Where has summer gone? The temperature and humidity were both in the nineties regularly until the rain of this week, but look at the calendar. Labor Day Weekend is just a week away. When the sun is out it sure feels like summer, especially as I was rigging my new kayak over last weekend, but the calendar says itís slipping away. If you have any summer plans that havenít been completed, itís time to get a move on or accept the fact youíre procrastinating until the fall.
After I elaborated on flounder fishing last week, I received a handful of call reminding me Spanish mackerel fishing was very good also. It seems the Spanish are around the inlets, the nearshore artificial reefs, the shoals at Cape Fear, Lookout and Hatteras and scattered along the beaches. Spanish are biting well and are being caught a lot of places.
The most popular method for catching Spanish is to troll small Clarkspoons and Drone Spoons between five and eight knots. While the sizes are similar, there is a difference in how the Clarkspoons and Drone Spoons move through the water.
The leader ties to Clarkspoons using a wire eye that is centered and has a bead, which allows them to move in a straight line and spin. The spin alternately shows their concave side and convex side and creates a flash that attracts the Spanish.
Drone Spoons attach to the leader using one or two welded rings at the front of the lure. This creates a wobble, which imitates an injured bait, as it moves through the water. Some Drone Spoons use a single ring, while others use two rings to enhance the wobble.
Most of the time at least a couple of the spoons in the trolling spread are held under the surface by trolling sinkers or small planers. Varying the weight of the sinkers and/or size of the planers allows positioning the spoons at different depths. By spreading lure through the water column, the depth the fish are feeding can be easily found.
A long leader is used to separate the spoons from the commotion of the sinkers or planer going through the water. Even though Spanish have razor sharp teeth, the leaders are made or monofilament or fluorocarbon. It seems Spanish have some way of detecting wire leaders and are wire leader shy. Sometimes they shy away from heavier mono leaders also.
Most successful fishermen make their Spanish leaders 20 feet long and from 20 or 30 pound mono or fluoro. I like to begin with 30 feet of leader and use mono that is dull green in color. The dull green monofilament disappears in the water almost as well as fluorocarbon and at a much less expensive price.
After every fish, I check the first foot or so of leader above the spoon for nicks, small cuts and abrasions. If there are any, I cut that section off and re-tie the spoon. Beginning with 30 feet of leader allows me to do this several times without feeling I need to replace the leader.
I tie most lures onto my leaders with a loop, but donít with spoons. I believe spoons generate good action and donít need the help of a loop. I am also concerned that the constant action of the spoon may chafe the loop and weaken it.
When fishing this way, there is a lot of leader left in the water once the trolling sinker or planer is reeled to the rod tip. You must hand line this leader to get the fish into the boat. If you try to be neat and coil the leader, it will almost always tangle. I know it sounds messy, but simply bring it in hand-over-hand and lay it on the deck. Once the fish is off the lure, it can be put right back out and rarely tangles. I canít explain this; I just know it works.
Most of the Spanish caught by trolling spoons are smaller to medium size fish. There are also some larger Spanish around, but they tend to be finicky and prefer live baits. My favorite way to catch them is with live bait on light tackle and it works well for larger Spanish macks.
I begin with a small live bait rig using a pair of size 6 hooks and size 3 single strand or 18 pound test multi-strand wire leader. This leader has about three inches between the hooks and is only a foot long total. When trolling, I hook the front hook sideways through the nose of a small pogy or up through the mouth of a mullet minnow and lightly pin one prong of the trailing hook in the baitís belly.
If the water is really clear or the fish appear spooky, I size back to a single size 6 hook and six to nine inches of leader. In staying with the minimum for hardware, I tie this directly to the line from the reel, without using a swivel. The Albright Special knot is used to tie mono to wire. With a single hook, the bait can be hooked side to side through the nose or in the top of its back. When anchored or drifting, I hook the single or forward hook in the baitís back, not its nose.
I like to Spanish fish like this using the same rods and reels I use for trout and puppy drum. They are well up to the task and it makes you work for the catch. Spanish are usually easy to find and that makes for a fun, exciting trip. Fishing should be fun and this is.
Flounder fishing remains very good, both inside and in the ocean. Many fishermen head to the ocean to fish flounder on the nearshore artificial reefs and wrecks and combine their flounder fishing with catching some large Spanish. If youíre using live bait, the same ones will work for both, so you already have it. The worse thing that can happen is to be fighting a flounder when a Spanish hits and takes off, making your other reel sing. Not being able to do anything about that is nerve-wracking Ė and fun.
Puppy drum fishing is very good. However, there seems to be a year class that is missing. Most fishermen are catching lots of 14 to 17 inch rat reds and then seeing a few fish of 24 inches and larger. There should be some fish in that seven inch range from 17 to 24 inches, but they have been scarce.
The good thing about seeing all the barely underslot puppy drum is that the future looks bright. Most of those fish should reach keeper size next year and grow to upper slot size during the next year. Donít complain when one of these little pups takes your bait. Smile as you release it and wonder if you will catch it again as a slot fish or as an adult.
There are some summer trout in the area and the bite is just strong enough to keep fishermen interested. Most of the summer trout are smaller, but a few fishermen are also catching larger ones.
One of the keys to catching summer trout is to fish when the water is cooler. This is at two times. The water is cooler first thing in the morning, when there hasnít been sun shining on it for 10 hours. The inshore water is also cooler when a rising tide brings some ocean water into the bays and creeks. The ocean water isnít as warm as the water that sits over shallow flats and warms from the sun shining on it and any exposed bottom.
