We got through Labor Day Weekend with surprisingly good weather, but began bracing for the possibility that Hurricane Katia would be another unwelcome visitor before this week ended. Well, we got lucky. As I am writing this, Hurricane Katia is passing well offshore, actually closer to Bermuda than to us.
I'm not wishing the storm on the Bermudans, but we are still recovering from Hurricane Irene and this is good for us. Now the National Hurricane Center has given us Tropical Storm Maria, which is following a path that runs between the tracks of Irene and Katia and comes with more reasons to be concerned.
The silver lining in this dark cloud is a forecast for another nice weekend. The surfers are enjoying it now, but the swells from Hurricane Katia should be about gone by the time this reaches the newsstands. The weekend forecast is for winds to about 10 knots and a few feet of swell, so fishing should be a good plan if you have the time.
Speaking of the holiday weekend, the beaches appeared crowded. I don't have a way to check the numbers of visitors over the weekend, but as I drove down the beach Saturday just after dark, there were cars in the majority of driveways and lights on in most houses. That was a good thing to see.
The boat ramps were crowded too. There was a mixture of trailer sizes and it was near impossible to tell where they headed once leaving the ramp, but there were a bunch of empty trailers. Sure, some were skiing and cruising, but most were fishing and many of them were catching too.
While we have been able to access the beaches below Cape Lookout since the storm passed, that hasn't been the case for Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands. Ocracoke is to open to the public today (Thursday) and Hatteras property owners began getting back earlier in the week. Repairs are progressing on Hatteras Island, but no date has been set to allow visitors. Numerous charter fishermen said they are ready to go fishing once access to the island is opened.
Several fishermen e-mailed this week to confirm there was an abundance of floating debris in central coastal waters and some of it was just below the surface and very difficult to see. They suggested running at reduced speeds and keeping a sharp lookout. The full moon is Monday night, so the high tides may float more debris out of the marsh. Be careful!
I received pictures this week of some of the damage in down east Carteret County and along the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers and Albemarle Sound. The pictures don't lie and they show far more damage than the national news media reported. Flooding was rampant and reached far beyond simply water covering and breaking docks and sheds. Reports from several areas, including parts of New Bern, told of flooded septic and sewer systems and the problems associated with them. Many areas had boil-before-using regulations on the water supply and most shellfishing areas were closed.
In addition to the problems directly associated with the storm, there are also reports of fish kills in the Neuse, Pamlico and Albemarle regions. Biologists with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission reported stormwater runoff, in conjunction with swamp waters high in organic materials, caused a significant decrease in dissolved oxygen, an element necessary to sustain fish and other aquatic animals. They emphasized that low dissolved oxygen is the main culprit in these fish kills, rather than contaminants, pollution or other factors. A WRC spokesman said there were similar incidents following Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and we've learned from past experiences that our coastal river systems are very resilient to tropical events.
Most of the fish kill issues have been in the fresh water sections of these rivers and sounds. The fish have been active and the fishing surprisingly good in the saltwater sections. Numerous fishermen have reported the large drum fishing in the lower Neuse River into Pamlico Sound has been exceptional. They are registering numerous releases of citation size (40 inches) red drum daily.
Puppy drum fishing is improving too. Even though the water has only cooled a few degrees, they have been more active and feeding in the past week. Several big schools have been seen in Core and Back Sounds and fishermen say the fish range from mid slot to oversize fish. Reports of pups came from about everywhere this week, with some good action around the Fort Macon Jetties and scattered along the surf. A wide variety of lures, plus fresh natural or live baits have been catching them well.
Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach Piers took a hit during Hurricane Irene. While the Sheraton Pier has not reopened, Oceanana and Bogue Inlet Piers have reopened minus their ends and fishermen are catching fish. A variety of panfish, including some nice spots, plus Spanish mackerel and some puppy drum have been caught. While I haven't heard of a king mackerel since before the storm, two tarpon were caught over the weekend from the Topsail Beach piers.
There are good reports of large fish being caught from the Oak Island piers. Citation size for a flounder is five pounds and there were two citation size flounder caught at Oak Island Pier. Congratulations to Matt Brooks, Wilmington, for a 6.4 pounder and Jimmy Adkins, Fayetteville, for a 5.1 pounder. Both were caught on live mullet minnows.
Derry Davis, Gastonia, caught and released a 40 1/2 inch red drum from Oak Island Pier. He was using a live pinfish for bait. Keeper red drum have to meet a slot size with a minimum of 18 inches and a maximum of 27 inches. Red drum citations can only be earned for the live release of a fish 40 inches or longer. Davis filled out his paperwork in the pier house and will receive a nice citation in early 2012.
Red drum, sheepshead, black drum, bluefish and Spanish mackerel were also caught from the Brunswick County piers this week. It appears the slight change in temperature and the cool mornings has triggered the fish to feed. This should improve over the coming weeks as the mullet minnows begin running down the beaches in a seemingly unending line.
