Some fishermen may have seen rain and a little wind last Saturday, but for most it was another in a list of fall Saturdays that were nice for fishing. There was some haze and scattered small fog banks in the morning, but they gave way to a day that was mostly cloudy and the rain didnít come until late. The shear on the leading edge of the front wasnít too strong and there werenít any strong thunderstorms along the coast. It was a good weekend and many fishermen said the fishing was hot.
Unfortunately I was not able to fish as Saturday involved work and Sunday some family things. I left again just after daylight Saturday morning to set up for a kayak electronics seminar in Murrells Inlet, S.C. and every body of water I crossed was as calm as it had been the previous Saturday. Dang it again; I should have been fishing.
We had some rain and scattered storms early in the week that are forecast to give way to a couple of really nice days for the NC Seafood Festival locally, River Fest in Wilmington and the US Open King Mackerel Tournament in Southport this weekend. Sunday may have some rain, but today (Friday) and Saturday are forecast to be sunny and moderately warm.
Even better than a good weather forecast, the fishing forecast is excellent. Some king mackerel have slowly been moving into the area for a couple of weeks, but it was like someone flipped a switch to on for the nearshore waters about Thursday or Friday of last week. Kings moved to just off the beach and were biting Ė along with almost everything else.
Kings have finally moved to some of their favorite fall nearshore spots. Yaupon Reef and the Cape Fear Ship Channel gave up a lot of kings this week and there were kings caught from many of the piers between Emerald Isle and Sunset Beach.
Even when itís hot, the nearshore king bite is not wide open all the time, but turns on and slows several times during the day. Some fishermen equate this to tides and some to moon phases and positions, but what you need to know is the bite turns on and off. Patience can be a virtue when king mackerel fishing.
While the number of king mackerel is steadily increasing, they are well spread out. Kings have been caught this week at most of the favorite places from the piers and just outside the inlets out to 100 feet of water.
A unique thing happened at Ocean Crest Pier at Oak Island last Saturday. A school of big red drum was following a school of pogies down the beach and paused for a while just a little off Ocean Crest Pier. These were large red drum, with all being 35 inches and longer. Several times during the day, some of the drum moved in near the end of the pier and ate pogies that were suspended on king rigs at the end of the pier.
This was a real treat for the pier fishermen even though all the drum were well beyond the upper slot limit and had to be immediately released. They worked the drum into the pier nets, hoisted them up to remove the hooks and for a few quick pictures, then lowered them back and the drum swam away. I was promised pictures, but they havenít arrived yet.
Wahoo and blackfin are offshore in good numbers and are chewing. These are offshore pelagic fish and they move freely, so they may move 15 miles or so overnight. Their exact location may be difficult to pinpoint until arriving offshore, but they are moving along the Continental Shelf and feeding around the rocks and wrecks there.
Most of the wahoo are running 25 to 50 pounds, but there are some huge ones too. Several in the 70 to 80 pound range were caught during the last week and there are bigger ones out there too. The state record is 150 pounds and several surpassing 100 pounds are caught each fall. Several boats reported double digit catches this week. While I received several invites for a fishing trip, that pesky work thing interfered and I didnít get to go. However, I enjoyed two meals of fresh wahoo thanks to a really good friend.
These blackfin tuna are larger fish too. Most are 20 pounds and heavier and there are some in the thirties. Blackfin tuna are not large fish and the world and state records are only on the forties. Some fishermen give blackfin tuna a bad rap because they can be so prevalent and easy to catch, but donít fall for that. They are one of only two white meat tunas (longfin albacore tuna is the other) and make great table fare. They do well as sashimi also.
Spanish mackerel are biting well also. Fishermen on the piers caught some really nice ones this week. Boaters are catching even more and they also said the Spanish are larger this week than they have been so far this fall. The Spanish are in a feeding mode and will hit trolled lures, cast lures and live baits. Several large Spanish were caught over the weekend by king mackerel fishermen who said they hit live pogies they were trolling for kings.
Offshore bottom fish are also biting well. Some have closed seasons, but grouper are biting well from about 80 feet of water out. The issue with the grouper in shallower water is there are so many smaller fish there your bait is usually all chewed up before the grouper decide to eat. There are lots of porgys, grunts and some beeliners in the shallower water to keep things interesting, but the best fishing is a little deeper. With the wahoo and blackfin biting so well, this is a good time to go chase them for a morning and add a few grouper to the catch on the way back in.
This has been a summer for establishing new state records for grouper. Toby Grantham of Raleigh caught a 27.02 pound scamp grouper last week on a 48 hour offshore trip on the Continental Shelf from Morehead City. North Carolina currently doesnít have a state record for scamp grouper, but should once all the paperwork is processed and the committee meets. The process to establish a state record isnít complex, but requires some documentation and a fish that compares well with the world record or the records from neighboring states. Granthamís fish does all that, so in a few weeks I hope to announce it as the new state record.
In addition to the kings, Spanish and huge red drum, pier fishermen are catching a good mixture of other fish. There are a few spots beginning to show and many pier fishermen are waiting for the big run. The good spot run is probably still several weeks away, but the water is cooling and a few have been caught already a little farther north and in Gallants Channel.
