The calendar says fall begins over the weekend and next week weíll know for sure. This weather is comfortable for fishing and it is time to take advantage. The water temperature has dropped back into the 70s and the fish are getting a little more aggressive. The catches for the past week ranged from flounder to red snapper and included a variety of fish in-between.
There have been a few windy days, but for the most part fishermen have gone just about anywhere they wanted since last weekend and they were spread from the backs of the creeks to the edge of the Continental Shelf.
Military Appreciation Day (MAD) 7 Southport was Saturday, Sept. 15 from Southport Marina. This is the little brother or sister event for the MAD event that is held in Morehead City each June. This is the seventh year for the MAD organization (www.militaryappreciationday.org) and the fourth event from the Southport-Oak Island area. The Southport MAD Event is still growing and this year 49 boats carried more than 100 members of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, National Guard and Navy out for a day of fishing.
I offered my boat and services for this event and was looking forward to putting some troops on some fish. Saturday began at 0-dark-30 and the marina was bristling with activity when I arrived well before sunrise. MAD volunteers were under the tent checking in MAD participants while captains attended last minute details before heading fishing. Everyone may have been MAD, but all were smiling and happy.
One of the troops scheduled to go with me had a last minute schedule change so I only had one guest. Rank didnít matter on Saturday and I was joined by Steve Pearson of Marine Corps Air Station New River. I had been worried about bait, but with only one fisherman, I thought I might have enough to make it to low tide when I could catch more. I did Ė barely.
The fish of the morning were puppy drum and flounder. Most of the pups were small, but there were some mid to upper slot fish mixed in. We were fortunate that all but one of our flounder were easily above the 15 inch minimum. Steve said his family liked fish and I wanted to be sure he carried several meals home with him.
The inshore fishing wasnít the only thing that was going well. Many of the boats that went into the ocean to catch Spanish mackerel had a field day. There were several fish cleaners and, while most of the catches were good, the Spanish catches overwhelmed them. Many boats caught limits or near limits of Spanish and with a crew of two and two guests, that is 60 fish. The fishermen left the fish biting and the fish cleaners were busy until dark!
The MAD fishermen said they caught Spanish just about every way possible. Of course, many were caught by trolling small Clarkspoons and Drone Spoons behind planers and trolling sinkers. This produces a lot of fish, but the fishermen fight the weight and drag of the planer or trolling sinker as much or more than the actual fish.
Casting Got-Cha plugs, Jig Fish, Hopkins Shortys and other small jigs is a fun way to catch Spanish. This involves slowly maneuvering within casting range of a school of fish and casting into them, then retrieving the lure very quickly. Donít worry; you canít reel fast enough to keep it away if they really want it.
When casting to Spanish, there are a couple of things to consider and remember. The first is they may spook and dive if the frequency of the motor changes. If you motor to them, motor by them and get in a couple of casts, then come back. If you shift the motor into or out of gear, the sound of it will change and it may spook the fish. Also, whatever you do, do not slam the lid on a fish box, baitwell or storage hatch when you are near the school. That is usually a disaster.
I prefer to position the boat a little ways upwind or up current of the school of Spanish, then cut off the motor and drift into and by them. Once out on the other side, I start the motor and swing around the school to get in front again.
Using live bait on trout or drum rods is a really fun way to catch Spanish. I load up the baitwell with finger to corn cob size mullet. The rig is six to nine inches of very light wire (number 2 or 3 single strand or 18 pound multi strand) and a single size six treble hook. You need to be as light as possible, but still have a little wire to keep from being bitten off.
Place the hook in the mulletís back, just behind the head and either carefully cast or drift it into the feeding school. The strike is usually immediate. There is no hesitation if the fish are feeding and you bait isnít too big. Most of the time the smallest mullet you can catch in a 3/8 mesh cast net are about the right size.
There is a growing number of puppy drum in the marshes and creeks and along the edge of the sounds and Intracoastal Waterway. Pups like mullet minnows, small pogies and live shrimp. They will often jump on dead shrimp too. The bait can be suspended from the surface under a float, fished on the bottom on a Carolina rig or fished along the bottom on a bucktail or jig head.
In areas with heavy oysters, using a float and floating the bait above the oysters is a good idea. When the oysters are lighter, fishing the bait on a bucktail or jig head is a good way. Carolina rigs work well on cleaner bottoms, but tend to hang up in oysters.
For the evening high tides last weekend there were lots of puppy drum in the grass and they were feeding hard and not spooky. That tapered off into the week as the high tides got lower. Still they were cruising the edges of the grass hoping a foolish minnow or shrimp would move into the open.
If you want to see red drum tailing and catch one in the flooded grass, make plans for a few days on either side of the Sept. 30 full moon. This will be a strong tide and unless weather messes it up, it should be the hottest flooded grass bite of the year.
