While the weather forecast for last weekend wasn't excellent, it didn't include the rain that began as a drizzle on Sunday and became a downpour on Monday. The winds were just enough to keep the smaller boats inshore on the easterly facing beaches and allow just a little travel into the ocean on the southerly facing beaches. We didn't really have a storm to blame, the wind and rain was from a coastal low that has since moved on. However, some folks will still try to blame it on Tropical Storm Erika even thought it had already played out by the time the weekend began. We now have Hurricane Fred in the far eastern Atlantic, but it is not expected to make its way beyond mid-ocean before turning north and should pose no threat to any land.
The offshore ocean conditions stayed rather sloppy through the middle of the week, but began laying out Wednesday afternoon and are forecast to be nice by the weekend. The winds have been primarily from the north and are giving us cooler temperatures which are somewhat of a silver lining to this cloud. While the Labor Day Weekend crowd was still large, the weather and economy brought a crowd that wasn't quite as large as expected. The shorter than usual holiday lines at stores and restaurants were welcomed by many, but weren't exactly what area businesses needed to end the summer.
Of special note from last weekend is the 27 pound, 7 ounce tripletail Thomas Cutler caught Friday night on Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. Cutler, of Oak Island, is a teenager but a regular on the pier nonetheless. He has fishing savvy beyond his years and has earned the respect of many anglers several times his age.
Tripletail are an unusual fish that are occasionally caught in N.C. waters during the summer (this is Cutler's second this summer), but are a little rare this far north. They are generally considered a fish of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Tripletail are named for their large anal and rear dorsal fins, which have lobes so large they resemble tails and added to their actual tail appear to be three tails. They are reclusive fish, but hard fighters and excellent table fare.
Cutler said he noticed the huge tripletail floating beside the pier and ran for a king outfit to be sure he had equipment that was up to the challenge. He was using a Shimano Tyrnos 30, spooled with 200 pound test Power Pro superbraid line and on a live bait rod. At the business end was a 1/0 Owner treble hook and a strip of flounder belly for bait.
There was no hesitation; the fish hit as soon as it saw the bait.
"I had him tired and ready to land in about five minutes," Cutler said. "However, my friend had to run up the pier to get a net. We were out near the end and had gaffs, not nets. When they got the net over, I realized I had a job as I couldn't lead it but so far into the net between the net lines. It took several tries, but finally I got it into the net far enough the fish would slide to the center so the net would balance and they could raise it up."
Cutler said the big tripletail was 35 inches long and 28 inches in girth. The pier staffer immediately called the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, but all office staff was gone for the weekend. An enforcement officer was sent from Snows Cut to verify the species and weight, but it will be later this week before the fish can be considered for a state record. Meanwhile, it is being stored whole in the freezer at Ocean Crest Pier.
There is no current tripletail record in N.C. Many fishermen and this writer are agreeing this is the largest tripletail they have ever heard of from N.C. waters. The S.C. record is 33 pounds, Florida has several line class records in the 40s, the world record is a 42 pounder and the only IGFA line class record holder from north of Florida is a 38 pounder from Georgia. It would be an exceptional catch in any waters and hopefully can soon be reported as the new N.C. state record.
Many beach goers found a surprise just beyond the surf last week. The cooler temperatures were the final catalyst in beginning the annual mullet migration down the beaches and there were some hungry predators laying in wait. Several mornings last week there were schools of Spanish mackerel and bluefish, plus other species crashing the schools of mullet as they moved down the beach. The melee took place just outside the breakers in about six to ten feet of water and lasted several hours each morning. The bait moved all day and there were occasional skirmishes between the baitfish and predators, but the early mornings were the time for all-out attacks.
The fracas was something to see and even someone not used to such spectacles could tell something special was happening. The water would occasionally froth up as the predators charged a school of the mullets and then there would be fish cutting across the surface. The feeding fish were also jumping as they chased the baitfish with abandon. It was indeed special and could happen again at any time. The periods of high tide, especially the lunar enhanced plus tides, are the times this usually happens.
Even without the Spanish and blues herding them, the mullet are running down the beach. The schools range in size from finger mullet to corn-cob and larger size popeyes and they are just beyond the breakers in the first wave not breaking. The lines are long and many times they can be seen swimming along in the opaqueness of the waves. We have Labor Day to signal the end of summer, but this first cool front is the signal for the fish. Summer is ending and fall is coming; it's time to be fishing.
Overall our fishing is good, but I'm putting together this column a little early this week and haven't heard of a king from the piers. The front may be the reason as many fish do move to deeper water as the barometer drops. By the time this is being read it should be rising again and the kings should return to just off the beaches.
The low didn't affect the inside fishing much. Flounder, puppy drum and trout all bit well. The first thing is to find a spot where bait is being moved by in the current. Pups tend to feed shallower and may venture right up into flooded marsh grass. Specks may occasionally venture to shallow water, but really like the security of some deeper water or a channel nearby. Flounder will set up along the edges between the deep and shallow and wait in ambush for what the current brings by. Flounder also like the sloughs around the bars in the inlet and the nearshore artificial reefs.
