October, fall, yellow butterflies fill the air … must be time for the arrival of one of the more diminutive of the drum/croaker family of sciaenids, the panfish favorite for local anglers, the spots.
I have lived in the great old North State for over 25 years and still remember cooler-filling catches of big, so called yellow-bellied spots. I remember the motor-driven drum at Island Harbor Marina that was used to scale the spots en masse by the dozens. I remember anglers from all over the state, big and small, rich and poor, shoulder to shoulder, enjoying catching spots in the fall two-by-two with bloodworms being the bait of choice.
Then the cleaning sessions … oh, the cleaning sessions, the assembly line, scaling, heading and gutting, sometimes butterflying. It was a time of year that the local fishing piers had their equivalent of “Black Friday.” Compared to the early 1970s, the commercial harvest is now at all-time lows in the last decade or so. Habitat loss, overharvest or by-catch, probably a combination of all, have reduced this once robust stock to historically low numbers.
Spots, the ocean’s panfish, aka Norfolk spots and interestingly as Lafayettes, so named in 1824 after the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to the USA at the invitation of President James Monroe, which coincided with a bumper crop of spots from Long Island’s coastal waters. Just a little bit of history!
These fish are often confused with pinfish since both have that distinctive black spot just behind the gill, however, the pinfish have sharp, needle-like spines on their backs, and the spots don’t. So, if you say #*%^@-ouch when you take the hook off, it’s a pinfish.
Spots are easy to catch on a standard, two-hook bottom rig with a smallish No. 4 or No. 6 longshank hook. Bait includes bloodworms, shrimp, and over the last decade or so, the excellent Fishbites Bag o’ Worms baits. If you fish the local piers, the east side on Bogue Banks, north side on Topsail Island is the side of choice since the fish are migrating down the beach, going south as they ready to spawn in the ocean during the fall and winter.
Often, you can see clouds of mud moving along the beach. These are large schools of spots rummaging along the bottom, stirring up the mud and sand for food. You also may notice that the spots don’t go under the pier but around the end and angle back to the beach on a 30- to 45-degree angle and not down the other side of the pier. Why do they go around rather than under? Pier trolls! Just too dangerous.
Oh yes, the yellow bellies? These are the mature fish that get that distinctive yellow from hormonal changes prior to spawning. These fish live only about five years and mature at around three years of age.
Aside from the piers, where are the hot spots for spots? The usual locations include the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) around the Emerald Isle bridge and Trout Creek in Emerald Isle, south of the White Oak River bridges in Swansboro, near the former Beaufort drawbridge at Gallant’s Channel, and more recently, there are fish being caught at the newish Morehead City pier along the Newport River on Radio Island.
Every year, we are treated to the so-called “spot yachts” along the ICW, but please exercise care, common sense and some civil etiquette and manners, which will make it a better experience for all involved. And please keep your boat out of the center of the ICW, so as to not obstruct normal boat traffic, or the Coast Guard may have to remind you.
Remember, if you catch a cooler full of spots, you will then have to clean a cooler of spots! I hope that this is a better spot season than we have had over the last four or five years, which have been very disappointing.
So how is the spot fishing?
Well, it’s just starting to show signs of life. Bogue Inlet Pier had a good run over the weekend, especially at night, which is always a good time to catch spots and their cousins, the sea mullet.
By the way, the fall run of sea mullet is also starting to pick up. As we saw in the spring, fishing the Nos. 18 and 19 buoys in Beaufort Inlet has started to produce nice fish on home modified speck rigs tipped with shrimp or Sam’s Gitters Spec-Rigs. There are also grays in the mix too.
The inside fishing for trout, drum and flounder continues to be excellent, from the New River to the Highway 24 creeks, to Core Creek and the Newport River and their feeder creeks over to North River and Harkers Island marshes and Ward’s Creek.
MirrOlures, Gulp! baits, Z-Man soft plastics and live baits are catching quality fish.
I did try to scare up some specks at Schoolhouse Creek on Sunday but had no success. There is plenty of bait, and there were some feeding fish busting the peanut pogies and mullet but none eating my fare.
If you care, the flounder bite is on fire! Another fishery that is going strong is the old drum bite in the Neuse. This should be still hot through much of October, after which the spawners will leave for the ocean again. But remember, these evacuating fish are often a good target around the inlet they are exiting and around the menhaden schools around Cape Lookout.
The surf has gotten Lorenzoed!
Big swells and beach over-wash are making fishing tough. Where is Goldilocks when I need her.
Mostly, anglers are catching rat reds below the 18-inch slot and nice big fish above the 27-inch slot, but not many that are just right! Also, many of the catches are on whole or cut mullet.
There are some flounder and speckled trout in the mix too, along with small blues and some Spanish and false albies if you are throwing small metals.
The interesting catch (hookup actually) of the week, was another brief turn with a tarpon at Fort Macon. The tarpon are migrating back south for the winter. There are also blues, Spanish and some reds there.
With an impending cold front for the coming weekend, I’m looking forward to an invigorated speckled trout activity along the surf.
From the piers, Oceanana Pier reports a good week with specks and Spanish, blues spots and false albacore.
Bogue Inlet Pier had Spanish, blues, specks, small drum, a 1-pound croaker and some pompano and a king mackerel head. The shark got the rest. That’s only nine for the year, while last year they were well into the teens by now. They also had a nice run of spots over the weekend.
Seaview Pier reports lotsa of spotsa, mullet, croaker, Spanish, blues and specks.
Surf City reports blues, Spanish spots early in the week and pompano. No kings.
Jolly Roger Pier had a good week with blues, mullet, lots of spots, pompano, trout Spanish and flounder.
Nearshore over the wrecks, rocks and reefs, there are big Spanish taking live baits, along with false albacore and pounder-blues out to Cape Lookout.
Kings are hitting well in their fall mode from 4 to 10 miles out in 40 to 65 feet of water. Troll them up with dead baits or artificials or use live menhaden if you want some bigger fish. There is also still a good bite on the east side of the lookout shoals.
Offshore has gotten bumpy from Lorenzo, but the wahoo action is excellent from the Big Rock to the Swansboro Hole.
FYI, Bogue Banks stopnets and gill nets have again been authorized by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).
This is to run from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30. For details, go the NCDMF website and pull up proclamations M-18-2019 and M-19-2019 (http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamation-m-18-2019, http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamation-m-19-2019).
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.