I might say this every year, but it looks like we made it through Memorial Day Weekend and we didn't overload the beaches or down east to the point they sunk. As punny as it sounds, I first heard this as a kid growing up at Southport and I still think of it every time I see big crowds and traffic backed up on the bridges. Does anyone else remember the traffic bugaboos created by the old Atlantic Beach Bridge? If you got caught in any of the traffic or waiting in line at a store, you got a firsthand dose of how significantly the crowd grows for Memorial Day Weekend.
Many folks were worried that the sluggish economy and rising fuel prices would keep people at home, but the crowds I saw didn't appear smaller than previous years. While it sounds like complaining, I'm actually glad to see all those folks and really glad they could afford to come see us. I just wish I could keep them out of my favorite fishing holes.
In the time between writing my column last week and the weekend arriving, the weather forecast changed. A pretty nasty storm rode along a front and made Saturday afternoon pretty miserable for many. Hopefully Saturday's forecast for this weekend changes also. Friday looks pretty good, but a front is forecast to move through on Saturday and it starts blustery and gets worse. The good news is things should calm down again for Sunday and Monday.
I'm not a billfisher, but I've got to start this week's report with billfishing. It is absolutely off the hook! Most of the reported fish are blue marlin too! If this keeps up, there should be some records set during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, June 7-14. This is the 50th tournament, so that would be fitting in many ways.
While there have been numerous billfish being caught and released throughout the spring, they typically aren't brought in and weighed unless there is a tournament. The tournaments began a couple of weeks ago at Hatteras and numerous marlin were released, plus a 454.5 pounder brought to the scales.
That would have been impressive, but the fishing during the Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Bluewater Tournament blew it away. In addition to numerous releases, 7 blue marlin were brought to the scales during the 2-day tournament. N.C. Governors Cup Billfish Series rules require a minimum size blue marlin to weigh, which equates roughly to 400 pounds. All 7 of the Swansboro fish surpassed this minimum. In fact, all but 1 were heavier than 500 pounds and the winner weighed 637 pounds.
Congratulations to Capt. Jeff Vreugdenhil and the crew of the Reel Love. They caught the largest marlin of the tournament and did it in one of the smallest boats. The Reel Love is a 28-foot Privateer, powered by twin Yamaha outboards.
While talking about the Swansboro Tournament--it is actually two tournaments and also hosts a king mackerel tournament at the same time. Capt. Brett Barnes and his son Alan fished their Hot Rod and won the king mackerel tournament with a 42.20 pound king. Interestingly enough, both the Reel Love and the Hot Rod are repeat winners for this tournament. Congratulations to both.
Like the fishing, the water continues to warm. Bogue Inlet Pier is reporting 73 degrees in the surf. I got back in a creek on a mud flat near low tide Monday afternoon and saw a reading of 81 degrees. I can't say my temperature gauge is absolutely accurate, but even allowing a couple of degrees for error that is still 79.
The other offshore fishing is going well also. There are some scattered wahoo and tuna, but the dolphin bite is red hot. These are nice gaffers and into the 30's. Perhaps all the dolphin are what the marlin are feeding on. There continue to be mixed reports of good catches of bigeye tuna above Cape Hatteras.
The reports keep coming in of good mixed catches in the general area that begins at Big 10/Little 10 and crosses near 14 Buoy out to the 90 Foot Drop. The big fish in this catch is king mackerel. I haven't heard of any big kings, but there are good numbers of 8 to 15 pound fish. More dolphin are moving into this area every day. Last week they were only on the outer edges and this week they have been caught at the Big 10 Rock. Even a couple of wahoo have been caught here.
King mackerel appear to be holding at approximately this depth all along the state. They are being reported a little closer in and shallower off Southport and most fishermen believe that as more bait appears the kings will continue moving closer in.
It almost seems to be a cliche, but offshore bottom fishing is the closest you will get to going catching right now. There are lots of black sea bass, but many are just shy of the minimum size. Other hungry bottomfish include beeliners, porgys, grouper and grunts.
