Last weekend turned out a little nicer than the forecast, but we quickly reverted back to our windy and rainy ways. This weekend doesn't look to be shaping up well either, but at least the G word (gale) isn't being used in the forecast. However, we know the forecast can be wrong, so we might get a couple of opportunities to fish or, heaven forbid, it might even be worse. Looking at the forecast Friday will be the best day of the next several, so you might want to try to get in a quick fishing trip if you can.
I know it's not quite the case, but it seems like the wind has been blowing all fall. The second part of the double whammy has been the rain on those few days the wind hasn't been blowing. We've gone from bordering on drought conditions to bordering on flood conditions in just a few weeks. The full moon high tides also have us flooding in low lying areas, so be careful as you travel roads near water or in low lying areas.
At this time of year, we keep an eagle eye tuned to the water temperature. The trout and kings are moved by water temperature and the arrival of the bluefins is also water temperature dependent. There have been a few bluefins sighted, but I am not aware of one being caught yet.
The surf temperature dropped from 64 degrees last Wednesday to 60 degrees by the time Bogue Inlet Pier closed on Sunday. Several of the coastal weather stations were experiencing difficulties Thursday as I checked on things and I couldn't get an exact water temperature, but the water shouldn't have warmed since Sunday. When the ocean temperature drops to around 56, we should begin hearing of bluefin being caught and the specks and pups should still be biting too.
There is a lot of fresh water runoff throughout the area, but some fish had been biting prior to this last deluge. Red drum and black were both biting well in the marshes and creeks and the red drum had begun to stack up in big schools in the surf.
Every time I hear a report of some big specks, I get excited, but shortly after it the small specks have taken over again. Even along the Cape Lookout Jetty there are many shorts or minimal keepers. Perhaps the larger trout will begin to mix in more readily as the water temperature continues to ease downward.
Some of the best reports of larger trout are currently coming from the rivers, creeks and edges in the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. I had always thought these spots, farther from the inlet, would hold more smaller fish and the specks would be larger closer to the inlets and in the surf, but that hasn't been the case so far this fall. A few nice specks move down the rivers to the coast and get us excited and then the smaller ones take over again. Perhaps this next set of fronts, especially the windy and cool weather on Sunday, will help separate the men from the boys.
Most piers are closed for the year, if you are planning to go pier fishing, it would be very wise to call and verify ahead of time. There are still some specks, sea mullet, red drum and black drum moving in the surf.
A few folks got in some king trips during the breaks in the weather and said the kings are biting. As the water continues to cool, the baitfish and feeding kings should continue to move offshore. They are probably out to about 80 feet or deeper now. As is usual for this time of year, the larger kings have been east of Cape Lookout in Raleigh Bay and a few larger ones have been just east of Frying Pan Shoals in Onslow Bay.
There were a few yellowfin tuna showing a little north of the Big Rock before this last front. Hopefully they will be found farther south after the weather calms. There were also some wahoo, blackfin tuna and even a few dolphin in the most recent offshore reports. We haven't had a good fall run of yellowfins below Cape Hatteras in several years and it would be well appreciated if it happens.
Last week I congratulated the N.C. fishermen for their excellent catches at the Southern Kingfish Association National Championship held November 20 and 21 in Biloxi, Miss. Both divisions were won by fishermen from N.C. and the McMullan family of Ocean Isle Beach caught a huge king to anchor their win.
By this week's deadline, the fishermen had returned from the trip and I was able to speak with Capt. Brant McMullan about the trip. If you don't remember the story or didn't read last week's column, McMullan caught a pair of kings that weighed 118.13 pounds to win the championship. Even more impressive was the larger of the two, which weighed 74.10 pounds. His father, Rube, and brother Barrett were fishing with him.
The first thing I have to point out is that there was still an edge of emotion and excitement in Capt. Brant's voice, even though it was a week after the fateful catch and he had already told the story several hundred times. There was a crackle to his voice and even though we were talking by phone, I'm sure his eyes were sparking also. It was definitely an electric conversation.
Capt. Brant said they were in a bite of epic proportions and catching 30 to 45 pound kings as fast as baits were thrown in the water. They had used more than 50 baits by the early afternoon and had run out. He said the school of kings was more than a square mile and every boat they could see was hooked up. They were in approximately 200 feet of water and roughly 80 miles south of Biloxi, near the end of the Mississippi River Delta.
"We had no choice but to run inshore a little and catch some bait and head back out," Capt. Brant said. "When we ran out of bait we figured we had a pair of fish that would weigh roughly 85 pounds and that was respectable, but not a winning total. Luckily we caught bait quickly and headed back out. As we were heading back out, we made the decision not to go exactly back to the big bite, but to move off of it a little and swing for the fence and try to catch one of those 60 pounders they catch down there occasionally."
Capt. Brant said as they were heading back out, his brother tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out a flock of about 30 wheeling and diving birds. Remembering one of the first things we all learn is to use birds as an indicator, he turned towards them with the intention of at least giving them a "fly by" to see what was happening.