When you can find a rising tide early in the morning the odds are the cooler water will put the trout into a more receptive mood. This is happening right now, so youíve got a couple of days to test this for yourself.
Speckled trout will hit artificials during the hot weather, but you better be good and casting what they want. I find the MR 14 and 17 MirrOlures fish well during hot weather, with the smaller 14 size often performing a little better. These are suspending lures that resemble small pogies, croakers and spots. I fish them really slow and like to drift them with the current and just occasionally twitch them.
Soft plastics, especially the bio baits like Berkley Gulp, will also catch specks during warm weather. I prefer smaller baits, like three inch shrimp and paddle tail grubs and fish them slow. Many times with a light jig head or worm hook, the current will push them along just right.
Live shrimp are the ultimate bait for summer trout, but must be caught or bought and a single strike is usually all you get. The negative is that every trash fish and bait thief likes shrimp too, so you go through a bunch. Shrimp can be fished on the bottom on a jig head or Carolina rig or suspended under a cork about a foot off the bottom.
The issue with shrimp is catching or buying them. They cost five to seven dollars a dozen, so they can be a significant expense. Catching shrimp takes time and gets a boat really messy. There are areas where shrimp trawling is closed, but it is legal to cast net or trap up to 100 per person for bait. A hundred shrimp is just more than eight dozen and is the minimum I would consider for a fishing trip. In waters where shrimp trawling is open, more shrimp can be kept. Check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net.
Pier fishermen are catching a mixed bag of fish. This little bit of cooler weather is building expectations for the king mackerel, tarpon or something to swoop inshore and fire up the pier end fishermen, but it hasnít happened yet. Pier fishermen are catching some trout, red drum, black drum, puffers, bluefish, Spanish, jack crevalle and more. The occasional king and a couple of tarpon have been caught in the past week from the piers at Topsail Island and hopefully the activity will spread along the entire coast.
King mackerel have been biting on the popular rocks and ledges from about 55 feet of water and deeper. There are a few dolphin mixed with them also. A surprising number of sailfish have been caught east of Cape Lookout Shoals and this week wahoo joined them. Several wahoo in the 70 to 80 pound range were weighed at Atlantic Beach tackle shops. Slow trolling live baits and fishcicles (frozen cigar minnows) have been the productive ways to catch them.
Offshore bottom fishing continues to be good. There are some black sea bass and grunts in shallower water, but the best action has been in water 90 to 115 feet deep. Gag and red grouper are biting well, plus a few scamps, beeliners, black sea bass, grunts and porgys are also in the mix.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting in Raleigh winds up on Friday. The primary topics were how to best reduce and avoid interactions of Atlantic sturgeon and sea turtles with gill nets. Sturgeon and sea turtles are on the federal Endangered Species List and North Carolina does not currently have an Incidental Take Permit for either species. The National Marine Fisheries Service could step in and close gill net fishing if a single sturgeon or sea turtle is caught in a gill net.
I received a press release from the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG) that they would be presenting a proposal to prohibit otter trawls in state waters at the MFC meeting. A recent study by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries shows that otter trawls are the most bottom destructive of the shrimping gears and also produce the most bycatch. This study was used as the basis for the CFRG proposal. The proposal and information from the study is posted on the CFRG blogspot at http://cfrgnc.blogspot.com.
CFRG spokesman, Joe Albea, said, "Weíre not trying to ban shrimping, just the use of otter trawls and only in N.C. waters. There are many other ways to catch shrimp that are more environmentally sound and do not destroy the bottom and do not catch as much small trout, flounder, croakers, spots and other finfish as bycatch. Shrimpers will still be able to use otter trawls in the ocean as long as they are three miles off the beach."
Over the past couple of weeks, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) held a series of meetings to solicit input on proposed federal fishery management measures including: changes to permits and reporting, shrimp fishery issues, federal dealer reporting, and measures proposed for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia. In addition, Marine Protected Area (MPA) Workshops were held in conjunction with the meetings held in Florida and North Carolina.
SAFMC wants your comments even if your schedule didnít allow attending a meeting. Directions for sending comments by e-mail, fax and mail are available at the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
A Saltwater Fishing Expo will be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Concord this Saturday, September 25. Speakers include George Poveromo, Mark Patterson, Capt, Butch Foster, Capt. Rob Ferris, Capt. Wayne Crisco and Capt Fred Rourk. More information is available at www.basspro.com.
Several tournaments are on the docket for the upcoming weekend. The Hook and Bones/Redfish Action Redfish Tournament that will be held from the Saltwater Grill on the Swansboro Waterfront on Saturday, August 25. This is an open tournament that features four check out locations (Saltwater Grill, Swansboro; Town Creek Marina, Beaufort; New River Marina, Sneads Ferry and Scotts Hill Marina, Hampstead, with all fish being weighed at Saltwater Grill. For more information visit www.hookandbones.com.
The Topsail Inshore Challenge will be held on Saturday, August 25, presented by Fishermanís Post Magazine. The Captains Meeting and Awards will be at East Coast Sports in Surf City, with the weigh in at the Topsail Assembly Building at Topsail Beach. Several local fishermen are in the running for year end awards in the Inshore Challenge Series. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The Fishers of Men Inshore Tournament Trail Belhaven Fling Tournament will be held Saturday, August 25, from the Wildlife Ramp in Belhaven. This tournament features an aggregate category for red drum, speckled trout and flounder, plus prizes for each species and a Kids Division. For more information call 252-230-0359.