One of the great summer baits for all munchers and crunchers, is the lowly mole crab or sand fleas, a.k.a, Emerita talpoida. Although neither flea, nor related to the backyard subterranean ground mole, the sand flea or mole crab, as it is also known, is a wonderful bait. They are found along with the colorful coquina clams in the ocean surf “swash,” in an unending Sisyphian cycle of back and forth, up and down, on the rise and fall of each wave.
Their characteristic “Vs” in the retreating waves give them away. Mole crabs are readily gathered along the surf on the retreating wave, by hand or net, or by commercially available gathering scoops. They are without doubt the best bait after recently shedding their shells and are laden with orange egg masses on their undersides. But the hard shelled versions work great, too.
You can hook small ones one or two at a time, but some like to cut the big ones in half so you get bait and chum all in one. You can also freeze them for winter or early spring fishing.
Some freeze them as they are, and some par-boil them by dumping them in boiling water, then immediately draining them and washing them off with cold water.
One of the eternal questions is how do I find the illusive soft shell mole crabs? Here is one method, give it a try.
As a wave recedes from the sand, it leaves behind a glassy “sheen,” which in turn recedes to the ocean or perhaps sinks into the sand. As it recedes or sinks into the sand, look along the shiny edge (the ocean side) and try to find a round area about the size of a quarter – an area that dries out just before the edge of the sheen recedes around it.
Dig where that spot was and you will find a molted softie sand flea. The best time to catch softies is low tide. You can put the fleas into an open pail with damp, sand and most will stay alive overnight. They make a great bait for early morning surf fishing.
Fished on a Carolina Rig or standard two-hook bottom rig, with No. 2 or No. 4 long shank hooks, they are great bait for pompano, sea mullet, croakers, red drum, black drum, sheepshead, stripers, flounder and more. This time of year, it is indeed the favorite bait of big sea mullet.
The sea mullet bite this year has been good since the spring, and another fish that is having a great season is the sheepshead, which is named for prominent broad incisor teeth resembling a sheep’s teeth. These fish aren’t heavily targeted by local anglers because of their sometimes irritating finicky nature, and the finesse fishing technique required to catch them. But the payoff is good, these are good fighters and make great table fare with their sweet flaky white fillets.
Best baits of course include sand fleas, but also fiddler crabs, and sea urchins. By the way, the 6-pounder I caught was on a live shrimp. Locally, Dudley’s and Chasin’ Tails carry fiddlers and Chasin’ Tails now also has sea urchins. Of course you can catch your own sand fleas, fiddlers and spiny urchins if you wish.
Most anglers fish the baits on Carolina Rigs with a stiff rod, and no-stretch touchy-feely braided lines to feel the bite and get a quick firm, hook set. Most of these fish are found around structure. The best places are the Emerald Isle, Swansboro, Atlantic Beach and Morehead bridges, the train trestle and of course the Morehead City port wall, especially the southeast corner around the rock pile. There is no size limit, although smaller fish have no meat on them, but the bag limit is 20.
The Spanish mackerel bite continues to be good along the beach in 17 to 25 feet of water, , behind Shackleford Banks, over the artificial reefs (AR 315, 320 etc.) and in the Beaufort Shipping Channel. The bite is best around daybreak, although there is a late afternoon bite as well. Clark Spoons, silver or gold (00, 0, 1-sizes), YoZuri Deep Divers, or if you want the big ones, nothing beats live small pogies. And don’t forget the fluorocarbon leaders for these sharp-eyed fish.
Fishing for the other mackerel, the king mackerel, has been very slow, especially considering the abundance of menhaden along the beach, but has shown signs of life this week. There are some mid- to upper-teen kings over the Keypost Rocks. A 43-pound smoker was caught off the Shaq at Rough Point. Wow!
Offshore, there are dolphin from the 14-Buoy out the 90-Foot Drop and a few have even been reported inside the Charlie Buoy out of Bogue Inlet. Other offshore success stories include sailfish at the Rise (N 34 00 80, W 076 22 72), and the Hutton (N 34 39.461, W 76 48.434) is holding lots of amberjacks, along with cobia and barracuda. Amberjacks can be readily found over about any structure, both on our side of the Cape Lookout Shoals and on the wrecks on the east side too. Bottom fishing has been good in about 135 feet of water.
Cobia? There are still a few small keepers in the Morehead City Turning Basin, but most have moved out. The few currently being caught are being landed within a few miles from the beach in places as close as 45-Minute Rock.
Surf fishing has been slow, and hasn’t been helped by the incessant wind, and muddy and weedy water. Where the surf is clear, there are bluefish, and to a lesser degree Spanish, and even a ladyfish or two around. In Emerald Isle, the far west Point area has been the best. On the other hand, drum and flounder are few and far between.
The flounder bite still remains best on nearshore structure, reefs or rocks, mainy only two miles or less from the beach. There have also been some decent landings around the Morehead City Port Turning Basin and the far south end of Radio Island. Inlets, beach and piers have had mostly throwbacks, although the Bogue Inlet fishing Pier on Emerald Isle and the Oceanana Pier on Atlantic Beach both had a few keepers this week.
Inside, the fishing remains slow for trout, drum and flounder, although there are a few in the Haystacks marshes. I actually released a trout I caught in the Coast Guard Channel in Emerald Isle.
Pier fishing is turning into summertime mode, with a lot of variety, but fishing can be slow. Fish to expect include flounder, sheepshead, spots, croakers, hogfish, sea mullet, blues and Spanish. Kings have been sparse both on Bogue Banks and Topsail piers, but there is some tarpon action at the piers.
(Richard “Dr. Bogus” Eh renkaufer of Emerald Isle is on the radio every Monday at 7:30 a.m. on WTKF 107.1 FM and 1240 AM. Call him at (252) 354-4905.)