A Carolina rig, bucktail or jig head with live bait also works well with flounder and there are usually some flounder and puppy drum feeding in similar areas. I like the bucktail and jig head for the same reasons they work well for puppy drum. The bucktails and jig heads can also be used with soft plastics or scented baits and allow covering more ground than with live baits. Some days it seems like I catch more fish using the soft artificial baits, especially the scented ones like Gulp.
Trout responded to the cooling water too. The water is still in the high 70s, but is cooling, when it reaches the low 70s and below, the trout bite should really take off. Many of the trout being caught now are right at the minimum size. There are some larger ones too.
Trout are hitting topwaters a little early in the morning and will hit some soft baits, especially scented bio baits all day. However, the most consistent way to get trout to bite is to feed them live shrimp. The best way to fish live shrimp is under a float.
Trout are school feeders that will follow bait along a bank or oyster bar. I like to adjust the float so the shrimp is about 12 to 18 inches off the bottom and let the wind or tide current push it along the bank. When it comes by a school of trout, theyíll let you know where they are. While the water is warm, you will need a lot of shrimp as all the bait thieves like shrimp and will often out hustle the trout to them.
While everyone has been waiting anxiously, the king mackerel bite hasnít quite come in to the piers yet. Itís going to happen soon, but hasnít started yet. The water is cooling and bait is plentiful and boaters caught a few kings closer in over the weekend. The fall pier king bite could fire off at any time.
Other than kings, pier fishermen are catching a mixture of fish. Pier anglers are catching some small jack crevalle and some pompano. These fish look a lot alike, but donít have the same table qualities. The quickest way to tell the difference is with the pectoral fins. They are short on pompano and long on jacks. The jacks also have teeth.
In addition to pompano and jack crevalle, pier fishermen are catching some flounder, sheepshead, red drum, black drum, speckled trout, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Some spots were reported along the Outer Banks this week. This is about a month early, but Iím sure no one will complain if they arrive a little ahead of time.
As already noted, Spanish mackerel are biting well. They key spots are around the inlets, especially on tidelines with foam or where the water color changes. Try on the clear side of the change. Spanish are also spread along the beaches from about 15 to 30 feet deep.
The king mackerel bite hasnít fired off yet, but some fish were caught closer in this week. Several boats fishing the MAD event had a king or two mixed with their Spanish. Some went a little deeper and caught teenager kings on frozen cigar minnows and live baits. Itís time for the action to really pick up at all those places in 50 to 60 feet of water and this could be the week it happens.
This will be the second and final weekend fishermen can keep red snapper this fall. I heard of several fishermen who made the trip and caught some, but no one sent any pictures. The commercial season is open this week and on Friday through Sunday, Sept. 21-23, recreation fishermen can keep them again. The limit is a single fish per fisherman per day, with no minimum size. Commercial red snapper fishermen have a trip limit of 50 pounds (gutted weight) per day.
A benchmark assessment of the South Atlantic red snapper population is scheduled for 2014. To gather their own data and assist the federal fishery managers, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is asking recreational fishermen to bring their red snapper carcasses to one of eight collection sites along the Tar Heel Coast. For participating the angler will receive a limited edition fishing towel and a citation (certificate) from the N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament.
Each collection site has a freezer and instructions on how to deposit the carcasses are posted on each freezer. Fishermen should leave the head and tail intact on the carcass. Anglers will be asked to give information related to how and when the fish was caught, plus their names and addresses in order to receive their reward and citation.
The collection sites are:
* Odenís Dock, 57878 N.C. 12, Hatteras;
* Carolina Princess Fishing Center, 604 Evans St., Morehead City;
* Capt. Stacy Fishing Center, 415 Atlantic Beach Causeway, Atlantic Beach;
* Dudleyís Marina, 106 Cedar Point Blvd., Swansboro;
* Texís Tackle, 215 Old Eastwood Road, Wilmington;
* Carolina Beach Municipal Docks, 313 Canal Drive, Carolina Beach;
* Ocean Isle Fishing Center, 65 Causeway Drive, Ocean Isle Beach;
* Hurricane Fleet Docks, 9975 Nance Street, Calabash.
A map of all the locations can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/snapper/freezer-locations.
Black Sea Bass season is closed. Fishermen say with the numbers they are catching and having to release, the stock has recovered, but the federal agencies donít agree. They must be released through June 1, 2013.
Fishermen are catching some grunts inshore of 100 feet deep, but most say they have to move deeper than 115 feet to get away from the black sea bass. Some scamp and black grouper and beeliners are in the 80 to 100 foot deep range and red grouper like it a little deeper. Offshore bottom fishermen are also catching porgys and triggerfish.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is accepting public comment on a draft revision to the N.C. Shrimp Fishery Management Plan, a draft amendment to the N.C. Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan and a draft N.C. American Shad Sustainable Fishery Plan. Comment periods on all three plans will be held in conjunction with upcoming Marine Fisheries Commission advisory committee meetings over the next couple of weeks.
