Brant McMullen at Ocean Isle Fishing Center www.oifc.com reported that the weather has been the toughest challenge facing anglers off the Chrystal Coast. When the wind and waves cooperate, offshore fishing is really picking up steam. Brant said that the skippers are seeing big wahoo and blackfin tuna. “We weighed in a 101 pound wahoo,” he said, “the biggest one we’ve ever seen.” Brant says that the fish are on a temperature break in 200 feet of water. He has been scoring blackfin by dropping jigs to the deepwater wrecks. They’re also catching gag grouper, huge amberjack, and cobia. “We just figured out that there are a lot of cobia in 200 feet of water,” Brant said. They are also figuring out that black sea bass love a Shimano Lucanas jig and dog sharks don’t. By using the jigging system, Brant is able to target big sea bass and avoid the pesky sharks. “Wish I had more to report,” he said, “but the weather has been tough.”
Bad weather frustrated anglers all along the Southeast this week. Captain Jeff Stokes at Reel Stoked www.reelstokedfishing.com in St. Simon expects the triple tail bite to start up once the wind lies down. He’ll start looking just off the beach for triple tail that are swimming just under the surface. Jeff says that triple tail are aggressive and cannot turn down a live shrimp on a 1/0 hook fished 1 foot under a cork bobber. He says that the triple tail will be most active on the last of the incoming and first of the outgoing tide.
It’s official: the bluefin bite out of Hatteras is epic. For the fourth week in a row, boats have been running to the break and catching 100 to 200 pound bluefin as fast as they can get a line in the water. Crews are complaining of fatigue and begging to return to the dock early. Last weekend, I fished with Captain Scott Warren on Big Tahuna www.bigtahuna.com out of Teach’s Lair. When we hit the edge of the Gulf Stream we were met with howling winds and raging seas. We trolled ballyhoo on Ilanders up the break until we found the fish. On one pass, three rods went down, but the condition caused two fish to pull and one to break off in a pile of floating sea junk. We turned to make another pass, but 4 knots of current kept us from making any head way. So Scott bailed on the break and we pulled lines and ran up to the edge of the Continental Shelf. There we found calmer seas and huge tuna swimming just below the surface. After that, it was on! In short order, we hooked three fish, landing one and releasing two others. The day before our trip, Scott had scored a half dozen big bluefin (two on jigging gear) a 150 pound mako shark, and a limit of blue line tiles and a handful of grouper up to 30 pounds. If the fishing is this good when the weather is bad, imagine what it must be like on a nice day.
While red drum and trout are starting to turn on out of Beaufort, South Carolina, Dan Utley at www.fishincoach.com says most skippers are tuned into to the sheepshead that are swarming on the nearshore wrecks. Dan told us that anglers dropping fiddler crabs on a 2-hook dropper rig or a Carolina rig with 8 to 10 inches of 20 pound fluorocarbon and a No. 2 Kahle hook are pulling up limits of big sheepies. Lucky anglers are finding big black drum mixed in with the sheepshead. Dan recommends fishing the Gordon Wreck, Beaufort 45 reef and the Hilton Head Tire Reef. Crews who elect to stay inshore will not be disappointed. Dan says that when the wind is light, skinny water guides will sight cast Gulp! shrimp on a ¼ ounce jighead. When the tide is high, he looks for the fish on the edge of marsh grass, and when the water is low, he searches the deeper water around oyster bars. He expects the specked trout action to turn on soon. Dan says the fish will first show up at creek mouths looking for DOA Shrimp 3 feet under a Cajun Thunder popper. While all of this is welcome news to winter weary anglers, the best news Dan had for us was that the cobia run should fire up in Port Royal Sound by the end of the month.
Just when you think it can’t get any better?it does. Two weeks ago, I joined Captain Jim Bowman www.marlinmania.com on what turned out to be a great bluefin tuna trip. We caught and released 8 fish between 100 and 150 pounds and kept a 117 pounder for the grill. Last Saturday, Jim called to tell me that his crew had caught a half dozen big bluefin an equal number of yellowfin and raised a sailfish. I dropped what I was doing and joined was in Hatteras Sunday morning. We ran 20 miles to the temperature break through dense fog and slick calm seas. When we hit 66 degree water the mate put out the first bait. He was handing the rod up to the bridge when it was almost ripped from his hands. For the rest of the morning we were either fighting a fish or running back to the mark. After a couple hours of hard cranking, the guys took a lunch break and Jim ran us deeper in search of yellowfin and billfish. All we found was 4 knots of current and no fish. So Jim turned us back towards the break and the fish. As soon as we reached the edge of the Gulf Stream, we were covered up again. All at once, six baits disappeared into explosions of spray and after an hour the guys had released 5 more fish. Then we stopped and chunked with cut menhaden and had tuna rolling all around the boat. By late afternoon, the fog lifted and we left the tuna biting to head back to Hatteras.
Anglers have been waiting all winter for big wahoo to show up off Ocean Isle, North Carolina. “The wait is over,” announced Captain Roger Gailes on World Cat out of Ocean Isle Fishing Center www.oifc.com. Gailes reported that wahoo over 100 pounds were brought to the scales this week along with dolphin and blackfin tuna. The fish were caught at the Black Jack, 100/400, and Steeples on rigged ballyhoo, but crews targeting wahoo were having the best success trolling at 10 to 12 knots with Black Bart lures. Gails added that no one has to wait for red fish on the Intracoastal. “Reds have been here all winter,” he said. The fish are being caught around the bridges and docks with Berkley Gulp. “The fishing has been pretty good and it’s getting better,” he said.
