I believe I can safely say the tropics have fired up. It looks like a parade of storms is marching across the Atlantic and they are spread a few days apart and heading out way. Unfortunately, it may be time to batten down the hatches and prepare for a bumpy ride.
Our first concern is Tropical Storm / Hurricane Hanna. The current predictions have it reaching us sometime after midnight tonight (Friday) and quickly pushing through to be gone by late Saturday afternoon. Those forecasts have it reaching us as a category 1 hurricane or strong tropical storm. That is nothing to overlook, but I'm also happy it is moving fast. I just spoke with some of my Cajun family and they are still getting rains from remnants of Hurricane / Tropical Storm Gustav, which hit them over the Labor Day Weekend.
While we certainly could use the rain, I'm hoping Hanna moves enough to the east to keep us on the west side and out of the heaviest wind and rain. Part of my concern is saturating the ground and it becoming too soft, with storms Ike and Josephine probably following close behind. We've seen how that works before and it isn't particularly good. Weaker winds topple tree that withstood stronger winds and when they fall on power lines and other utilities, there are significant outages.
Hurricane Ike is a category 4 storm as I am writing this. It is a compact storm with winds to 145 MPH and moving quickly. It is forecast to be in the Bahamas Tuesday and current projections have it following a track very similar to Hurricane Hanna after that. There could be significant damage if it continues at its current wind velocities.
Tropical Storm Josephine is several days behind Hurricane Ike, but may get sucked into its tailwinds as it passes through the Bahamas over a week from now. Let's hope that doesn't happen--unless of course Ike makes an abrupt turn and heads out to open sea. We'll know more abut this next week.
The Labor Day Weekend crowds were significant, but maybe not quite as big as in past years. Still, there was a lot of traffic headed east on Friday night and west on Sunday and Monday. The new trailer legislation allowed boaters to be more relaxed as they were able to tow boats with widths greater than 8 1/2 feet. Boats less than 9 1/2 feet wide may be towed any day and at night, while boats wider than 9 1/2 feet may only be towed during daylight hours.
I spoke with numerous boaters over the weekend and all were thankful to our legislators for returning and overriding the governor's veto to pass the new laws. There are some flagging and lighting requirements that must be followed for boats wider than 8 1/2 feet, but they are good provisions and are easy enough to do. Boats wider than 10 feet also still require a permit.
Over the weekend there were a pair of king mackerel tournaments, one offshore tournament and quite a few people juts enjoying a very nice weekend on the water. In fact, I heard several fishermen complaining the weather was too nice. I fished one of the king mackerel tournaments on Saturday and we ran well offshore working on an unusual game plan. Even though the plan didn't work exactly right, we had a great catch--just not of king mackerel, it was a great day on the ocean. I heard several other fishermen with similar complaints, usually mentioning they caught dolphin, plus some with sailfish encounters, but those are reasonable consolation prizes.
I fished with Capt. Tommy Rickman of Southport Angler Outfitters and we decided to take advantage of the weather and head offshore to go grouper fishing and light lining for kings. We left from Southport Saturday morning and fished east of Frying Pan Tower. Everything went according to plan, except for catching big kings. We never had a king strike offshore, but did catch our limits of grouper.
At the risk of being branded a liar (and aren't all fishermen liars by nature anyway?) I want to tell you the story about one of the grouper we caught Saturday. I was fishing whole pogies following the principle of big bait equals big fish. On one drop I had a tremendous strike that was on for about 10 to 15 seconds before going limp. When I reeled up, part of my leader and hook was missing and from the look of the end of the leader, it had been bitten off.
I quickly tied on a new hook, rebaited and dropped back down. Almost immediately I had another hard strike and set the hook. This time I won the tug-of-war and got the fish up. It was a pretty nice red grouper and when I reached to put the dehooker on the leader and pop my hook out, there was my other hook in his mouth. He hadn't even sucked the bait off the hook and swallowed it. This grouper had my first bait hooked in his mouth and already hit another one. I removed both hooks, rebaited with the first bait and caught another. Not too bad, huh?
After filling the fish box with red, gag, scamp and even one strawberry grouper, we headed back inshore to find our big king. Heading to a section of live bottom in about 50 feet of water, we put out a spread of frisky live cigar minnows and hoped our offering of something different than pogies would work.
It almost did. We caught one king and lost another in the short time we had remaining, but neither was big enough to do any good in the tournament. At least the fresh grouper tasted good and at fish market prices we had more than a 10th place finish would buy.
Good old drum and tarpon fishing continued in the Pamlico Sound and Neuse River. Capt. George Beckwith reported seeing rolling tarpon several miles upriver of the Highway 17 Bridge across the Neuse River at New Bern. He said he didn't stop and fish, because he was in a freshwater area and was unsure of the regulations. He said the tarpon were busting on mullets, so they were obviously feeding.
