A good number of fishermen believe the water is still a little warm and see this cold snap as a way to get it to drop a few degrees to where it should be. Thursday morning the water temperature in the surf was 72 degrees. Expectations are for the surf temperature to dip into the sixties over the weekend. In this cooler water fish should be feeding heavily and it is a good time to catch them.
Heck, it is fall, and it's time for the weather to be cooler. I like starting the day in a light jacket and working to shirtsleeves during the afternoon. If the weather is stable like this forecast shows for a while, the fish should bite and wildlife should move. Last Sunday morning I was over in Tennessee and saw 39 degrees early Sunday morning, but it was sunny and had warmed to short sleeve temperatures by the afternoon.
I hate to have negative news so close to the beginning of this, but I have spoken to so many fishermen who had no idea of the closure of the black sea bass season, and since it is such a popular fall and winter fish in our area, I felt I should mention it again. For the waters from Cape Hatteras to Key West, black sea bass season closed at 12:01 A.M. on Monday, Oct. 17. It is not scheduled to reopen until June 1, 2012. Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have tallied the catches to date and have determined the 2011-2012 allocation had been met or slightly exceeded by then.
A stock assessment for black sea bass was recently completed and is being verified at this time. The stock assessment will be presented to members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) when they meet in Raleigh Dec. 5 through 9. The initial word is the stock is showing larger numbers than expected. However, I was told not to expect the season to reopen prior to June 1.
SAFMC is scheduling a series of public meetings regarding the stock assessment for black sea bass and Amendments 18A and 20A to the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan. The only meeting scheduled for North Carolina is one on December 6 that will be part of the SAFMC December meeting in Raleigh. The closest of the other meetings is scheduled for Nov. 14 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The information and comments gathered at the public meetings will also be presented to the SAFMC at their December meeting. More information is available at www.safmc.net.
The surf along south facing beaches is not generally considered to be as productive a place to fish as on the beaches that face east. The exception is on the Outer Banks at Ocracoke and from Hatteras Inlet to Cape Hatteras. The currents aren't consistently as strong along south facing beaches and don't scour as deep a slough right next to the beach. Well, slough or not, there have been some good catches along the Bogue Banks beaches in the past week or so and many fishermen expect it to continue as long as there isn't a major weather change.
Fish being caught in the surf are red drum, flounder, bluefish, pompano, speckled trout and more. Several fishermen said the flounder were very aggressive and they saw them chasing mullet minnows in the waves. This is unusual as flounder tend to lie on the bottom and wait for something to swim over them to attack. A tip to remember is that once the slough forms along the beach, the best time to fish is usually the rising tide and the first couple of hours of the falling tide. Another tip is that many of the fish you are after are feeding in the slough, inside the first bar, and it is easy and tempting to cast beyond them.
Flounder are a favorite of many fishermen and they are biting well. In the cooling water, many are moving toward the inlets to spend the winter in the ocean. They are also feeding very heavily to bulk up for the winter. Many fishermen prefer to use live finger mullet and small menhaden as flounder bait. They will also eat small croakers, spots and pinfish.
When using live baits for flounder, it is important to allow them time to turn the bait as they can only swallow it head first. Trying to set the hook too quickly is what results in getting back those baits that look like they have been scaled.
Flounder hit lures and soft plastics much more aggressively and there is usually a hook in their mouth so the hook can be set quickly. A growing number of flounder fishermen are switching to the soft scented plastics so they can react quicker. This catches big flounder too. Every week there are stories of big flounder caught with soft scented plastics. This week one of the fisherman I spoke with was very excited that he was catching his larger flounder with the artificials!
Reds, redfish, red drum, puppy drum, channel bass, spot tail bass or whatever you prefer to call them are biting. They are in a great variety of areas too. Several good spots to fish are creek mouths on falling tides, along marsh banks, along oyster bars, over rip-rap, in the surf and under docks. As long as the water is less than six feet deep, there really isn't a bad place to try and some fishermen are also catching a few drum in deeper water.
