I have to start this week's column on a very somber note as the aftermath of capsizing during a strong squall claimed the life of a Brunswick County fisherman over the weekend. Scott Hewett, of Supply, was on his center console boat, Spring Run, Saturday morning, fishing the Ocean Isle based Jolly Mon King Mackerel Classic with his friends John Dozier and Charles Osborne, when the storm struck. Before the storm passed, the boat was capsized, the three were in the water and unfortunately Hewett didn't survive the ordeal.
The three men were enjoying an improving king mackerel bite at Lighthouse Rock off Southport and watching the storm pass inshore of them when the wind switched and the storm quickly turned offshore. The Spring Run was one of approximately 20 boats that were fishing at the popular spot about 8 miles out of the Cape Fear River Inlet.
According to reports from other boats in the area, all thought the storm was passing inshore of them and they were in a safe position south of its path. When the storm changed direction and headed offshore, the conditions went from mild to severe in a matter of minutes and a rogue wave from the opposite direction broke over the Spring Run's transom, filling the boat with water and causing it to flounder and then capsize.
Dozier and Osborne managed to grab life jackets as the boat turned but Hewett did not. Osborne later said the sea became so rough so quickly they didn't have time to put on the life jackets until the main body of the storm passed. All three men were clinging to the overturned boat, knowing that was the best hope for being located in the severe conditions. Hewett complained of chest pains while clinging to the overturned boat and expired from a heart attack while waiting for the storm to pass and the opportunity to be rescued. Once the intensity of the storm slowed, boats in the area recovered the men and transferred them to the Oak Island Coast Guard.
At the risk of appearing to harp on this, I want to ask every boater to check and be sure their safety equipment is up to date, easily available and working properly. As happened here, sometimes weather events are on us and severely change the sea conditions so quickly there is little time to react. These men did nothing wrong, in fact were doing things much like many of us have done in the past, and a storm changed direction and quickly changed their lives.
I can remember several times I have done the same thing and moved a little farther offshore to stay in calm water as a nasty squall moved up the beach and to the northeast. Many times we have been at 13 Buoy or up off Cape Lookout and watched lightning pop along the beaches under a coal black sky and never even gotten rain. This was an unusual turn for a storm and the next time a similar situation presents itself, I hope I make the correct decision. I know I'll be thinking about Hewett, Dozier and Osborne when a similar storm situation happens again.
This storm created havoc for miles of the S.C./N.C. coast. There were unconfirmed reports of several other boats capsizing and at least one being hit by lightning. I spoke with fishermen from Georgetown, S.C. to Cape Lookout and all said it was a fast moving cell that was on them much quicker than they imagined.
The storm seemed to blow itself out a little as it moved northward. The Southport area saw tropical storm force winds, heavy rains and several areas had heavy hail. Capt. Tommy Rickman of Southport Angler Outfitters and I were fishing a Swansboro-based redfish tournament in some bays off the ICW near Sneads Ferry and, while we only saw winds to about 20-25 knots, we spent about half the day in heavy rain and way too much lightning.
This is the weekend when the July Fourth crowd begins arriving. Boat US has already sent a notice to all its members reminding them it is the busiest boating holiday of the year and to be sure to give safety extra considerations. July 4 is not until next Friday, but the time from this weekend until July 13 will be the heaviest concentration of boats we will encounter this year. While on the water, at the ramps, in the marina, at the fuel pumps, in traffic and even at the stores, there will be an abundance of people and things will be moving slowly. A does of good old-fashioned courtesy and common sense will go a long way toward preventing accidents and confrontations. Be polite and think safety!
This looks to be a fair weekend. For most of the coast, the marine forecast is for southwesterly breezes building to 15-20 knots each day. There is also a chance of thunderstorms, especially in the late afternoons when the air has warmed and the atmosphere is volatile. It would be wise to listen to all weather alerts on the radio and keep an eye on the sky for sudden local thunderstorm development.
An excellent puppy drum bite is happening. They aren't spread everywhere, but you might catch one just about anywhere. Several good general locations have been just inside or outside the inlets, in the first slough off the ocean beaches, behind the barrier islands, in the Newport Marshes and in the marshes off the North River Thoroughfare. They like mullet minnows and mud minnows, but will eat shrimp and a surprising variety of lures.
Speckled trout are also biting well, especially considering the inshore water temperature rises above 80 most afternoons. Bogue Inlet Pier has been reporting 78 and higher in the surf zone. The trout prefer live shrimp, but will eat many of the baits just mentioned for drum.
I've heard mixed reports about flounder fishing this week. Some folks are saying the majority of their catch is undersize and some are saying the number of throwbacks is dropping. Almost all agree that they are catching more flounder than last year, so at least that is good.
