I don't know how they manage to target holiday weekends, but we have a history of tropical storms and hurricanes (even himicanes as my mom would say in this case) approaching during that timeframe and over the past several years Labor day has been a prime target. Tropical Storm Ernesto should be passing by as you read this, but it has already crimped weekend plans for many and even caused some to cancel their beach trips.

You might want to reconsider!

As I am writing this, some of the outer rain bands are already arriving. There are a few gusts of wind, but we often have more serious mullet blows that pass without much fanfare. This will too. The latest track has Ernesto making landfall around the NC/SC state line and heading inland. The folks in Brunswick County, N.C. and Horry County, S.C. may have a little storm, but unless something changes drastically, about all the rest of the Carolina Coast will see is some gusty winds and rain.

The wind and most of the rain should be gone by Saturday morning, leaving us with a nice weekend for the last hurrah of summer. It will be cooler initially, which is good, and then warming back up by Monday. The ocean forecast for Saturday through Monday is southerly winds at 5-10 knots, with seas decreasing from 4-6 feet early Saturday morning to 2-3 feet in the afternoon and for the remainder of the weekend.

That sounds like an excellent fishing forecast to me.

A couple of fishing tournaments altered their schedules to work around any problems from Ernesto. The Carteret County Sportfishing Association/Boater's World King Mackerel Tournament, Morehead city and Atlantic Beach, has postponed all activities one day. They will hold final registration on Saturday and fish on Sunday. For more information, visit www.carteretcountysportfishing.com or call 252-240-2751.

The Long Bay Artificial Reef Association Club Challenge, Southport, has been postponed indefinitely. According to event coordinator, Bob Black, "We are looking at the tournament schedules for the next several weeks and trying to find another date with minimal conflicts." For more information, visit www.lbara.com or call 910-278-4575.

With such a good forecast following the rain, it's only fitting to start offshore this week. The offshore bite is mostly dolphin and wahoo, but there are lots of both of them. A few tuna, mostly blackfin, are mixed in and there are numerous pods of wandering billfish. The water is very warm and there is lots of bait in most places, so anything might happen. The offshore action has been starting as close as the Smell Wreck off Hatteras, the 90 Foot Drop off Morehead City and the Horseshoe off Southport.

There have been good king mackerel reports throughout the area. The kings are from just off the ends of the piers and out. Many tournament fishermen have said they would be heading east of Cape Lookout this weekend and there should be some nice kings there, However, with the amount of bait moving through the inlets, the inlet mouths and many favorite nearshore spots might be a good place to look for kings.

Spanish mackerel are biting along most beaches from just beyond the surf line out to about 45 feet deep. The early fishermen have been reporting the best catches.

Once the sun gets high overhead and the Spanish bite slows, you can often get them to bite smaller lures. Clarkspoons in 00 size and Nungesser Spoons in 000 size work well for trolling and unweighted speck rigs cast into them while drifting with the motor off can also be very productive. They are feeding on small minnows and you need to match the size to get them to bite. Some larger Spanish have been hitting live menhaden and finger mullet drifted on light lines.

The fishermen at Bogue Inlet Pier are consistently landing a couple of kings every week. The pier fishermen are also catching an increasing number of keeper flounder. The pluggers have also been enjoying some early morning success with Spanish mackerel.

For as hot as the weather and water has been, pier fishing is doing surprisingly well. Other than these three species it might seem a little slow, but the air temperature has been above 90 most days for over a month and the water temperature was 85 degrees earlier this week. That is overly hot for both. The pier catches have included bluefish, pompano, red drum, spadefish, sheepshead, small sharks, and a few sea mullet.

Some of the best flounder catches are coming from the nearshore ocean artificial reefs and live bottom areas. The flounder gather around the reefs and feed on the baitfish seeking shelter there. AR 315, AR 360, AR 370, AR 425 and AR 460 have been mentioned often. Inside the inlets, flounder are also holding around the mouths of many of the smaller creeks, along the edges of deeper channels and other places where the moving tide will sweep baitfish by them.

The big game in inshore waters continues to be large red drum and tarpon. One of the premiere spots in the state is in the Pamlico Sound and lower Neuse River. While they do wander about looking for food, you can usually find some in the triangle outlined by the Neuse River Entrance Marker, Brant Island Shoals Slough and Cedar Island.

In this area, the tarpon usually feed best early in the morning, but will move to deeper water during the day and may feed all day. The big red drum usually bite better during the evenings, but have been unusually aggressive during the afternoons in the past week or so.

There has also been a fair tarpon bite from Frying Pan Shoals, just off the point at Cape Fear, along the east beach of Bald Head Island to Masonboro Inlet. A few have also been hooked around the Cape fear River Channel and AR 425.

Our remaining inshore fishing continues to do very well. I have heard some of the best reports of red drum in many years. There are drum from under the slot limit to well above it (18" to 27" Total Length) somewhere in most marsh systems. They are also feeding on many of the shoals around duck blinds in the sounds. In the shade of docks is another good place to find drum.

Even with the oppressive heat, a surprising number of speckled trout keep finding their way into the catches each week. They are typically holding in the deeper areas of the marshes waiting for shrimp and minnows flushed out of the shallower areas by the falling tide.

Congratulations to Dean Spatholt and the crew of the Fish Meister for winning the South Brunswick Isles King Mackerel Classic last weekend in Holden Beach.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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