The weather so far this week has been fairly calm and mild for the most part, but that should begin to change later today. A few of the thunderstorms have been severe and always should be avoided when possible, but they have been scattered enough to venture forth most days. The unbearable heat has finally broken and temperatures have been reasonable, the wind has been manageable and much less than most times for the past several months and the fishing has been slowly improving.
Things should begin changing as Hurricane Irene gets near enough the outer bands begin sweeping over us. Some nice surfing waves were already arriving Thursday morning and WaveCast shows them continuing to build through Saturday. I tried all week to will this storm farther to the east so it would miss all of us, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I hope you have made adequate preparations by the time you read this.
There is still some uncertainty of where the center of the storm will pass or make landfall. This is a big storm and even if the center passes offshore, there will be strong winds and rain well inland. As of Thursday morning, the eye was projected to pass very close to the Big Rock. This is close enough that a lot of the coast will still have to endure tropical storm to hurricane conditions. Sometimes the flooding is worse than the wind.
If there is any positive to this, at least the forecast track is offshore and most of NC should be on the west side of the storm, which is usually not quite as strong. Our families and friends at Ocracoke and Hatteras are staring down the barrel of this and I know most of them won't leave. The shame in the reasons for making that decision is that it is too difficult to get back. I am thankful that I live at 28 feet of elevation and in the maritime forest. It has helped greatly in the past and I hope it comes through again.
Please don't make the mistake of getting complacent because we haven't been hit directly in a while. Make preparations on your home and boat and go overboard rather than shortcutting. It is always better to be able to say you didn't need to prepare as well, rather than you should have prepared better.
Enough of that, hopefully you are prepared and getting bored with the wait for Hurricane Irene to pass. Let's talk about fishing. The water has only cooled a degree or two from the extreme heat of several weeks back, but it has spurred a bit of a bite. It's difficult to believe that it will make so much difference but it does. Hopefully the storm doesn't affect this negatively.
The 10 or so degree difference in air temperature also makes things much more comfortable for fishermen. Still, we should use plenty of sunscreen and drink lots of water.
Let me give an oops salute before talking about some good catches. Several fishermen, who shall remain unnamed, were fishing off Wrightsville Beach last week and caught a huge false albacore. The commented on how big it was and didn't think much more of it and later cut most of its belly off to use as bait for bottom fishing.
When they returned to the dock, they decided to weigh it just to see what it weighed. Even with the chunk of belly missing, it weighed 25 pounds, which was within a pound and a half of the 26 pounds, 8 ounces state record. Oops! I hope the grouper they caught with the bait taste good. Of course, I know many fishermen that would gladly trade a false albacore state record for a cooler of fresh grouper.
The cooler weather has made fishermen feel more like going fishing and their results have improved. For the past week or so there has been the least wind of the summer and even small boat fishermen are getting offshore. There were some good catches from the creeks to the Gulf Stream this week and they should continue to build once Hurricane Irene passes.
I should probably give myself an oops salute for not taking Joe Seegers up on his invitation to go fishing Saturday. I was approaching deadline on several projects and articles and stayed home to work. Thankfully I made good progress or I would be really upset. It also helped that he was nice enough to bring me a few dolphin and wahoo fillets -- or was he rubbing it in that I didn't go and my share would have been much more had I gone? Still it tasted very good and I will have the last of the wahoo kabobs for lunch later today.
Seegers and crew had an excellent day, especially for mid-August. They caught six wahoo, three king mackerel, one gaffer dolphin, about 30 bailer dolphin and had two sailfish in the baits. One of the sailfish was hooked for a couple of minutes, but threw the hook after a few jumps. The other crushed three baits without getting hooked. Several other boats reported catching multiple wahoo and dolphin.
While offshore bottom fishing is excellent, I haven't heard of or seen as many hog snapper and African pompano as in most years. I'm hoping that means the other fish are competing hard for food and beating them to the baits. Grouper fishing began strong when the season opened in May and is still going strong. Beeliners, pinkies, grunts, porgies and triggerfish are also biting well. I have seen some huge grunts in the past few weeks. Most fishermen consider them a lesser catch, but they taste very good.
If the results of the Sneads Ferry King Mackerel Tournament are any indication, the king mackerel bite can be pretty good at times in some places. Fishermen in the tournament caught a half dozen kings heavier than 40 pounds and another ten heavier than 30 pounds. Smaller kings have been biting better in the 50 to 60 foot depths and one was caught from one of the Pleasure Island piers over the weekend. If the water will cool a little more, they could move back inshore to feast on all the baitfish along the beaches.
In the past week or so, the numbers of large Spanish mackerel being caught has gone up. Fishermen are reporting citation size (6 pounds) Spanish are hitting live baits, frozen cigar minnows and rigged ballyhoo being trolled for kings. Flounder fishermen who are anchored and drifting a light line or balloon line back are also catching large Spanish. Fishermen trolling Clarkspoons behind planers or trolling sinkers are catching smaller Spanish outside almost every inlet.
