This will be Labor Day Weekend and there is a pretty good weather forecast. Chances of Showers and Thunderstorms are 20 percent and below until Monday and the wind forecast is for less than 10 knots too. It looks like a good time to do some fishing and they have been biting, so get up and get going.
The weather in the tropics is heating up and we are moving to the time of year that more storms typically head our way. I say that after the first three named storms of the year have all headed our way, but September and October are usually the worst months for us. I want to suggest two places to get storm information that is better and not sensationalized like the TV News. First is the National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov and second is Mikeís Weather Page at www.spaghettimaps.com. I really like Mikeís Weather Page and he also has a Facebook page you can ďlikeĒ and receive notifications when something is happening in the tropics.
Labor Day crowds are typically second only to the Fourth of July crowds, so get yourself mentally prepared. The lines at the ramp are long enough, but after you return from fishing or boating, there will be some of the longest lines of the summer at the gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. Buy your food early or plan to cook your catch on the grill and chill. Youíll be glad you did.
With the exception of another round of those nasty thunderstorms, ocean conditions were excellent on Saturday and a good number of folks headed offshore. Most of them were treated to catches of wahoo, dolphin, lots of bottom fish and even some king mackerel. The wind gusted up on Sunday and most fishermen stayed in protected waters inshore or close to the beach.
Reports of dolphin have been good and from a wide range of areas. Gulf Stream trollers after wahoo caught dolphin, offshore bottom fishermen caught dolphin and king mackerel fishermen in depths of 50 to 80 feet also caught a few dolphin. I didnít hear any complaints. I donít know anyone that doesnít like fresh mahi.
Offshore bottom fishing continues to be very good. The standard reports are of limits and near limits of grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, black sea bass, grunts and porgys. When you add a few dolphin and kings on light lines, it's a real good day.
King mackerel fishing has been a little unusual. It isnít hot yet Ė at least not for boaters, but it is improving. Pier king fishermen were enjoying surprisingly good action until the swells from Hurricane Cristobal arrived this week. There has been pier king action along all the N.C. Coast, but the fishermen at Bogue Inlet Pier were playing whack Ďem and stack Ďem with the kings until the weather started jacking up on Monday. I donít have an accurate count, but they caught a bunch of kings last week. The number had passed a dozen early in the week.
Boaters found a few kings on the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs, plus the numbers are improving a little offshore. Those places in 60 to 80 feet of water should be good places to look and the kings should begin moving towards the beaches in the next few weeks as the bait gathers there.
Spanish mackerel are biting and are spread from just outside the inlets to a few miles offshore. Most are smaller fish, but there are some large enough they will attack a live bait intended for a king mackerel. Smaller Spanish are feeding well early and late and will usually attack Clarkspoons and other small spoons that are trolled quickly.
In addition to all those kings, pier fishermen are also catching Spanish macks and there are some of the around large enough they hit the king baits. Other pier catches include flounder, pompano, bluefish, red drum, and black drum.
A pier fisherman on the Outer Banks had a very unique surprise last week when he caught a bonefish. Bonefish are usually only found in extreme southern Florida and the Caribbean. For the past few years, there have been one or two caught in N.C. each year, but this is the farthest north yet. Last year I heard of two from the White Oak River at the Swansboro Bridges and one from Core Sound between Harkers Island and Atlantic.
Flounder fishing continues to be real good. They are biting from the backs of the creeks to the nearshore wrecks and artificial reefs in the ocean. There havenít been many huge flounder, but there are a good number of citation (5 pounds minimum) fish being caught and a bunch of 2 to 4 pounders.
Most fishermen like mullet minnows and peanut pogies for flounder baits and they work well. Flounder will also hit soft plastics, gold spoons and spinnerbaits. I have also caught a few on MirrOlures in shallow water.
Iíve got mixed reports on the puppy drum action this week. It was a little hit and miss, but it seemed like when you found them, you really found them. There are some nice upper and over slot pups in the marshes and they will hit a variety of lures, live baits and chunks of cut bait fished on the bottom.