Beckwith and other guides continued with the excellent old drum fishing near the mouth of the Neuse River. The big drum are in the bays and along the drop-offs near the shoals and islands in the lower river and along the edge of Pamlico Sound. Chunks of mullet and menhaden, fished on the bottom using Owen Lupton Rigs are the hot ticket for catching old drum.
Owen Lupton rigs use a circle hook on one end of a piece of stout mono line, with an egg sinker pegged about 3 inches from the hook. This rig makes releasing the big drum very easy as it almost always hooks them in the corner of the lower jaw.
Smaller red drum, plus some speckled trout and flounder are being caught in the marshes and creeks. Pelletier, Spooner and Hoop Pole Creeks are good spots along Bogue Sound, while the Haystacks, Core Creek and Adams Creek are good spots once the ICW turns at the State Ports and heads toward the Neuse River. Flounder are usually holding in deeper water along the edges of the channels, while drum seem to prefer the shallower water adjacent to the channels. Trout may be in either, with low tide being better in the channels and high tides being better in the shallows.
While the waves are building and the water near the beach is muddying up, the piers reported good catches of Spanish mackerel earlier in the week. There were both good numbers of fish and some larger ones being caught. The hot lure of Spanish mackerel fishing is the Got-Cha plug, which is made by Sea Striker Tackle Company of Morehead City.
While Spanish mackerel are one of the target species Got-Chas were designed to catch, they also attract bluefish, trout, false albacore, red drum, dolphin, numerous jacks and more. There have been some odd reports of fish caught on Got-Cha lures, including one I couldn't verify several years ago of a sailfish from Johnny Mercer's Pier in Wrightsville Beach. The location was a little different, but I have seen a picture and the release citation for an approximately 18 inch sailfish that Jerry Jones of Newport News, Va. caught on a G112GH Got-Cha at Nags Head Pier on August 9.
Other pier catches include bluefish, pompano, sea mullet, flounder, sheepshead, black drum, sharks and a few spots. Once the water clears after the storms pass, the surf and pier fishing should get really good as lots of mullet minnows began migrating down the beach earlier this week.
Spanish mackerel were being caught over last weekend and early in the week just beyond the surf along Atlantic Beach and at Cape Lookout. The lure of choice for those folks trolling for them is Clarkspoons in size 00 to 1.
The king mackerel bite was building, but may suffer a setback with the passing of these storms. Kings in the low to mid teens have been fairly plentiful on the rocks and reefs out to about 80 feet of water. The larger kings have been east of Cape Lookout at East Rock and 1700 Rock. As the water cools a little and this storm pushes them around, expect to also find kings at 30 Minute Rock, the Atlas Tanker and the George Summerlin Reef (AR 285).
King mackerel fishermen slow trolling live baits have been catching some dolphin, plus an occasional sailfish or wahoo. There are kings from just off the beach out to about 80 feet of water on the west side of Cape Lookout Shoals and from about 50 feet to 100 feet deep on the east side of the shoals. The kings east of Cape Lookout have generally been a little larger.
The offshore boats have been catching some dolphin, a few wahoo, some billfish and a few blackfin tuna. Most people don't know about blackfins, but they are a smaller white-meat tuna that are excellent on the dinner table. This fishing begins at about the 90 Foot Drop and extends to beyond the Big Rock, plus south towards Swansboro Hole.
The nearshore grouper bite has slowed a little but good fishermen are still filling limits. There are occasionally surprises too. On Saturday, I caught the largest scamp grouper I have ever seen. It wasn't a monster at 17 pounds, but most scamps average less than 10 pounds. Sometimes traveling a little farther and fishing a little deeper allows you to find fish that haven't been pressured as much. The grouper are mainly reds and gags, but scamps and strawberries are also in these general depths. Offshore bottom fishermen are also catching red snapper, beeliners, black sea bass, porgys, grunts and a few hog snappers.
The Gregory Poole Beaufort Offshore Celebrity Classic was held last week, beginning on Wednesday. The Honey Hush, owned by Bob Warren of Raleigh and Morehead City, won the offshore division with 6 billfish releases. The WE III, led by Anna Smith of Beaufort, topped the Ladies Lay Day Tournament and the King Mackerel Division was won by Phillip Stephenson of Raleigh and the crew of the Money Shot with a 41.15 pound king. For more information visit www.fishbocc.com.
The Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic Tournament was also held over the weekend in Holden Beach. Vonda Mason and the crew of the Knot Kiddin' collected the top prize with a huge 48.70 pound king. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
The second annual Bay Creek Classic Flounder Tournament (Southport) and the Hatteras Village Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament (Hatteras) are scheduled for this weekend. Both are expected to be influenced by the approach of Tropical Storm / Hurricane Hannah. Officials with the Bay Creek Classic Flounder tournament are hoping they will only have to postpone 1 day and can fish on Sunday. For more information call 910-363-4038 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Hatteras Village Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament, visit www.hatterasonmymind.com or call 252-986-2579.