I've skipped a few weeks this summer, but those of you who check here regularly should know I wouldn't leave you hanging without some info for the US Open. My wisecrack to begin is that king mackerel are easy to catch - all you have to do is give them what they want to eat when they are hungry. The mechanics really are that simple. It's figuring out where they are, what they want to eat and when they'll be hungry that's difficult. Hopefully something below helps.
Earlier this week when I checked the National Hurricane Center Map, there weren't any tropical systems on it. However, now on Wednesday, there are two. One is currently off Central America and expected to be named, but is projected to head towards the Flora-Bama area in the Gulf of Mexico. The other is currently between Cuba and Florida, but is not forecast to strengthen for the next 5 days.
Neither of these systems should affect fishing during the US open, but may bring some (much needed) rain next week. Don't forget about them as they are unpredictable. The official forecast will be at the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and I always check the extra information at Mike's Weather Page (www.spaghettimodels.com). Both also have Facebook pages.
Early on the weekend weather looked pretty good, but the forecast has changed a little. ReefCast (www.saltwatercentral.com/ReefCast-Offshore-Weather-Forecast.html) has the seas running about 4 feet, but they should be a little less closer to the beach, at least on the south facing beaches in Brunswick County. Winds are forecast to be east early Friday and shifting to southeast for the afternoon and Saturday. That isn't a particularly good direction for fishing, but the winds should be less than 15 knots. This isn't a prefect forecast for the US Open fishermen, but it's fishable. Fishermen in smaller boats might want to stay close to the beaches, but fishermen in larger boats should be able to go wherever they want.
My phone has been buzzing and e-mail and text binging with friends asking where to catch king mackerel during the US Open. First, the most recent king report I have from Ocean Crest Pier was last Wednesday. The water looks pretty good and there has been plenty of bait, so more could come at any time. Some years the nearshore fall king bite begins closer to the mouth of the Cape Fear River, but this year Oak Island Pier isn't open, so we don't have reports from there. If boaters are catching kings off the end of the closed pier, they're keeping uncharacteristically quiet, so it might not have happened yet.
I have an unconfirmed report that several of the placing kings for last week's Shallotte Point King Classic were caught off Shallotte Inlet. I don't know for sure...
If I was fishing the tournament, I would stay inshore and close to the beach. It will take patience and someone willing to stay there for only one or two bites, but I believe there will be a few big kings along the beach. It will take patience or luck to catch them. However, the calling cards are in place. The full moon is Thursday night and we've had some northeast winds, and both of these, combined with the abundance of bait, usually bring some big kings to water 15-30 feet deep.
If you decide to stay inshore, pay attention to the bait schools. If they are real close to the beach and in shallow water, fish the outside edges. If the bait is a quarter mile or more off the beach, you can fish all the way around the schools.
Set one downrigger just below the bait school and one downrigger just above the bait school. In real shallow water you might only be able to fish one downrigger. Kings will lurk under and around the edges of the schools and are looking for a baitfish that appears weak, disoriented or otherwise easy to catch.
There typically will be crowds at Yaupon Reef, McGlammery Reef, Cape Fear River Ship Channel, Cape Fear Sea Buoy, Lighthouse Rocks, 15 Mile Rock, 18 Mile Rock, Shark Hole, Fishing Club Reef, Lockwood Folly Sea Buoy, Shallotte Inlet Sea Buoy and east of Frying Pan Shoals at the Cucumber, around the Fairway Buoy, and at the 30/30. It's a pretty safe bet that at least one placing fish will come from each of these spots. However if there are 50-100 boats there, the odds of it being you catching that big fish are low.
I'm going to suggest the Jim Knight Reef (AR 430) too. It received a barge and a huge load of concrete pipe in a renourishing project several months ago. As this is the newest reef in the area, not as many folks are fishing there and it could be a sleeper. While this reef and its new structure isn't really a secret, it isn't well known and I haven't yet seen more than a few boats there. The coordinates for all the NC artificial reefs can be found at the Artificial reef Program tab on the NC Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
Even when fishing farther offshore, pay attention to the bait. Suspended bait is better than bottom bait and bottom bait is better than no bait at all. Use your downriggers like suggested earlier with one downrigger bait positioned just above the bait and one positioned just below the bait. Make them look like they are having trouble staying with the school and they'll look more attractive to the kings.
Offshore bottom fishing is good too. The key is getting positioned properly over the rock or wreck that is holding them. Once positioned where your baits will fall to the fish, the bottom catch includes grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, black sea bass, grunts and porgys. There may also be amberjack, African pompano and sharks cruising the perimeter of the structure. Drift a light line or a live bait under a balloon while bottom fishing. The fish coming up attract attention and you might add a king, dolphin, wahoo or a real surprise to your catch.
Closer in, fishermen caught more Spanish mackerel again this week. There are false albacore schools in several areas, notably around the capes. Once the water cools to around 70 degrees, the Spanish will leave, but if the water stays clean, the false albacore should stay for a while. False albacore don't compare to Spanish mackerel as table fare, but their fight is like a MMA champ.