Some gray trout have already moved into the turning basin. They like the deeper edges along the channels during the day and will mix with specks around the bridge pilings at night. Live bait helps a lot to catch both of these fish at night, but creates a problem of getting your baits through the layer of hungry bluefish that is usually positioned just above them.
With the windy and questionable weather, only a few larger boats fished offshore this week. They found some kings, a few dolphin and some amberjack from the beach out to about 80 feet deep. From the 90 Foot Drop out past the Big Rock there were more dolphin, some wahoo and a few sailfish.
For the first time in quite a while there weren't a lot of billfish reports. Part of that was because of the small number of boats fishing and part was due to the sea conditions. The billfish activity has been really good this year and will probably pick up again after this low passes. The billfish bite was better, but the seas rougher from Hatteras to the north.
With the windy forecast for last Saturday, I chose to go dove hunting, not fishing or marsh hen hunting and I may have made a mistake. For some reason the doves just did not fly like they had earlier in the week and the forecast was off. I didn't want to fight with poling a boat through the marsh in extremely windy conditions, so I took the easy way. Sure it's nice to drive up under an overhanging tree, park your truck, and walk 15 feet to where you are going to hunt, but you want some action.
The fields looked good and there had been birds there earlier in the week, but they just weren't coming in the same numbers. Perhaps the change from cloudy and cool to sunny and hot contributed to the difference too. The sharpshooters to my left and right also didn't help my cause. There were very few doves getting by them and when there weren't all that many flying, it seemed like they hit everything.
Whatever the reason, I didn't get a lot of shots and the opportunity to burn a lot of ammo. In an unusual way that may actually have been good. The way the folks beside me were shooting, I could have embarrassed myself pretty well if I had seen a lot of birds to miss.
The forecast being off may have hurt me more than I know. If I had gone marsh hen hunting, I would have been up in the marsh flooded by the full moon tide and trying to flush some marsh hens from the small hummocks and clumps of marsh grass that remained above water level. Not only do you get some good shooting and enough meat for a few tasty meals most folks will never get to sample, but you get to see where the puppy drum are feeding on the full moon high tides.
Red drum are extremely spooky when you are poling across the marsh grass or trying to wade within casting range of them. However, these same drum seem to develop a "who cares" attitude when you have a shotgun instead of a rod and reel. I don't know how they seem to know the difference, but it amazes me how many we get close to when marsh hen hunting. If anyone is talented along these lines, could you develop a rod holster that can also switch off to be a shotgun holster? That way you could carry both on a fall full moon foray across the marsh?
The Queen of Kings, a ladies-only king mackerel tournament, was held at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island over the Labor Day Weekend. Twenty five ladies from across the state assembled on the end of the pier to test their luck and reel in the largest king mackerel. Unfortunately the kings didn't choose to cooperate. For the most part it was a nice weekend, with northerly breezes and a mixture of clouds and sun, with no rain until Sunday afternoon.
Spanish mackerel were a secondary species and became the deciding factor in the tournament. Peggy Groneman was the winner and she caught a 2 pound, 11 ounce Spanish. Groneman's winner's prize package included $500 in tournament winnings, $200 for the tournament within a tournament and a custom rod and reel package valued at $2,000.
The ladies caught plenty of Spanish and the competition was close. Bobby Diaz-Welch was only two ounces behind in second place. Her largest Spanish weighed 2 pounds, 9 ounces. A mere ounce behind Diaz-Welch, Sherry Kiser caught a 2 pound, 8 ounce Spanish to finish in third place. All of the top three fish were caught on Saturday, the second day of the tournament.
A pair of flounder tournaments are on tap for this weekend. The Masonboro District Boy Scouts Flounder Tournament will be held in Wrightsville Beach on Sept 12. For more information call 910-395-1100 Extension 21. The North Carolina Flatfish Championship will be held in Carolina Beach September 10 to 12. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com or call 910-452-6378.
We are now a little less than a week away from the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament. This year's tournament will again feature two days of fishing and the proceeds will go to the Atlantic Beach Fire Department. The tournament begins with the Captains Meeting and Final Registration on Thursday, September 17. The fishing days will be Friday and Saturday, September 18 and 19, with the awards following Saturday's fishing. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com or call 1-800-546-4622.
In a slightly smaller version than what happens in Morehead City and Atlantic Beach in the spring, Military Appreciation Day (MAD) 4.5 will be headed to Oak Island and Southport on October 17. This is a day to thank our service men and women for all they do for us. The day will feature fellowship, many varieties of fishing and a big meal at the Oak Island Moose Lodge at the end of the day.
Volunteers are needed for all phases of the event. This includes everything from registering folks in the morning to serving food to providing a boat to take some of them fishing. The website for the event is www.militaryappreciationday.org and it lists the many ways someone can register to help and also a way for the service personnel to register.