While the trout reports are getting a little better every week, I'm still not convinced that the two extremely cold winters in a row didn't hurt their numbers badly. However, I am seeing growing numbers of trout and hearing better reports every week. I haven't personally seen all the 13 inch trout like I did last fall, but am seeing mainly 14 to 20 inch fish. I have done one trip though where there were many 12 to 15 inches and I'll talk about it in detail a little later.
I didn't hear much from the pier fishermen this week. The few reports were of some scattered spots, bluefish, red drum, whiting, sheepshead, speckled trout and pompano. The water temperature at Bogue Inlet Pier actually warmed a little early in the week, but should be cooling again with our latest cold front. Most pier fishermen believe there should be another hard run of spots and I agree. They believe, and I agree, that the cooling weather should cool the water too and it may trigger a good spot bite at the piers.
Spot fishing may be a little better inside than in the ocean, but it can be rather hit or miss. One fisherman told me he had a couple of excellent days from a dock in the Intracoastal Waterway this week. Unfortunately he also had a few bad days. He said he couldn't tell the difference between the days, except the spots either were or weren't biting. He used real and FishBites synthetic bloodworms and said he couldn't tell the difference when the spots were biting.
I didn't hear of any Spanish mackerel this week except those that hit live baits intended for kings. These were typically a few miles out to about ten miles off the beach and are probably the last Spanish of this year.
They would probably have run right past them if the seas had been calmer, but last weekend and into this week fishermen found good king bites scattered along the coast. The Dead Tree Hole and Rock Barge went off at Cape Lookout and the bite continued to Lighthouse Rocks off Southport. No one has been there for a few days and it should still be happening.
There was a very good false albacore (little tunny) bite over the weekend off Cape Lookout and it included a lot of 15 to 20 pound fish. This died out as the front approached on Tuesday, but should fire back off as soon as the wind slows and the weather stabilizes.
Many folks try to confuse false albacore with bonito and some even call both bonito. They are different fish and the biggest difference is how good Atlantic bonito are on the dinner table and how most folks feel false albacore are much too strong. False albacore have a chain like striping that runs just below their dorsal fin along the back. Bonito have individual stripes that run laterally along the upper half of their body. LEARN THE DIFFERENCE!
When the sea conditions allow going offshore, most fishermen are finding wahoo. The key seems to be the first good hard temperature break of a couple of degrees. There are also good numbers of blackfin tuna along these breaks too. Wahoo like big baits, but troll at least a pair of smaller baits for the blackfins. While not as popular as their yellowfin cousins, blackfins are a white meat tuna and taste excellent. Any stray yellowfins will hit these small baits too.
There may have been more, but Capt. Mike Webb of the Pelagic released a small blue marlin early this week near the Big Rock and saw a sailfish finning on the same trip. That is a really good exclamation point to add to a good wahoo trip.
Much like offshore trolling, offshore bottom has been good when the weather allows getting there. Remember black sea bass must be released, but you can keep limits of grouper, beeliners, pinkys, grunts and triggerfish.
A week or so ago I had the opportunity to go to Manteo and fish with Capt. Bryan DeHart. Those of you who watch Carolina Outdoor Journal on PBS may have seen Bryan as he does a show or two a year for COJ and they always catch fish.
This was a long awaited opportunity for me as I have always wanted to fish with Bryan in the waters around Manteo and our scheduled had never matched to allow it to happen. I have driven by there way too many times headed elsewhere and wondered, but never stopped. This time it was the destination and Bryan was the captain and it had to be good.
Bryan DeHart is a Manteo-Nags Head local with both sides of the family entrenched there almost since the English returned to find Fort Raleigh and the first settlers missing. His great-grandfather was one of the few locals employed by the Wright Brothers and was a witness to that historic first flight. Bryan had been a kid on a mission as a youngster and fished in every creek and marsh he could get to with a small skiff and old outboard.
Those are local roots and they are deep in his community. Bryan Dehart is the kind of person you want to show you around in these shallow waters. He knows the spots and why they hold fish. He also knows where not to go. A story highlighting some of Bryan's favorite and easy to reach fishing spots is scheduled to run in the December North Carolina Sportsman Magazine and we fished many of them on this trip and caught fish.
