Itís mid October and the weather is cooling a little while the fishing is heating up. I fished the king mackerel division of the Oak Island Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament last weekend and it was a little bit chilly launching the kayaks through the surf Sunday morning at first light. Thankfully the day was bright and clear and quickly warmed from the 54 degrees at launch into the 70s and then reached the low 80s by the time everyone came back in.
In the early afternoon my fishfinder was showing 76.1 degrees in 15 to 18 feet of water about 1000 feet off the beach. Unfortunately no one caught a king, but there were several Spanish caught and some big fish broke lines. Fishing should stay good as long as the water temperature holds above 68 or so degrees.
There are reports of good flounder catches almost every day. They are biting from well back in the creeks and marshes to the nearshore artificial reefs. They may also be biting at some of the artificial reefs farther offshore, but I havenít had any reports from them.
One fisherman said there is so much bait in the water you need to fish live bait to get the fish interested. That might be true for some species, but many fishermen believe flounder, puppy drum and trout are still hitting lures and Iíll side with them.
I fished with a friend from out of town earlier this week and used Gulp shrimp while he used minnows. At the end of the day, he had out fished me by one fish in number and he had a slam, while I only caught pups and flounder. However, I caught the largest pup and the largest flounder on the Gulp Shrimp. Three inch was the size and white the color that worked for me.
Most fishermen will catch some fish on artificials if they give it a good try. For the past week or so the favorites have been soft plastics on light jig heads, but MirrOlure, Rapala and Bomber hard baits were mentioned also, plus spinnerbaits and a few fishermen did well casting weedless gold spoons along grass edges and oyster rocks.
With the cooling weather, flounder, reds and specks are often staging near the mouths of smaller creeks during the falling tide. They are looking for a place to get out of the direct current flow, to easily maintain their position and wait for shrimp and baitfish to be swept out of the creeks with the falling tide. Often all three species can be caught in a small area to record an inshore slam.
When fishing the mouth of a small creek it is important to have your bait or lure act like the other baitfish. I try to position my boat where I can cast into the creek mouth and let the current push the bait or lure out. I like to have the bait move down the side of the boat rather than straight back towards me or straight away from me. It is easier to keep the line tight while allowing your bait to look as natural as possible and you feel more strikes.
For fishing the bottom, a light jig head or lightly weighted worm hook is the ticket. The jig head will push along with the current when it is a clean bottom, but the worm hook can be rigged weedless and will slide across oysters and rip-rap that the jig head will get caught in.
Many people find they have better luck in this situation suspending their bait under a cork. I like popping or rattling corks as they give the option to use their noise as an attraction. The trick is to place the cork on the line to keep the bait barely off the bottom as the current pushes the cork out of the smaller creek. This is very effective for puppy drum and speckled trout and will occasionally catch a flounder. I like shrimp shaped soft plastics or live shrimp for this type of fishing.
A slightly advanced version of this is similar except it uses a soft plastic bait that can be rigged weedless and the cork is placed high enough on the line the lure will lightly bounce across the bottom. The difference here is that the bait is suspended under the cork and is pulling upwards from it, rather than at a low angle back to the rod tip. With this setup, the lure will bounce across places it would snag if retrieved directly back to the boat. It isnít foolproof and you will still get hung occasionally, just not as often. This setup still catches the specks and pups, but also catches more flounder.
The cooler mornings are getting the specks and reds excited. They are feeding aggressively and this is a great time to catch them using topwater lures. Every time I mention topwaters, I also say you must wait until you feel the strike before setting the hook. The fish doesnít always have it when you see him strike at it.
My friend Capt. C.A. Richardson of Flats Class Charters and the Flats Class T.V. Show on The Outdoor Channel said most fishermen will hook more fish on topwater lures using mono for their line rather than braid. He said the stretch of the mono allows the lure to stay in place long enough for the fish to catch it as an excited fisherman sees the strike and tries to set the hook too early. He catches lots of fish, so Iím happy to pass on his tip. Maybe it will work for you.
I already mentioned flounder are biting at the ocean artificial reefs. They are biting for pier fishermen and in the surf also. The best time for catching them in the surf has been from about halfway through a rising tide until a couple of hours into the falling tide. The beach has formed a pretty good slough just off the sand and it is most pronounced at high tide. This is just five to ten feet beyond the first set of breakers off the beach.
This slough is where the baitfish travel and where larger fish come to eat the baitfish. Right now there are numerous pods of finger to corn cob size mullet swimming south in this slough and the dinner bell is ringing for smaller predators. Flounder, red drum, bluefish and Spanish mackerel have all been caught in the past week just a handful of yards from the sand. Throw a cast net and catch some mullet minnows and then hook one up and cast it back just barely beyond where you caught the bait. Success isnít guaranteed, but itís pretty likely.
Pier fishermen had a mixed, but good week this week. There were more kings caught from the piers from Emerald Isle to the south. Schools of bait are ranging from just beyond the breakers to near the end of the piers and there is a mixture of fish. Other pier catches include good numbers of nice flounder, red drum, black drum, speckled trout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and spots.
There have been some pictures of spot catches from Bogue Inlet Pier, but the action isnít quite steady yet. The reports say the spots come through in schools and bite well for a while, but then there is a lull while waiting for the next school. Bloodworms or one of the synthetic bloodworm alternatives on double drop bottom rigs is the hot setup for spots. Some fishermen like rigs with the red bead and some like plain. Both are working about equally well right now. Spots are biting at night as schools move down the beach at Oak Island.
