Did everyone enjoy the little mullet blow last weekend? Man, it rolled in Thursday night with that cool air and Friday morning I had the shivers. The overnight temperatures dipped into the fifties and, depending on exactly where you were, either didn't quite or barely made it into the seventies on Friday. The rain and overcast skies didn't help much with attitudes either.
Saturday was a few degrees warmer but still heavily overcast and threatening rain. The real clearing began after lunch on Sunday with continued warming and the temperatures were back in the mid eighties by Wednesday. That's OK, the damage, no actually that should be the good, has been done. This was the trigger we needed for fall fishing to take off and, while it stalled a few things for a few days, we should see better reports coming every day.
This week the forecast is for another low trough, but the winds are supposed to stay primarily from the south, so it shouldn't be too cool. There are a bunch of fishermen expecting the fishing to be hot!
A king bite has started this week on the Oak Island piers. There has been a king or two a day caught at Ocean Crest Pier and at least one has been caught at Oak Island Pier. We knew this was about to happen at any time and it has started this week.
Other than those kings at Oak Island, the big word at all the N.C. piers is spots! Reports of these tasty panfish are coming from every open pier along the coast. The bite sometimes seems to be in waves, so the action isn't non-stop, but it's consistent enough to catch more than most folks want to clean during a day of fishing. These are nice fall yellow-belly spots too.
In addition to the crowds on the piers, we should begin seeing a lot of spot yachts at popular inside locations. Remember you can't block the channel, so anchor along the edge and cast over into it. We haven't had particularly good spot runs in the past few falls and there is no guarantee of how long this will last. If you want some, you better go get them.
Spots are usually cooperative. A two-drop bottom rig and some bloodworms or FishBites synthetic bloodworms is all you need to catch them. A strong grip and a sharp knife help a lot when you get to the cleaning table. At that point some hot grease and seafood breader will turn them into the tasty morsels we enjoy so much.
There were more reports of growing catches of trout this week. It appears the cold snap was good for them too. The reports range from lots of shorts to tales of good numbers of two to three pound specks.
The Fishery Management Plan for speckled trout is currently being reviewed. State law requires ending overfishing within two years of determining it and rebuilding the stock within 10 years, plus adopting a plan with a 50 per cent chance of success. The recommendation from biologists with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and most of the Marine Fishery Commission Advisory Committees is to maintain the minimum length of 14 inches and reduce the limit to two fish per person per day. Seasonal closures were discussed, but they would have to be long or occur during the best months of fishing to show significant impact and allow increasing the limit.
The recommendations of the committees will be given to the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) for action during their November meeting. The discussion at the advisory committee meeting I attended pointed out that the MFC could act immediately or delay the action for up to two years and be within the law. Most of the advisory committees are recommending immediate action. Once the information from all the public meetings is compiled, it should be available on the MFC/DMF website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
Gray trout are showing up in the Morehead City Turning Basin, in the deeper channels around the area and in the Ocean at the Dead Tree Hole. Fishermen should remember that last year the limit on gray trout was reduced to one per person, with a minimum size of 12 inches.
Sheepshead are also being caught adjacent to the structure in and around the Morehead City Turning Basin. Some are very large sheepshead too. The Port Wall, the pilings for the high-rise bridges, the Morehead City to Radio Island railroad trestle and the larger docks around this are all good spots to target sheepshead. Fiddler crabs are the bait most fishermen are familiar with, but Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors said they like sea urchins even better.
The flounder bite is going off too. Every area has a few hotspots, but the port wall at Morehead City and Snows Cut at Carolina Beach through the lower Cape Fear River edges at Southport are ones that stand out. Flounder have been feeding all summer and are much fatter than they were in May. That 17 incher from the spring will weigh a half pound more now.
Live baits are the preferred baits for flounder, but they will also hit strip baits and a surprising number of artificials. I have caught them on soft plastics, spoons and MirrOlures.
My best flounder story this week is about the ones (yep, that's plural) that got away. This happened on the south end of the state, but is an excellent program and I believe it should be considered at many other high schools.
On Friday, Sept. 16, students at South Brunswick High School, near Southport, released approximately 200 southern flounder into the waters of Davis Canal at Oak Island. This is the sixth annual flounder release by Barry Bey's Aquaculture Class at South Brunswick High School. This event began in 2006 and has varied from releasing just below 200 fish this year to more than 2,000 fish some years.