Is it winter or what? That’s what anglers on the Mid Atlantic are asking after another spectacular week of fishing. Ken Neill and crew ran to the 100 fathom line out of Virginia Beach and found warm water and big bluefin tuna. The guys landed a hundred-pounder and lost another fish. With their bluefin card punched, they turned to target bottomfish catching a limit of big blueline tiles and sea bass up to 7 pounds. Farther south, Captain Jim Bowman had Marlin Mania www.marlinmania.com out of Hatteras almost every day last week. He continued to score big bluefin by trolling ballyhoo and Ilanders. “I would mark the fish and we would get covered up,” he told us. At one point, Jim had 7 bluefin in the baits at one time. Later in the week, he found yellowfin tuna and big dolphin. “I hope that’s a sign of things to come,” he said.
According to Captain Mike McDonald www.gulrboy.com, the puppy drum around Georgetown, South Carolina are still in the winter pattern. “The fish are holding in deep holes in the oyster beds,” he explains. Mike has been finding water temps between 55 and 63 in the back creeks and up to 70 on the shallows. He’s catching drum and a few trout in the knee-deep depressions in the oyster bars on an outgoing tide. The best place has been Winyah Bay and the best bait has been a soft plastic jig on a ¼ to 1/8 ounce jig head. “Work it real slow,” Mike instructs his anglers. He added that black drum are hanging in the same areas looking for a piece of shrimp on a Carolina rig with a 1/0 hook and ½ ounce eggsinker. Mike looks for the trout fishing to pick up by the end of the month. “They’ll first show up in 7 to 11 feet of water, and then move to 3 to 8 feet. Tof find reds and trout, Mike will work the banks of the rivers and creeks with a soft plastic jig. “We’ll beat the banks for in close for reds and out deeper for the trout,” he says. – Ric Burnley
Fishing out of Hatteras, North Carolina is like playing roulette; from day to day, anglers never know what they’ll catch. Each day is a spin of the wheel as the Gulf Stream brings a variety of fish within 25 miles of the inlet. From one trip to the next, anglers never know what they’ll find when they head offshore. Last Sunday, Captain Jim Bowman and his crew on Marlin Mania www.marlinmaniacharters.com found a huge school of aggressive bluefin tuna. When I called Jim and asked if I could ride along with him, he told me that fishing has been hit or miss and the only thing he could guarantee was tilefish and grouper on the bottom. I figured slow fishing was better than no fishing, and put my money on his team. The day before our trip, Jim had received word of a bluefin bite off Ocracoke Inlet. Facing a choice between a bottomfishing or bluefin fishing, Jim took a gamble and headed south to see if he could find the fish. When we arrived on the scene Captain Andy on the Good Times was already tied into a big bluefin with jigging gear. Bowman’s mate, Tim, deployed ballyhoo on Hawaiian Eyes and we started to troll around Andy’s boat. It didn’t take long before one of the baits disappeared into a giant hole in the ocean. The angler battled the fish for half-an-hour before Tim was able to stick it with the gaff and swing the 117-pound tuna into the boat. With one fish in the box, we had filled our limit. Jim switched over to 80 and 130 pound gear and we started fun fishing. The crew caught and released another half dozen tuna between 100 and 150 pounds before their arms turned to rubber and the weather turned to crap. We reached the inlet just as the wind picked up 30 knots and the temperature dropped 20 degrees, Bowman’s gamble had paid off and we headed back to the dock winners.
Despite a recent cold snap in the Peach State, Captain Jeff Stokes at Reel Stoked Charter Fishing www.reelstokedfishing.com reported that puppy drum fishing around St. Simon Island has been red hot. He said that the fish are escaping the cold on the shallow mud flats. “They’re an easy target with a Fishbites jerk bait or a live shrimp. Trout fishing hasn’t been as easy. Jeff says that cold water has given the fish lock jaw. “Last week, when the water hit 58 degrees we caught,” he said. Jeff looks for the in St. Simon Sound and area rivers with a live shrimp under a popping cork. “When the water temperature reaches 60 degrees,” he said, “things should start to break open. -Ric Burnley
Alan Sutton at Tradewinds Tackle www.fishtradewinds.com was getting ready to hit the beach when we called. Sunny weather and warm temperatures put Alan in the mood for redfish. He told us that he was heading to the south end of Ocracoke Island to look for puppy drum. “The trick is to get the right water temperature,” he said, explaining that a warm-up of a few degrees will put the fish in the feeding mood. Alan looks for a stretch of beach that features a cut in the bar and casts out a 1 ounce Hopkins Shorty. “Some guys like to use a MirrOlure or a grub,” he added, “the trick is to work the lure very slowly.” Alan expects bigger drum to show up as soon as the water temperature nears 60 degrees.
Now is the time for sheepshead fishing out of Hilton Head. Captain Dan Utley at Fishing Coach Charters www.fishincoach.com has been wearing out big sheepies on the nearshore wrecks in 30 feet of water. Dan told us that White Water Reef, Savannah Reef, and Gordon Wreck have been holding sheepies up to 13 pounds. Dan is using live fiddler crabs on a Carolina rig with a 2/0 Kahle hook and as little weight as possible. “Fish at slack tide so you can use less weight,” he suggests. Inshore, Dan said that red drum are still reliable adversaries. When he finds clear water on the mudflats and oyster bars, he’s also finding schools of reds up to 30 inches. At high tide, or in deep water, Dan is using a Gulp! jig but in the shallows he’s throwing a gold or brown Clouser fly. – Ric Burnley