Weather is a big part of our fishing, especially right now and promises to be a primary factor over the coming weekend. The weather conditions for the past two weeks have been about as good as it gets in the ocean. There was one squall line that moved across the ocean Saturday morning, but didn't do much except bring some rain and a little wind right in its footprint. It was offshore before daylight and barely got an edge and a little rain over the boats fishing offshore as it moved east. When the ocean stays this calm, fishermen can move about and find fish.
While the forecast doesn't hold a lot of wind, the calmness of the sea might just change this weekend. After making it this far through the summer without a storm developing to enough intensity to be named, we had three fire up over the weekend. Tropical Storm Claudette moved ashore in the Florida Panhandle Monday morning and fell apart.
The other two are still out in the Atlantic as I write this, but Tropical Storm Ana has fallen apart back to a Tropical Depression and isn't being updated any longer by NOAA Weather. Hurricane Bill is the first hurricane of 2009 and grew to Category 4 strength on Wednesday. The current forecast tracks have it turning east out into the open ocean and passing between N.C. and Bermuda on Saturday. Even though it is supposed to pass much closer to Bermuda, we should see some waves and possibly an outer rain band or two.
The tropics have served notice they are through hibernating for the year. It has been nice not tracking the storm of the week like we have in some recently past years, but that lull appears to be over. We should be keeping a watchful eye turned in that direction.
Continuing with weather, the excellent weather over the weekend allowed many folks to head out into the ocean after kings, dolphin, grouper, billfish and more. The kings bit well in places, but seemed to be scattered and were a little hit or miss. When you found them they were hungry and biting. Dolphin also were scattered and when found they bit. Many of the boats who headed beyond about 15 miles or so had a dolphin or two mixed in their catch. Grouper were holding close to structure and were temperamental as usual.
The billfish action was pretty good off Cape Lookout down to Cape Fear, but from Cape Hatteras to the north they were biting like mad. This has been an excellent year for billfish along the Carolinas and this week certainly added to the story. More than 300 billfish were released during the Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament and one big mama was brought to the scales. More details are in the tournament report below. Be sure to check it out; it was impressive!
The folks who headed offshore also returned with dolphin and wahoo. A pair of very lost yellowfin tuna were also caught somewhere in the general vicinity of AR 305. This is particularly interesting as they have been so scarce farther offshore where they usually are caught. A few dolphin were caught by the king mackerel fishermen closer in, but the better action began offshore of 14 buoy.
The water is pretty warm for them, but king mackerel are biting. Most folks like to head a ways offshore, but there is enough bait moving down the beaches they are sneaking in to eat occasionally. There was a little breeze on several afternoons, but the sea conditions were generally very good. Another tournament winning king came from east of Cape Lookout; this time the 41 pounder that won the Sneads Ferry King Mackerel Tournament came from 1700 Rock. Tournament fishermen should be aware not to overrun the kings. Some kings are also being caught in the shipping channels at Morehead City and Southport.
A few more kings were caught on Bogue Inlet Pier this week. They weren't huge, but it's really good to see them there. Other pier catches included Spanish mackerel, black drum, red drum, flounder, pompano and bluefish. The water temperature at Bogue Inlet Pier remains in the low 80s.
While it usually slows during August, the Spanish mackerel fishing continues to be very good. The hot spots have been around the inlets and along the shoals at Cape Fear, Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras.
In inside waters and at the nearshore reefs the flounder have been biting well. The most exceptional catch was reported by Captains Jeff Cronk and Mike Taylor from Swansboro. They took two boats out Bogue Inlet to film a TV show and hit the jackpot. They said they caught over 100 fish and even after releasing all the shorts and a few barely legal ones were able to keep limits for the eight fishermen on the two boats. That is pretty impressive--and dang good fishing too!
Another good flounder story is the 13.66 pounder Alex Ng caught on Wednesday. He declined to say exactly where when it was weighed at Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach. Several double digit flounder have also been caught in Snows Cut and the lower Cape Fear River. Wow!
Fishermen are having fun with puppy drum from not quite legal to well over slot size in coastal marshes the entire state. The action for old drum is heating up in the lower Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. One hot tip for the old drum in the sound is to find a shoal or point loaded up with crab traps and fish between the deep water and the crab traps. The old drum hold in the deeper water and venture up into shallower water to feed on the crabs.
Even though the water is warm enough to make both species sluggish, specks and gray trout are around and biting. The most reliable way to catch the specks is by drifting live shrimp under popping corks along channel edges and across oyster rock points. They will hit lures too, but not as readily as the real thing. Scented grubs and shrimp are the most productive lures right now. The grays have mainly been caught in the deeper water of the Morehead City State Port and along the Outer Banks. Fishing at night, under the lights of bridges, is the best way to target them right now.