Shortly after 10:00 A.M. Bey lifted a door from a portable tank trailer backed up to Davis Canal at Oak Island and water began running out. One of Bey's students quickly lifted a protective screen and the water rushing out of the trailer down the chute and into Davis Canal was filled with flounder. Bey's students, visiting VIPs from NC State University, UNCW, NC Division of Marine Fisheries, Fish for Tomorrow and numerous interested fishermen watched, clapped and yelled as approximately 200 five to ten inch flounder slid down the runway and disappeared into the water.
In just a couple of minutes, it was all over but the memories and the expectations. The expectations are to help bolster declining flounder populations while learning about the possibilities of flounder farming. The fish seem to adapt well. The stockings are expected to show in catches around the area, but one from past years has been at Swansboro. The hatchery flounder have some tell-tale black spots on their white side that serve as identifiers.
Bey said the flounder eggs and sprat have come from various places and several times his students have helped with everything from the hatching on. Students have always been part of the process of growing the flounder to release size. He said some of these came from Walden Creek Fish Farm and some from the UNCW Center for Marine Science. During the time from receiving them to releasing them, 95 South Brunswick High School students worked with the fish.
Bey credited assistance from NC State, UNCW, NC Division of Marine Fisheries, Coastal Conservation Association-NC, Fish for Tomorrow, Town of Oak Island, Brunswick Community College, St. James Fishing Club, Oak Island Fishing Club and the US Open King Mackerel Tournament with the success of the aquaculture program at South Brunswick High School. He said this program is the perfect model of networking through the universities, high schools, community, fishing clubs, conservation groups and state agencies for a conservation effort and student experience for stock enhancement of southern flounder. He hopes the success will help pave the way for a state saltwater fish hatchery as another tool for fishery resource management.
My question is if this is such as successful program, why can't it be duplicated at other high schools? Research has shown flounder can be converted to fresh water fish and grow well. This could be an excellent program for the students and could teach both hatchery and stocking techniques or fish farming.
As can be seen from the list of supporters, this program has a lot of community and regional support. Along that line, community supporters have organized the South Brunswick High School Class Acts Golf Tournament that will be held on September 24 at the Members Club at St. James Plantation. This golf tournament is being sponsored by St. James Properties LLC, with the purpose of offsetting some of the budget cuts required at South Brunswick High School. The specific objectives are to benefit the Dance Team and Aquaculture Program at South Brunswick High.
The golf tournament will feature a field of up to 48, four-person, teams in a scramble format. In addition, there will be a banquet with raffles, live and silent auctions and numerous other ways to help support these students. Several of the silent auction items are fishing trips with local charter captains and an invitation to fish in one (or more) of the ponds stocked by the South Brunswick High School Aquaculture Program. 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.
I don't know much about dance, but the competition success of this dance team shows they are talented and dedicated and have an excellent coach. They have won and placed well in competitions across the southeast. It would be a shame to let a funding shortfall hold them back.
This aquaculture program has evolved from it's beginnings of raising catfish and bass in ditches on school property to a highly recognized program that receives numerous awards annually. Those who don't play golf are invited to attend the banquet and bid on some of the items there. This program is deserving of our support. I sure wish there had been a program like this when I attended high school!
The cold front slowed the large red drum bite in the lower Neuse River and Pamlico Sound, but they were still catching some this week. This may signal the approaching end of this fishing, but it hasn't ended yet. If you would like to try this fishing this year, you should act quickly.
While the big drum fishing may be slowing, the puppy drum fishing experienced a little hiccup over last weekend, but looks to be recovering. With the quick cooling, the drum formed into tighter groups. Some were still feeding well and some developed a 72 hour case of lockjaw. The reports varied from none to wide open and had fishermen looking at each other in disbelief when hearing reports. Some pups are also following the mullet minnows out the inlets and along the ocean beaches.
Many fishermen are reporting the inlets and the tide lines just outside of them are loaded with Spanish mackerel and bluefish. Trolling Clarkspoons or casting Got-Cha Jigs, Jigfish, Hopkins and other lures will catch lots of Spanish and blues.
