The weather this past weekend was just what the doctor ordered to cure a fishing Jones and, for the most part, the fish cooperated too. It was a welcome break from several weeks of northeast winds, with nearly flat calm morning conditions and a nice sea breeze building during the afternoon. Even better, the fish must have enjoyed the change too as there were numerous good reports from across the area.
We don't have a threatening weather system in the Atlantic right now, but a low pressure cell that hovered over Texas last weekend is on the move and it is expected to bring us some rain over the weekend as it moves up the coast and tries to dislocate the high that brought us this good weather. There isn't a lot of wind associated with this system, just some rain, but the forecasters can't decide how much rain. The forecasts have varied from sprinkles to downpours. We probably should carry raingear on our boats--just to be sure. After all the rain that system last week dumped from Topsail to Hatteras and then in the Northeast U.S., we worry a little about rain--even if we need it.
A pair of good bites were reported at AR 315 and AR 425 this week. Fishermen reported good numbers of large Spanish mackerel of which many were citation size (6 pounds). There was also a good flounder bite at the artificial reefs. The Spanish and the flounder were keying on finger mullet, which are plentiful right now, so catching bait was pretty easy.
The parade of mullet minnows swimming down the beach continued this week and more fish have zeroed in on them. The Spanish mackerel bite has also been very good from the piers and for boaters just a pier length or so off the beach.
Speaking of the piers, the flounder bite has continued well and some really nice puppy drum have joined them. The flounder bite was already picking up, but many fishermen attribute the growing number of pups to the mullet minnows moving down the beach. That makes a lot of sense as all those minnows swimming just outside the breakers have to resemble a never-ending buffet to the fish.
It had been a few weeks since kings were being caught from the piers, but there were kings caught at Ocean Crest Pier over the weekend and a 24 pounder at Bogue Inlet Pier on Monday. With the cooling water, the kings may be moving back to the beaches. This usually happens near the end of September, but it could be a few weeks early this year. I'm sure no one would complain.
Speaking of kings, and especially with this being the weekend of the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament, I would like to give some good reports from the tournament area. There was also a close to shore report from Beaufort Inlet out to Cape Lookout Shoals. The report was of good action from kings ranging in the teens to near 30 pounds. The Dead Tree Hole, the Rock Barge and off the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty were all mentioned several times. I'm sure those fishermen in the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament won't mind catching them close to shore.
Good king mackerel activity was also reported from many of the popular spots a few miles offshore. On the west side of Cape Lookout Shoals, the 13 Buoy, Hutton Wreck, Triple Nickel, Northwest Places, and 14 buoy were all mentioned. East of Cape Lookout the favorite spots are the Drum Inlet Reef, 1700 Rock, East Rock, the Atlas Tanker and 30 Minute Rock. There weren't any reports of huge fish, but many limits were boated.
Usually in these area there are also a few dolphin caught by the king mack fishermen. I'm sure there were a few, but no one found the nearshore dolphin action exceptional. The hot sailfish bite of a few weeks ago has slowed, but no one should be surprised to see a spindlebeak trying to abscond with one of their baits in these areas.
Wahoo were the primary fish for the offshore boats this week. They also found a few dolphin, some kings, and some amberjack. There were a few billfish reports locally, but the white marlin bite was wide open off Oregon Inlet. Numerous boats were reporting double-digit releases.
The offshore bottom fishing continues to be pretty good too. Sometimes it's a little hard to believe the snappers and groupers are in low enough populations the limits must be cut and the seasons closed. Fishermen should be aware the limits on grouper and beeliners have changed and there will be a beeliner closure beginning in November and a grouper closure beginning in January. The offshore bottom catch has been varied. It includes grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, pinkies, porgies, several species of grunts, some keeper sea bass and even a few red snapper. I had a good trip too that I'll elaborate on a little later.
I already mentioned the good flounder fishing from the piers and it is also pretty good at the nearshore artificial reefs and in inside waters. The shoals and sloughs at almost every inlet have been giving up a mixture of shorts to nice flounder. The flounder action has also picked up around the mouths of creeks, along bridges and along the edges of deeper channels. The water has cooled a couple of degrees, the bait is moving and the flounder are getting aggressive. It's a great time to catch them.
The puppy drum fishing is good too. They stay sort of on the prowl even during the heat of the summer, but when the bait gets scurrying around like it is now, they get real excited. We've been fortunate in the past week to see some upper and over slot drum, plus some 8 to 12 inchers that will be approaching the lower end of the slot next year. Don't complain about catching those small fish and having to release them--be glad we have a good year class coming through for the next several years.
The new moon is Thursday and with the exaggerated high and low tides, it could be a great time to catch some drum. They should be up eating sand fiddlers in the marsh grass on the high tides and flushed out into the main bodies of the creeks on the low tides.
While they were already feeding pretty well, the abundance of baitfish activity has stimulated the trout also. They aren't as forgiving of making noise approaching them and then heaving the anchor over as flounder and pups, but they are in many of the marsh creeks and are beginning to feed more actively. For best results with specks approach them slowly and quietly and ease the anchor over. Most specks just can't refuse a live shrimp and the really big ones like small spots, croakers and pinfish.
A few gray trout are biting in the Morehead City Turning Basin. They are holding in deeper water during the daylight, but will move shallower and into lighted areas at night. Some fishermen are finding them mixed with the specks under the high-rise bridge lights at night.
