When you hear the likes of yellowfin, blackfin, giant bluefin or bigeye tuna, visions of big boats, big gear and offshore excursions may dance in your head.
But if you don’t have the boat or the gear or the big bucks to get to the Gulf Stream, there is an alternative to big-gear tuna, that is the Atlantic bonito and the false albacore, the tuna for the rest of us. Both of these “poor man’s tunas” are nearshore pelagics, schooling fish, have similar diets and migrate up and down the Atlantic Coast as far north as the New England states. They are accessible to the nearshore boater and often even to the surfcaster and fight like the devil himself. For fall, we’re talking false albacore, little tunny on the northeast winds, the dropping of water temperatures and emergence of one of their favorite foods, the bay anchovy.
In the fall, these speedsters turn North Carolina into a true fishing destination with Harkers Island being the fishing guide-based hub. Some famous people, like former President George H.W. Bush (aka, Bush No. 41) have made yearly pilgrimages to test the mettle of these high-intensity fish for instant high-intensity fun for spin and fly-fishing anglers alike.
For spinning or conventional tackle, small and shiny rules the day. So-called heavy metals like Stingsilvers, Kastmasters, Maria lures, small diamond jigs, Crippled Herring spoons, Deadly Dicks, and more recently, the glitzy Spanish Candy and Thingama Jigs, are baits of choice. On the fly, Clousers are the most popular, anything from an inch in length to 3 or 4 inches, depending on the hatch you are trying to hatch. These fish can often be very size fussy. If you have long flies, all it takes is a snip here or there to cut it down to the feeding size of the day. Popular colors are white, olive, over-white, chartreuse or pink with some flash to mimic the shiny stripe of the anchovies or the aptly named silversides.
Finding these speedsters usually involves a good pair of binoculars scanning the horizon for diving birds and bait balls of anchovies and silversides. While fish the schools, position your boat upwind (or up-current) of the school and drift toward them. Rushing the schools will sound the fish to the depths, and you will have to start over again. It is also a way to ingratiate you with other boats in the area, so courtesy first. You’ll get your chance.
Bonito and albacore fishing combines periods of waiting and looking, followed by intervals of pure frenzy. These fish are also often caught from local fishing piers, and from time to time, I have also caught them from the surf.
The albies will hit like a freight train, so make sure your drag is set light enough to take the hit and blistering run. If not, you will lose most of your fish by breakoff. These fish will tend to go out, and runs of 100 yards are likely. At the boat, they also go deep and zig-zag back and forth, which can be a problem if there is more than one fish on. Those crazy doubleheaders!
To finally land the tired fish, reach down and grab them by the tail or net them. Sometimes these fish can be brought to the point of exhaustion, so if you wish to release your catch, remove the hook and plunge the fish quickly, head first, back into the water. This will give the fish a quick rush of oxygen and help reverse the lactic-acid buildup in the fish by forcing freshwater through their gills.
Finally, to eat or not to eat, that is the question. Most people don’t find the false albacore particularly haute cuisine, so most are released to swim another day. Personally, I find the flesh quite palatable. Like other tunas, you need to loin-out the fillets, removing all the darkest meat, yielding four loin strips of some of the nicest tuna meat you can imagine. It’s also suitable raw for sashimi with some wasabi soy sauce for dipping, and it is fit for blackening too. Bon appétit!
Finally, you can get a citation, suitable for framing, for live release only of fish 34 inches or longer. The North Carolina record is 26 pounds, 8 ounces with most fish in the usual 5- to 15-pound range.
So, how’s the fishin’?
If you were outside on Saturday, you may have felt a change in the weather with the cool, crisp, northeast breezes. The fish also noticed the change. The winds and accommodating drop in water temperatures back into the 70s drove the finger mullet and striped mullet into the surf in what can only be described as a “massive mullet blow.”
The surf was alive with these mullets from Beaufort Inlet and Fort Macon to Bogue Inlet and the point in Emerald Isle while being beyond with predators right at their tails.
Along the beach, blues to 4 pounds were caught, while Spanish and ladyfish showed up from nearshore.
In addition, out of the inlets, speckled trout, red and black drum and flounder were energized and being caught along the surf as the fish migrated from east to west along the beach. I even heard of a 40-inch old drum landed from the Indian Beach surf, where cut mullet did the trick.
At the point in Emerald Isle, there were reds on cut bait and a 26-incher on a Kastmaster. Oh, I almost forgot, the bait abundance has also energized the sharks!
For the bottom fish fare, sea mullet, a few spots and croakers, along with some big pompano, were being caught. Think sand fleas.
Inside fishing is still doing well. Big trout from the New River creeks and AR 398, to the Swansboro and Emerald Isle marshes are yielding fish. You can see boats around the Emerald Isle bridge in Trout Creek, Banks Channel and Three Fingers, the usual trout hot spots. Working east, The Haystacks are yielding good trout catches, as well as creeks while working north, such as Harlowe and Core and their feeders. Artificials and live shrimp and mullet are catching fish. The Neuse is also good as expected for October.
I haven’t heard about Slocum and Hancock creeks yet. The White Oak River has been slow for both trout and drum so far this fall.
Speaking of spots, the piers are catching loads of them at night, but the spots have been spotty in the usual Bogue Sound locations. The last few days, I’ve seen only scattered spot yachts around the Emerald Isle bridge and more in the Intracoastal Waterway down river from the White Oak bridges and some in Galants Channel toward Beaufort.
The flounder bite is still as hot as ever around the Morehead City Port and turning basin. I even landed my biggest flounder of the year, a catch and release 18-plus inches! Live finger mullet is still the bait of choice. Mine was on a plastic shrimp in a Highway 24 creek.
From the piers, Oceanana Pier reports a good week with a few spots, Spanish, blues, false albacore and speckled trout.
Bogue Inlet Pier has had a spotted sea trout and blues to 4 pounds, Spanish, spots (best at night), false albacore, a few sea mullet and front end of a sharked king mackerel, the second time for Jim “Aflac” Larison in recent weeks.
Seaview Pier reports spots, mullet, bluefish and Spanish.
Surf City has had good spot catches, especially early and late, mullet, Spanish and gray trout.
Jolly Roger reports hit-and-quit spots, pups, blues, Spanish, black drum and sea mullet.
2) “Ask Dr. Bogus” is on the radio every Monday at 7:30 a.m. WTKF 107.1 FM and 1240 AM. The show is also replayed on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Callers may reach me at 800-818-2255.
3) I’m located at 118 Conch Ct. in Sea Dunes, just off Coast Guard Road, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. The mailing address is P.O. Box 5225, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Don’t forget a gift certificate for your favorite angler for fishing lessons or my totally Bogus Fishing Report subscription. Please stop by at any time and say “Hi” or call 252-354-4905.