Thursday, August 27, 2015

Potting Killies and Catching a Redfish

Four years ago, we potted killies galore off the end of the boardwalk leading out to the salt creek from our rental house. Many of them large, about three inches long, they led to Matt hooking a flounder of about 20 inches at the Ocracoke Pamlico Sound boat launch. He led it to the ramp, too big to hoist with light tackle, stepped on algae slick as ice coating concrete, and slid on down, flounder taking him in tow before it threw the hook.

Two years ago, no killies at all. Is the population cyclic, or did the hurricanes have to do with it? This year, we caught about a dozen-and-a-half to fish the dock two days ago, no real big killies in the lot. We caught a lot of pinfish, and I did hook something of at least a couple of pounds, but it could have been an eel, for all I really know. The fight felt odd.

Shortly before sunset today, I checked the killie pot and found a nice, big, three-inch killie along with another smaller. Six total to take to the dock, along with shrimp from Tradewinds Tackle. I told Matt to bait up with the big one.

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Keep the bail open and your finger on the line to just let go if something hits hard. But pull it away from any pinfish."

Those pinfish marauder anything put under. I saw a woman two days ago lower an entire chicken neck on a cord for any blueclaw crabs. The pinfish just swarmed upon it and took it entire--down to the bone--like pirahnas.

Soon Matt fought something good-sized, certainly for the dock, and let it up the ramp after a few short runs.

"Nice meal of a croaker," I said. A second later, "It's a red drum." I saw the spot near the tail and it mesmerized me for a moment. "Not sure what keeper size is."

"Doesn't matter. We'll throw it back. Can't believe I caught a red drum." Matt had it in hand.

We had flown to Charleston, SC, last November, the whole family, minus Sadie the black Lab, to pursue and catch red drum, as well as enjoy the city. Redfish are great on the Outer Banks too, the North Carolina state fish.

"I got lucky," Matt said.

"It sets a precedent. If only we could catch a lot of those big killies."

Nevertheless, conditions felt great this evening. Wind bearing down from the northeast, cloudiness, sunset. Good fish move through here on occasion, but mostly its pinfish like the many we caught after Matt's lead. I also caught two other saltwater panfish of another species obviously related closely to grunts.

Potting Killies

Ocracoke Boat Launch Dock

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Portsmouth Island Pinfish

Two years ago my family took Austin Boat Tours to Portsmouth Island, my wife and son walking the vacant beach and swimming in Ocracoke Inlet while I fished, well prepared with my eight-foot Tica and Penn 440ssg. I had the Tica along today, I just forgot to bring the tackle. But I had two St. Croix 5 1/2-foot medium power rods rigged each with a size 6 plain shank hook and split shot. So I could fish, but just about all my hope for a keeper flounder or two vanished as soon as I realized I had left the tackle tray back at the rental. Or possibly even a cobia. I had hopes for prize game, as crazy as they were, which I came to better realize without any possible means. Cobia do get caught in Wallace Channel during the summer on occasion. I caught a seven-pounder in 2010, though from a boat. That's a small cobia, but 40-pounders have been caught on flounder rigs.

So I removed a split shot from the six-pound test of one of the rods, and cramped it on to the line of the same strength of the other. And then I must have spit a dozen times, because to cramp soft lead with teeth means--for certain--that trace amounts of lead get in your mouth. I have needlenose pliers in my tackle tray. My friends and I were damn fools in our teens, tooth-crimping lead with abandon.

I had a pound of Lund's California squid for bait, and pinfish responded quickly to pieces of it. Wallace Channel cuts right in close to the shoreline, and with tide racing out at very fast pace, it seemed a wonder any fish successfully fought that current. I took a break and tried it myself. No way could I hold my place, swept downstream as I swam as if in a flooding river.

With the Tica and a two-ounce bank sinker, I fished as deep as perhaps 20 feet two years ago. And I caught a lot of flounder, though not one met keeper size. With the split shots, I got about eight feet deep at most. Nevertheless, a bluegill-sized pinfish fights pretty hard on a light rod. These subtly colorful fish get their name from dorsal fins a lot sharper than any sunfish. Like pins. I always try to avoid them, but never seem to avoid getting pierced. They're good to eat, but I tossed the handful I caught today back into the slightly stained, Pamlico brine.