There are trout around and they should become more active as the weather and water cools. Most fishermen are catching them with live shrimp suspended under a float and it works well. Several fishermen reported finding specks that were a little more rambunctious and they hit topwaters, even into the middle of the day. That is a little unusual, especially when the water temperature is in the mid 80s.
For those anglers who have the patience, sheepshead are biting pretty well too. The pilings and bulkheads around bridges and along sea walls are great places to find them. I heard of a lot of 4 to 6 pounders and a few that hit 8 pounds. Several experienced fishermen said most sheepshead beginners will catch more using sea urchins for bait instead of fiddler crabs. The sheepshead has to crunch the sea urchin shell to get the meat out and it is easier to feel.
Old drum fishing is going well in the lower Neuse River and around the edges of Pamlico Sound. They are feeding on chunks of mullet and menhaden fished on the bottom. Using popping corks to call large red drum is a technique that is only a couple of years old, but the reports of its success are growing almost daily. Puppy drum respond to popping corks so itís only natural that larger ones will too.
There are a few tarpon around, but I havenít heard the tarpon reports this year that I expected. There have been some in the lower Neuse and Pamlico Sound, a few in the Cape Fear River at Southport and some along the beaches. Tarpon like chunks of mullet and menhaden fished on the bottom and live baits suspended under floats. A good thing about tarpon fishing is that it doesnít take but one and its wild jumps and gyrations to move a fishing trip from slow to good.
When I went fishing last week, I attracted lightning and thatís not good. On one trip we were trapped deep in a marsh at low tide and it made me remember just how bad I dislike getting trapped out when it is lightning. That is a helpless feeling. Suddenly the rain that accompanies the thunderstorms is just an inconvenience.
One of my fishing trips last week is worth mentioning. I got to spend most of a day on the water with Capt. Rennie Clark and his wife Capt. Shannon Clark, who operate Tournament Trail Charters (www.tournamenttrailcharters.com, 910-465-8943) out of Carolina Beach. The Clarks are the reigning champions of the Lowcountry Redfish Cup and Rennie is a long time competitor on the Inshore Fishing Association Redfish Tour, where he and partner Drew Arndt have been Team of the Year there several times. Most recently, Rennie and Drew won the Carolina Redfish Series tournament in Swansboro on August 9.
I pointed out the Clarks tournament success to say they have enjoyed a lot of success fishing for puppy drum. I expected to learn some things and see lots of fish. I wasnít disappointed.
At the first stop, Shannon had a fish on before Rennie made a cast. He checked the water color and made a last second decision to change a lure and it put him behind from the get-go. On her third cast Shannon set the tone for the day, with a pretty, upper slot, marsh pumpkin. I thought her first redfish was the largest of the day, but they agreed that one Rennie caught a couple of hours later was about a quarter inch longer.
It was impressive to watch them land cast after cast within six inches of the edge of the grass or oyster rocks and other things they thought might be holding fish. When I mentioned it, Rennie said it was extremely important to get the bait to where the fish feed and redfish cruise the edges of banks and usually feed in the first foot or so of water off the bank.
Even more impressive was the effortless motion they have developed to keep the SW8 and SSW11 Rapala Skitterwalk lures ďwalking the dogĒ across the surface. I start cramping at about an hour and they were still going strong after several hours when we decided we needed to leave to avoid the lightning.
Iíll never get tired of watching pups push a wake up behind topwater lures as they prepare to strike and I was treated to that time and time again. A drumís mouth is at the bottom of its head, so it has to roll over, at least on its side, to hit a topwater bait. When it rolls over, it creates a nose wake that is pushing the lure away from it, so it has to overcome that too to catch the lure. Some of the strikes were explosive!
Unfortunately the thunderstorms came and cut our day short. We released most of the fish and I kept a nice trout and puppy drum for dinner. Redfish on the half shell is a favorite of mine and it was excellent dinner that night.
Saturday I fished with my friend Christopher Minish and his mom Henrietta at Southport. He had some work done on his boat and wouldnít be back until coming to take some troops fishing for Military Appreciation Day, so we decided we would try to dodge the thunderstorms and make sure everything was working.
