Is it just me or did the Labor Day Weekend crowd seem down from previous years to anyone else? The weather was basically nice. The winds were a little more than I would have wanted to head offshore, but the seas were nice in the shelter of the capes and the inshore waters. I just didn't see either the fishermen or crowds in general I had expected. Perhaps with school starting in mid-August, Labor Day just isn't the holiday weekend it once was?
The windy weather of last weekend is nothing compared to what weather officials are concerned with for this weekend. If their predictions come to pass, the low pressure area off the southeast U.S. coast could become Tropical Storm or even Hurricane Gabrielle by the time this reaches the news stands.
There is already one casualty of this low and that is the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament. The tournament was scheduled for this weekend in Atlantic Beach, but the tournament committee carefully examined the weather forecast and made the decision to postpone the tournament until October 18-20. All locations and times will remain the same, just transferred to the October dates.
The fishing wasn't bad over the holiday weekend and there are numerous indicators it will be improving. One of the most significant indicators is the line of mullet minnows moving south down the beaches, just beyond the breakers. This is a sure sign fall and the good fishing it brings is quickly approaching. Several species of fish gather to feast on this mobile smorgasbord.
Another significant indicator of approaching good fishing is the water temperature falling another couple of degrees. It is still a little warmer than usual at 83 degrees, but that is down significantly from the high 80's of several weeks ago and 87 degrees just last week.
This one is new to me, but Wally at the Sheraton Pier and several folks at Bogue Inlet Pier said the yellow butterflies were a good sign of good fishing and they were out in force over the weekend.
While they didn't have any kings, tarpon or cobia, the piers all reported pretty good catches of Spanish mackerel, bluefish and flounder. Other pier catches included a few gray trout, speckled trout, pompano, black drum, spots and sea mullet. As the water cools, this will continue to improve.
There were some good catches of large red drum over the weekend. Several fishermen reported multiple hookups in West Bay and the protected water around Cedar Island. Other fishermen headed up the Neuse River and found some big drum well up the river and even in several of the creeks above Minnesott Beach. They said the lack of rain had allowed the salt water to work its way up the river to the area around New Bern.
I didn't hear any tarpon reports this week, but they had been up the Neuse River just downriver from the edge of the higher salinity. Most fishermen locate tarpon by spotting them rolling and there has bee enough chop on the river to make this difficult.
Even though the water only cooled a few degrees this week, it appeared the speckled trout and redfish became more active. The bite improved in the coastal creeks and marshes. Live baits have been the preferred baits, with a growing debate regarding whether shrimp or mullet minnows are best. I believe the mullet minnows are more durable and don't get attacked by as many undesired species, but a struggling shrimp is like ringing a dinner bell.
Many fishermen are doing well with lures for these fish and most of them mention topwater lures and get a grin or twinkle in their eye. I prefer soft plastics and have found a D.O.A. Chug Head, rigged to make my grub fish on the top, tends to make the fish particularly aggressive. Other productive topwater lures include Zara Spooks, Skitterwalks, Top Dogs and Top Dog Juniors.
The inshore flounder bite has been slow except in a few key areas and many fish are just below or barely at the 14 inch minimum size. Shallow spots immediately adjacent to deeper water are typically good spots and one of the best recently has been the roughly triangular area formed by the Atlantic Beach Bridge, the Radio Island Bridge and Beaufort Inlet. The flounder are holding along the drop-offs and bulkheads and typically bite better at night. There is also a fair concentration of flounder along the Cape Fear River Channel at Southport and the Southport waterfront.
The ocean flounder bite is a little better, with a higher percentage of keepers, even though they must be a minimum of 14-1/2 inches long. Most nearshore rocks and the artificial reefs are holding flounder.
The billfish bite has been good to excellent all summer and just garnered another accolade. On August 30, the charter boat Swordfish returned to Oregon Inlet with another piece of history. They had caught a 1,077 pound blue marlin. The marlin died during the fight and they brought it in so it could be documented and studied. The white marlin bite is hot and many sailfish are still around. I had a sail in my baits on Saturday, but it was a looker, not a biter.
The fall wahoo bite is starting off well. Most of the wahoo are 25 to 45 pounds but they are biting well. I haven't heard of a double digit catch yet, but several boats reported having 8 and 9 over the weekend.
There was also resurgence in the dolphin bite over the weekend. Several boats reported good catches of gaffers and many reported bailers. Some yellowfin and bigeye tuna are also being caught, but are primarily north of the Big Rock. The tuna catches get better off Oregon Inlet.
The king mackerel continue to prefer the offshore waters that are a little cooler. There are some smaller kings scattered closer to shore along the entire coast, but the larger fish still prefer the deeper water of places like the 1700 Rock, 30 Minute Rock and East Rock, east of Cape Lookout.
Spanish mackerel catches improved again this week and should continue to improve as the mullet minnows running out the inlets attract them. 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.
Congratulations are in order for several tournament winners. Pat Renfro and the Big Dog crew won the Drum Inlet King Mackerel Tournament, Mike Williams and the Release crew topped the Swipes Wipes King Mackerel Tournament and W.D. Rodeffer and family brought the Game Day up from Folkstone, Georgia to win the Brunswick Islands King Classic.
The Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament (www.abkmt.com or 252-247-2334) was scheduled for this weekend but has been postponed until October 18-20. The Hatteras Village Surf fishing Tournament (www.hatterasonmymind.com or 252-986-2579) is scheduled for Thursday through Saturday. It would be wise to check before heading there.