If you enjoyed the little mullet blow of a couple of weekends ago, you're really going to like it this weekend. Friday looks to be pretty nice, but a cold front is forecast to swoop in overnight on Friday and turn the world chilly overnight. The winds aren't forecast to be particularly strong, but the cold should make up for it. It won't be snuggies weather, but you'll want a jacket.
For fishermen who live or have coastal property in the Southport-Oak Island area, there is something special about the US Open King Mackerel Tournament and the week leading up to it. There must be something special about it in the king mackerel world also. Until last Wednesday, there hadn't been a king caught on either of the Oak Island piers since mid-June. Beginning Wednesday, there have been kings caught from both piers and everyone expects the numbers to continue to rise.
Did the founders of this tournament get lucky or did they know something and pick the right weekend? Who cares? The answer is they chose a perfect weekend for the tournament. A couple of times the catch has been a little smaller and with less fish than others, but every year the kings arrive just off the beach for the tournament. Heck, even those slower tournaments were good. They just seemed slow compared to the normal fishing during the tournament.
On the flip side, when the bite is on, it is really on. I remember one year that I weighed a 29 pound king and didn't make the 55 place leader board. I think that year only one king lighter than 30 pounds was in the top 55. Another year, I tied for second at 43.80 pounds. Because the other boat weighed earlier, they received second and we were third, but the message here isn't that, but that we tied at 43.80 pounds -- and not for first, but for second. Ties aren't supposed to happen with fish that large. The abundant fish are the ones in the twenties and that is where ties should occur.
Things are shaping up for this to be another banner year. The US Open has been the largest king mackerel tournament in the country for the past few years and that should happen again. The word the kings have shown up is spreading quickly and fishermen are getting excited. I've received a double handful of calls and e-mails since the first king hit the deck at Ocean Crest Pier just over a week ago and I expect to burn a lot of cell minutes answering calls today and tomorrow.
There are kings from the beaches out to Frying Pan Tower and the numbers are growing daily. Lighthouse Rock was good last week and more kings should be moving into the ship channel. The fishing for the US Open should be excellent.
The tournament begins Thursday with the final registration and captains meeting at Southport Marina. Fishing days are Friday from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. and again on Saturday but ending at 4:00 P.M. Once all the fish are weighed and weights sorted, the Awards will be held at Southport Marina Saturday night.
Weigh-ins will begin at 11:00 A.M. both days under the tent at Southport Marina. Family members and spectators can expect to see some large kings brought to the scales. In addition to prizes for the 55 largest kings, there are 10 prizes each day for kings weighing closest to specific weights and three more special weigh prizes overall, plus a prize for the 111th largest of all fish entered. Several tournaments within a tournament are available for fishermen wishing to increase their winnings and a there is even a special TWT for lady anglers only.
Early in the week, the weather looks good for the tournament, with all three days labeled as mostly sunny. There is a cold front forecast to come through sometime Friday or early Saturday and it will switch the wind to the north and chill the temperature, plus maybe lower the barometer. The good news is it doesn't look to be accompanied by thunderstorms and heavy winds. In years past, an approaching front sometimes spurred the bite to be superlative and a host of fishermen are betting that will happen again. The scales will close on Saturday and I'll have the results next week.
Moving up the coast a bit, the N.C. Seafood Festival is this weekend in Morehead City. There will be many different booths and lots of good entertainment, but the main ingredient will be that delicious seafood we all love so much. This will be the 25th year of this celebration, so some special events are planned.
Cooking with the Chefs is a favorite of many festival goers and includes some delicious samples. Probably the most fun event is the Flounder Fling and there is something for everyone. The Seafood Festival begins at noon on Friday and runs through Sunday afternoon.
Don't forget the Southern Outer Banks Boat Show and Outdoor Expo that is part of the festival. This show is held in one of the warehouses at the State Ports and features all kinds of outdoor and fishing gear and a lot of shiny fiberglass. The boat show and outdoor expo is Saturday and Sunday, with free admission. For more information, visit www.ncseafoodfestival.org.
After that good news, I have to also have a little bad. Late last week I received word from the U.S. Coast Guard that some buoys in Bogue, New River, New Topsail, Carolina Beach and Lockwood Folly Inlets had been moved off their locations and some are missing after Hurricane Irene. The Coast Guard notice said a combination of the buoys being off station and severe shoaling in the inlets is forcing them to remove the buoys in two of them and closely monitor the others.
These inlets are all awaiting final paperwork to be completed so dredging can begin, but estimates of when that can begin vary from three to six weeks. With the inlets becoming hazardous, the Coast Guard is obligated to remove the buoys, but said they would replace them after the inlets are dredged and surveyed.