Bryan no longer guides full time. With his knowledge of fishing and hunting and how it relates to land in the area, he has become a valuable recreational properties specialist with Mossy Oak Properties -- Harrell and Associates in Nags Head. Sometimes he is busy and difficult to schedule, but there are openings available and he loves to fish. Match up a time and you won't be sorry. The website is www.nclandandfarms.com and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone 252-473-8632.
Bryan DeHart's specialty is speckled trout. He catches flounder, red drum, stripers and more, but his specialty is specks. I figured if he could produce specks this year in one of the northernmost areas of the state he was as good as his reputation.
Our trip began with a small speck on Bryan's first cast at our first stop. It may have barely been a keeper, but we were there to catch, not keep and after a quick picture it was released to thrill someone else at a later date and larger size. It was still dark enough I had to use the flash on my camera to get the picture. We caught several more before moving on.
We would pull to a spot, fish a while and then move on. Our plan was to fish all the way around Roanoke Island. At a few of the spots we went 0-for, but it wasn't many. Nothing was on-fire, red hot, can't move good, but most gave up a few fish. This was happening even though there was still an extra foot of fresh water in the sounds that hadn't yet made it out Oregon Inlet after the hurricane and heavy rains that followed for several weeks.
We made it almost all the way around the island before being run off the water by a thunderstorm. Bryan said they had been very regular over the past six weeks or so and that was why the sound was higher than normal.
While we changed colors and shapes a few times, we cast soft plastics all day. Our catch included numerous specks, a few flounder, large croakers, and one really rambunctious puppy drum. As good as it was, Bryan said he had been saving the best for last and we didn't get to go there. That might actually be a good thing.
For those of you who wondered, there are fish in all that water around Manteo. Next time you head that way, you might want to give Bryan DeHart a shout and try to book a trip. Check out the story in the December N.C. Sportsman too; just in case Bryan isn't available.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) will meet November 2 through 4 in Atlantic Beach. One of the major points of that meeting will be to discuss the recommendations of the advisory committees and make a decision on a Fishery Management Plan for speckled trout. The recommendations of the committees and information on the November MFC meeting can be found on the MFC website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
The Swansboro Rotary Club King Mackerel and Inshore Tournament was held October 14 through 16 in Swansboro. The captains meeting and awards were at the Swansboro Civic Center, with weigh in at the mainland dock at Hammocks Beach State Park. A last minute change due to weather allowed king mackerel fishermen to choose to fish either Saturday or Sunday.
In the King Mackerel Division, East Coast Sports, with Randall, George and Cole Edens, of Hampstead, smoked the field with a huge 54.0 pound king. This big king secured Top Junior Angler honors for Cole Edens and Top Senior Angler honors for George Edens.
Second Place was won by D. and David Logan, Bellville, on Logan's run with a king that weighed 45.58 pounds. Third place went to Henry Tillett, Beaufort, and the crew of Windy Conditions who caught a 41.80 pound king. This big king also secured the Top Lady Angler award for Wendy Tillett. While Windy Conditions and East Coast Sports are 23 foot boats, they won more money in the overall tournament so the award for the highest placing boat of 23 feet or less went to Billy Sherwood, New Bern, and the crew of the Sea Fox.
In the Inshore (speckled trout) Division, Robbie Hall, Hubert and the Reel Outdoors crew took home the bacon in the Aggregate Category with 8.04 pounds and the Largest Trout at 3.08 pounds. Buddy Gainey, Swansboro, was second aggregate with 7.78 pounds and John M. Gainey, Swansboro, was third with 6.90 pounds.
John Hislop, Hubert caught a 1.38 pound trout to earn Top Senior Angler honors and Parker Benedict, Swansboro, claimed Top Junior Angler honors with a 2.52 pound trout. No lady anglers weighed fish. For more information visit www.kingbluewater.com.
The Post 9983 Inshore Classic that was scheduled for Soundside Park in Surf City on Saturday, Oct. 15 has been postponed until Saturday, Nov. 5. This is a flounder and speckled trout tournament. For more information visit www.topsailislandfishingclub.com.