I was invited to go offshore bottom fishing on Saturday with Capt. Tim Barefoot of Wilmington and his friend Barry Bobbitt. Barefoot is a former charter fisherman who enjoys designing and testing specialty fishing tackle. His company is Barefoot Fishing (www.barefootfishing.net) and they make several products to make fishing and rigging baits easier and more productive. Among the special products are chin weighed circle hooks for easily trolling ballyhoo and chin weighed J-hooks for ribbonfish rigs, plus the Decoy Jigs we used to catch an abundance of grouper, snapper and other bottom fish.
It is of special note that Barefoot donates 5 per cent of all sales from Barefoot Fishing to the Fish For Tomorrow Foundation (www.fishfortomorrow.org). Fish For Tomorrow, through Barefoot, is a supporter of raising flounder for stocking purposes and a primary supporter of the Aquaculture Curriculum at South Brunswick High School and aquaculture programs at UNC-W and NC State. The main fund raising event for Fish For Tomorrow is the Flat Bottom Girls Flounder Tournament, which also provides live flounder for the fisheries labs at UNCW. The 2009 tournament will be held in Carolina Beach on November 6 and 7 and more information is available at the Fish For Tomorrow website.
We headed out Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach at first light to find an ocean that was flat calm and the promise of the day looming bright in the rising sun. After jigging bait at a couple of the nearshore artificial reefs, we headed offshore with a baitwell full of cigar minnows, sardines, bar jacks, grass grunts, pinfish and more. There were also boxes of frozen squid and frozen cigar minnows in one of the coolers.
It took a little while to find some fish that were biting well, but once we did the intensity of the action grew throughout the afternoon as a light breeze began to filter in from the southwest. We caught several species of grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgies, pinkies and even one red snapper. There were a few sharks around, but they never became a nuisance. One remora hung around for quite a while and made heavy hors-devours of a variety of bait scraps we tossed over.
Several barracuda hung in the shadow of Barefoot's boat at different times, but knowing they were there, we reeled quick and got almost everything by them. Unfortunately the key word there is almost--several times they brought our frantic reeling to abrupt stops as they chose several prime cuts for mid-afternoon snacks.
Some of the fish we caught were below minimum size and a few of them had expanded their swim bladders and required venting to allow them to dive back to the bottom and survive. Barefoot has experience with this and it was good to watch him insert the veterinary hypodermic just behind the pectoral fin to deflate the expanded bladder. With their swim bladders deflated, the fish rushed back to the bottom seeming little worse for the experience. I'm glad I was able to witness this before having to attempt it myself.
For anyone who would like to see a demonstration and purchase a venting tool, there is a video on the South Chatham Tackle website at www.southchathamtackle.com. South Chatham Tackle is located in Sanford and Capt. Bob Earl makes many specialty items for fishermen. The dehooker, with a venting tool in the handle, is a favorite of many offshore bottom fishermen.
The Hatteras Village Surf Fishing tournament was held September 10 through 12 in Hatteras and the fish cooperated. The tournament is divided into four sessions with the teams changing locations each morning and afternoon. The men's winners were the Sandfiddlers, of Buxton, who scored 338 points with 117 fish. The Sandfiddlers team is Captain Eddie Ochs, Buddy Jennette, Tim Wilson, Zander Brody, Andy Stephenson and David Carangi. The Riverside Rats, Kill Devil Hills, were second with 305 points and the Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen, Lewes, Delaware, claimed the third spot with 260 points.
On the ladies side, the Queen Mackerals, Nags Head, tallied 71 points with 23 fish. The Queen Mackerals team is Captain Peggy Bird, Linda Harper, Susie Von Suskil, Dee Deaton, Barbara Daniel and Betty Wright. Blackbeard's Babes, Kill Devil Hills, gave them a scare with 25 fish, but only totaled 63 points. The HatterasKals, Hatteras, were third with 58 points.
Jimmy Jackson landed a 24 inch red drum to claim the Largest Fish Award for the men. Sara Warren landed a 22 3/4 inch red drum to receive the Largest Fish Award for the ladies.
The Masonboro District Boy Scouts Flounder Tournament was held in Wrightsville Beach on Sept 12. This is the second year for this tournament, which has become the primary fund raiser for the Masonboro Boy Scout District. There were 51 boats that took advantage of the excellent weather to chase flatfish and help the Boy Scouts.
The winner was Dennis Durham with a 10.0 pounder. He also had a second flounder that weighed 7.5 pounds, but the rules only allowed entering one fish per participant. The race for second place was tight, but Terry Wright edged out Steve Peterson by a mere .05 pound. Wright's flounder weighed 5.40 pounds and Peterson's weighed 5.35 pounds. That difference is less than an ounce (an ounce is .0625 pounds).
I owe the folks at the North Carolina Flatfish Championship an apology. Last week I reported that tournament was this past weekend and that is incorrect. The tournament list I copied from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries had them listed as last weekend, but the tournament is actually this weekend. It will be held from Joyner Marina in Carolina Beach with a Captains Meeting and Final Registration on September 18 and fishing on September 19. For more information, visit www.fishermanspost.com or call 910-452-6378.
The Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament begins with the Captains Meeting and Final Registration Thursday afternoon. For 2009 this tournament has returned to a two day format. The proceeds will go to the Atlantic Beach Fire Department. The Weigh-Ins will be Friday and Saturday from 3:00 to 5:00 behind McCurdy's Restaurant on the Atlantic Beach Causeway. The awards will be Saturday evening in the former Outer Banks Outfitters building at Atlantic Beach Station. 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.