Summer spades … pretty tasty and a schooling fish too, so what do they eat and how do you catch them?
Spadefish have very small mouths and no teeth but strong jaws and feed upon crustaceans, small mollusks, jellyfish and plankton drifting in the water column. So, baits include clams, shrimp and chunks of the outer mantle of the cannonball jellyfish abundant here year-round.
They are often found in large schools around reefs, wrecks and rocks, including any of our multitude of nearshore artificial reefs AR 315, 320, 330 out of Beaufort Inlet and to the west AR 340, 342 and 345 out of Bogue Inlet, and don’t forget the rock ledges.
Typically, you can work one of the reefs by chumming up the spades. If you have clam baits, as you open the clams, let the juice drip into a bucket and use as chum. Also, many use jellyfish chunks or a “string” of cannonball jellies on a rope or string or held by coat hanger. The whole cannonball or cabbage head jellies, as they are also are known, can be dropped to depth, and when you “feel” some feeding action, slowly bring it to surface as the spades follow it up to the surface.
Since spadefish have really small mouths, small hooks are a must, preferably a No. 4 long shank J-hook, and more recently, small 1/0-circle hooks have proven effective, tipped with chunks of jellyfish mantle or piece of clam or shrimp. If you take the circle hook route, setting the hook when you feel a bite will end up in disappointment since you will pull the hook out of its mouth before the circle hook can do its job, so “dead sticking” is the preferred technique. That is, leave the rod in the boat’s rod holder and take the rod once the fish has hooked itself. Believe me, it will work. Often, baits are floated on a cork with a short 2-to 3-foot leader with a small split shot to keep the bait below the cork.
Spades, with their flat bodies, are great fighters and dive down to the reef once hooked, but since most fish are 2 to 5 pounds, light tackle is fine with a 7-foot boat rod and 2500-4000 class spinning gear spooled with 10- to 15-pound test line.
If you are really adventurous, there are indeed fish caught on the fly with tan or white fuzzy patterns, mimicking chunks of jellyfish or clams and fished in your chum slick. Intermediate floating with sinking leader or slow sinking line, 2-foot fluorocarbon tippet and an eight-weight fly gear will do the trick. I actually know an adventuresome fly angler who has caught spades on the fly using this approach!
By the way, the current top spadefish was caught by Steven Chadwick in 2009 off Hatteras Village and weighed in at a hefty 11 pounds, 3 ounces.
So, I haven’t seen much spadefish action reported yet, and in general, this week was a bit of a struggle.
With the relentless Bermuda High pounding us with persistent red-flag winds and muddying up the 83-degree surf, beach and pier action were slow, and it seems that the Spanish mackerel and false albacore action was pushed out into deeper, cooler water.
I’ve had reports of little or no success out of Bogue Inlet as well, and one angler working from Beaufort Inlet out to Cape Lookout in 20 to 40 feet of water, reported very disappointing results.
Interestingly, these conditions have created a situation where ribbonfish (cutlass fish) were being hauled in on Clarkspoons trolled in search of Spanish mackerel. The ribbons were caught just outside of Bogue Inlet and indeed on Clarkspoons. Earlier this month, there were also many landed on GotCha plugs fished from the king zone of Bogue Inlet Pier.
Here is the déjà vu thing again with good action in numbers and variety in the Morehead City Turning Basin. You pick it … red and black drum, sheepshead, a few Spanish, plenty of flounder, the trouts, you pick it. The inside drum bite is also still holding
From east to west in the marshes and flats with topwater baits is still viable, especially early in the day. There are also flounder of course and specks too, along with sheepshead and black drum. Just a reminder, this week, today through Sunday, we have king tides, so get your flat boats ready for some tailing drum action.
So how about ocean piers?
Yup, typical summer “doldramatic” fishing. Oceanana Pier reports sloooow … with croakers, pigs and mullets.
Bogue Inlet Pier has had a few big Spanish on king rigs hitting shad baits. Bottom fishing is slow with some croakers, blues and trout on bottom rigs, along with random mullet and some flounder. There was also a tarpon release recorded at the pier. Also, for the past week, there have been schools of menhaden finally sighted passing the pier. This has to be good news. Notably, there were not many local regulars fishing the pier. While getting my water temperatures from the pier, I was surveying the folks crabbing from there, and they are not a happy lot. The crabbing so far this summer has been very spotty and slow.
Seaview Pier reports a few blues and Spanish early and no kings since June 30. Bottom action is producing some croakers and black drum, and the anglers targeting sheepshead are doing very well.
Surf City Pier reports a slow week with mostly small summer spots highlighting the catches.
Jolly Roger Pier also reports a slow week with spots, mullet and biggish croakers, along with an excellent trout bite at night with fish to 6.25 pounds. They also reported schools of menhaden, along with tarpon strikes. One notable problem this year … where are the bluefish?
Finally, the July 2021 survey of Bogue Inlet by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirming what you boaters already know … there are some nasty pinch points from in the connecting channel around markers No. 13 and No. 14, as well as farther out at marker No. 5.
This was the preliminary survey prior to some scheduled dredging of Bogue Inlet. The inlet has held up well since the last dredging back in 2017. If you want to see the survey for the connector channel log onto: https://eft.usace.army.mil/saw-nav/INLETS/BOGUE/Bogue_Inlet_Inside.pdf, for the ocean bar: https://eft.usace.army.mil/saw-nav/INLETS/BOGUE/Bogue_Inlet_OB.pdf.
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.