The first two inlets scheduled for buoy removal are Lockwoods Folly and New Topsail Inlet. Chief Warrant Officer Edge of the US Coast Guard Navigational Aids Department said the request had been placed to remove these buoys, but he anticipated a few weeks before it could be done and said the buoys would be in Lockwood Folly Inlet for this weekend's tournament.
Edge cautioned boaters to remember that these and some of the buoys in the other inlets are not in their correct locations and to proceed slowly and with caution. He said New Topsail Inlet was currently the worst with several spots in the channel that recorded less than a foot of water at low tide. Lockwood Folly has three feet through most of the channel, but there are a few shallower spots.
Colonel Steven Baker of the US Army Corps of Engineers, who will do the dredging, said he had requested the paperwork be expedited to allow the dredging to begin as soon as possible. Baker said the funding had been approved by the state and local governments and as soon as everything was in place the dredging process would begin.
The big drum bite in the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound had just about ended and the cold front this weekend should close and lock the door as it passes through. It was a good year and while the big drum bite has stopped, the puppy drum have developed appetites. Not only are the pups biting around the edges of the sound, they are getting hungry in the marshes and creeks everywhere. Some have even moved to the surf to feast on the line of finger mullet streaming down the beach.
While they have moved from Pamlico Sound, the big drum bite is on at Little River Inlet. There are drum from 25 to 50 pounds being caught there almost daily. The hot ticket seems to be a heavy-duty Carolina rig and a fat finger mullet. Drifting and being prepared to chase a hooked drum is the proper etiquette for fishing in the confines of the jetties at Little River Inlet.
If you go after the big drum in Little River Inlet, understand that it is just across the state line in S.C. It is only yards inside S.C., but a S.C. fishing license is required. If you plan to launch in N.C. and run down to the inlet, you can purchase a license on-line at www.dnr.sc.gov.
The speckled trout bite isn't what I would call good quite yet, but is improving. Most fishermen say this is because of the cooling water and concentrations of baitfish and shrimp. Several said the cool snap about ten days ago helped motivate the trout to feed. If that is the key, they should be really gnawing after this weekend.
Trout are hitting a variety of soft plastics, MirrOlures and other artificials, but live shrimp is the key to catching more trout. They can be fished on the bottom on a jig head or Carolina rig, or suspended from the surface under a popping or rattling cork. The problem with using live shrimp for bait is that everything else in the water likes them too and the bait thieves are usually more aggressive than trout. Maybe this cold snap will help cool the water and move some of the bait thieves south for the winter.
There is a question of how long it will last, especially if this cold snap starts the water temps dropping quickly, but the flounder fishing is good. They are around the mouths of many creeks, off marsh points and in the surf. In Morehead City they are also holding along the Port Wall. Flounder are aggressive and feeding heavily too. I won't say you don't need to give them a few seconds to handle a live bait, but with artificials they are wolfing them down and can be hooked immediately.
There are still some short flounder in the mix, but the percentage of keepers in a days catch is up. Flounder are hitting live baits and strip baits and many drum and trout fishermen are reporting catching them on a variety of soft plastics.
Sheepshead are also biting pretty well. They can usually be found around most bridges crossing water more than a few feet deep and around some larger docks. Sheepshead like live or at least natural baits. Fiddler crabs are the long-time favorite and sea urchins are growing in popularity.
Some gray trout are being caught while drifting in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the channel out to Beaufort Inlet. A few are also showing in the deeper holes around Middle Marsh and in the ocean at the Dead Tree Hole. Speck rigs, Jigfish and Stingsilvers jigged along the bottom have been catching well. Because the limit on gray trout is only a single fish (minimum size of 12 inches), I suggest swapping the standard treble hook that comes on Jigfish and Stingsilvers to a single hook for easier hook removal.
Spots are one of the most popular fall panfish and they are biting now. The run started off strong a couple of weeks ago and now is having some peaks and valleys. The nice thing about spots is they are available for everyone. Many are caught from the piers, plus inside channels and there are even spots where they can be caught from the bank.
There are numerous hot local locations for spots and most are along channels. Remember you can't block the channel, so anchor along the edge and cast over into it.
As already noted, pier fishermen are catching spots. They are also catching flounder, red drum, speckled trout, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Fishermen on the piers at the southern N.C. coast are also decking an occasional king.
Spanish mackerel are biting well just outside the inlets and along the beaches. Tide lines are usually a good place to look. Once you find a school of Spanish, it can be a whole lot more like catching than simply fishing.
Size, 00, 0 and 1 Clarkspoons are local favorites for trolling, with red head, white body and gold hook Got-Cha jigs being a top lure for casting. Just like everything else, Spanish also like live baits. A finger mullet or peanut pogy, suspended under a small cork, usually produces well and some larger Spanish too.