The water only cooled a degree or two, but fishing picked up a little from the piers last week. As noted above, there was a king caught at Kure Beach and if the hurricane doesn't scatter it too bad, there is bait to attract them.
Spanish mackerel and flounder fishing continue to be the most productive fishing from the piers, but pompano catches rose some during the last week. I was looking forward to the weekend, with the high tides being just before dark as that is usually a good time to snag a good catch from the piers. That is back now to maybe on Sunday. I don't think anyone will be on the piers Friday on Saturday. Other fish being caught from the piers include a few red drum, sheepshead, bluefish, whiting, black drum and speckled trout.
There have been enough tarpon in Pamlico Sound and the lower Neuse River that expectations of catching one are realistic. The guides there said the tarpon bite should spike at least one more time as the moon fades to the new phase over the weekend and begins building again. They said the old drum bite is wide open and it is a reasonable expectation to catch several in a late afternoon into evening trip.
There has also been a bit of a tarpon bite at Frying Pan Shoals and in the Cape Fear River near Shellbed Island. This area doesn't hold many old drum, but the blacktip and bonnethead sharks will keep you busy waiting on a tarpon to bite. Sometimes the sharks are so thick they become a major nuisance.
Flounder and puppy drum are the primary inshore fish right now. There are a few (very) scattered reports on speckled trout and some sheepshead and black drum are being caught around pilings and rocky structure. The high-rise bridges and the wall at the state port are good places for sheepshead and the wall and area inlets have been producing flounder. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors said he weighed several citation flounder in the last week, include a huge 10.02 pounder for Shawna Francke.
Many fishermen prefer to chase flounder using live mullet minnows, mud minnows and peanut pogies for bait. There is no doubt these baits will catch flounder, but more fishermen are beginning to use artificial baits in an attempt to go to the flounder rather than waiting on the flounder to come to them. Both are productive, but my level of patience (impatience) finds me usually doing better with catching flounder by accident while working a lure or soft plastic for drum and trout.
This week on my weekly trip to Camp Lejeune, we went to a place targeting flounder and about half of the Marines went with live baits and the other half with lures. Unfortunately, we didn't catch a bunch of flounder, but the catches went exactly half and half between bait and lures. We caught several shorts to barely keepers and one nice 22 inch fattie. It hit a live pinfish.
When catching bait, I had castnetted some corncob mullet (roughly the size of an ear of corn) and we decided to see if we could catch something big with them. The spot we were fishing has a reputation of holding some drum that exceed 40 inches and some huge skates. Capt. Jimmy Price has also told me for years that big flounder will eat a bait that size if you give it long enough to get it turned and swallowed.
While fishing this spot several weeks earlier, one of the Marines fought a fish on light tackle for almost an hour before the line chafed in two. This time I carried an outfit I use for big drum, striper and cobia in the surf, so we baited it up and put it out. The big mullet was positioned about a foot off the bulkhead and we resumed fishing the lighter outfits. The Readers Digest version of this fish story is we hooked two fish we never turned.
The first fish slammed the bait and bent the rod over and took off. It chafed through the leader after a run of about 150 yards or so. I saw the rod bounce when the second fish hit, so I picked up the rod and set the hook. It didn't like that and made an initial run of 100 yards or so before pausing and taking off again. During the second run it broke the braided line. The first fish didn't run fast and we guessed it was probably a big skate. The second fish put on a burst of speed during both runs and we were hoping it might be a big drum.
I was fishing with Marines who now see this as a personal challenge to land one of these fish -- just to see what it is. We'll be there again with new line and maybe I'll have a catching report.
Puppy drum fishing is improving. It has been fair most of the year and was good when you found a spot the drum liked to gather. Now, with lots of finger mullet and some shrimp moving through the creeks, pups have gotten aggressive and are feeding well. Live finger mullet and peanut pogies on a Carolina Rig or under a popping float are almost fool-proof ways to catch puppy drum and a lot more. Soft plastics, spoons and spinnerbaits also work well.
The leader board at the Wilmington/Cape Fear Homebuilders tournament on Saturday was another testimony to just how slow trout fishing is right now. All the spots were filled in the red drum and flounder divisions, but only one speckled trout was weighed. It is painfully obvious the extremely cold winter took a toll on our trout, but hopefully we will see a lot of young of the year when the water cools this fall.
For those of you evacuating to inland and our inland readers, Bass Pro Shops in Concord will host a Fall Saltwater Expo, complete with free fishing seminars this Saturday, August 27. Numerous experienced coastal fishermen, including George Poveromo of ESPN, will be on hand to discuss techniques and lures for catching more fish. For more information visit www.bass-pro.com.