"When we got to the birds, what was happening in the water demanded we stop," Capt. Brant said. "They had a school of pogies herded up and swimming in a circle so tight and fast it was creating a depression on the water in the middle. Looking down we could see kings flashing into the school to eat. Barrett insisted he get to throw the cast net once, which he did and caught so many baits he had to dump most of them to be able to lift the net into the boat. As soon as we got those pogies in the baitwell, we all grabbed rods and threw baits over--and were hooked up immediately."
Capt. Brant said that first round of fish were more in the mid 30s and they were released. Their second round of baits scored one in the 40s and he began to feel better about this spot. He said while putting lines out again, a really big king, maybe mid 50s skied on a bait and missed.
"At this point, Barrett grabbed a rod with no rig and tied on one of our Yee-Haw Fish Calls (a sonic fish call--see at www.oifc.com) about 18 inches ahead of the rig and hooked on a big squirming pogey," Capt. Brant said. "He flipped the pogey over and almost immediately was hooked up. His fish was running hard, but we had caught some hard runners, so I just put the boat in gear and turned towards it. I was still concentrating out the back and waiting for the big king that skied and missed to come back."
Capt. Brant said that after about 15 minutes or so Barrett called for the gaff and he ran to the bow to gaff the fish. He said he had stuck it and was lifting it before he got a good look at it. Once they saw it, his dad and brother both dropped their rods and grabbed the tail to help hoist it into the boat. He said the gaff point hung on the rub rail for a few seconds and that was testy, but once the big fish's head swung into the boat, the rest followed.
"None of us had a clue how big this fish was until it hit the deck," Capt. Brant said. "We all just stood there in awe for a couple of minutes. Finally Barrett snapped out of it and reminded us we were 80 miles from the weigh in and had less than two hours to get there, so we should get going. As we headed in, he asked me how big I thought the fish was and I said I didn't know. Until then, I had never seen one that big. I was hoping it would make it into the 60s, but I never expected it to weight 74 pounds. Wow!"
The big king weighed 74.10 pounds and their "smaller" one weighed 44.03 for a 118.13 pound aggregate. This won the national championship for the McMullans and set several records. This is the largest king and heaviest two fish aggregate ever caught in an SKA tournament and very possibly in any tournament. It is also a pending Mississippi state record, eclipsing the former record by almost 10 pounds.
When the McMullans returned to Ocean Isle, a biologist with the NC DMF met them and removed an otolith (ear bone) from the big king. This is how they will age it. As soon as I get that number, I will pass it on. Many of our 40 pound kings are approaching or just beyond 20 years, so it will be interesting to see how old a king that large is.
Congratulations are in order for Capt. Brant, Barrett and Rube McMullan. They made a decision to stray from the crowd and swing for the fence. What they hit was truly a ninth inning grand slam for the win. To win the SKA National Championship is something special, but to win it with a fish like this and all the records is something else. I expect the McMullans will continue to get excited when they talk about it for years to come.
NOTE: I've been in that fall Mississippi River Delta bite several times and it borders on incredible. In our waters, the November bite at East Rock and Chicken Rock or at the Horseshoe can occasionally match the intensity of the Mississippi Delta bite, but we are catching 20 to 35 pounders, with an occasional fish that pushes 50 and there it is 35 to 50 pounders, with an occasional fish in the 60s. The only place in N.C. that can anywhere near compare directly is the big king bite off Hatteras during November and it often compares well.
Tournaments have all but ended for the year. I have the results for the final short term tournament and there are a pair that are ongoing and will end later. The Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Tournament began October 1 and will run through January 31. This tournament features overall winners and monthly prizes for specific weight fish. The current leader is Danny Rimmer's 7.62 pound speck.
The special weight for November was 3.25 pounds and that prize was won by Tom Blevins with a 3.24 pound speck. The special weight for December is 2.97 pounds. Sarah Gustaveson weighed an 8.25 pound gator speck at Chasin' Tails Outdoors last week, but was not entered in the tournament. For more information, visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The 7th Annual Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament began October 24 at Emerald Isle and will end tomorrow, December 5. All fish must be caught fishing on foot in the surf, from a pier, in the inlet or in the sound between Fort Macon and Emerald Isle. This tournament is sponsored by the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Dept. More information is available by calling 252-354-6350.
Captain Kyle's Thanksgiving Inshore Classic was held Saturday from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. This was a speckled trout tournament featuring the aggregate weight of three speckled trout. There was also a Tournament Within a Tournament for the largest speckled trout.
The team of Capt. Brandon Sauls, Clay Morphis and Clay Morphis, Jr. of Ocean Isle Beach won the tournament with a three fish aggregate of 13.9 pounds and took second place in the Big Fish TWT with a speck that weighed 5.8 pounds.
Robert Hughes of Calabash and Todd Helf weighed a trio of specks that weighed 12.7 pounds to take second place in the tournament. Their aggregate was anchored by a 6.3 pounder that claimed the Big Fish TWT for the tournament. The third place team was tournament organizer Capt. Kyle Hughes and his dad, Nathaniel. Their three largest trout weighed 10.0 pounds.