There is some confusion on the purpose of these meetings, specifically in regards to shrimping. These meetings are just for comments on a draft revision of the existing Shrimp Fishery Management Plan. I was at the Southern Advisory Committee meeting in Wilmington on Wednesday and the room was packed with people who thought the meeting was about shutting down inside trawling. That may come up in the future, but was not in what was presented in Wilmington and discussed by the Southern Advisory Committee.
The remaining advisory committee meetings are:
* Northern Advisory Committee, 4:00 P.M. on Sept. 27, Vernon G. James Research & Extension Center, Plymouth.
* Finfish Advisory Committee, 10:30 A.M. on Sept. 26 (no shrimp), N.C. DMF Central District Office, Morehead City.
* Shellfish/Crustacean Advisory Committee, 6:00 P.M. on October 2 (no flounder or shad), Craven County Cooperative Extension Office, New Bern.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) met last week in Charleston. Several of the things they discussed included the possible closure of the commercial inshore grouper fishery before the Spawning season closure on January 1, 2013 and improving data collection from for-hire and commercial fishermen. For details from the meeting visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
One other thing the SAFMC did during their meeting was to recognize NC Marine Patrol Officer Jon Hall of Brunswick County as the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Hall was presented the prestigious award by SAFMC Chairman David Cupka. The award, acknowledging service above and beyond duty requirements, recognizes distinctive service, professionalism and dedication to enforcing fisheries regulations in the South Atlantic region. Nominees may be submitted from each of the southeastern state law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard, and NOAA Fisheries.
Daniel Ipock, of Washington, has been awarded the Governorís Award for Marine Patrol Officer of the Year for 2012. Ipock, who joined the Marine Patrol in 2008, received the award Sept. 8 at the North Carolina Wildlife Federationís Annual Governor's Conservation Achievement Awards banquet and celebration.
As a word to the wise Ė fishermen interested in fishing the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association (NCKFA) Oak Island Fall Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament in Oak Island on Saturday, Oct. 13 should register as soon as possible. A strong early registration has filled more than 150 of the 175 slots.
The Oak Island Fall Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament is a unique tournament with lots of prizes. Winners in each of the five species categories receive a kayak and prizes will be awarded through fifth place. The five species categories are for the longest fish of Flounder, Red Drum, Speckled Trout, Slam (1 each of flounder, red drum and speckled trout) and King Mackerel. The lady angler and junior angler catching the largest fish will also receive kayaks. The tournament is a CPR (catch, photograph and release) format except for king mackerel, which will be brought to the beach and measured by tournament officials. To register or for more information on this tournament or the NCKFA visit www.nckfa.com.
A variety of tournaments and events are on tap for this weekend. They include seminars and fund raisers, plus the beginning of a two week surf fishing tournament, fishing from kayaks, inshore species and a small boat only king mackerel tournament.
I will be doing seminars on kayak electronics at West Marine in Morehead City on Saturday, Sept. 22 from 11 to 3. The seminars will cover the electronics, installations, lightweight batteries and more. David Wicker will also be there to discuss marine electronic system for boats. For more information call West Marine.
Redfish Action will be hosting a Cape Lookout Inshore Classic Slam Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 22, to raise funds for a local fisherman to help pay the medical bills for his battle with cancer. The tournament will be held from Town Creek Marina in Beaufort and will feature two fish aggregates of flounder, red drum and speckled trout. For more information or to give a donation, visit www.redfishaction.com.
For those not into fishing, there will also be a fundraising event for Capt. Charles Brown at the Core Sound Museum in Harkers Island. A surprising number of people know Capt. Charles and if you donít, you should. He is an excellent fisherman, quite a character and a good guy. He was recently diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer, but remains in good spirits and tells folks that with the Lordís help he will make it.
There will be food, raffles, silent auctions and fellowship. Items are being sought for the raffles and auctions. For more information on the event call 242-241-5885 or 252-838-1126. Donations may also be mailed to Chasiní Tails Outdoors, 613 Atlantic Beach Causeway, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.
The sixth Annual Flounder Surf Fishing Tournament will begin Saturday Sept. 22 and fish through Saturday Oct. 6 in Emerald Isle. Participants must fish from land on Bogue Banks and weigh their catches at Bogue Inlet Pier. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.com.
The Kitty Hawk Surf Company will host the Outer Banks Kayak Fishing Tournament from their Nags Head store on Saturday, Sept. 22. Participants may fish up to a mile offshore in the ocean and five miles into the sound. The Captains Meeting will be Friday night and features a seminar by Kayak Kevin Whitley. For more information visit www.khsurf.com.
The New Bridge Bank Wild King Classic is a king mackerel tournament for small boats. Only boats of 23 feet or less may enter. The Captains meeting and awards will be at Wild Wing Cafť in Wilmington, with weigh-ins at Seapath Yacht Club in Wrightsville Beach. The tournament is a single day, with participants choosing either Saturday or Sunday, Sept. 22 or 23 to fish. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com and open the tournaments tab.