Everywhere I have been since Hurricane Irene passed last Saturday I have received numerous questions about it. Similar questions have also been the great majority of my phone calls and e-mails this week. It did things we never expected and didn't do things we were anticipating. I've been through a lot of these storms and I believe I will continue to stay, but there is always a queasiness in my stomach as they approach. I always wonder if the predictions were right and if my preparations were enough.
While earlier last week it appeared the storm might slide by the entire N.C Coast, as it got closer it was obvious the bullseye was somewhere around Cape Lookout. Still it was only a Category 1, so we boarded up, moved, drydocked or double-tied boats and sat back and waited. There was some wind damage, but no one was prepared for the flooding.
The water began rising along the Atlantic Beach Causeway and was waist deep in yards by the time it reached Straits. Farther down east it was deeper. Many areas were subjected to worse flooding than during Hurricanes Floyd and Ophelia. A large steel-hull trawler broke its lines and floated onto Highway 70 east of Stacy.
I haven't seen pictures yet, but was told Old Drum Inlet and New Drum Inlet reopened and the Ophelia Inlet got wider and deeper. If the storm also dug a channel from the Core Sound Channel over to one of these inlets, it might be a good thing.
There is a phenomenon in the large N.C. sounds where storms suck water from one side and push it to the other. Several friends reported Silver Lake at Ocracoke being really low and the harbors at Hatteras, Buxton, and up Hatteras Island being almost dry as the wind was building. This water was pushed across the sound and up the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers and Albemarle Sounds causing severe inland flooding.
While water almost two feet deep was reported in other areas, I believe the Neuse River got the worst of it and communities along its banks saw a surge some reported as high as 10 feet. That water pushed out of the Neuse and Trent Rivers at New Bern and rushed inland as far as a mall a mile or so from the river. Neighborhoods that were considered safe had to be evacuated by boat.
While this was happening, boats in the harbors at Hatteras Island were sitting on the mud in the bottom. I saw one cell phone picture showing boats sitting in the mud on the harbor bottom with a few puddles scattered around and the sound was showing sand for a ways out from the bank. It was a very strange picture.
When the high water receded in the rivers it returned to the far side of the sound and the harbors on the island. A major concern of the islanders was how fast it returned. This had potential to do a lot of damage and in places the returning surge did just that. Because of the track of the storm, the water came back slower around Hatteras Village and the damage was less than expected, but it made up for it farther north on the island.
Early TV reports had a breach in Hwy 12 between Hatteras Village and Frisco, but that was only overwash. Hwy 12 sustained serious overwash in several places along the Outer Banks, but the breaches were north of the tri-villages of Waves, Salvo and Rodanthe. The road was washed out at Mirlo Beach and again at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. There was also a section of Highway 12 washed out between Ocracoke Village and the Hatteras Inlet Ferry Terminal on the north end of Ocracoke Island.
With the storm moving so slowly, the waves battered fishing piers and they sustained significant damage. All of the Crystal Coast piers had some damage, but Oceanana and Bogue Inlet Piers have already reopened. Both of these piers lost their offshore ends and will be restricted to only bottom fishing and jigging.
Earlier this week Mike Stanley, at Bogue Inlet Pier, said they hoped to have a piling replaced within 30 days and that would give them an additional 100 feet of fishing length. The weather cooperated and they have already stabilized that section of the pier and it will be open this weekend. Stanley said they would rebuild the end during the winter, but would have to cancel their King Mackerel Tournament scheduled for later this fall.
The Sheraton Pier had already lost substantial length in a previous storm and was battered again. This time the damage is just beyond the low tide mark. Evaluations there had not been completed when I was checking, so a call would be wise before planning a fishing trip there.
Staff from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries reported that something less than 1,000 tires originally placed on artificial reefs washed ashore between Fort Macon and Indian Beach during the storm. DMF staff are working with a small inmate crew to remove the tires from the beach as quickly as possible. The tires will be removed and taken to a staging area where a contractor who recycles tires will pick them up. More tires also washed up on Oak Island and Holden Beach.
In the 1970s, in the early days of its artificial reef program, DMF constructed artificial reefs made of tires banded or cabled together. This practice has been discontinued for many years, but sometimes tires from these old reefs are loosened during storms and wash ashore.
This is Labor Day Weekend. It is historically thought of as the last weekend of summer and it will be the last big weekend for the year. However, many people have begun visiting the coast well into the fall and the fishing usually stays good as long as the weather is nice. Traffic will be hectic through Monday, but will get much better after that. With the weather and water finally cooling a little, the fishing should really begin to improve too.
Speaking of fishing, we got away from it for a few days to prepare for Hurricane Irene and then to clean up after, but this is a fishing column and there was a little going on. Beginning as early as Sunday there were a handful of vehicles with empty trailers in the parking area at most ramps.
With as many docks as were damaged, there has to be a lot of debris floating at or just under the surface in area waters, so caution, slower speeds and a sharp lookout are strongly advised. Dr. Bogus said he saw a lot of dock decking boards washing out Bogue Inlet several mornings and they were bristling with nails.
Hopefully the fishing will be good, but we had a lot of rain come down in a short time and most inshore and nearshore water is muddy. That will add a lot of fresh water and will take a while to clear out. Bottom fish are typically the least affected by major influxes of fresh water, so that may be something to consider for a week or so.
