We're having another small cold front this week and I'm loving it. I hope y'all are too. Fall is my favorite time of the year here on the N.C. coast and we are finally easing into it. The daytime highs are supposed to stay below 80 until Sunday and then drop back into the 70's on Monday. As long as the weather stays clear and doesn't get too cool too quickly, this is a good thing.
Our water is still warm (77 degrees in the surf) but some of our fall fish have been watching the calendar rather than the thermometer and are starting to arrive. Put on a sweatshirt or windbreaker if you leave the dock early, but by all means go fishing and have some fun.
Our ocean conditions forecast for the weekend aren't too bad and Saturday looks to be the best in several weeks. The wind will be generally northerly and westerly and, after a little puffing on Friday, drop to below 15 knots through Monday.
Some big news this week is that the NC Division of Marine Fisheries Director, Preston Pate, has announced his retirement effective February 1, 2007. Pate has held the top saltwater fisheries job for 9 years and has a total of 35 years with the state fisheries in various capacities.
Our inshore fishing continues to be surprisingly good, especially so considering the tannic stain and infusion of fresh water from all the rainwater runoff after Tropical Storm Ernesto four weeks ago. Not only are there good fishing reports, but the water is clearing well--almost noticeably every day.
There are flounder along the edges of many channels, at creek points and around the inlets. There are still a few "shorts", but most have eaten well over the summer and grown into keepers. Good numbers of speckled trout and red drum are in the marshes and inland creeks. They had been closer to the outer edges for the past few weeks, but are moving back up into the creeks as the fresh water runoff slows.
The gray trout have also made an early showing in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the edges of the Beaufort Inlet Channel. There have also been some good catches of grays around the high-rise bridges between Morehead City and Atlantic Beach or Radio Island.
The large drum in Pamlico Sound are still biting. If the water temperature continues to drop, this will taper off and these drum will begin working their way towards the inlets. The "old drum", as the locals call them, have been feeding in the late afternoons and into the evenings. Off Cedar Island, Swan Island, Raccoon Island and the point of Marsh at the end of the Neuse River have all been good locations to hook one of these trophy fish.
The spots continue to bite at the piers. It isn't big runs right now, but a slower bite. However, it could fire back up at any time. There have also been some good pier catches of Spanish mackerel, especially in the mornings. These are larger fall Spanish and are lots of fun on plugging tackle. Other pier catches include pompano, bluefish, flounder, red drum, black drum, croakers, and trout.
As on the piers, the trollers have been reporting good Spanish mackerel catches on most days. If you aren't finding the Spanish, there are two good basic things to do. The first is to find a tideline around an inlet and troll the cleaner side and the other is to look for diving birds and boats fishing under and around them..
Many fishermen are waiting for the fall king mackerel to show up. There is plenty of bait all along the coast, so food isn't the reason for their mysterious absence. Many fishermen are placing the blame on the fresh water runoff from the rain associated with Tropical Storm Ernesto and that is really beginning to clear. Hopefully the kings will move back inshore pretty soon. There were a couple of reports of kings from some of the southerly piers this week, so maybe it won't be long.
With a few better days this week, more boats ventured offshore. The catches were about what had been expected, with wahoo topping the list. There were wahoo scattered from the 90 foot drop out to the Big Rock, around the Rockpile and along the break from the Blackjack Hole up to the Same Ole. There were also some dolphin, kings and a few sailfish.
The offshore bottom fishing is going well right now. The headboats, charter boats and private boats are all reporting good catches of grouper, beeliners, black sea bass and grunts.
The final event in the 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour was held last week from Southport. All but 1 of the top 5 boats made the run to east of Cape Lookout to catch their fish. Congratulations to Capt. Joe Winslow and the crew of the Hooligan for winning this event. They caught a 35 pounder on Friday to make the cut and fish the final day and added a 32 pounder, minus an 11 pound penalty for running 11 minutes late, on Saturday to win by 3 pounds.
The Onslow Bay Open King Mackerel Tournament was held from Swansboro on Saturday and congratulations are in order for the Reel Weiner Crew. They landed a 33 pound king to win this tournament.
The only tournament slated for this weekend is the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association Club Challenge from Oak Island. This combined king mackerel and flounder tournament is a "Bragging Rights" tournament for the saltwater fishing clubs from across the state and all proceeds are given to the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association for reef projects.
This is a fun tournament and benefits a good cause. They build homes for the fish. For more information visit www.lbara.com or call 910-278-4137.