After a spectacular weekend full of sun and an overabundance of visitors, we got “Arthurized” to the tune of nearly 4 inches of rain, the now unofficial start to the 2020 hurricane season.
The passing of Tropical Storm Arthur has left the surf to the surfers and given us muddy and rough surf to us anglers.
By the way, this past weekend had the trademarks of a typical sundrenched Fourth of July holiday festivities. Man, was Emerald Isle and the beach packed and car traffic stop and go all the way up Highways 24 and 58 to our neighboring counties! Although we are in Safe Boating Week (https://wcti12.com/news/local/coast-guard-offers-safety-tips-for-national-safe-boating-week), the waterways brought out more the feeling of Unsafe Boating Week!
Be careful out there.
One thing that brought out the boaters in droves was the on-fire Spanish mackerel bite.
Fish were along the surf, from the pier, around inlets and over any nearshore artificial reef or any of natural rock ledges along the Crystal Coast.
This week, I’ll talk specifics of pier fishing for these small members of the Scombridae family which also includes the cero and king mackerels, tunas, wahoo and bonitos.
Typically, the Spanish mackerel return in a blitz condition in early May and along the Crystal Coast, and May Day has been synonymous with the return of the Spanish. This is, however, fairly remarkable since barely a couple of decades ago, the fishery was on the verge of collapse from overfishing in the 1970s and 1980s but now is a shining light of successful fisheries management. At this time here in North Carolina, the creel limit is now up to 15 Spanish mackerel per day, and the average fish is getting noticeably bigger and bigger every year.
Make no mistake about it, one of the most used and successful baits for Spanish mackerel, especially from piers, is a lead-weighted piece of plastic laced with gold treble hooks, known as the Got-Cha plug. The crank-and-jerk retrieve works wonders and will land, not only Spanish, but many other predators as well. Many color combinations are available, but white and chartreuse bodies with Day-Glo orange, pink, red, blue, green or chartreuse lead heads are most popular.
Walking the pier from the Ides of April through November’s turkey day can be a perilous duty indeed. Blues and Spanish are flying and flopping while Got-Chas chartreuse and white are being slung in directions that defy gravity, going to and from locations only Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter can comprehend. Unfortunately, it’s a common sight throughout the fishing season.
Ever try to grasp a feisty fish with a multi-troubled trebled gold hooked Got-Cha…or wrestle the fish to the boards, grab the needle-nosed pliers and surgically remove as many hooks as are imbedded…or safely return the fish to the sea or plunk him into the cooler?
The latter is the ideal course of action, but we all know that in the heat of battle, like during a typical Spanish blitz, the ideal is somewhere in “Wonderland” with Alice and the crazed Hatter and the final destination of the golden hooks often un-intentioned. And with all the great darting action of the plug, many of the fish are foul-hooked. We have all seen the results, with fingers, shirts, pants, foreheads and other bodily parts and appendages torn. Ouch #*@%&*!!
Don’t get me wrong, Got-Chas are great, Got-Chas are good, and we thank Sea Striker for all those fish, but there are safer alternatives. Here are some suggestions:
1) Remove one of the trebles back if Spanish are about, front is blues are about. Blues bite the tail, Spanish go for the jugular (head). This way, the only hooks are ones in the fish.
2) Mash the barbs, just keep the pressure on, and your capture rate will be nearly the same as with barbs. Just your personal bodily release rate will go up dramatically. Think easy in, easy out!
3) Go to the single hook Got-Cha with a treble up front and a single hook bucktail in the back.
4) Dr. Bogus’ favorite: switch to a 5/8 chartreuse or white lead jig head and 4-inch clear plastic (with sparkles of course) Fin-S or Trout Killer grub. These days, the tough ZMan baits hold up much better than the standard soft plastics. The advantage is mouth-hooked fish almost all the time and five less excess hooks to worry about as the fish comes over the railings. “Fish coming over” will have a new meaning. Fear of the fish coming off prematurely while launching a Got-Cha into friend, neighbor or complete stranger is a thing of the past, and hook removal is a snap. Yes, you have to change off the shredded mutilated grub every couple of fish, but it’s still cheaper than a Got-Cha and they get bitten off too.