I also need to give credit to Brandon Braxton. He is the kayak fisherman that has caught two king mackerel between Bogue Inlet Pier and Bogue Inlet. I mentioned his catches last week but didnít have his name. I met him over the weekend at the Oak Island Classic where we both managed to have a good time, but not catch a king.
There has been a good mixture of fish at the nearshore artificial reefs and most of the hardbottom/livebottom areas along the entire N.C. Coast. With the fronts rolling through it can be good and turn off like a switch or the opposite. The fish to expect at these nearshore areas are flounder, Spanish mackerel, a few kings, gray trout and there may be more. It seems that everything around the reef likes mullet minnows and it would be wise to carry some with you when heading that way.
The reports say the king action is continuing to build and they are from just off the beach and out. Today I heard there has been a good bite from just off the Cape Lookout Jetty out to the Rock Barge and Trawler Wreck. There is usually an excellent October king bite in this area and the time for it is now! In most places the main body of the kings is a little farther offshore, but the action usually gets good starting at about 50 feet deep.
There are also good reports from many of the popular king spots east of Cape Fear and Cape Lookout. There is so much bait in the water close to the beaches, I would consider live baits or a good looking ribbonfish almost a necessity. Once ten miles or so offshore, the fish donít have as many options for food and are more likely to hit frozen cigar minnow and other dead baits. A tip for using dead baits is to put some kind of king skirt in front of it. The skirt will pulse some as it moves through the water and help create the appearance of a weak, but alive, bait and make it more desirable.
The offshore action remains good and should for another month or more. Wahoo and blackfin tuna are the main catches, but there are still a few scattered dolphin and some sailfish releases. This would be a good time to fill a freezer with wahoo fillets and tuna loins for the winter.
Offshore bottom fish are biting well. There are grunts and porgys from about 60 feet on out, plus lots of bait thieves and black sea bass you canít keep right now. The number of bait thieves and nuisance fish begins to drop at about 115 feet and grouper and beeliners add to your catch.
I had a debate several years ago with some of the N.C. Aquarium staff regarding their having snook in an aquarium at the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium and having them listed as N.C. fish. I have never seen one north of Florida, but would love to have them here. They are great fighting fish and excellent table fare.
Every now and then there is a report of a snook being caught somewhere in N.C., but there are rarely pictures or either they are the quality of most UFO and Bigfoot pictures. A snook was caught late last week in a gill net near Harkers Island. There was a clear picture and I saw it myself. I sure wish a bunch of them would start making a northern pilgrimage every summer.
There was a pending world record snowy grouper caught last week offshore of Ocracoke. Frankie Powers of Manns Harbor hauled the 74 pound beast up from the depths while fishing on the Drumstick. There is some debate as to whether this is actually a snowy grouper or a Warsaw grouper and biologists have pictures and tissue for sampling and verification. I have seen several pictures, but am not familiar enough with those species to positively say and a guess isnít right when a world record is involved. Iíll pass on the decision as soon as I receive it.
A handful of tournaments are on tap for this weekend. The West Carteret High School FFA will be hosting an inshore fishing tournament on Saturday, Oct. 20, to benefit Brady Tosto. Tosto is an East Carteret High School senior who was diagnosed with Hodgkinís Lymphoma last month.
Registration will be at the Radio Island Fishing Pier from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. on Friday and from 6:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. on Saturday, which includes the hours of competition Eligible species are flounder, pinfish and spot. Fish must be caught in the Newport River north of the Hwy. 70 Bridges at Radio Island and Beaufort and south of the Hwy 101 Bridge at Core Creek. For more information call 252-422-6369.
The 10th Annual Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament will begin on Oct. 20 and run through December 1. This is a surf or sound wading tournament that is restricted to Bogue Banks between Fort Macon and Emerald Isle. The weigh station is the Reel Outdoors in Emerald Isle. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
The Swansboro Rotary Club King Mackerel Tournament will be held Oct. 20 and 21 from Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro. The is the fifth of five tournaments in SKA Division 1 (N.C.) and is the last chance for teams to earn their way to the SKA National Championship that will be held in November in Biloxi, Miss. This is a one day tournament with participants choosing to fish either Saturday or Sunday. A new rule for this year allows boats to pay a second entry fee and register for the second day as long as there is a second captain. For more information visit www.kingbluewater.com.
The Pamlico County Shrine Club Speckled Trout Tournament will be held Oct. 20 from the Pamlico County Shrine Club. Prizes will be awarded for the largest speckled trout caught in Pamlico or neighboring county waters. For more information contact Capt. Dave Stewart at Minnesott Beach Bait and Tackle at 252-249-2084.
The Pleasure Island Surf Fishing Challenge will be held Oct. 19 to 21 on the beaches of Pleasure Island (Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Fort Fisher). There will be multiple awards for a variety of species. New this year is tournament headquarters in the parking lot across from the Carolina Beach Municipal Docks. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The Fall Brawl King Classic Tournament will be held Oct. 20 and 21 from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. This is the final of five tournaments in SKA Division 9 (southern N.C. and northern S.C.) and is the last chance for teams to earn their way to the SKA National Championship that will be held in November in Biloxi, Miss. This tournament uses an either-or format where fishermen can choose to fish either Saturday or Sunday. For more information visit www.oifc.com.