Every year as we get into the sulfur butterfly season, the thoughts of many traditionalists turn to spot season.
Ocean fishing piers fill up shoulder to shoulder, especially on the left side of piers, and the spot yachts magically appear, dotting the deeper holes toward the inlets along the Intracoastal Water Way (ICW). Why? Spots school up in the backwaters as they make their yearly fall spawning trip into the ocean. As for the yellow bellies, which undergo hormonal changes that take place for mature spawning fish, these are the bigger and more prized of the species.
Spots are one of the more diminutive members of the ever-popular drum family which include sand perches, spots, sea mullet, croakers, gray and speckled trout, and their biggest cousins, the red and black drum.
Spots are abundant from the Delaware Bay to Georgia in the summer and move to spawn offshore to the edge of the Continental Shelf in the winter. Spots reach their maturity in year 2 to 3. Most fish are about 7 to 10 inches and 2 years old. Citation size for your special spot is 1 pound.
So, if you have fished for spots over the decades, have you noticed any changes in your catches, including size, abundance, season and spots actually with yellow bellies?
I went back to the state statistics for commercial landings for spots, which data goes back to 1972. A plot of the data (pounds per year vs. year) shows a dramatic exponential decrease in pounds caught per year over the decades from 1972 to 2019. To easily summarize the date, I averaged the poundage caught for the first 5 years (1972-1976) compared with the last 5 years (2015-2019), and the numbers don’t lie. The first 5 years, catches averaged over 5 million pounds per year, whereas the last five years has an average of only a smidge over 300,000 pounds per year…yikes!
There are some things as complicated as brain surgery or rocket science, but catching spots is NOT one of them. Standard two- or three-hook bottom rigs on light tackle, with a No. 2 or No. 4 long shank hook is all it takes. Traditional baits are bloodworms (or even earthworms) or small bits of fresh shrimp. These days, Fishbites Bag o’ Worms is the new-age mainstay for baits. Cut a half inch bit off the Fishbites strip and put it on your hook, and voila: no muss, no fuss, no blood nor wiggly worms, and you can catch spots, mullet, red or black drum, you name it, and the Fishbites don’t go bad.
I actually did some field testing of several Fishbites formulations as Dr. Bill Carr and associates were deciding on the best bait to mass produce. Dr. Carr was a professor at the University of Florida specializing in fish feeding behavior, and by the way, it’s a great bait!
So, the how is pretty straight forward, but where is the big question. That is the east/north side of North Carolina’s ocean fishing piers, deep sloughs either side of a beach sandbar, deep areas in the sound, like the ICW, around inlets.
Inside catches are found back of Hardee’s in Beaufort, the Morehead City Port Turning Basin, Gallants Channel, Duke Marine Lab, around the Emerald high-rise bridge, Trout Creek, and the White Oak River/ICW south of the White Oak bridges. But please Keep out of the way of boat traffic in ICW. The Coast Guard will cite you if you don’t.
When you fish the ocean piers, you will notice one peculiar thing as schools of spots are coming down the beach, stirring up mud as they feed on the bottom. They will NOT go under the pier, but instead go around the end of the pier, then angle back to the beach. Pier trolls?
So right now, the spot season is just starting to fire up with some at the piers, around the inlets and Gallants Channel and a few in the surf. We will have to see if we have a season the old-timers remember or the new normal. Yellow bellies anyone?
This week, although a bit spotty, showed signs of life.
The inside reds are schooling up in good numbers, so if you find a school, you can hit the mother lode.
This is also showing along the beach where catching of single scattered fish has been rare, but multiple hookups have occurred as a school of reds moves down the beach. This has especially the case around Fort Macon where the bite has been hot, spreading down to Emerald Isle but thinning out. Cut mullet is currently out-fishing metals and plastics.
The surf has had catches of pompano (some pounders to juvies), spots and mullet, along with the bashers like big fat Spanish mackerel, blues to 5 pounds, and if you are in the right place at the right time, false albacore.
By the way, not only has the red fishing picked up here on Bogue Banks but on Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands as well. And don’t forget the black drum.
I mentioned the false albacore. These can be a thrill to hook and catch, but they often can get sooooo fussy and won’t take any bait you have in your tackle box.
The problem is “snot bait.” They are eating fish larvae which look like a piece of snot with a black spot and nothing.
Near the beach, there is a real mix of fun fish.
I mentioned albies, but there are also big fat Spanish, hefty pounder blues and even some ladyfish all taking shiny artificials and flies. Also in the mix are king mackerel from Northwest Places all the way to the nearshore reefs and to the beach and piers.
Inside, the drum bite has been good as the fish school up, and the trout bite is still holding up too, although we have only seen a scattering along the surf and piers so far.
Neuse and New rivers are yielding big trout with plenty of topwater action. Closer to home, Core Creek from the lower mouth to the Neuse is producing fish on live bait and artificials.
There are fish in The Haystacks too. If you are using live shrimp, you can also by-catch black drum, reds and sheepshead, although the sheepshead are moving out for the winter, which means some are being caught in the surf, from the ocean piers and around the rock jetties.
Aside from the surf, I also worked some of the Bogue Sound creeks looking for some speckled trout.
On Sunday, I got wet and skunked with some near misses. I had several hits on plastic shrimp and a 17-MR MirrOlure that almost jolted my rod from my wet fingers. Each big whack added another hour to my efforts. You all know what I mean! There was bait in the creek, some corn cob mullet and peanut pogies and some big trout or red drum. Next time!
Now for the piers. Kings and fat Spanish have highlighted the piers this week.
Oceanana Pier had a good week with Spanish, big blues, false albies, trout early in the day, a few spots and a bunch of ribbon fish (Google them).
Bogue Inlet Pier is having its annual king mackerel tourney this week and has weighed in five kings, two over 30 pounds, and the winner, a 37.9-pounder caught by Vandexter Williams. I also saw a shark-shortened king that weighed in as a 16-pound remnant. They also weighed in big fat Spanish, false albacore, blues to 6 pounds, a few reds and several black drum, and smallish bottom fare like pompano and sea mullet. I even saw a ladyfish.
Seaview Pier reports a couple kings last week, big Spanish, spots, sea mullet and pompano.
Surf City Pier reports several kings and big Spanish, spot, mullet and pompano.
Jolly Roger Pier weighed in several kings last week, blues, Spanish, sea mullet and spots at night.
It was again fun to post a positive report this week. It can only get better.
So be kind, drive the beach safely, catch fish, and enjoy our lovely this fall beaches.
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.