Several members of the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association made a fishing trip to Oak Island after the storm and reported catching good numbers of keeper flounder and mixed size red drum. They said the water was muddy, but the fish were biting. It seems the fish don't care if you are on a pier or in any size boat. If you can put what they want for lunch where they can see it, they will usually eat it.
The NCKFA fishermen wouldn't admit it, but they were here pre-fishing for the Oak Island Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament that will be held from Oak Island on Oct. 8. The Oak Island Classic will have categories for flounder, red drum, speckled trout, inshore slam (1 each of trout, flounder and red drum) and king mackerel. For more information visit www.nckfa.com.
Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said he had a few customers bring by some nice trout catches during the past week. He said they were very tight-lipped about exactly where they caught them, but he was sure glad to see the specks. He suggested the Haystacks as a good place to start looking for trout.
Flounder fishing had been good before Hurricane Irene and picked up where it left of a few days after. There are flounder around the nearshore artificial reefs and on much of the shallow hardbottom along Bogue Banks. By the weekend, the swell should have subsided enough to easily get through the inlets and go fishing. Flounder are also being caught in the inlets and along the wall at the State Ports.
Sheepshead are biting well. In the Morehead City area, the walls at the State Ports are great places to catch them as long as there aren't ships in the way. Other spots include around the bridges and train trestles. Fiddler crabs and sea urchins are the best baits for these convict fish.
Spanish mackerel are biting and since Hurricane Irene there have been a lot of false albacore trying to steal lures intended for Spanish. One good location has been from the jetty at Fort Macon to Oceanana Pier. Another has been from the buoy at the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty to the edge of Cape Lookout Shoals. Clarkspoons from size 00 to 1 have been catching well. Finger mullet and peanut pogies will usually attract larger Spanish.
Speaking of Cape Lookout Shoals, they were dramatically changed by Hurricane Irene. The reports are that Shark Island was eroded to below water level and there is now a huge shallow flat where it was. Some fishermen say they are still crossing the point at the slough just off the beach, but that is a local knowledge thing and not advised. Many reports say the slot is still the best way to cross the shoals. The only marked passage is around the end.
The reason crossing Cape Lookout Shoals is important is there was a decent king bite around the Atlas Tanker last weekend and it is expected to improve. There are also some wahoo mixed with the kings and they play a special tune with the clicker of a king mackerel reel.
The word hasn't reached the king mackerel yet, but numerous fishermen have commented on the abundance of bait building up around the mouth of the Cape Fear River in the past week. Schools of pogies are thick from the outer edge of Jaybird Shoals west toward Yaupon and McGlammery Reefs. The general feeling is that they were flushed out of the river by all the rainwater runoff coming down it.
Few will argue that the pogies were flushed out of the river. Their questions are about where did the schools of Spanish mackerel, bluefish and several big schools of false albacore come from? Blues and Spanish have been around most of the summer, but not in big schools like they are now. The one that puzzles me is the appearance of the false albacore. We don't usually see a lot of them, especially not in big schools.
Several fishermen summed it up by saying there is a baitfish buffet set at the mouth of the river and now it's matter of time before hungry king mackerel show up to feast. There was speculation that it might happen during the Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic on Saturday, but it didn't. Several boats stayed around it waiting for the bite to go off, but it didn't. It will go off and it could be any day now.
Wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin and a few sailfish are still being caught from around 14 Buoy out to the Big Rock. The key has been finding a weed line, current edge or color change and fishing along it.
Offshore bottom fishing has been good since the seasons opened and are still going strong. In addition to gag and red grouper, there have been a lot of larger scamps caught this year. Beeliners, pinkies, grunts, porgies and triggerfish are also biting well.
For those who hunt also, marsh hen season is open and the full moon tides should push them out of most of their cover. Poling across flooded marsh from hummock to hummock should provide shots at a hens and pastry dinner. Resident Canada goose season opened on Sept. 1 and dove season opened Sept. 3. Archery season for deer opens tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 10) and there have been some tales of big buck pictures from trail cameras.
There may be a slot or two remaining for the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Basic Fishing Workshop at Bass Pro Shops in Concord on Sept. 11. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org/BOW.
Attention aspiring fly fishermen! Brunswick Community College will be offering a "Basics of Flyfishing" course beginning Sept. 26. The class, which will be taught by Bobby Sands, will meet Monday evenings for five weeks and will be followed by an advanced class during the winter. The registration fee is $50. For more information contact Brunswick Community College at 910-755-7300.
The South Brunswick High School Class Acts Golf Tournament will be held on September 24 to offset budget cuts and benefit the Dance Team and Aquaculture Program at South Brunswick High.. The tournament is being sponsored by St. James Properties LLC and will be held at the Members Club at St. James Plantation.
I don't know much about dance, but have been told this is a talented dance team. I know this is an exceptional aquaculture program and look forward to their flounder releases each fall. The next flounder release is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16.
