There’s an old adage that notes good fishing and structure go hand-in-hand.
Food and shelter beget little fish, which beget bigger fish and so on to the biggest of fish. This goes for freshwater, saltwater, inshore, offshore and any shore you want to mention.
North Carolina, appropriately known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, is awash in structure with wrecks, reefs and rocks that dot our coast from north to south. The central Crystal Coast region of the Old North State is particularly notable due to the proximity of natural nearshore rocks and reefs readily accessible to the weekend small boater. Nearshore rocks like Lost Rock, Christmas Rock and Honeymoon Rock are local fish havens, as well as popular and productive fishing locations, but did you ever wonder how they got their names? I certainly have!
To demystify this lore of the sea, I consulted Capt. Lee Manning, a former school teacher turned charter boat captain many years ago. Capt. Manning currently still operates the Nancy Lee Fishing Center in Swansboro, and his experience not only holds the key to finding fish, but as a long resident of the area, he has absorbed much of the local lore of the rocks and reefs as well.
Highlighting the accessibility of these fishing structures, Manning said, “Well, we’re fortunate, out of Bogue Inlet that we have a lot of rocks that are close to our inlet, probably more than most areas around here. We have probably six or seven that are within four, five, or six miles of the inlet, and most of them are rocky bottom and most of them have coral on them.”
When asked how close is close, Manning said “The closest rocks are probably Station Rock and Keypost within just two or three miles from the Bogue Inlet. Super fishing, all kinds of fish like flounder, sea bass and a little bit of everything, and of course in the spring and fall, we have the king mackerel that come in along with other fish along the shoreline too.”
As fisherman, we’re always interested in what the bottom really looks like. In response, Manning said that, “I’m not a diver, so I have my own imagination. I imagine what it looks like. Over the years, we catch pieces, and it looks like rock. Some of it looks like shell rock, like it’s cemented together. When you pull it up, some is coral. Most all the ledges drop of five, six maybe seven feet, at different points of the rock areas.”
So how did some of these rocks get their names? “First of all, Station Rock,” said Manning, “got its name years ago before we had the Lorans and GPSs and all the sophisticated equipment. You would use the Swansboro Coast Guard Station. It had a tower on it, a lookout tower. You lined the tower up with the Swansboro water tower, and you go straight out. With your ‘paper machine,’ which we had then, you would mark the bottom, plus you could use the line up with Bogue (Inlet) Pier and one of the houses on the beach (there were not so many houses on the beach back at that time), and you could find Station Rock real easy. So it was named because of the station lookout on the Coast Guard Station.”
It sure makes sense.
Speaking of making sense, how about 45-Minute Rock? “45-Minute Rock,” said Manning, “Of course back years ago, most of the boats that went out, with the speeds they ran, it took about 45 minutes to get there. They timed it, and they would check the bottom with either wax or pitch from pine tree resin on a drop line and check the bottom and find it where it was shelly or bring up little pieces of rock on it, and of course, they would start fishing in that area.”
Not all the names of the rocks are agreed upon by all. For example, “the Honey Hole and Sponge Rock,” said Manning, “are really the same rock. Over the years, it’s kind of changed. We always called it the Honey Hole. It’s the first section you get to when you go past 45-Minute Rock in a southerly direction. The divers started diving on it and found lots of sponge around the area and they started calling it Sponge Rock. And now the Honey Hole seems like it’s moved a little to the next set of rocks, and people started calling that the Honey Hole. But Honey Hole and Sponge Rock were the same rock in the beginning.
“Farther out is the South East Bottoms, but it is the same thing, it’s generally the first set of rocks to the southeast after you leave 45-Minute Rock.”
When asked about the area, Manning responded, “Southeast Bottoms is a big area, a real big area with a lot of rocks, just to the east, southeast of Charlie (C) Buoy.”
When asked about the fishing the bottoms, Manning smiled and said, “In the summertime, you have all kinds of fish there. You have sailfish, dolphin (mahi), there’s even been wahoo caught out there. There is some of everything caught out in that area. It’s really a super good area and a super good king mackerel area too.”
And it’s less than 10 miles out of Bogue Inlet. Just set a southeasterly course.
With the rock locations well known, most people make the mistake to fish right on top of them, but as Manning was quick to point out, “Most of the rocks, if you go around them and fish them a lot, you’ll find little outcroppings all around the area in any direction. And over the years, as I fish more, I fish where the ledges play out and the bottoms play out, and the fish seem to congregate there more than the main part of the rocks. Maybe it’s because everybody fishes on the main part of the rock and the fish have moved out around the edges.”