Pier fishermen are catching a few kings and large red drum from the pier ends. Fishermen closer to the breakers have seen spot runs in several areas. They are also catching a mixture of bottom fish that includes drum, trout, flounder, pompano, whiting and more. There is also a mixture of both drum, flounder and specks being caught from the surf in different areas. This isn't consistent yet, but has been improving and that should continue as the water cools.
Something around one of the storms slowed flounder fishing in the ocean. It is coming back now, but it was slow for a week or so. Live bait on Carolina rigs or vertically jigging bucktails are both producing. If you don't have the patience to let a flounder pick up and turn the bait to swallow it, use the bucktail. You can set the hook as soon as you feel the bite.
Flounder have been biting well inside for a while. The numbers are fair and there are some citation flatfish (5 pound minimum) in the mix. Live baits on Carolina rigs are the favorite baits along all the Carolina Coast, but inside flounder will also hit soft plastics and weedless gold spoons fished slowly across the bottom. I even had one grab a MR 17 MirrOlure.
Drum, both red and black, and speckled trout are biting in inside waters. The secret is finding flow, a sand or oyster bar or something that is concentrating bait. Topwater lures are fun and pups and specks will both hit them, especially early in the morning when the sun is low and the water is calm. Remember to give the fish time to grab the lure before setting the hook. Sometimes you see them rise and rush the lure and jerk too quickly. You have to feel the strike before he has the hook.
Drum and specks will readily hit live baits and there is plenty of bait around. Carolina rigs work well for fishing minnows on the bottom. Some folks also do well floating live baits suspended under corks. I like shrimp under a float, but the water is still warm enough there are lots of bait thieves around and they like shrimp too. Raising the shrimp so it is at least 18 inches off the bottom helps, but you can still go through a lot of shrimp very quickly. Minnows will last longer, but they don't always catch as well as shrimp.
South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council Requests Red Snapper
The request is to allow red snapper fishing in the South Atlantic for the first time since 2014. NOAA Fisheries actually only controls federal waters (3-200 miles offshore) but the states had adopted the federal regulations to close red snapper season. If approved by NOAA Fisheries, fishermen from the east coast of Florida to North Carolina would be allowed to keep the popular and tasty fish, although in limited numbers and only for a short time.
SAFMC is requesting NOAA Fisheries to allow an interim annual catch limit (recreational and commercial fishing combined) of 42,510 fish for 2017 via an emergency rule. The action would require the emergency rule to begin in the time frame desired. Fisheries actions usually require 30 days on the Federal Register before becoming law.
This is a limited catch, but would allow for a recreational mini-season, likely beginning the end of October, with approximately 6 to 12 days of fishing over a period of 3-day weekends. The recreational bag limit would be 1 fish per person/day with no minimum size limit and would account for 71.93 percent of the allowed catch. There would also be commercial catch allowed with a 75-pound trip limit.
If SAFMC’s request is approved, NOAA Fisheries would determine the number of days and specific dates of the recreational mini-season. NOAA Fisheries' decision is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
The good news from SAFMC continues as they also approved measures in Amendment 43 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan with the intent to have a red snapper season in 2018. The amendment would revise the process to calculate the annual catch limit for red snapper, allowing mini-seasons for red snapper beginning in July. If this passes through all the rulemaking process, the 2018 recreational red snapper fishery would open the second Friday in July (July 13, 2018) and the commercial fishery would open a few days earlier on the second Monday in July (July 9, 2018). These annual opening dates for the fishery were established through an earlier amendment.
The SAFMC's preferred alternative would allow 42,510 red snapper for the 2018 annual catch limit. With expectations that fishing effort would be greater during the summer months, estimates are the 2018 recreational mini-season would only last 4 to 7 weekend days. The recreational limit would remain 1 fish per person per day with no minimum size and the commercial trip limit would remain at 75 pounds. The actual number of recreational fishing days would be determined by NOAA Fisheries and announced prior to the July opening. The Secretary of Commerce must also approve Amendment 43 before these changes can be implemented. More information is available at www.safmc.net.
Peer Fishing Festival is Friday at Ocean Crest Pier
Volunteers are still needed to assist the guests with their fishing needs and to supply extra, fishing outfits, tackle and bait. This is an opportunity to give back a little to those who served our country. Many volunteers spend the day smiling as much or more than the veterans who attend. More information on the Peer Fishing Festival is available at the Operation North State website at www.operationnorthstate.com and those wishing to volunteer can contact Steve Sanders at Ocean Crest Pier at 910-278-6674.
Military Appreciation Day Rescheduled for October 21
Military Appreciation Day events are all-volunteer events and volunteers are still needed for MAD 12 in Southport. There are always room for more volunteers as that means more troops can be invited. This is especially so after this postponement as not everyone who was able to help will be available on the new date. Boaters are needed to take the troops fishing and land volunteers are needed for set-up and take-down, plus serving meals, checking in, cleaning fish and more.
Those interested in being a part of MAD 12 can visit the website at www.militaryappreciationday.org for more information and to register as a volunteer.