With all the mullet minnows running down the beach they should get real close to the beach too. There are some larger Spanish around too and they prefer live baits. For some real (reel?) fun, make a rig with a single size 6 treble hook and about 6 inches of 18 pound wire and put it on your favorite trout rod, baited with a finger mullet. I promise you a Spanish mackerel will make it squeal like you wouldn't believe if someone else told you.
After mentioning last week that Lookout Shoals had changed dramatically after Hurricane Irene, I received a handful of calls and e-mails on the matter, so I thought I would mention it again. With the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament this weekend and the history earlier this year of some really large kings being caught east of Cape Lookout, it is obvious many boats will be heading that way. Be careful if you try to jump the shoals. I was told the slot is far better than the slough, but going around the shoals is the only way that is marked.
The offshore bite is red hot. Wahoo are the primary target and they are chewing. Some blackfin tuna and an occasional dolphin are also being caught. Some yellowfin tuna were caught this week closer to Cape Hatteras, so maybe they will work their way farther south.
Offshore bottom fishing has been good -- in fact maybe a little too good for black sea bass. While they said they were still compiling numbers, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced at last week's South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting that they anticipate the yearly quota for black sea bass south of Cape Hatteras will be met sometime in October and the season will have to be closed. When this season closes, it will not reopen until June 2012. Cape Hatteras is the dividing point in management for black sea bass and the season there will close on Sept. 25 and re-open on Nov. 1. This is a scheduled closure. Grouper, beeliners, pinkies, grunts, porgies and triggerfish are also biting well.
Mac McIntosh continues to lead the 2011 Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge, that began on Sept. 1 and runs to Dec 31, 2011. McIntosh doesn't expect to win with the 2.31 trout, but he continues to be the closest to the September Wild Card weigh of 2.48 pounds and is in line to win a nice trout outfit. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The Inshore Fishing Association was in Surf City on Saturday, Sept. 17, for the final of three tournaments in the Atlantic Division of the IFA Redfish Tour. The tournament was headquartered at Beach House Marina and would decide the Angler of the year in the division. Because of the importance of the tournament several fishermen came to town early, but they also had another reason.
On Thursday, Sept. 15, the IFA, in association with Hope for the Warriors, invited the Marines in the Wounded Warriors Fishing Club at Camp Lejeune over for a day of fishing. Five Marines were able to adjust their schedules and take advantage of the offer. There was an air of anticipation as they departed the Surf City Soundside Park that morning and smiles were the uniform of the day when they returned that afternoon.
IFA Redfish Tour Director Jerry Stakely and crew set up the mobile IFA stage and held a weigh-in when the Warriors and Fishermen returned. The live bags being brought to the stage contained plenty of flounder, along with the redfish. The fishing was informal and everyone was a winner. Cabela's/Ranger Fishing Team member John Henninger made the trip up from Jacksonville, Fla. and paired with Lcpl. Mike Hoy to weigh 13.51 pounds of redfish and flounder to pace the field. Other IFA pros that participated included Jody Tucker, Jamie Hough, Neal Kendrick, Brian Rose, Jay Malphrus and Jared Cleland.
The redfish bite was one that suffered with the cold front and tournament anglers scoured the waters from Harkers Island to Southport searching for a pair of perfect 27 inchers. Almost half of the field found a pair of redfish to weigh, but they weren't as large as was expected prior to the severe weather change.
Capt. Rennie Clark, Jr. and Drew Arndt of Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach have been the flagship bearers for this division and they did it again. Clark and Arndt, who won this division and the Overall IFA Team of the Year in 2010, found a pair of reds that weighed 11.35 pounds to win the tournament and division again. They will head to the IFA Redfish Tour Championship in Chalmette, La on November 4 and 5 as the defending Team of the Year and the favorite to score the win.
Kenny Mace and Mark Nuzzo fished hard but came up .04 pounds, or less than an ounce, back to fishing second at 11.31 pounds. Dodd Wood and Glenn Finley finished third at 10.72 pounds with a pair of reds that include the tournament's largest fish at 6.95 pounds. For more information visit www.redfishtour.com.
IFA Kayak Fishing Tournaments sponsored by Hobie are held on the Sunday following IFA Redfish Tour events and the Surf City kayak event was held on Sept. 18. These are CPR (catch, photograph and release) events and this was the final of three tournaments in the Atlantic Division of the IFA Kayak Tour. The kayak fishermen had been working the area all week in preparation for the cold front and hoping they had some alternatives if it affected the fish badly. The kayak anglers were also covering water from Harkers Island to Southport.