Several fishermen said the fishing was pretty good in the days leading up to the storm. Many outdoorsmen believe that birds, animals and fish can sense the barometer dropping when bad weather or a storm approaches and it signals them to feed. Some went out of their way to be sure they got in a trip late last week and most caught pretty well. I can't speak for the fish, but we left our bird feeders up until late Friday afternoon and the birds were feeding like it might be a while before they ate again.
I believe in the theory that a slowly falling barometer causes fish to feed, but I only got to go once and I'm not sure the storm was close enough to affect them yet. I began Wednesday morning at Camp Lejeune with a couple of Marines who were determined to catch whatever they hadn't been able to handle on our previous trip. They had two strong hookups with something big.
The first one spooled the reel before breaking new line that had been added just to help handle it. After putting on more new line another was hooked. The second one was turned once, but must have gotten line on a gill plate or something and broke free on its second long run. The second one had some speed and made a big tail swirl when it turned making us think it might be a big drum. We never saw anything from the first one except line disappearing quickly. We'll have another encounter soon and will eventually land one of these fish.
The saving grace for that trip came a little later, when a nice flounder sucked down one of our baits. It was 22 inches long and was invited home to be the guest of honor at dinner.
Several fishermen said they were hoping Hurricane Irene was the catalyst we needed to fire off our fall fishing. They said their records showed that fishing had improved after storms in past years and they had no reason not to expect the same this year.
With no real reports, I'm going to speculate a little. I believe the inshore and nearshore water may be muddy for a while, but the influx of fresh water will help cool them and fishing will improve as fast as the water clears. Flounder have been biting well and that should continue. Red drum should become more active in cooler water and that means more folks will find them. The drum bite has improved noticeably in the surf this week. The jury is still out on speckled trout, but I hope we see a rise in juveniles this fall as the fishery biologists are saying we will.
Spanish mackerel fish has been good and should continue so. One good spot to look for Spanish is on the clean side of the tide lines around the inlets. Another is the around the shoals at all three N.C. Capes. They will hit size 0 and 00 Clarkspoons trolled behind planers and trolling sinkers or more adventurous fishermen can drift within range and cast to them. Larger Spanish will also hit live finger mullet and peanut pogies.
This next thought is one everyone wants to hear. I believe the rainwater flushing down the coastal rivers will push lots of baitfish into the nearshore ocean and attract king mackerel. I can remember past years of fishing the Cape Fear River Ship Channel after storms and the water was so dingy you could have the swivel of a king rig out of the water and still not see a 30 pound class king on the other end. The kings were biting well too. If you got a bait close enough they could find it, they ate it. I am hoping this sets that off again.
The fall offshore bite always features wahoo and I believe that is already trying to start. If you have never caught one of the turbocharged cousins in the mackerel family, this is the time to do it. They are around in their best numbers of the year and are usually hungry.
Blackfin tuna are usually along the temperature breaks just inshore of the Gulf Stream and bite well. Many folks make the mistake of thinking less of these small football tuna because they aren't yellowfins. Blackfins are one of the white meat tunas and should be considered a premium catch.
We haven't had a really good yellowfin tuna run off Cape Lookout or Cape Fear in several years or more. Late this spring, there were a couple of small yellowfin runs and some fishermen are optimistic. I hope they are correct and would welcome a fall yellowfin run with open arms.
The offshore bottom fishing had been excellent before the storm and should be firing up again strong by the time this reaches the newsstands. Grouper fishing has been excellent, with limits being caught regularly. Beeliners, pinkies, grunts, porgies and triggerfish are also biting well.
September heralds the arrival of fall and hunting seasons begin to open this week. The first ones are marsh hens and resident Canada geese, which open on September 1. The next is dove season which opens on Saturday, Sept. 3. Archery season for deer is the big one and it opens on Sep. 10.
If you are not fortunate enough to have been invited to someone's farm for an opening day dove hunt, there are several commercial and Game Land opportunities. An article listing these opportunities is in the September North Carolina Sportsman magazine.
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.
If you have concerns regarding allowing LightSquared, a broadband wireless company, to operate on a frequency that is known to interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) signals, the comment period has expired and your only means for preventing this now is through your legislators. Detailed information regarding the issue is available at www.saveourgps.com. BoatUS will also be posting updates at www.BoatUS.com/gov. The contact information for our Senators and Representatives is available at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting that was originally scheduled for August 10 to 12 in Raleigh and rescheduled for August 30 through September 1 has been rescheduled again. This rescheduling was to allow fishermen and commissioners with storm damage to stay home and get that taken care of. The new dates for this meeting are Sept. 7 to 9.
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.
Once the Commission has made its recommendation, these issues will go to the Regional Advisory Committees for public hearings. The dates of those meetings will be listed here as soon as they are announced. Details and dates will be available on the Commission website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
As difficult as it may seem to believe, there were no saltwater tournaments scheduled for this past weekend. That is a good thing as they would have been rescheduled or canceled anyway.
Saltwater tournament action begins again this weekend with the Harkers Island Tackle and Trading Post Shark Tournament will be held Saturday, Sept. 3, from Harkers Island. For more information visit (www.harkersislandtackleandtradingpost.com).
The Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic will be held at South Harbor Village Marina in Oak Island on Saturday, Sept. 3. This is a king mackerel tournament with extra divisions for an Inshore Slam (king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia) and an Offshore Slam (king mackerel, dolphin and wahoo). For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.