Welcome to Labor Day Weekend. With that said, I have to ask where the summer went? Of course, with as hot and dry as it has been, I probably should be more appreciative that it passed quickly. I remember my parents warning me that time would pass quicker as I got older, but this summer flew by.
While we will have some good weekend crowds into the fall, Labor Day effectively marks the end of the summer tourist season. After trailing off a little, the rental rates will drop and make it easy for traveling fishermen to take advantage of our good fall fishing.
A weak cold front will make our temperatures a little nicer over the next few days. We're looking at northeast winds and highs in the mid-80's. While that is still hot, it is noticeably nicer than the mid-90's we've been dealing with for the past couple of months.
The northeast winds help bring the cooling, but they also bring rougher ocean conditions. The conditions should be tolerable at below 15 knots into Saturday afternoon, when they are forecast to build to 15-20 knots. This is forecast along with a building sea through Sunday, with both decreasing on Monday. Fortunately, with so many miles of south-facing beaches, there should be plenty of nearshore ocean fishing opportunities to go along with the inshore fishing.
Our current reports show there should be numerous opportunities to catch some fresh fish for a family fish fry to celebrate the holiday weekend. While many fishermen are lamenting the high water temperatures that have persisted this summer, there are fish available to be caught. Make no mistake though, the sound and ocean water is bathtub warm. This week Bogue Inlet Pier has posted the water temperatures at 87 degrees. Several guides reported seeing 89 and 90 degrees in the shallow headwaters of several coastal marsh creeks.
As a note of caution--Take plenty of ice on your fishing trips and immediately put any fish you will be keeping down in it, not just on it. The fish are so warm in the water they begin to deteriorate almost immediately. Also load up that ice with water to keep yourself hydrated while fishing.
Once again there are good reports of old drum off Cedar Island and along the edge of the Pamlico Sound up to the Neuse River. They have bitten especially well during the full moon. While generally considered a night bite, the drum have begun feeding a little in the late afternoon, with the bite improving into the evening.
While these are hardy fish, they definitely fare better when released without being removed from the water. If you lift one for pictures, cradle it under its belly and support it along its entire length. Dragging them aboard by a lip gaff or by holding onto their gill plates can be particularly damaging and should be avoided.
There are some tarpon in the same general waters as the old drum and up the Neuse River. The tarpon usually bite best from first light into the early morning. The primary tactic is to cruise the area and spot a pod of tarpon rolling on the surface and then working in front of the fish and putting out a spread of baits.
The water remains hot, but there are numerous reports the speckled trout and puppy drum bite in the marshes and creeks is improving. This is especially good considering it has been better than expected already. Live baits, particularly shrimp, have been producing well. Mullet and mud minnows are fair substitutes and also occasionally attract a flounder. The topwater bite has been good, especially early mornings and late afternoons, with Zara Spooks, Skitterwalks, and Chug Heads drawing hard strikes.
While some fishermen are doing well, the flounder bite has been slow overall. It is improving, but lags behind the past several years. There are more flounder and a higher percentage of 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 and bridges, beside bulkheads, at creek mouths and on the edges of channels are good places to find inshore flounder. One of the better inshore spots has been the Turning Basin and State Port in Morehead City.
The billfish bite continues to roll along on a really good pace. Fishermen from the beach on out are reporting sailfish from Calabash to Oregon Inlet and the white marlin numbers are growing from the Big Rock to The Point.
The offshore meatfish bite is shifting around some. While there were a few really good catches this week, the gaffer dolphin bite has slowed and become more shingles and bailers. The good news is the smaller dolphin are schooling better. If you see one, there is usually a school, and you can usually catch several before they lose interest.
Some nice wahoo are also being caught and not all by fishermen looking for them. The warm water has the wahoo spread well inshore and many live bait king mackerel fishermen are having wahoo encounters of the finest kind. They can really make the clicker on a reel set for 2 or 3 pounds of drag cry for help. They should be at the Big Rock and are. They are also scattered from 30 Minute Rock out towards the Atlas Tanker and on the Horseshoe off Southport.
A few yellowfin and bigeye tuna are also being caught. There are a few north of the Big Rock and the numbers improve moving north to off Oregon Inlet.
The king mackerel are holding offshore in cooler water. There are some smaller kings scattered closer to shore along the entire coast, but right now, the 1700 Rock, 30 Minute Rock and East Rock, east of Cape Lookout and the Navy Wreck off Southport seem to be holding a few larger kings.
Spanish mackerel catches improved a little this week. Perhaps it was because the northeast breezes kept many boats closer in, but more were caught by boaters and a few on the piers. Around the inlet channels, off the beach at about 30 to 50 feet deep and just off the shoals at the capes were the most productive spots.
The pier fishing was slow this week. There was a mixture of bottomfish, including some keeper flounder, and a few Spanish mackerel, but it seemed almost like a pause before the fall fishing begins. Once the water cools a bit, the pier fishing should get really good.
Congratulations to Brett and Allen Barnes on the Hot Rod for winning the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series tournament held in Southport last weekend. The father and son crew barely edged out the win by a few ounces. Congratulations also to Johnny Hudson and his Jackpot crew for winning the Gregory Poole Strike It Rich King Mackerel Tournament in Beaufort. They also squeaked out the win by only a few ounces.
A trio of king mackerel tournaments are on tap for this weekend. The Drum Inlet King Mackerel Tournament (252-225-8741) will be held in Beaufort, The Swipes Wipes King Mackerel Tournament (email@example.com) will be held in Atlantic Beach and the Brunswick Islands King Classic (www.bluewaterpromo.com or 1-800-546-4622) will be held in Holden Beach.