What’s black and white and “red” all over? Of course, that’s the old newspaper riddle.
So, let’s try again: what’s extremely elongated, compressed body tapering to a point and as shiny as a “ribbon” of aluminum foil? Answer, a ribbon, aka cutlass, scabbard, saber or even a hairtail fish.
The last few weeks, I’ve been writing about lesser known fish of the Crystal Coast. Of course, ribbonfish are not exactly rare here, but they are not well recognized by the average weekend angler. These fish are rarely targeted by local anglers except for people using them for offshore, big-fish baits, but lately, they have seemed to pop up in numbers I don’t remember in the past.
I have caught a few in School House Creek on artificials and got to see them in action, going totally airborne attacking a school of finger mullet just downriver of the White Oak River bridges while cast-netting flounder bait with Capt. Jeff Cronk some years ago. More recently, reports from Bogue Inlet Pier, Seaview Pier and others have reported numbers being landed on GotCha plugs meant for Spanish mackerel, and more surprisingly, a report of several being landed just outside of Bogue Inlet caught on Clarkspoons, again meant for Spanish mackerel.
Although the elongated compressed body and brilliant shine are impressive, the head has the mouth of a dragon with a jutting lower jaw stacked with an impressive array of needle-like fang teeth. I twice have noted elongated and compressed in reference to their body, but you can’t get the real feeling of how elongated and how compressed these fish are until you appreciate that they can grow to 7 or 8 feet in length with a maximum body weight of only 10 to 12 pounds. Wow, that’s skinny!
These fish can live up to 15 years and survive in both brackish and marine waters from the shallows to 300 feet or more. They also prefer water temperatures in excess of 70 degrees and are found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
They feed on crustaceans, small fish (anchovies, finger mullet, sardines, silversides) shrimp and squid. They have an interesting feeding behavior that I witnessed in the White Oak River incident. These fish are surface feeders, feeding with tail down hovering just under the surface and rising to the surface to strike, and as I witnessed, going spectacularly vertically airborne. As mentioned, they are mostly a surprise bycatch on cut bait, squid, or more likely, small metal baits like Stingsilvers or even while trolling Clarkspoons. Recent pier catches were with GotCha artificials.
And yes, they are edible. Here, they are mostly released, or if they are targeted, used for offshore baits. Much of the eating is by Asian populations in Japan, Korea and Vietnam or local Asians familiar with these fish. Ribbonfish are normally cut into “steaklets” 2 to 6 inches, coated with flour and pan fried or fried in a wok or just grilled. Big ones can be filleted, using ginger and green onions as flavoring. Some are marinated in wine, floured and fried or braised and served with kimchi.
Also, since they are so thin, they are easily dried. Give them a try next time you catch some! For photos of ribbonfish check out: https://www.ncoif.com/fun-with-fish-id/.
Fishing this week has been highlighted with the mackerels being top billing.
The last week marked a notable upsurge in menhaden schools drifting up and down the beach, no doubt firing up the recent king and big Spanish mackerel action.
Nearshore kings have been weighed in up to 45 pounds, and during action on Bogue Inlet Pier this past weekend, at least a dozen fish were weighed in, topping out at 39 pounds by Governor Carter. In fact, one 25-pounder was landed on Bogue Inlet Pier using a recently caught ribbonfish.
Along with the kings, Spanish were also weighed in with some over 5 pounds, using live shad baits. The menhaden also have fired up the tarpon on Bogus Banks and Topsail piers. I have also heard of false albies among the great mack attack. And one day last week, Spanish and blues (yes, some blues!) blitzed Beaufort Inlet.
This time of year, we are all looking toward the Neuse River for old drum. According to Capt. Gary Dubiel (https://specfever.com/), there is some old red action in the Neuse River but nowhere near peak season yet. The Neuse River speck bite has been steady in the main river, along with slot reds. Slot reds also continue to headline the marshes from the Newport River to Swansboro. Early morning action still will get you both topwater reds and specks.
Again, the Morehead City Port area and ALL of its structure will get you just about anything you want to target, from sheepshead to big gray trout, specks, reds…you get the idea, and yes, flounder of course. I did see one post from a local angler working the Banks Channel that runs along the west side of Emerald Isle, and he reported some speckled trout and flounder. It’s a long channel running from the bridge, west to Burden’s Rip with marsh, cut through creeks on both sides and sand flats.
Surf action still disappoints. Sunday morning, I worked the Emerald Isle Point. There was a great rising tide, the clearest water I have seen all month, a beautiful fishy looking sandbar and no birds, no bait, no fish. Sounds like no shirt, no shoes, no service! Indeed, NO service and NO fish, NO nothing (sic). I saw only one other angler working the inlet area…yup, nothing there either.
So how about ocean piers?
Guess what? They were showing some signs of life this past week, some variety, with kings, probably since the menhaden have showed up, trout and drum too.
Oceanana Pier reports croakers, pigfish, red and black drum and specks to 3.5 pounds.
Bogue Inlet Pier showed a bit of life this week with some blues showing, a few big Spanish, spadefish (I told you so!), sheepshead, croakers, spots, and the big news of course, the king blitz over the weekend, a dozen or more big fish.
Seaview Pier reports MORE RIBBONFISH, sea mullet, trout, flounder, several tarpon hook-ups and 10 kings since last Friday.
Surf City Pier also had kings, four this past week, BIG Spanish, both trouts, spots, flounder, blues and big pompano.
Jolly Roger Pier reports big Spanish on live bait, black drum at night, some blues showing up, and tarpon are also putting on a show while busting tackle. Interestingly, there have been a number of smallish tarpon hooking up on GotChas, in the 10- to 30-pound range and a monster crevalle jack netted and released at 41 pounds. We don’t usually see these juvenile tarpon here, but action is better.
Finally, some FYIs: New Oregon Inlet Fishing Pier is expected to open in late summer or early fall 2021: https://islandfreepress.org/fishing-report/new-oregon-inlet-fishing-pier-expected-to-open-in-late-summer/. This is great news as they finish road and pier work for this great viewing and fishing location. The 1,046-feet structure is the remnant section of the former Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which was left intact to serve as an observation deck and fishing pier, and yes, it’s over 1,000 feet.
Emerald Isle is planning to explore moving the boat-launch channel to combat erosion: https://www.carolinacoastonline.com/news_times/article_a2a45d2e-e677-11eb-986b-cb0cec0bb19f.html. I’m not sure what options they have other than enforcing the no-wake zone outside in and just outside the channel. Maybe they will come up with restructuring options or ways of attenuating the boating wakes.
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.