5) “The Bare and the Baitless” – the gold hook rigs, they simply work! These are strings of five or six No. 2 or No. 4 long-shank gold hooks strung on a 40-pound mono line terminated with a diamond jig as a casting weight and imitating a school of small fish. These also catch blues, pompano, spots and occasionally hook a bigger fish.
6) Some of the biggest Spanish every year are bagged on live-lined shad or finger mullet free-spooled on long shank with a No. 2 gold hook or on a cork or a slider rig. Remember, citation weight for Spanish is 6 pounds.
As I have mentioned, the Spanish bite has been off the scale this spring and been mixed in with blues, plus there are still Atlantic bonito being caught.
Many Spanish are in the 3- to 4-pound range, and the bonito are up to 7 pounds. Yes, the bonito have bulked up from the early season 3- and 4-pounders.
Fish have been caught from piers and from the Atlantic Beach to Emerald Isle surf. If you are boating, fish have been hot on ARs 315, 320 and 342, in and out of Beaufort and Bogue inlets to 50 feet of water, out to Cape Lookout, and don’t forget the rocky ledges like Keypost and out to Southeast Bottoms. There are big gray trout on the reefs too.
Speaking of Southeast Bottoms, king mackerel have shown up there, as well as keeper grouper and sea bass, and that’s only about 10 miles out of Bogue Inlet. I have even heard of Spanish and blues up river in the Neuse, as well as bluefish foraging in Slocum Creek!
As for big chopper blues, they seem to have remained offshore so far with some medium-sized fish out at Cape Lookout. Just three years ago, we had chopper blues blitzing the surf and hooking up with topwater baits. Interestingly, another blackfin tuna was landed on a nearshore reef and weighed in at almost 30 pounds.
The inside bite is featuring reds working back into the grass marshes like the Haystacks, where you can find reds, specks, and yes, a good number of catch-and-release founder. Remember, flounder are in the no-no category until mid-August. Inside is also producing big sheepshead to 8 pounds on crunchy baits like sand fleas and fiddler crabs.
Now it’s past mid-May closing in on Memorial Day, so where are the cobia? Nice menhaden bait balls are around Bogue Inlet Pier and reported from Harkers Island to Cape Lookout but are not being threatened by big blues or cobia.
Finally, there were a couple of cobia weighed in at Chasin’ Tails, but that’s pretty slim pickings for late May. There are reports from the Outer Banks of some big cobia, so some speculation is that they have already passed us by. By the way, some of the local tackle shops are carrying eels for cobia bait, so hopefully we will see a season.
The sea mullet season continues in pretty good shape with fish from the local surf and at night from piers, and we’ve heard of fish in the Dead Tree Hole just off Shackleford Banks.
Now for the ocean fishing piers. All Bogue Banks and Topsail Island ocean fishing piers are now open for business with obvious restrictions, and Fort Macon is also open.
Bogue Inlet Pier had had a real mix last week with good blues and especially Spanish, some big pompano, sea mullet on sand fleas, and I saw a spot and a slot black drum too.
Oceanana Pier reported some blues and a crazy Spanish bite.
Ditto for Seaview Pier and also sea mullet at night. They have also recorded their first king mackerel.
Surf City Pier reported lots of Spanish and blues with croakers and sea mullet at night.
Jolly Roger Pier also had a great week with Spanish and blues, as well as sea mullet and some catch-and-release flounder.
Offshore, big gaffer mahi-mahi are being caught, some over 50 pounds.
There are also yellowfin tuna north of the Big Rock, and the blue marlin bite is heating up just in time for the pending Big Rock Tourney. Looks like we may have a great 2020 tourney in the making with the 23rd annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler Tournament on Saturday, June 6, and the Big Rock Tournament on Monday through Saturday, June 8-13.
To our north, the striper action is still hot in the Roanoke River at Weldon, but remember, it’s single barbless hooks and only catch and release is in effect.
Finally, the unusual catch of the week…a guitar fish, something betwixt and between a shark and skate. Check them out if you’ve never seen one.
Next week, boating for Spanish. Take care, be safe and catch some fish.
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.