We didnít have an epic day, but found a new spot that looked really fishy and picked at the fish most of the day trying to see if we could find a hot time in the tide.
This is when thunderstorms caught us and we had to ride them out. The monsoon rain was nothing compared to the sharp lightning. After the first line of thunderstorms passed, we saw a popping cork wash out of a small creek Ė or so we thought. Suddenly the cork began moving, then went under. The cork surfaced again after a minute or so and was a few feet down the bank.
Obviously there was a fish still attached to the float and as we hatched a plan to sneak up on the float and release the fish, it went under again. This time it stayed under for several minutes and came up off the point of an oyster bar. It moved around there until we were ready to give chase and then moved off and went under again. The condensed version of this is that fish wandered around the general area we were fishing for an hour or so and kept giving us glimpses of the cork, but didnít bite and never got close enough (with the cork above the water) we could grab or snag the cork.
We were fishing in catch and release mode and would have removed the hook and released it, had we caught it. Of course, it seemed to be moving just fine for pulling around an orange float. Hopefully the hook was a bronze one that will have rusted away by the time you read this. This was another reminder not to use stainless steel hooks. The lower corrosion resistant hooks will rust out and release a fish like this that breaks the line and is carrying a hook, lure or rig.
MAD 9 Southport
The southern N.C. version of Military Appreciation Day will be held from Southport Marina in Southport on Saturday, September 20. Like the Military Appreciation Day event that was held in Morehead City in late May, this is a project of the Military Appreciation Day organization (www.militaryappreciationday.org) based in Charlotte. It is simply a day of saying thank you by taking members of the active duty military fishing.
MAD 9 Southport will be the effort of a large team of volunteers from across N.C. Volunteers with boats are needed to take the troops fishing, but many volunteers are also needed to help with the shore side duties. Shore side volunteers could do anything from helping with setup, registration and cleanup to helping prepare and serve the meal or even helping clean the fish that are caught.
I highly recommend being a part of it if your circumstances allow. I have made some good friends of the troops attending and MAD volunteers and the experience is priceless. Iím pretty sure I have as much or more fun than the troops I take fishing. Those interested in being a part of MAD 9 can visit the website at www.militaryappreciationday.org for more information and to register as a volunteer.
September 8: NCMFC Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, 6:00 P.M., DENR Regional Office, Washington, Contact Tina Moore (252-808-8082 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov) or Stephen Taylor (910-796-7289
September 15-19: South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Charleston Marriott Hotel, Charleston, S.C., 1-800-968-3569, www.safmc.net.
September 17: The NCMFC Standard Commercial Fishing License Eligibility Board, 10:00 A.M., N.C. Division of Marine Fisheriesí Central District Office, Morehead City. Contact Ann Bordeaux-Nixon at 910-796-7261 or Ann.Bordeaux-Nixon@ncdenr.gov.
Tournaments, Seminars, Club Meetings and Events
July 1 to August 31: Chasiní Tails Sheepshead Challenge, Chasiní Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
July 1 to September 30: Chasiní Tails Flounder and Spanish Mackerel Challenge, Chasiní Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
August 30: Cape Lookout Shootout King Mackerel Series, Tournament 2 of 3, King mackerel, Jaycee Park, Morehead City, http://capeshootout.weebly.com.
September 1: Opening Day for 2014-2015 N.C. Dove and resident Canada goose seasons. For more information, visit www.ncwildlife.org.
September 1 to Nov 29: Tex's Tackle Fall Inshore Tournament, Trout and flounder, Tex's Tackle, Wilmington, www.texstackle.com .
September 1 to Dec 31: Chasiní Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasiní Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
September 6: The Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic was originally scheduled for this weekend from South Harbor Village Marina in Oak Island, but has been postponed until 2015. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
September 6: Lowcountry Redfish Cup Tournament 5, Shem Creek, Charleston, S.C., www.lowcountryredfishcup.com.
September 6: Opening Day for 2014 N.C. Special Teal Season (east of US 17 only). For more information, visit www.ncwildlife.org.
September 8: Opening Day for 2014 N.C. Marsh Hen Season (rails, gallinules and moorhens). For more information, visit www.ncwildlife.org.