There are more reports coming almost daily about false albacore showing along Shackleford Banks and up to Cape Lookout. The fat Alberts are scattered, with some being close enough to the beach to grab a Clarkspoon or Got-Cha intended for a Spanish to holding in schools a mile or more off the beach. They are hard running, strong fighting fish that are fun to catch. Fat Alberts are favorites of the buggy whip fishing brigade and rightfully so.
The reports from offshore are good fishing when the weather allows getting there. Wahoo are being caught in good numbers and so are blackfin tuna. This week I heard of a few yellowfin tuna also. Maybe we'll have a yellowfin run this fall. I sure hope so.
Offshore bottom fishing is good too. From about 50 to 80 feet there are some black sea bass to pick through, porgies and grunts. Somewhere around 80 feet or so, the beeliners and gag grouper enter the mix, but it takes 100 feet of water or so to find red grouper.
Offshore bottom fishermen should be prepared for black sea bass season to close in October. The National Marine Fisheries said they were compiling catch numbers and would announce the date for closing the season as soon as they verified the data.
There is a lot of discussion in tackle shops, at marinas, over drinks and in internet forums regarding speckled trout. There is no doubt that trout numbers are down right now, but after two years of harsh winters and cold-kill events that is to be expected. However, speckled trout have been identified by Marine Fisheries biologists as being overfished and state law requires certain things be done.
The bottom line is that a fishery management plan for speckled trout must be adopted at the November meeting of the Marine Fishery Commission. Data compiled by Marine Fisheries biologists shows the harvest must be reduced by 57 per cent for both commercial and recreational catches and the current limits will only produce about half of that.
While there are a few minor differences, the basic consensus of the Marine Fishery Commission Advisory Committees is to reduce the limit to 2 speckled trout, with a minimum of 14 inches, for recreational fishermen and a 50 fish commercial trip limit. The recommendation also prohibits commercial possession of speckled trout on the weekend and removes long haul and estuarine gillnets from the water on weekends. The committees requested implementing these regulations immediately and reassessing the situation in three years.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) will meet in November to discuss the recommendations of the advisory committees. The recommendations of the committees and information on the November MFC meeting can be found on the MFC website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
Several MFC Advisory Committee meeting are scheduled during the coming two weeks. They include:
* October 3, 6:00 P.M., Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee,
DENR Regional Field Office, Washington, 252-264-3911 or 252-946-6481;
* Oct. 4, 10:00 A.M., Commercial Fishing License Eligibility Board, DMF Central District Office, Morehead City, 910-796-7215;
* October 4, 4:00 P.M., Spotted Sea Trout Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, DMF Central District Office, Morehead City, 1-800-248-4536 or 910-796-7215;
* October 5, 6:00 P.M., Central Southern Management Area Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, DENR Regional Field Office, Washington, 800-338-7804 or 252-946-6481;
* October 6, 10:00 A.M., Marine Fisheries Commission Nominating Committee, DMF Conference Room, Morehead City, 1-800-268-2632 or 252-808-8009;
* October 6, 5:00 P.M., Albemarle/Roanoke Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, Edenton National Fish Hatchery, Edenton, 1-800-338-7805 or 252-264-3911;
* October 11, 6:00 P.M., Proposed Nomination of Strategic Habitat Areas in the Pamlico Sound System (Region Two), DENR Regional Office, Washington, 1-800-248-4536 or 910-796-7315.
The lead at the 2011 Chasing' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge has changed. In fact, a few trout larger than last week's leader were weighed this week and the trout fishing should continue to get better. The new leader is Tom Blevins, who also hit the September Wild Card weight of 2.48 pounds exactly. Blevins doesn't expect this trout to win the tournament, but he is hoping to catch the winner with the trout outfit he will receive as the monthly Wild Card Winner.
The Chasing' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge began on September 1 and runs through Dec 31. Fishermen may still enter. There are overall prizes and a special Wild Card weight each month. The October Wild Card weight will be drawn and announced on Saturday, Oct. 1. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The final of three tournaments in the Redfish Action Redfish Series was held from Town Creek Marina in Beaufort on Sept. 24. After the first two tournaments the standings were close enough several teams were in the running for Team of the Year and there was excitement in the air.
The Gottafly Fishing team of Capt. Lee Parsons and Alex Mercer from Wrightsville Beach found a pair of redfish that weighed 11.53 to win the tournament and dominate the annual awards. Parsons and Mercer also claimed the series win and Team of the Year title. Parsons received the Top Senior Angler award for the tournament with a redfish that weighed 5.90 pounds and was named Senior Angler of the Year for the series.
The Chasin' Tails Outdoors team of Capt. Matt and Ray Lamb finished in second place with 10.82 pounds. Third place was claimed by Team Padrick/Smith of Lee Padrick and Dwayne Smith who totaled 10.47 pounds. The large fish of the tournament weighed 6.23 pounds and was caught by Jeff Smith and Joe Murphy of Team Smith Murphy.
