Hot, Hotter and Hottest are words I've heard a lot lately. Unfortunately they have been describing the weather and not the fishing. There have been some good days and good trips, but the heat has been oppressive and has taken a toll on fish and fishermen,
Dry is also a most overused word. We aren't getting much rain and then we have a severe thunderstorm, complete with a downpour, but it doesn't do any real good. The ground is so dry the excess rain runs off and picks up things to carry into the creeks and rivers, rather than soaking into the ground. I'm hearing some thunder in the distance as I write this and hope it will bring a soaking rain and no damaging winds or lightning.
Perhaps the thunder I am hearing is the leading edge of the cold front predicted for the next few days? It's hard to think of temperatures in the upper 80's as something the temperature has dropped to, but that's the forecast for the next few days and it is a 10 degree or more drop in places. Friday should begin with a light northeast wind to welcome the change.
The wind looks to be slowing for the next few days also. Except for some areas of 10-15 knots on Sunday at the north and south ends of the coast, we are looking at mainly winds of 5-10 knots. The seas should be pretty good too. Once they begin settling out about mid-day on Friday they should fall overnight to 3 feet or less and stay that way through Monday. It's shaping up to be a good time to go fishing.
Now that we have established this should be a good weekend to go fishing, what's around to be catching?
In spite of the continuing bathwater temperatures in the ocean and sound, there are some fish moving about and feeding. Bogue Inlet Pier continues to post water temperatures in the 86 degree range and it is even hotter back in some of the creeks with little or no flow.
My big adventure this week was a fun outing with Capt. Ray Massengill of Down East and Capt. Ray's Guide Services. We made an afternoon crossing from Atlantic to Drum Inlet and fished for puppy drum, then cooked on the beach and worked our way back after dark, while gigging flounder. Once we located the puppies they were hungry and bit well, but the flounder gigging was slow. After getting a few for the next evening's supper, we decided to quit battling the breeze and greenhead flies and call it an early evening.
The old drum bite in the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound is going strong. I am hearing good success stories from off Hog Island to well upriver of Oriental. If you go after these fish, please remember they are the primary breeding stock of their species and handle them carefully. They are hardy fish, but stand a much better chance of survival if they are released in the water and not lifted into the boat.
There are some tarpon moving in the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound, but they can be very frustrating. It is particularly unnerving when you see them rolling and can't get them to bite. Someone once said they were the cats of the fish world when it comes to unpredictable behavior and I agree.
There is fairly good speckled trout and puppy drum bite happening in the marshes and creeks. This is especially good when you consider the extremely hot water temperature. Live baits, particularly shrimp, are very productive, but also attract a bunch of smaller bait thieves. Mullet and mud minnows are a reasonable substitute and also occasionally attract a flounder. Soft plastics and topwater baits have been the best artificials.
The flounder bite is developing slowly, but hasn't really hit its normal stride. There are more keeper flounder being caught at the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs than in inshore waters, even though they must be another half-inch longer. Under docks, beside bulkheads, at creek mouths and on the edges of channels are good places to find inshore flounder.
The billfish bite has been exceptional most of the summer and it continued again this week. Participants in the Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament caught 276 billfish and all but three blue marlin were released. The total includes 53 blue marlin, 159 white marlin and 64 sailfish in four days of fishing.
The dolphin bite has slowed pretty seriously. It has become a situation of feast or famine. If you see one, there is usually a school, and with a little planning and luck you can catch several before they get wise and leave. Keeping one hooked dolphin and some bait in the water are they keys. The more consistent dolphin action has been farther out, with the 14 buoy, at the end of Cape Lookout Shoals, being a good starting point.
Some nice wahoo are also being caught. The better wahoo reports are coming from the general areas of the Atlas Tanker and Northeast of the Big Rock.
The king mackerel bite has been sort of off and on. This week the inshore king bite just stopped. The kings seem to have suddenly realized the water is hot and moved offshore to cooler water. There are kings scattered along the entire coast, but right now, the 1700 Rock, 30 Minute Rock and East Rock, east of Cape Lookout seem to be holding a few larger kings.
While catches of some of the other species have waned, Spanish mackerel catches improved a little this week. In the past several weeks, most of the catches of big Spanish had been on live bait, but this week they were hitting spoons well also. Around the inlet channels and just off the shoals at the capes were the most productive spots.
This week the hot water temperatures finally slowed the pier fishing. Catches were varied, but slow and most fishermen were sweating profusely. I didn't get any reports of kings or tarpon and the Spanish mackerel catch fluctuated with the clean and dirty water. The pier flounder bite slowed a little, but more of them were keeper size and that should continue to improve. Other fish being caught from the piers include pompano, red drum, black drum, smaller blues, sea mullet and sharks.
Congratulations to the crew of the Determination for winning the Pirates Cove Billfish Tournament. They caught a huge 768.5 pound blue marlin, plus released another blue marlin and 3 white marlin for a total of 1048.5 points.
A pair of king mackerel tournaments are on tap for this weekend. The Gregory Poole Strike It Rich King Mackerel Tournament (www.strikeitrichfish.com or 252-222-3321) will be held in Beaufort and the Wal-Mart FLW Outdoors Kingfish Series (www.flwoutdoors.com or 270-252-1000) will hold the second of their three N.C. Division tournaments in Southport.