 and his e-mail address is Joeh@ncleg.net. Basnight's office phone is (919) 733-6854 and his e-mail address is Marcb@ncleg.net. A form letter that only takes about a minute to complete and send is located at: http://www.tarheelstriperclub.com/towingissuesletter.htm. This will be sent to all N.C. legislators. The individual contact information for all N.C. legislators can be found at www.ncleg.net.
The guides fishing the Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River are reporting good action with tarpon and large drum. Both have been caught as far upriver as the Minnesott-Cherry Branch Ferry crossing. The drum generally prefer drop-offs and sloughs that concentrate bait, while the tarpon like deeper water. Tarpon fishing is generally considered a daytime fishery, while big drum are a late afternoon and evening fishery. Many folks regard the August full moon as the peak of the big drum activity and say the tarpon fishing picks back up for a few weeks as the nights get darker after it.
In the southern part of the state, the August full moon is the prime time for evening / nighttime tarpon fishing in the lower Cape Fear River. I was out with Capt. Tommy Rickman, who had gone 1 for 2 on Friday night, on Saturday night and, while we didn't get a solid tarpon hookup, we had a couple of pickups and caught a few sharks. A few tarpon rolled around us and one tasted just enough hook to jump about 15 feet from the boat. That was exciting!
The sharks were mainly blacktips and one raised enough ruckus and jumped about 4 times that the other boats thought we had a tarpon--but it wasn't. There was enough cloud cover the moon really didn't shine through on Saturday and that could have been the difference. Shortly after dark, I fought something that ran pretty good, but never jumped and pulled the hook before we got a look at it. It's a bit weird when your line is buzzing away and you can't tell exactly what direction.
There are still some small kings mixed in with the schools of Spanish mackerel. They look very similar, but have different size and number regulations. Small kings and Spanish both have spots, so they can't be used to tell the difference. The lateral line on a king drops more quickly than on a Spanish, but it can be hard to tell when they are small. The best identifier is the black area on the front of the forward dorsal fin on Spanish mackerel. They have it and kings don't. A king's dorsal fin is all gray.
The limit on kings is 3 fish, with a minimum size of 24 inches fork length (tip of nose to middle of fork). The limit on Spanish is 15 fish and the minimum size is12 inches fork length.
King mackerel fishermen are seeing some very interesting side catches. When you are fishing live baits and drop them over a ways offshore, there is no telling what might decide to eat them. Because of the clear water and abundance of bait, other predator fish also occasionally visit the same areas as kings. Sharks aren't a big surprise in general, but a large tiger shark or hammerhead creates some excitement.
The surprises come when a dolphin, sailfish or wahoo moves in and tries to abscond with your bait. Dolphin usually jump pretty quickly after feeling the sting of a hook. Sailfish may make a long run or two, but usually jump and allow themselves to be identified. Wahoo are those speedy fish that burn all the line off your reel so quickly you occasionally don't have time to react. All are fun to catch, plus dolphin and wahoo make for excellent guests of honor at dinner.
King mackerel fishermen are still reporting sporadic catches of African pompano, amberjacks and barracuda on the offshore wrecks and reefs. All are fun fish to catch. Barracuda will occasionally give a big jump, while African pompano run hard and amberjacks love to slug it out man to man.
African pompano are excellent table fare, while the opinions vary greatly on amberjack. Amberjack are considered a delicacy in South Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. They often have a tapeworm, but it is visible and easily trimmed out.
Barracuda have a very mixed reputation as table fare. They smell very strong prior to cleaning and that is one deterrent to eating them. Barracuda also tend to concentrate the ciguatera toxin (from eating fish that eat corals and reef growth) and can cause severe stomach sickness.
Most people avoid them entirely, but a rule of thumb for those who like them is to only eat barracuda shorter than your arm. The reasoning is these are younger fish and haven't eaten enough reef fish to carry dangerous levels of ciguatera. The meat is pretty and white, but I pass on it if I know what it is.
The piers are reporting excellent catches of larger Spanish mackerel, some even of citation size (6 pounds). The water is clear and the Spanish are feeding in close. Other pier catches include bluefish, pompano, sea mullet, flounder, sheepshead, sharks and a surprising summer run of spots.
Speckled trout and red drum are being caught in the marshes and creeks. Some days are better than others and the numbers can be really good. Flounder are being caught at the Morehead City State Port, plus around the inlets, in the drain at Harkers Island and at the nearshore artificial reefs. The sizes vary, but many don't quite make the 15-1/2 inch minimum size. Some nice sheepshead are also being caught along the State Port Wall and beside the pilings on area bridges.
Offshore the wahoo bite seems to have picked up a little while the dolphin bite has slowed. Some billfish, especially sailfish, are being caught a little inshore of the Gulf Stream.
The grouper bite slowed a little but is still pretty good. In addition to red and gag grouper, offshore bottom fishermen are catching red snapper, beeliners, black sea bass, porgys, grunts and a few hog snappers.
A humorous story is that of David Hayes, who landed a state record, 21 pound, 1 ounce channel catfish from his backyard pond in Wilkes County on August 5. Hayes had taken his young granddaughter, Alyssa, age 3, out for a while to catch some bream on her little Barbie doll spincasting outfit. The fish struck while Alyssa had gone back to the house for a minute and Hayes was holding the rod. Hayes said he has taken a lot of ribbing from his friends and family, but he now holds the state record for channel catfish.
As noted earlier, a new state record blue marlin was caught Friday during the Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament in Manteo. This was the last tournament of the 2008 Governor's Cup Billfish Conservation Series, but the final standings hadn't been announced at my deadline.
Capt. Skip Conklin and the crew of the Ocean Athlete caught a 46.47 pound king mackerel to win the Sneads Ferry Rotary Club King Mackerel Tournament over the weekend.
The Gregory Poole Beaufort Offshore Classic began Wednesday in Beaufort. The offshore divisions started fishing on Thursday, with the king mackerel division having a Friday final registration and fishing on Saturday. For more information visit www.fishbocc.com or call 252-504-5113.
The weekend for the Dog Days Surf Fishing Tournament has finally arrived. This tournament was organized by the North Carolina Public Access Foundation (www.ncpafonline.com) to help the town of Oak Island raise money to purchase Yaupon Pier. The tournament will be held at the farthest west beach access on Oak Island this Saturday and tournament director Al Baird said he is expecting to see pier and surf fishermen from all across N.C., plus several other states. For more information visit http://www.ncfps.com/Save_Yaupon_Pier.html or call 803-396-7867.
The Long Bay Artificial Reef Association (LBARA) Club Challenge that was cancelled two weeks ago, and then appeared revived last week, has been cancelled. The announcement from LBARA Special Project Coordinator Bob Black cited obstacles that couldn't be overcome in the short time prior to the date. He thanked the many supporters of the LBARA and the Ocean Isle Fishing Center for their generous offer to coordinate this year's event. Black also noted the work of the LBARA was ongoing, with several projects currently underway. For more information on the LBARA and the Long Bay Artificial Reefs, visit www.lbara.com.