So next week, we’ll look at how Lost Rock got lost and what’s the World War II connection with the aptly named Keypost Rocks?
By the time you read this report, the end of flounder season will have come and passed us by for the year, all of two weeks, but an excellent two weeks it was with many limits and citations, some even in the 10- to 12-pound range.
During the last weekend of the open season, flounder were being caught inside and out, on live mullet and shrimp baits. Even when the flounder snubbed the live stuff, according to Capt. Dean Lamont, they couldn’t resist a bucktail tipped with Gulp! shrimp where he boated keepers from 19 to 23 inches from the nearshore reefs, AR 315 and 320. Personally, I came close, losing several at the dock throwing soft plastic shrimps baits, I even had one jaggedly bitten off by a big flounder. Depending where you fished and your bait of choice, usual flounder “by-catch” included red and black drum, sheepshead, bluefish and Spanish and speckled and gray trout to round out your creels.
So now we sit and wait to see what next year’s delegated flounder season will bring.
Going on a tip that some speckled trout were already starting to show in the local overwintering creeks, I worked one of those creeks over the weekend.
On Saturday, I entered what essentially was a wildlife area chock full of majestic pileated woodpeckers, screeching kingfishers, very territorial green herons waring over fishing perches, a small river otter slinking by my feet and plenty of mullet baits splashing around in the creek.
After releasing what must have been citation lizardfish, I did manage a lean 15-inch speck that inhaled a Betts Halo Shrimp, as did the monster lizards. This was my first creek trout of the season for me. Last fall and winter, the bite was excellent, and I’m expecting the same for this year.
Speaking of backwaters, this past week we had the influence of the excessive perigee tides, during which time the orbit of the moon is nearest to the earth, creating larger swings in the tide heights. This was notable as Hurricane Larry and his swells passed us by, over-washing the beach to the base of the dunes and flooding some of the remaining sea turtle nests. It also provided anglers a window to target so-called “tailing” red drum in the flooded grass marshes. Next month, we will have king tides from Oct. 6-12, so mark your calendars.
On Saturday Sept. 4, we had what I noted as our first “mullet blow” of the season filling the surf with mullet baits galore. This past Saturday, on the heels of a brief northeast wind, we had a minor surge of mullet, what I call a “mini mullet blow” as only a few mullet surged to the surf and by Sunday were already nearly thinned out. Be assured, there will be more. There are still plenty of mullet in the backwaters.
Notably this week, we saw some of the best pier and surf bluefish action of the year, from Fort Macon to The Point in Emerald Isle. Finally! Hopefully the reds and specks will follow.
There were also good catches of Spanish in the mix too. Of course, the bluefish action was the bane to flounder anglers as you couldn’t get a whole finger mullet past the blues to the bottom-dwelling flatties. This was particularly a problem for the pier fishermen.
So how about ocean piers?
Oceanana Pier reports a slow week but with keeper flounder to 3 pounds, and they still report some slot reds.
Bogue Inlet Pier had a slowish week but a mixed bag with blues biting off baits meant for flounder, although occasional keepers were caught, one was weighed in at just under 4 pounds. There were also Spanish and several slot reds and decent sea mullet on sand fleas, but I haven’t heard of any fall pompano yet.
Seaview Pier reports slot reds last week, some keeper flounder, mullet and blues and some sheepshead. They had no kings last week.
Surf City Pier reports decent keeper flounder and but also no kings.
Jolly Roger Pier reports a mix of keeper and short flounder, black drum, 2 to 4-pound blues, some spots and croakers. I know you see the yellow sulfur butterflies, but all we see right now are small summer spots. Be patient. October is only a couple weeks away as the yellow-bellied spawners will come out for the winter.
Offshore, the Gulfstream is also producing, especially pre-Larry, with wahoo to 95 pounds and nice catches of mahi-mahi. Keep your eye open for the temperature breaks.
Bottom fishing has also held up with triggers, sea bass and more. With Larry gone, the seas should be accommodating for offshore actin this week, at least for now.
Remember, we are already up to Nicholas slamming into Texas from in the Gulf, and there “weather X’s” out there off the West Coast of Africa that are being watched with interest. We have passed the tropical storm peak of mid-September, but the season officially goes to the end of November, so hold on.
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