The sun had barely cleared the horizon when the line popped off the right-rigger clip. Young Jack Geer jumped in the fighting chair, and his dad handed him the rod just in time to see the sailfish take to the air. A second sail grabbed a bait and the boy’s mom, Kristi, took this one, and we had ourselves a doubleheader. The crew aboard Reel Country out of Morehead City, had reason for celebration.
While North Carolina’s Crystal Coast is renowned for the variety of species, it was October, and wahoo are the autumn offshore headliner. Capt. Mark “Microwave” Chambers instructed mate Dylan Rhudy to rig for the striped torpedoes.
Like the day before, when Luke Snedaker and Zach Davenport helped us boat five up to 50 pounds, the ’hoos made more than a cameo. A rod off the starboard corner — with a planer ahead of the bait, keeping it 20 feet below the surface was the first to connect. After some huffing, I brought a 30-pounder to gaff.
Bryon Geer, the boys’ dad, added to the wahoo in the fish box, and I grabbed the rod when a 40-pounder skyrocketed with the bait in its jaws.
As if three sailfish and four nice wahoo weren’t enough, dolphin made the scene after lunch. Patches of sargassum appeared in our path, strewn along the edge of the continental shelf, some 42 miles off Cape Lookout. Hungry dolphin were on patrol, and several pounced on our spread, putting on a show before chilling in the fish box.
Closer to Shore
The next day we hopped aboard Fish Finder, Capt. Joe Shute’s 23-foot Parker, for some nearshore fishing. Armed with fly rods and a box full of Clouser Minnows, we zeroed in on shrimp boats near Beaufort Inlet in hopes of finding the false albacore.
We hit pay dirt. The aggressive fish stuck around the boat, which enabled us to amass 20 releases in about two hours. That’s when Shute pointed to the 13-weight fly outfit racked under a gunwale, to set our sights on larger game. He meant the 6- to 8-foot spinner sharks finning across the wakes of the shrimp boats.
The game plan: run to a shrimper, cast across its wake, let the fly sink, and set the hook hard when a shark took it. I soon found myself in a tug of war with 120 pounds of ticked-off shark. A 20-minute give-and-take culminated with the release of the dogged spinner.
“No time to waste,” said our guide, who put in position for another shot. Dorsals zigzagged in front of the boat, and stayed on the spinner shark merry-go-round for another hour before going back to the albies.
The next morning started with a quick look-see at “The Hook,” the local name for Cape Lookout, which shields Lookout Bight from winds coming from three quadrants. Albies churned the surface, launching attacks on baitfish before disappearing and turning up again some 50 yards away. Shute kept up with the fish until we’d released a few and the tide was right for redfish and trout inside Beaufort Inlet.
After cast-netting our supply of shrimp in Harlowe Creek, we anchored off a marshy shorelines lined with oyster beds and proceeded to catch black drum, black sea bass, and bluefish, as well as the intended targets, redfish and trout. The half-dozen plump trout we brought over the gunwales would make any angler’s day. They averaged 2½ pounds, and Shute boated a kicker of 4 pounds.
Game Fish Galore
The dozen species we caught was but a sample of the array available. Blue marlin appear in the spring, wahoo peak in spring and fall, dolphin, sailfish and white marlin abound in the summer, blackfin and yellowfin tuna come to forage at different times of the year, and during winter, giant bluefins move into 40 feet of water off the beach.
Bottomfishing for snapper and grouper is pretty good too. Cobia roam the Shackleford Banks and adjacent beaches in May.
The kingfish bite is red-hot in the fall. Spanish mackerel and bluefish congregate at nearshore wrecks and hunt along the beaches during summer and early fall. Little tunny (aka false albacore) follow suit in spring and fall, while other popular inshore species like redfish and seatrout are available year-round in one spot or another.
What: Wide array of offshore, nearshore and inshore species
Where: Cape Lookout to Bogue Inlet, North Carolina
When: Year-round action with a number of seasonal species
Who: Seaworthy boats with electronics are a must for runs offshore.
Two Local Pros: Capt. Mark Chambers, Reel Country Sportfishing, 252-342-0097; Capt. Joe Shute, Fish Finder Charters, 252-240-2744, captjoes.com
Exploring the Crystal Coast
The Crystal Coast hosts many fishing tourneys and seasonal festivals, and the beauty of the natural surroundings makes it a superb destination for outdoors lovers. For instance, while cruising along Shackleford Banks, we spotted wild horses known as Bankers, descendants of a herd dating back to the 1500s. There’s no shortage of places to eat in the area, and accommodations range from historic bed-and-breakfast inns to hotels and beachfront rental homes and cottages.
We stayed at Suncatcher in Pine Knoll Shores, one of several outstanding properties managed by Bluewater Vacation Rentals (877-496-1783). For more information or help with lodging, visit crystalcoastnc.org.