That's an easy question to answer almost any weekend from mid-May through November. "He's on the water."
I've grown up around the ocean, and it holds a special place as an integral part of my spirit. There is no place that gives me a stronger sense of "home." I get psychic withdrawals when I spend more than a couple of weeks away from the salt air, and the constant background music of sea meeting land.
My love of ocean coincides with a love of fishing. I'm one of those folks who can spend hours circling some deeply submerged pile of rocks or debris, dragging baits or lures in search of "the big one." And it doesn't really matter whether or not I catch anything either. . . although that is my expressed purpose for being there. I love being out there trying. And the possibility of success is what drives me on.
My fishing is primarily within 15 miles of shore, since that is about all the range I can ask from my little boat, Elwing. She's a sweet little 17' center console which I've taken pains to rig to the gills. A T-top and rocket launchers give me a big boat spread for my lines, and her 32 gallon fuel capacity lets me spend the day trolling. Plus, her small size is perfect for trailering down to Florida for a week's fishing and diving vacation.
Success for nearshore fishermen during 9 months of the year in coastal North Carolina is not too hard to come by. Beginning with the warm-up in late April and early May, species such as the bluefish and bonito enter the NC waters on their northward migrations. This action picks up, as the ocean temps edge into the mid-60's. These fish offer great sport, and are a wonderful way to shake off the cobwebs of a long winter's sleep. Both are awesome fighters. A three pound bonito will make you believe you've hooked a turbo powered mini-submarine. A big one will nearly spool a 30# reel, and can straighten out a snap swivel, leaving you thinking you just tangled with Jaws.
Later on, usually in May, the ocean temp creeps into the higher 60's, and the spanish mackerel make their way into our state's waters. The spanish are a treasure to nearshore fishermen. They are plentiful, and fairly easy to catch. They are often considered a working man's fish, since they generally bite all day long, and you can catch them right in the inlet, and you don't need high end gear. An angler can head out after work in the afternoon, troll for a couple of hours, and have enough spanish mackerel aboard for dinner that night and the next. I've successfully fished for spanish in all kinds of boats, from canoe to 36' cruiser.
Later in May, and as June rolls in, the ocean temperature slips up past 68 degrees and the king mackerel come cruising in. These are the fish I chase most. They are delicious to eat, great fun to catch, and beautiful to watch. I've seen these sleek creatures fire themselves six or eight feet into the air while chasing baitfish. They'll hit a surface bait the same way.
I also catch a fair number of cobia, especially early in the season. These big, ugly brutes are incredibly good to eat. The cobia run usually coincides with the middle of the spanish mackerel run. I caught my biggest, a 68 pounder, while bringing a spanish mackerel to the boat. He tried to take the spanish, but missed it. I dropped a bait back to him, and he sucked it right up. About 30 minutes and some very sore arms later, my brother gaffed him, and hefted him onto the boat.
There are some sharks to catch around coastal NC, also. But their numbers have gone down so drastically in the past few years, I usually try to release most of the sharks I catch. I may keep one or two during the season, since I do love their meat. There are a lot of commercial fishing practices that can be blamed for this decline, but recreational fishermen who kill every shark they catch are also at fault.
This goes for other species too, as a matter of fact. We need to start taking better care of our ocean resources, or there won't be anything left at all. I won't put all the blame for this on the commercial fisheries either. The number of boaters, and fishermen on the oceans is constantly growing. . .and the number of fish being caught by these people is growing too. Learn about proper catch and release, and practice it. Keep what you want to eat, and turn the rest back. If you want a mount of a "trophy" fish, take a photo, and a measurement of its length and girth. You can get a replication made from this info that is easily as good as any mount made from the real carcass. The cost is also about the same.
I'll spend a minute here to talk about the tactics that I've had success with fishing in this part of the ocean.
Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and bonito are all very aggressive, and will take a small, shiny spoon in a heartbeat. I use various sizes of Clark Spoons. The preferred size seems to change a little each season, so I keep a decent selection to cover conditions. I've also found that the little Pet Spoon, especially the one with the yellow feather, works wonders on spanish mackerel.
Troll these spoons fast (I run as much as 12 knots), and fish around structure or schools. I like to use 20# line class rods and reels for spanish mackerel, because you never know when you might hook up with a king by accident. Also, a moderate sized bonito will clean your clock if you are using tackle that is too light.
An alternative to trolling for these fish is plugging for them. The Gotcha plug is a local favorite, fished from a medium weight spinning rod. The Hopkins lure also works pretty well. A fast, erratic retrieve seems to attract the most strikes.
For king mackerel, I do almost all my serious fishing with live bait. Menhaden (aka pogies) usually start to show up around the same time as the kings. I catch a well full of pogies with my cast net early in the morning, before heading out. I rig the pogie with a "carolina rig," consisting of two tripleX strong #4 treble hooks, and some 30# wire leader. The hooks are arranged about 4-6 inches apart, although this may vary, depending on the size of your baits. The leader is then attached to the front hook, and runs about 24" to a small barrel swivel. Small hooks, wire, and swivel are essential, to avoid spooking the skittish kingfish. Sometimes, I'll put a plastic skirt on the rig, ahead of the front hook.
Hook the menhaden through the lips with the front hook, and just under the dorsal fin with the back hook. Be careful not to sever the spine. You want this bait alive and active. Troll at idle speed, or drift if the current is in your favor. Keep the baits in the water, and the drag set light. And get ready.
You need to keep the baits fresh and lively. Save the dead ones. You can mince them up for chum.
I also use the Carolina Rig with frozen cigar minnows, and I've had pretty good luck with these too.
Other good tackle for king fishing around here includes SeaWitch feathers, Drone Spoons, and large Clark Spoons. Strip baits, and ballyhoo also work pretty well, especially early and late in the season, respectively.
When the fishing slows topside, I also love to spearfish. There are plenty of grouper and snapper available to divers all along the NC coast. We also take flounder, sea bass, and even an occasional cobia. See my diving page for more.
Besides fishing NC, I love to fish in South Florida. Down there, I generally focus on dolphin, although I keep hoping to tangle with a billfish. Maybe one day. . .
Check out my links for some cool fishing web sites. AOL Members can also find some cool stuff by going to Keyword: FISHING.
Copyright 1997 Elwing Enterprises
All text and photos by Elwing Enterprises unless otherwise noted
Last revised: May 24, 1998.