The tournament field will feature up to 48, four-person, teams in a scramble format. There will also be a banquet with raffles, live and silent auctions and numerous other ways to help support these students. For information or to register, contact Lizabeth Dorris, Dance Teacher, 910.265.6632; Barry Bey, Aquaculture Instructor, 910.477.0078; Meggen Calderwood, 910.253.4966; or Janey & Dave Pearce 910.253.3096.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting that was originally scheduled for August 10 to 12 in Raleigh, then rescheduled for August 30 through September 1 and delayed again until Sept. 7 to 9 is finally happening and will end Friday. Items the commissioners are discussing include a commercial hook and line fishery for striped bass and ways to meet the legal requirements of the speckled trout fishery management plan.
Following this meeting, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries will hold six public meetings this month in conjunction with MFC Advisory Committee meetings to allow the public to comment on the N.C. Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan and on achieving sustainable harvest in the draft N.C. Spotted Sea Trout Fishery Management Plan. The dates, times and locations for these meetings are:
* Sept. 12, 1:00 P.M., Habitat and Water Quality Advisory Committee, DENR Washington Regional Office, Washington;
* Sept. 13, 10:30 A.M., Finfish Advisory Committee, Craven County Agricultural Extension Office, New Bern;
* Sept. 15, 6:00 P.M., Inland Regional Advisory Committee, Archdale Building, Raleigh;
* Sept. 20, 6:00 P.M., Central Regional Advisory Committee, DENR Washington Regional Office, Washington;
* Sept. 21, 6:00 P.M., Southeast Regional Advisory Committee, DENR Wilmington Regional Office, Wilmington;
* Sept. 22, 6:00 P.M., Northeast Advisory Committee, Dare County Administrative Building, Manteo.
More details will be available on the Commission website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
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.
A special event is happening in the Southport-Oak Island area this Saturday. The Military Appreciation Day group (www.militaryappreciationday.org) is holding MAD 6 Oak Island on Saturday, September 10. This is a day of fishing for any and all active duty military, to show appreciation for their service to our country. That sounds simple, but, trust me, it isn't. The idea and concept are the only things simple about it.
At last check, more than 100 members of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy were registered to attend. There are openings for volunteers for all parts of the day. More fishermen with boats are needed as there currently are more military than seats on boats. For the landlubbers, help is also needed with parking, shuttling folks to and from the marina, helping with boarding, preparing and serving the after fishing meal and even for cleaning fish are all needed. Fishermen are needed for all day, but there are also multiple opportunities to support the troops in the land-based parts of the day and these can be for a few hours.
Folks who are interested in helping with MAD 6 can get more information and register at the MAD website (www.militaryappreciationday.org) or by calling the local coordinator, Capt. Chris Franks of the Oak Island Police Department, at 910-294-1318.
The Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic was held Saturday, Sept. 3, at South Harbor Village Marina 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). Even with much water still dirty and no real reports of king mackerel in the days following Hurricane Irene passing, 77 boats entered the tournament and set fourth in search of the big king.
There have been a few instances of fishermen repeating as the winner of a tournament in successive years, but it is rare. Winning a tournament again at a later date happens slightly more often, but with many knowledgeable fishermen the odds are against it. A three-peat had never happened until this weekend at the Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic. The Ocean Isle Fishing Center Fishing team of Rube McMullan, his sons Brant and Barrett McMullan and granddaughter Caroline McMullan recorded a first when they brought the tournament winning 36.45 pound king to the scales Saturday afternoon.
The OIFC Team won in 2009 and 2010 to score the three-peat. Rube McMullan was the Top Senior Angler and Caroline McMullan was the Top Youth Angler last year and this, while Austin Aycock fished with them in 2009 and scored the Top Youth Angler award then. Capt. Brant McMullan said they left the rod in the rod holder and five year old Caroline reeled it to the boat.
Donald and Catherine Clifton of Whiteville were the early leaders and finished second with a 29.44 pound king. Catherine Clifton also earned Top Lady Angler Honors. Chip Nifong, Hampstead, and the crew of the Reel Buzz, finished first in the Small Boat Class with a 27.84 pound king.
The tournament featured two secondary levels for the Inshore Slam (1 each of king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia) and Offshore Slam (1 each of king mackerel, dolphin and wahoo. Michael Davis, Jr., Wilmington, and the crew of the Silverspoon were the only team entered in these divisions to weigh and claimed the win in both. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
The Wildlife Bait and Tackle Flounder Tournament had been scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10 in Southport and many fishermen had indicated they were looking forward to it. Capt. Jimmy Price told me over Labor Day Weekend that some unforeseen situations had arisen and it had to be cancelled. For more information visit www.topdoginc.org.
As mentioned earlier MAD 6 Oak Island will be happening on Sept. 10 from South Harbor Village Marina. Fishermen with boats and landside volunteers are still needed. Get MAD and make a serviceman happy. For more information on how you can help, visit www.militaryappreciationday.org or Call Chris Franks at 910-294-1318.
The Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament will be starting before this column runs again and the proceeds benefit the Atlantic Beach Fire Department. The Captains meeting is Sept. 15 under the tent in the parking lot at Atlantic Station in Atlantic Beach. Two days of fishing follow on Sept. 16 and 17, with weigh-ins at McCurdy's Restaurant on the Atlantic Beach Causeway. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.