This past week was wet, recently cool with daytime temperatures holding in the 70s and northeast winds, falling surf and sound water temperatures, giving us the feeling of fall.
The mullet baits again responded appropriately, pouring en masse into the ocean surf starting last Friday and through the weekend. Last week, I examined the predatory response to the fall awakenings. This week, I’ll dwell on the bottom feeders.
The most asked question I get this time of year is where are the spots? Yes, the sulfur butterflies are doing what yellow butterflies do in October, so are the spots far behind or not? The reports farther north in the Mid-Atlantic states are that the spots are in good numbers coming out of the Delaware and Chesapeake bays, and at Topsail Piers, they report an early strong showing, probably fish emerging from the New River.
Here on Bogue Banks, we have seen a trickle of spots but none of the sexually mature “yellow belly” spots hormonally ready for their winter spawn. This has been a trend, not just the last few years, but more like a decade of scanty fall spot runs. We really haven’t seen the monthlong surge of spot yachts lining the Intracoastal Waterway around the Emerald Isle bridge and south of the White Oak River bridges. Going over the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries catch statistics indicate as much as a 10-fold reduction from historic highs. Thus, NCDMF has even recently imposed bag limits for spots and croakers.
Spots are not the only bottom dwellers we like to target as fall progresses toward winter. There have been recent reports of excellent catches of fall sea mullet around the Coast Guard Station at Fort Macon on shrimp-tipped Sam’s Gitters (aka modified speck rigs). This is extending into Beaufort Inlet and out to Cape Lookout and probably the Dead Tree Hole off Shackleford Banks. Both Oceanana and Bogue Inlet piers are starting to see fall sea mullet. Remember the excellent spring and actually late winter catches around Beaufort Inlet? Mullet were plentiful, and fish were big.
Just last week, we had some admirable catches of south-going pompano. These weren’t citation fish, but they were plentiful and most between a half to 1 pound in weight. These fish came in strong in the recent clean and green surf and were caught on fleas, shrimp and pink Fishbites. Like the sea mullet, these make excellent table fare and don’t need to be overcooked or over spices. Just keep it simple by broiling with a tad of lemon butter, salt and pepper … well, maybe some thyme wouldn’t hurt.
In the spring, we see the arrival of sheepshead during the season’s hungry phase. In the spring and now in the fall, they feed heavily to recover first from the past winter and now prepare for leaner times during the oncoming winter months. We see them around the port area, Fort Macon, fishing piers and out to the Cape Lookout Rock Jetty.
A lookalike to the sheepshead, but from the drum family, is the black drum. Since recent regulations on creel limits and slot limit, they have become a reliable staple throughout the year, including winter. Fish are getting bigger and more plentiful. You will catch them in the backwaters all summer and throughout the winter, from port area and also the Lookout Jetty and beach surf. They are a definitely a success story of reasonable regulations. Sheepshead and black drum are both munchers and crunchers, so they are often found in the same territories and feed on the same crunchy stuff.
Last but not least, well maybe least, is the northern puffers or blowfish. They are not pretty, don’t fight at all and can be easily caught in numbers and taste great. They are not big, so catching numbers is important if you need to feed more than one hungry person. Catching is not hard. Just a standard two-hook bottom rig and some fresh shrimp are needed. Cleaning is not hard, but you need to get the technique right and use a sharp knife. Check out my pufferfish primer: https://www.ncoif.com/pufferfish-primer/.
One thing on bait, mullet is plentiful, and there are still sand fleas to be had. Now is a good time to stock up your freezer for the winter and early spring when those baits are not available. For the fleas, try parboiling before freezing. They take on that bright orange crabby color and still make great baits. And as far as shrimp, use people shrimp, not bait shrimp. It will easily out-fish mushy, old, refrozen bait, and if you have some left over … you still have a shrimp cocktail appetizer.
This past week’s weather and winds and baits in the surf have woken up the bluefish bite at Bogue Inlet Pier, triggered by some hot speck action while using artificials, as well as live finger mullet baits. It’s now time to hit the surf for specks.
My 52M and TT MirrOlures are spit-shined and ready to go. Check your rusty hooks! I mentioned specks, but the grays are also biting well with many fish now pushing 18 inches or bigger. Jigging around the turning basin and bridges from the Atlantic Beach Causeway to the train trestle to the high-rise bridge to Radio Island are all good places to jig your favorite metals and soft plastics on a jig head. By the way speck rigs, Sam’s Gitters will stir up sea mullet, puffers, croakers and trout as well.
I mentioned the Cape Lookout Rock Jetty, and of course the shoals, as great structures to fish pretty much all year around. A litany of one angler’s memorable trip to Cape Lookout included Spanish, blues red and black drum, crevalle jacks, pompano, ladyfish, flounder, sea mullet, croakers and even blacktip sharks. Must have been a bad day … I guess the false albacore took the day off! I did mention Spanish.
We know what a great season it’s been for BIG Spanish. How about a recent Spanish weighing in at 11 pounds caught on live finger mullet not far off Bogue Banks? The big ones are taking live baits.
This past week, I fished the surf at The Point in Emerald Isle a couple of days.
There was plenty of bait with blues and reds being caught on cut or live mullet, but fish turning up their noses at my tasty-looking Kastmaster.
Between that and getting tangled with bottom anglers not minding their lines, I went home emptyhanded and brokenhearted.
I did release some bluefish.
Inside fishing is also holding up well with specks and reds in the marsh flats.
Migrating fish should be slowly be moving back inside and into the backwater creeks to overwinter. This will be taking effect as the water temperatures keep dropping. This time of year, I like to work soft plastics and Gulps! on a cork and the so-called suspending baits, like the ever popular 17 MR baits. Work them low and slow, then stop.
Yep, that’s when the fish strike, not while the bait is moving. Trust me. By the way, the 17 MR takes about 10 seconds to sink 6 feet. Although the sink rate depends on salinity and water temperature, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to start with.
So how about fishing piers?
Oceanana Pier reports BIG Spanish again to 6 pounds, false albies to 8.5 pounds, blues, red drum a few spots and sea mullet showing up.
Bogue Inlet Pier reports a mixed bag of fish, from Spanish and blues to sea mullet, a few specks and nice catches of fall pompano on shrimp, fleas and great on Fishbites. This week, specks are now showing strong on bait and artificials and some puffers turning up already as well. Anglers caught nine kings for this year’s annual Bogue Inlet Pier King Mackerel Tournament, with Tom Bottoms winning with his citation 35.7-pound fish caught on the last day of the tournament.
Seaview Pier reports spots, sea mullet, Spanish, blues and reds, but no kings last week.
Surf City Pier reports the spots are showing up nicely on bloodworms, Spanish and pompano and a few kings to round out the week.
Jolly Roger Pier reports four kings last week, as well as big, fat Spanish, spots and a few trout.
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.