Only a few spaces remain for the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Basic Fishing Workshop at Bass Pro Shops in Concord on Sept. 11. Ladies have until Sept. 3 to register for the event. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org/BOW.
Attention aspiring fly fishermen! 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.
The South Brunswick High School Class Acts Golf Tournament will be held on September 24 to offset budget cuts and benefit the Dance Team and Aquaculture Program at South Brunswick High.. The tournament is being sponsored by St. James Properties LLC and will be held at the Members Club at St. James Plantation.
I don't know much about dance, but have been told this is a talented dance team. I know this is an exceptional aquaculture program and look forward to their flounder releases each fall. The tournament field will feature up to 48, four-person, teams in a scramble format. There will also be a banquet with raffles, live and silent auctions and numerous other ways to help support these students. 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 and rebuttal comment periods 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, have ended. Our avenue for preventing this now is only through legislative means. 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. BoatUS will also be posting updates at www.BoatUS.com/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 Wilmington/Cape Fear Home Builders Association Fish Tales Tournament was held Saturday, August 20 from Dockside Restaurant and Marina in Wrightsville Beach. This was an inshore-offshore tournament with categories for red drum, flounder and speckled trout on the inshore side, with king mackerel and sailfish (release) on the offshore side.
Luke Tippett and Christian Wolfe weighed in the only trout to win that category, but also connected with a 6 pound drum to place second there also. The largest drum weighed 6.7 pounds and was caught by butch (Michael) Davis. Jason Sellers was third with a 5.7 pound drum.
Kevin Gray and Capt. Jeff Wolfe paced the Flounder Division with a 4.5 pound flatfish. Gary Hurley and Max Gaspeny caught a 2.7 pound flounder to finish second. Matt Davis finished third with a 2.4 pounder.
While the tournament had a King Mackerel Division, none were weighed. Craig Stevens and the crew of the Blue Dog were the only team to release a sailfish and won that division. For more information visit www.wilmingtonhomebuilders.com.
The Sneads Ferry Rotary Club held their annual king mackerel tournament on August 20. This is the third tournament in SKA Division 1 and was held from New River Marina. This tournament had a very impressive leaderboard. There were six kings heavier than 40 pounds and it took a 30 pounder to make the top 15. The tournament attracted 116 boats and 35 of them brought fish to the scales.
Skip Conklin of Morehead City and the Ocean Athlete Fishing Team are on a roll. For the second time in less than a month, they caught the largest fish and won the tournament. It was also the second time they have won this tournament. This fish wasn't quite as impressive as their 60 pounder from a few weeks ago, but it weighed a very respectable 46.49 pounds. Sandy Conklin earned Top Lady Angler honors for this fish. Mike McDuffie and team Black Gold were second at 45 pounds even and earned Top Senior Angler honors for Don Williamson. Intracoastal Angler with Jackson David was third at 43.67 pounds.
The top placing boat of 23 Feet or under was the Baby Jane, with Capt. Bobby Joe Long and crew. Top Junior Angler honors went to Crocket Henderson on the Liquid fire for catching a 42.51 pound king. For more information visit www.sneadsferryrotary.com.
The Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament began last Tuesday and fished through Friday, August 16 to 19. This was the final tournament in the 2011 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfish Series and was held at Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo.
The Bi-Op-Sea, with Capt. Jesse Granitzki, totaled 1400 release points to claim the win. Sea Toy, with Capt. Bull Tolson and Cacique, owned by Paul Coury, tied for second place with 1260 points but Sea Toy released their last fish earliest and won the tie-breaker to earn second.
NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler spent some time on the Rigged Up and reeled in a 61.6 pound tuna to top the category. The largest wahoo weighed 37.5 pounds and was caught by Tim Murphy on the Sea Hag. Rick Barnes landed a 33.2 pound dolphin while fishing on the Blue Bird and earned largest dolphin honors.
In a special category for boats of 38 feet or less, Capt. Sean Broaddus led the Hungry Eyes to 490 points and the category win. Brook Smith won Top Lady Angler honors while fishing on the Double B. For more information visit www.fishpiratescove.com.
There is not a tournament listed on the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Saltwater Tournament list for the coming weekend and that may be a good thing in several ways. At the least, none will have to be cancelled or postponed and rescheduled. I don't think anyone will be fishing along the N.C. coast on Saturday. The tournament action picks up again on Labor Day Weekend with the Harkers Island Tackle and Trading Post Shark Tournament (www.harkersislandtackleandtradingpost.com) in Harkers Island and the Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic (www.bluewaterpromo.com) at South Harbor Village Marina in Oak Island.
Snug the mooring lines, batten down the hatches and let's enjoy some fishing once Hurricane Irene passes.
Best Wishes and Stay Safe