Spots are a favorite of pier fishermen and when they arrive in a couple of weeks the number of fishermen at the piers will increase dramatically. The mixture of fish being caught at the piers includes speckled trout, puppy drum, black drum, bluefish, whiting and more. There are daily surprises for the pier fishermen too, like the big red drum down south last Saturday.
Fishermen in the inside waters are having lots of fun with puppy drum. Pups arenít everywhere like they have been in some years, but they are around and in good numbers when you find them. The water hasnít cooled enough for pups to be concentrating on certain areas yet and they are spread from the backs of the creeks to the surf.
The second September full moon was Sunday night and the pups were scattered through the flooded marsh in many places. This is trailing off now, but the tides are still a little higher than normal and drum are finding their way into flooded grass at high tide.
To me, there is a special thrill about catching a puppy drum spotted feeding in flooded grass. This is a stalk and becomes a matter of getting close enough to cast to the fish and then landing a good cast without spooking it. They are feeding when they are up in flooded grass and rarely refuse something presented reasonably well.
Sometimes the drum will let you pole close enough to cast from the boat and sometimes you may need to get out and wade the last few yards to reach casting range. Do not get lazy and run your trolling motor while moving through the grass. You canít hear it hit the stalks of submerged grass, but it does and makes a loud noise underwater when it does. That will spook fish as fast as anything.
Another thing is I only fish the flooded grass using braided line. The edges of much of the grass are rough and sharp enough it will quickly slice through monofilament. Braided line is more abrasion resistant and holds up better, but isnít foolproof. Once the fight begins, hold your rod tip high to avoid as much contact with the grass as possible.
The pups fishermen are catching in inside waters range in size from about 14 to 30 inches. Soft plastics, especially the scented bio baits, are excellent for many applications and can be rigged weedless. Weedless gold spoons work well in the flooded grass and along grass edges and oyster rocks. Almost any live bait will work. Pups like mullet minnows, peanut pogies and live shrimp.
Flounder are biting well in the creeks and along the channels through the inlets. Flounder feel the water cooling and are feeding heavily to stock up for the winter. Itís a good time to catch them. Many fishermen believe mullet minnows, mud minnows and small pogies are the only baits to use for good results with flounder.
Iím not quite as big an advocate for catching flounder on artificial baits as Capt. Jimmy Price, but I know they work. In fact, I think soft plastics, especially those like Berkley Gulp with scent and taste, sometimes work better than live baits. The soft baits arenít struggling and trying to get away when a flounder strikes, so you can set the hook much quicker. You can also fan cast an area and retrieve the soft baits faster than with live baits
Speckled trout fishing is also picking up with the cooling water and so much bait moving around. Trout are starting to become aggressive, especially early in the morning after a cooler night. They are starting to really chase topwater lures and that is a good sign. Trout are also hitting soft plastics and live bait.
Fishermen can argue all they want, but the beast way to catch speckled trout is to drift a live shrimp suspended under a cork to it. It is an exciting moment when that shrimp comes to the surface and is running around the float. That means there is a trout nearby and it is trying not to become the main entrťe at dinner. The grass edges and along the drop offs of oyster rocks in your favorite marsh are good places to catch specks.
There was a Wooden Boat Show last Saturday at the Old Southport Yacht Basin in Southport. While I was working elsewhere and couldnít attend, I was told there were many impressive displays. One of the most impressive and I understand it is still on display at the Southport Maritime Museum is a model of the John Ellan, by John Martin Lewis. More than merely a model made for the show, this is a scaled version of the Harkers Island workboat his father, Capt. Walter Lewis, fished from the Old Southport Yacht Basin when Lewis and I were youngsters. The model had all the details, including rods and reels.
Something that is happening this weekend that is fishing related and a lot of fun is the North Carolina Seafood Festival. The Seafood Festival will take over the Morehead City downtown area from Friday through Sunday, but the little bit of inconvenience is well worth it. There will be many displays, all sorts of games and fun for young and old alike, a boat show, several stages with live entertainment and lots of good seafood to eat. For more information visit www.ncseafoodfestival.org.
The US Open King Mackerel Tournament begins Friday Oct. 5 and fishes again on Saturday from Southport Marina in Southport. The US Open has been the most popular king mackerel tournament in the Southeast U.S. for several of the past few years and a large turnout is anticipated. The good weather forecast and news of the hot king mackerel bite that fired off over last weekend surely bolstered the number of fishermen in the tournament. For more information on the tournament visit www.usopenkmt.com.
The Fishers of Men Inshore Tournament Trail will hold its Blounts Creek Championship from Cotton Patch Landing at Blounts Creek on Saturday, Oct. 6. The tournament will feature categories for rockfish and redfish, plus speckled trout and flounder. For more information call 252-230-0359.
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 already filled most of the 175 slots as of Wednesday of this week. Tournament organizers said they are working to rearrange the facility to hold more fishermen for the meeting and awards, to avoid having to close registration, but it isnít guaranteed they can do it.
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.
The CCA Inside Out Tournament will be held from the Boat House Marina in Beaufort on Oct. 13. This tournament, which features multiple categories for fishermen in the ocean and inside the inlets, will be dedicated to Capt. Charlie Brown this year and the proceeds will be donated to him to assist with medial expenses. Capt Charlie 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. A surprising number of people know Capt. Charlie and if you donít, you should. He is an excellent fisherman, quite a character and a good guy. More information is available at www.ccanc.org.