Vikki Pederson caught a 4.23 pound redfish to earn the Top Lady Angler Award. Team B&G, with Dave Bernstein and Daniel Griffee were the Top Amateur Team with 10.37 pounds and Team Snaggletooth, with Glenn Denham and David Freshwater was the Top Rookie Team at 8.35 pounds.
Series awards for the 2011 Redfish Action Series included Team of the Year/Series Champions to Parson and Mercer of Team Gottafly, plus Senior Angler of the Year honors for Parsons. Gloria Ellis of Team Bonehead received Lady Angler of the Year Honors. The Amateur Team of the Year was Team Reel Truth of Travis Tobin and Kyle Tobin. The Rookie Team of the Year was Team Snaggletooth with Glenn Denham and David Freshwater. For more information visit www.redfishaction.com.
The Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament that was postponed from Sept. 15 to 17 to Sept. 23 to 25 had another bout with a less-than-perfect weather forecast and was shortened to a single day of fishing on Saturday. While the forecast was far worse than the actual weather and kept some fishermen from entering, the actual conditions were better than expected and the participating fishermen caught lots of fish. The tournament benefits the Atlantic Beach Fire Department.
Mike Williams and crew on the Release won the tournament with a king that weighed 36.80 pounds. Just a few ounces behind, Brian Allen and the Wallhanger weighed a 36.46 pound king to secure second place. Allen and crew also caught the largest Spanish mackerel of the tournament at 5.11 pounds. There wasn't much breathing room back to third place either as Justified, with Thomas Justice and crew caught a 35.26 pound king to finish third.
Bert and Margaret Ferebee might just be the best husband and wife team fishing for king mackerel. They won the prize for the highest placing boat of 23 feet or less and Margaret received Top Lady Angler honors for their 32.54 pound king. Jerry Gibson fished on Mater Head and claimed the Top Senior Angler award with their fourth place, 33.54 pound king. Brandon Mitchell caught a 29.76 pound king on Triple Trouble to earn Top Junior Angler honors. Pete Andrews and crew on the Salty Dog caught a 24.78 pound wahoo to claim the prize for the largest wahoo. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
The Newbridge Bank Wild King Classic was 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.
The weather threatened all weekend, but fishermen ventured out and found some kings. The Double Deuce, which is a 22 foot boat captained by John Perkins of Sanford, was the overall winner with a 34.10 pound king. Double Deuce also topped the small boat class and Layton Perkins earned Top Junior Angler honors. Bug N A Rug Exterminating, with Capt. Stan Hollingsworth and crew finished second with a 20.10 pound king.
Dave and Cathy Timpy have a good thing going in this tournament and continued it. In the 2010 tournament they finished fourth overall, while Cathy won Lady Angler honors and Dave was third in Senior Angler scoring. This year they improved to third place on the Wavelength with a 20.00 pound king and collected the honors as both Top Lady Angler and Top Senior Angler. For more information, visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The Bay Creek Classic Flounder Tournament was held Saturday, September 24, from the Fish Factory Road Wildlife Boat Ramp in Oak Island. This tournament is an annual benefit for Southport fisherman Brandon Matthews, who was seriously injured when he fell while putting up a deer stand several years ago and become a primary fundraiser for his still numerous medical bills.
The weather forecast wasn't good, but the actual weather was far better than the forecast and the field headed out after some fat flatfish. While none passed that magic double-digit mark, it took a citation (6 pounds) size flounder to make the top three places. Fred Davis of Carolina Beach scored the win with a seven pounder, but Southport fishermen Bubba Howard and Steve Lancaster, were right behind with six pounders in second and third places. For more information visit www.baycreekclassic.com.
The Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Department Flounder Surf Fishing Tournament began on September 24 and will continue through October 8. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
This weekend there are a couple of king tournaments on tap. One is for boat fishermen and the other is for pier anglers. The US Open King Mackerel Tournament fishes on Friday and Saturday from Southport Marina in Southport. For more information visit www.usopenkmt.com. The Southeastern King Mackerel Club Fall tournament includes several piers in southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina and fishes Saturday and Sunday. For more information visit www.southeasternkingmackerelclub.com.
Another tournament to mark on your calendar is the Oak Island Classic Kayak Tournament, which will be held at Oak Island with a captains meeting and final registration on Oct. 7 and fishing on Oct.8. 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 and speckled trout, plus an ocean division for king mackerel.
This tournament, which is presented by the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association and the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department, will be headquartered from the Oak Island Recreation Center and benefits the Oak Island Sea Turtle Preservation Program. For more information visit www.nckfa.com.