I mentioned earlier that I fished a Swansboro redfish tournament last Saturday with Capt. Tommy Rickman of Southport. Rickman and I caught several flounder on soft plastics while drum fishing, including one aggressive flatfish that hit a spinnerbait. We only caught one that was a throwback.
Wally from the Sheraton pier called to say their flounder bite was picking up and fishermen were catching a few 18-19 inchers every day, but that wasn't really the big news. He said they were having a really good summer spot bite. He said several fishermen had filled coolers a couple of days this week and the hot bait was bloodworms. He said there was also a growing number of sea mullets, plus the usual Spanish, blues and pompano being caught
The good Spanish mackerel fishing continues. Some nice Spanish are being caught by piers anglers and by fishermen trolling along the beaches and around the inlets. In the early morning the Spanish might be right up behind the breakers, but once the sun gets up they are moving out off the ends of the piers to about 20-25 feet of water. There has also been a good bite along the west beach at Cape Lookout, particularly from the rock jetty out to the shoals.
Dolphin fishing and billfishing is about as good as it gets. One captain said the lack of tuna this spring and the abundance of dolphin is what has made the billfish bite so outstanding. I don't know enough to disagree, so I'll have to agree. I sure like to eat dolphin and can understand if a billfish likes them also.
The dolphin are moving in and have been caught as close as Northwest Places and Jerry's Reef. The billfish have been out at 100 fathoms or deeper and primarily north of the Big Rock. A sailfish was caught Saturday morning at AR 285, just east of Cape Lookout Shoals. The lucky angler was Dexter Davis. Congratulations!
With the abundance of bait and the water temps rising, king mackerel have been moving closer to the beaches. Another king was caught from Bogue Inlet Pier this week and several in the 30 pound range were caught last weekend at some of the nearshore rocks. If nothing happens to the weather or bait, 2008 is shaping up to be a banner year for kings.
Offshore bottom fishing continues to be good also. Many folks head out primarily seeking grouper, but are also catching good numbers of black sea bass, beeliners, porgys, and grunts. Some of the individual limits are shy, but when put together it's a pretty good mess of fish.
The 2008 version of Take A Kid Fishing was this Tuesday and Wednesday along the Crystal Coast. Approximately 1,000 less fortunate children were treated to a day of fishing from one of the piers or boats between Beaufort and Swansboro. The days concluded with a cookout at the Crystal Coast and Swansboro Civic Centers. There were tired smiles all around as many volunteers had as good a time as the kids.
The legislation to lessen restrictions on towing boat trailers cleared another hurdle Wednesday when the House Transportation Committee approved it, with a small modification to another part of the legislation involving semi-trailers. While there are small differences to be worked out, similar legislation passed in the Senate last week.
While they have other trailer, truck and farm equipment provisions, both the versions allow towing of private trailers up to 120 inches wide, without a permit and any time of day or night, including holidays. These bills also allow for towing of private permitted trailers wider than 120 inches on any day, but not at night. The Senate version also allows drivers older than 18 to tow a non-commercial combined weight of up to 26,001 pounds on a Class C license.
If you would like, you can track the progress of these bills at www.ncleg.net. This website also enables finding the contact information, committee assignments and constituent area for every N.C. legislator.
Congratulations to Ray and Matt Lamb for winning the first of the 3 Crystal Coast Fishing Association Redfish Series tournaments on Saturday in Swansboro. The Lamb brothers operate Chasin' Tails Outdoors on the Morehead city Causeway and had a 2 fish aggregate of just heavier than 17 pounds.
Leonard Taylor of New Bern and his Last Minute crew caught a 32.05 pound king just before the storm hit last Saturday to win the inaugural Swansboro Rescue Squad King Mackerel Tournament.
At the south end of the state, the Raleigh-based Takin' It Easy crew, with captain Cameron Bowers, caught a 39.75 pound king to win the Jolly Mon King Classic.
The only tournament on tap for this weekend is the Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament in Wrightsville Beach. It is the fourth of seven events in the 2008 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series. For more information visit www.capefearbluemarlintournament.com or call 910-686-9778.
If you are a kayak fisherman, there will be a Kayak Fishing Meet & Greet Saturday at the Federal Point Landing at Fort Fisher. The event will begin between 7:00 and 8:00, with lunch being served at 12:00 at Crossover 4 on the Fort Fisher ORV Beach. There will be raffles for kayak gear and pro staffers from several companies with products to demonstrate and for participants to try. For more information on the Kayak Fishing Meet and Greet, visit www.theadventurecompany.net or call The Adventure Company at 910-454-0607.