Spanish mackerel are a go-to fish right now. They are being caught in the inlets, from the piers, trolling along the beaches and trolling along Cape Lookout Shoals. Clarkspoons are one of the favorite trolling lures for them and Got-Cha plugs are one of the favorites of those casting to Spanish. It probably isn't a coincidence that both are made in Morehead City.
Pier fishermen are enjoying a mixed catch. Smaller bluefish are the main fish in the pier catch, but those larger Hatteras or chopper blues made resurgence this week. Many 5 to 10 pound blues were caught. The first cobia were landed on Bogue Inlet Pier this week. Phil McDonald of Sanford decked a 58 pounder and Patrick Sidey of Denver, Colorado caught a 15 pounder. Other fish in the pier catch include Spanish mackerel, sea mullet, black drum, red drum, gray trout, speckled trout, a few pompano and flounder and some small sharks.
The reports said the sea mullet and gray trout bite from the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the edges of the channel out to Bogue Inlet had slowed, but the number of boats fishing there over Memorial Day Weekend didn't agree. Perhaps it was the windy weather, but there were a large number of boats fishing in this area.
Fishermen are finding speckled trout in the marshes and creeks off the Newport River, along the ICW and the North River. Early mornings and late afternoons are great time for both fish and fishermen to escape the heat of the day. The water is warming so look for slightly deeper and/or cooler water.
The report doesn't give an exact location, and that's probably good, but Lewie Lawrence of Gloucester, Va. caught an 11 pound speck this week on the sound side of Ocracoke. Congratulations!
Red drum are scattered through most inshore waters, plus in the inlets and along the ocean beaches. The Haystacks, Newport River and North River are pretty consistent places to find them, while Broad and Gales Creeks, plus the old Cape Carteret-Emerald Isle Ferry Channel also hold some pups. With the warmer water they are moving around more, so give a new spot several tide changes to allow you to home in on the fish.
Some early flounder also have folks talking. Sure there are some that fall just shy of the 15-1/2 inch minimum size, but the restrictions may be helping. This year the flounder reports are already better than last year. Several of the better catches have come from the nearshore artificial reefs.
For whatever reasons the cobia reports aren't yet as strong as many fishermen had thought they would be. They are beginning to show, but just haven't yet been consistent. Some of the better spots in the area are along the channel that runs behind Shackleford Banks and joins with the east end of Taylor's Creek and goes through the Harkers Island Bridge to Marshallberg and Core Sound. Inside and just out of the hook at Cape Lookout are another pair of good cobia spots.
I may miss the correct terminology, but I have been following several bills to re-vamp our boat trailer towing regulations as they worked their way through the legislature. There were several versions at the beginning and some confusion, but right now it appears our legislators may have agreed on something that may eliminate many of the concerns regarding towing boat trailers. Last week a pair of new bills, H 2408 and S 1695, were introduced that are worded exactly alike, as best I can tell. They aren't perfect, but they address and should alleviate most of the immediate issues regarding boat trailering, and are worded to become effective as soon as they are passed. If you would like, you can track the progress of these bills and find the contact information to let your legislators know how you feel at www.ncleg.net.
Several tournaments will be held this weekend and cover the state from end to end. The Bluewater Tuna Roundup (www.piratescovetournaments.com, 252-473-1015) will be held in Manteo, the CCSA Cobia Tournament (www.carteretcountysportfishing.com, 252-222-0651) will be held in Beaufort and the Bald Head Island Fishing Rodeo (www.baldheadisland.com, 910-457-7393) will be held at Southport.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament (www.thebigrock.com, 252-247-3575) is only 1 week away, with the Ladies Big Rock being on June 7 and the regular tournament following on June 9.
A very special event will be held next Saturday, June 7, on the Morehead City waterfront. The 2008 Military Appreciation Day (www.militaryappreciationday.org) is a day of fishing to show those who serve our country their efforts and sacrifices are appreciated. Please visit the web site and see how you can volunteer or contribute.