And I caught a snapper bluefish of about nine inches, shortly after something struck hard and took the whole rig--hook, line, and sinker. I resorted to fishing squid weightless and caught a pinfish and the blue. Before I got snagged and lost the second hook, I had it figured out that using the squid heads attracted the most attention and possibly would result in a larger fish. Pinfish nipped and tugged at the tentacles, but the integrity of the mess held together pretty well, as I tugged the bait away. I would have put the rod on the sand and followed the line to a snag to unhook manually, if the line didn't break first, as I tried to shake it loose upstream of the catch. So that ended the fishing.

If you ever fish a shoreline that looks like it's the same up and down, and you're compelled to stay in place, even though you're not getting many takes, take my advice and walk the bank. I went upstream about a hundred yards and found a lot more pinfish. The reason why doesn't matter as much as that they were there, and not where I had left.

A nice late morning and early afternoon I didn't let slip away altogether, just because I had been careless before I got there. Matt took interest in shells, and found another Scotch bonnet like last year, complete and undamaged, but with a couple of barnacles attached. He also found an olive shell, but with part of the top end broken off. When I was young, I used to get up before dawn to scour the beach for shells at the tide line. Now I'm content to watch for differences in clouds overhead.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ocracoke Inlet Bluefish Trolling and Flounder Drifting

Captain Ryan O'Neal of Tarheel Charters told us we might encounter some red drum between 20 and 60 pounds, this news coming just after my son had done a little online research, discovering for himself that citation reds of over 40 inches inhabit shoals out in Pamlico Sound all summer. I knew about the likes, but without a boat, there's no use.

It would take a lot of time, too, though there's nothing else quite enjoyable as is learning new water. So the news from Ryan made it all seem a lot easier, even if we ran into none today. He's been sighting dark patches in the clear water and positioning his 25-foot Carolina Skiff close enough to cast large bucktails to the edges of schools of drum he estimates number between 500 and 1000 fish. They're outside the inlet mouth and today seemed auspicious with barely a breeze and very calm water, though no reds materialized.

We found a school of bluefish with some Spanish mackerel mixed in, having trolled from inside the inlet and on out. It took awhile. We saw no birds after baitfish anywhere. Once all three rods hooked up at once, and it was pretty easy to circle back and hook up again, although a few times it took us awhile to find that school which must have been pretty small. We caught more than a dozen-and-a-half blues and a small Spanish mackerel on Clark spoons, and then we settled into drifting for flounder.

I liked the depth. We drifted, as tide fell, not far from South Point, and three-ounce dipsey sinkers took forever to touchdown on bottom. Ryan read 32 feet deep on the graph. Flounder carpeted the bottom, but you never know--a cobia is possible even this time of year and deep water holds them. Back in 2010 I caught a seven-pounder in August. That's a very small cobia, and yet a good fish nevertheless. Ryan has guided clients who have hooked up with 40-pounders, and not only until early July when they generally vacate the premises.

We caught flounders steadily, and when we finished our drifts well out to sea, though still drifting past buoys, had some action with blacktip sharks of about 20 inches, sighting one that might have been 28 inches, hoping to get a look at a big one, or for a big one to devour one of the little flounders we reeled in.

The biggest flounder measured 17 1/2 inches, and more than a half dozen others met and exceeded 15-inch keeper size. These are the same species as the fluke of New Jersey, only they don't grow as large here.
Matt's barely legal Spanish mackerel. Notice the gold spots like doubloons. 
Had I hooked up with a cobia, I would have shot straight up, but as the fishing unfolded, felt comfortable reeling in the flounder with ease.
Patricia is almost finished Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
Caught the biggest lizard fish I've ever seen, like a small pickerel.

Lots of keeper flounder and tailor and a few cocktail blues.
Flounder double-header for Matt, which Ryan unhooks.