After watching the boat fishermen weigh in on Saturday in temperatures that had them wearing long pants and jackets, the kayak fishermen knew they had a task ahead. They would have to propel their kayaks in 10 to 20 knot winds and catch fish. Many of the 16 kayakers had to forsake some of their preferred fishing locations because the windy and storm threatening weather and were forced to concentrate on locations closer to the launching ramps.
Unfortunately, for the first time in IFA Kayak Tour history, there were no camera cards turned in at the end of fishing. No one caught a measurable red drum or speckled trout. Based on scores from the first two tournaments, Justin Carter of Charleston, S.C. claimed the division title and will joint several N.C. and S.C. fishermen making the trip to represent the division at the championship to be held Nov. 11 and 12 in Chalmette, La. For more information visit www.ifakayakfishingtour.com.
The N.C. Flatfish Championship was held Saturday, Sept. 17, from Inlet Watch Marina in Carolina Beach. The tournament was based on the combined weight of each participant's two heaviest flounder, plus there was a TWT for the single largest flounder. This tournament benefits the Marine Tech Club at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington.
The Fred Davis family had a good day on Saturday and won most of the big prizes. They began by winning the tournament with a pair of flounder that weighed 13.50 pounds. This included the single largest flounder at 10.10 pounds. That big flounder also earned co-Top Lady Angler honors for Bethany and Leah Davis.
Al Fulford was second with a pair of flounder that weighed 11.75 pounds. Ralph Freeman also joined the "over 10 pound club" with a pair of flounder that weighed 10.58 pounds and earned third place. Freeman's largest flounder weighed 8.41 pounds and earned Top Senior Angler honors. Chase Davis topped the Junior Anglers with a 3.84 pound flounder. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament that was scheduled for Sept. 15 to 17 in Atlantic Beach was postponed until this weekend and will be held Sept. 23 to 25. This is a change from Friday and Saturday fishing days to Saturday and Sunday fishing days. The tournament will benefit the Atlantic Beach Fire Department and tournament headquarters will be under the big tent in the parking lot at Atlantic Station in Atlantic Beach. Weigh-ins will be at McCurdy's Restaurant on the Atlantic Beach Causeway on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
Other tournaments scheduled for this weekend include the Bay Creek Classic Flounder Tournament on Saturday, September 24, from the Fish Factory Road Wildlife Boat Ramp in Oak Island. This tournament is an annual benefit for Southport outdoorsman Brandon Matthews, who was seriously injured when he fell while putting up a deer stand several years ago. This tournament has become a primary fundraiser for his still numerous medical bills. For more information visit www.baycreekclassic.com.
The Newbridge Bank Wild King Classic will be held from Wild Wing Café and Sea Path Marina in Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 23 to 25. The tournament, which allows one fishing day in a format that allows participants to choose either Saturday or Sunday, will benefit the Cape Fear Community College Sea Devil Club. For more information, visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The final of three tournaments in the Redfish Action Redfish Series will be held from Town Creek Marina in Beaufort on Sept. 24. Fishermen will compete for the tournament win and season long honors. With the results of this tournament in hand, the Redfish Action Series will announce their Anglers of the Year. For more information visit www.redfishaction.com.
The Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Department Flounder Surf Fishing Tournament will begin on September 24 and fish through October 8. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
The US Open King Mackerel Tournament will begin just as this is posted next week, so I will mention it now. The dates are Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 and the tournament will be held at Southport Marina in Southport. This has been the largest king mackerel tournament in the U.S. for the past several years and has a guaranteed purse. For more information visit www.usopenkmt.com.
Kayak fishermen should take notice a big event is on the way. On Saturday, Oct. 8, the Oak Island Classic Kayak Tournament will be held at Oak Island. In only its second year, this is already the premiere kayak fishing tournament in N.C and one of the leaders on the East Coast. There are divisions for the inshore species of flounder, red drum, speckled trout and a slam division for one each of the three species. There will also be a division for king mackerel. This tournament benefits the Oak Island Sea Turtle Preservation Program. For more information visit www.nckfa.com.