Sheepshead fishing is good for those who have the "feel." Sheepshead like fiddler crabs and barnacles fished beside vertical structure. Bridge and dock pilings are good places to find them, plus along the wall at the state port.
We are on a dark phase of the moon, but I still haven't heard a lot about tarpon being caught in the Pamlico Sound. I had to miss a trip this week and my friends said they saw about 30, but didn't have a pick-up or a jumper. I believe tarpon fishing is a lot like billfishing--you put in your time and after you have spent enough hours waiting for them they reward you with a few bites.
A potential new black sea bass state record was caught Sunday off the Outer Banks. Abagail Hinsehlwood, of Suffolk, Va. caught a 9 pounder. The current record is 8 pounds, 12 ounces and was caught by Joe Mizelle off Oregon Inlet in 1979.
It isn't fishing but it is outdoors and N.C. has some schools and students to be proud of. The foothills of the Rocky Mountains served as the backdrop for the NRA's 24th Annual Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. In this setting, more than 300 of the country's most skilled young hunters, who had qualified for the event through regional and state competitions, put their marksmanship and outdoor skills to the test. The competition began with more than 50,000 students from across the U.S. and just making the national competition is an achievement.
Teams from Forbush High School in Yadkin County claimed top honors in both the Junior and Senior Team categories. The Forbush Claybusters took top honors in the Junior Team category for the sixth straight year and the Forbush Senior Red Team overcame losing their coach and funding to win the Senior Team category.
Tar Heel youngsters did well in the individual standings also. Fourteen year-old Todd Patterson, from Yadkinville (Forbush Claybusters), was named the Junior Overall winner and 18 year-old Austin Warner, from Troy (West Montgomery High School), took top honors in the Senior Overall category.
The Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament was fished last week in Manteo and the fantastic billfish bite continued. This was the final of seven events in the 2009 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series. I spoke with the folks tabulating the standings and they said there had been so many releases during the tournament they were double checking everything before releasing the final standings for the series. I should have that information for next week's column.
With the run of surprisingly good weather, the 76 boat field released more than 300 billfish in four days of fishing and the Sea Hag brought a 755 pound blue marlin to the scales. The Sea Hag won the categories for the heaviest billfish and largest blue marlin. The run for the overall (points) win was hotly contested until the final day.
The Sea Toy claimed the overall win with 1540 points. This equates to 22 releases in three days of fishing. All boats are required to take one lay day during the four day tournament. The Pelican was second with 1330 points (19 releases) and the Caroline finished in third place with 1190 points (17 releases).
Kelli Roof, on the Game On, was the Top Lady Angler with 140 points. Fifteen year old, Dwight Wolf II, of the Sea Wolf claimed Top Junior Angler honors and Billy Duerr of the Sea Hag led the adult male anglers with 895 points that included 755 (one point per pound) for the only weighed blue marlin and 140 release points.
The Gamefish Categories were won by the Kemosabe for a 63.75 pound yellowfin tuna, the Magic Moment for a 44.55 pound wahoo and the Miss Sadie for a 30.15 pound dolphin. The Franchise Sails topped the Small Boat Category with 350 points on five billfish releases.
The Sneads Ferry Rotary Club King Mackerel Tournament was held over the weekend in Sneads Ferry. This was the third of five tournaments in the Southern Kingfish Association Division 1. The weather was excellent for the tournament and nearly 200 boats participated.
The trip up from Yulee, Florida proved to be productive for Capt. Jeff Keeton and the crew of the Reel Office. They headed for the 1700 Rock and landed a 41.74 pound king to win the tournament and sweep the awards. Vickie Keeton was the tournament's Outstanding Lady Angler and Colin Williams was the Outstanding Junior Angler while fishing on the Reel Office.
Samuel Cernugel, of Wilmington, landed a 37.80 pound king on the Coon Dog to claim second place. Third place went to Thomas Justice, of Maple Hill and the crew of the Southern Girl for a 30.94 pounder.
Miles Bunn, Wilson, and the crew of the Rod Hog led the 23 and Under boats with a 25.49 pound king. The Top Senior Angler was Lin Creech, of Supply, who landed a 28.39 pound king on the King Creecher. Thomas Berry, of Raleigh won the prize for the Largest Dolphin with a 13.52 pounder caught on the Kill Switch.
The schedule compiled by the Division of Marine Fisheries only lists one tournament for this weekend. The Topsail Offshore Fishing Club King Mackerel Tournament will be held from Soundside Park in Surf City. The Captains Meeting and Final Registration will be Friday, with fishing and the awards on Saturday. For more information, visit www.tofc.com or call 910-200-0723. (The TOFC KMT has been postponed until Aug. 28-29)