The Rumble in the Jungle King Mackerel Tournament that was scheduled for Oct. 7 to 9 from Harbourgate Marina in Little River, S.C. was postponed to Oct. 14 to 16, with a change allowing fishermen to fish either Saturday or Sunday to best fit their needs. This tournament is the fourth of five tournaments in SKA Division 9. Originally there was also a SKA Professional Kingfish Tour event scheduled to run concurrently, but it was cancelled when the Rumble was postponed.
The In-2-Deep, with Capt. Kevin O'Neale and crew won the tournament with a king that weighed 31.70 pounds. Almost exactly a pound behind, Keith Bergunas and Team E Z Mow was second at 30.74 pounds. The E Z Mow king also collected Top Lady Angler honors for Samantha Thompson.
Third place went to Team Liquid Fire, who caught a king that weighed 29.34 pounds. Crockett Watson, of Team Liquid Fire, was the Top Junior Angler for the tournament. Stuart Ballard of Tailwalker Marine was the Top Senior Angler and fifth place finisher with a 28.15 pound king. Top honors in the Small Boat Class went to Salt & Battery with Capt. Blake Holcomb. For more information visit www.littleriverfishingclub.com.
The Pleasure Island Surf Fishing Challenge was held October 14 to 16, with participants spread from Freeman Park at the north end of Carolina Beach to the site of the former New Inlet at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area on the south end of Pleasure Island. The tournament featured multiple species caught in the surf, plus an additional Tournament Within A Tournament for those fishermen interested in a live catch, weigh and release of red drum. Proceeds from the tournament were donated to the Cape Fear Volunteer center and the Wilmington area Big Buddy Program.
Several divisions saw leaders at the same weights and tournament rules designated the earliest weigh-in time as the tiebreaker. Austin Mooney tied for the lead in the Flounder Division at 3.1 pounds, but was the earlier to weigh and also won the Junior Angler Division. Cody Davis was in a similar situation in the Pompano Division and collected the win by weighing a 0.6 pound pompano earlier. Alex Sneed, won the Whiting Division with a 1.8 pound fish that he weighed earliest in the tournament to break another tie there.
Cheryl Day won the Black Drum Division with a 2.8 pound fish that also collected the win in the Lady Angler Division. Kelli Bagwell won the Bluefish Division with a nice 2.6 pound chopper that fought well. M.C. Fowler was the winner in the Senior Angler Division with a 2.6 pound flounder. The Red Drum TWT was optional and required those fish to be in the slot and weighed alive and released. William Radford topped the puppy drum fishermen with a 7.0 pound red. No speckled trout were weighed during the tournament.
Another busy tournament weekend is coming up. The Third Annual N.C. Beach Buggy Association Red Drum Tournament began Wednesday (Oct. 19) and continues through Saturday at Cape Hatteras. This is the tournament that was formerly run by Frank and Fran's Tackle Shop in Avon. The tournament was almost cancelled, but with the Highway 12 Bridge at Pea Island being completed and opened last week, the organizers decided it would go on as scheduled. For more information visit www.ncbba.org.
The Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament will begin Oct. 22 and run through Dec. 3 in Emerald Isle. All trout must be caught on foot on Bogue Banks. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
The Fall Brawl King Classic from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle will be held Oct 21 to 23. This tournament allows fishermen to choose either Saturday or Sunday as their fishing day. This is the final of five tournaments in SKA Division 9. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
The CCA Inside and Out Tournament will be held Oct. 22 from Portside Marina in Morehead City. This tournament has divisions for fishermen who want to fish inside waters or in the ocean. For more information visit www.ccanc.org.
The Jacksonville Rotary Speckled Trout Shootout will be held Saturday, Oct. 22, from Laguna Bay in Jacksonville. For more information visit www.jacksonvillerotaryclubnc.org.
The Pamlico County Shrine Club Speckled Trout Tournament will be held Oct. 22 in Grantsboro. For more information call 252-249-2084.