Saturday, January 20, 2018

New Year's Resolutions

Snow on the Mountain
It's been a cold start to 2018 so far here in North Carolina. We've been below freezing almost every night since the start of the new year, and there's been quite a few days where daytime temperatures struggled to hit the 32 degree mark. Sounds like the perfect situation to go fly fishing doesn't it?

Chilly day on the river
I've never been one to make New Year's Resolutions, but this year is a little different. I'm not calling this a resolution so much as a goal, an achievement to work toward all year long. Perhaps not surprisingly, it revolves around trout fishing. I realized that last year I didn't tie nearly as many flies, write as many blog posts, and especially didn't go trout fishing nearly as much as I would have liked to. The worst part was there was really no good reason for my lack of fishing and writing, other than the lack of fishing led to a lack of material to blog about. With that in mind, and with the end goal of becoming a better year-round fisherman, I decided that this year I want to catch at least one trout on a fly each month of the year. I also plan to chronicle my progress here on the blog.

Once I set this as my goal, I struggled a little to decide what kind of limits to place on myself. My favorite type of fishing is catching wild trout on dry flies, but I also wanted to make my goal achievable. I figured that the chances of our wild trout streams fishing well enough to catch trout in the dead of winter were pretty slim, and the chance of any trout being willing to rise to a dry fly in near-freezing water temperatures were slimmer still. So with that in mind, I decided that my "rules" for this would be that it must be a trout of any species, and that it had to be caught on a fly using a fly rod. I also decided not to limit myself to just North Carolina waters, because I do occasionally fish out of state, especially in Pennsylvania when we go visit my wife's family up there.

With all these things in mind, and with the remnants of three inches or so of snow on the ground, I set out yesterday afternoon with my brother in law to see if we could catch the year's first trout. Yesterday promised warmer temperatures than we have had so far in January, with the high reaching into the lower 50's, so I had hope that the warmer weather might have the trout slightly more active. I decided to give the delayed harvest section of the local state park a try, figuring that the higher elevation streams would be even colder and less likely to fish well. This particular stream gets stocked with trout in October and November, and then again in March, April, and May with catch and release only regulations in effect from October to June. I figured there would be some trout to be found, even with the last stocking occurring the first week of November.

This pool held a few trout
We arrived at the park and started at one of my regular fishing spots where I knew of several deeper pools that I figured the trout would be holding in due to the cold. We were able to spot three or four trout right away holding in deep water close to the bottom. I knew then it was going to be tough, because the fish weren't actively feeding or even moving any more than was necessary to hold their place in the current. After fishing the pool for a while with no success, we headed up the trail to check a few other places that usually hold fish. We found a few trout in the bridge pool, although unfortunately they spooked after a few casts.

First trout of 2018
At the next pool we were going to try, we ran into another fly fisherman and stopped to compare notes. He hadn't had any luck either, but had seen several fish as well. He was quitting for the day, so we decided to give the pool a try since we could spot a few fish holding down deep. I figured that if I had any chance at all to catch a fish, I would have to get a fly right in front of its nose because we hadn't seen a single fish move at all to take our flies. I tied on a heavily weighted golden stonefly nymph, figuring that it was the heaviest fly I had in my box. These trout were in four or five feet of water, and just barely above the bottom. After quite a few attempts with no success, I finally managed a perfect drift and was able to see one of the trout open his mouth and inhale my stonefly. The trout never moved to take the fly, and I'm convinced the only reason he ate it was because it was right in front of his face and all he had to do was open his mouth. After a short fight, I was able to net a pretty rainbow trout. This wound up being the only fish either of us would catch that afternoon, and was the only fish that I even saw attempt to eat.
January Trout Closeup

Even though the fishing was slow, it was a nice way to cure the cabin fever brought on by too much time indoors. We got to enjoy solitude in a normally crowded and popular park, and also had a chance to fish with snow on the ground which is a fairly unusual circumstance for us. More than anything yesterday was a learning experience for me, and one that I hope will add just a little to my knowledge of trout fishing. I do believe that I may have to spend more time on the stream during the cold months from now on. It was a challenging and rewarding day, even though I only caught one fish. For me fishing and hunting have never been about the numbers caught or harvested, but instead about the time spent enjoying the great outdoors. I can't wait to get back out there and do it again.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


I actually wrote this post a quite a while ago, but somehow it never got published to the blog. I thought it might be a good time to share it since this post is about the same stream that I talked about in my last blog post. I hope you enjoy this trip a little farther upstream!

A while back, I decided to do some exploring in the headwaters of one of my favorite trout streams. I have fished the lower sections of this river with a good bit of success over the years, and driven by the upper reaches a time or two on the Forest Service road, but I had never fished the headwaters. The lower stretch of the river fell under Catch and Release - Artificial Flies Only regulations when I began fishing here several years go, while the headwaters were classified as regular Wild Trout waters by the NC Wildlife Commission with a daily limit of four fish greater than seven inches long. The lower river contains some fairly deep holes, and I had caught some nice brown and rainbow trout from it over the years. A few years ago, the lower river was reclassified as Wild Trout waters, while the headwaters received the Catch and Release - Artificial Flies Only designation. I had never fished very far beyond the old boundaries of the catch and release water, so I was anxious to see what kind of secrets the upper river held.

 This river has always seemed colder to me than some of the other trout waters I regularly fish, although I realize "cold" is a relative term when you're talking about a mountain stream. The river's headwaters have their beginnings on the slopes of some of the highest mountains on the East coast, and I can't help but imagine that the river is colder because of it. It always seems to fish well, even in the middle of summer, and I think this is at least partly due to the cold water. The air temperature along the stream is always four or five degrees cooler once I get up into these mountains, and it is a pleasant retreat from the heat of summer. This river is home to some nice wild trout, and there was even one occasion on the lower stretch where a large brown trout tried to eat a small rainbow off the end of my line! He wasn't successful and the rainbow lived to see another day, and I was likewise unsuccessful in catching the big brown. However, it did give me hope to see the size of trout that call this river home.

Headwaters Rainbow
This time however, I wasn't going to fish the deep pools of the lower river, but rather head upstream toward the source of the waters and see what might swim in the plunge pools farther up the mountain. This river is fairly easily accessed, especially on the lower reaches, and a US Forest Service road roughly parallels the river the majority of the way. Farther up towards the headwaters, the road runs along the ridge above the stream, but a little careful climbing can get you from the road to the stream and back again. In spite of this, my uncle, who accompanied me on the trip, and I were the only fishermen I saw on the upper river. There were several vehicles parked lower down, and I assume these were fishermen but they could have been hiking or camping.

We drove a few miles above the campground and found a parking spot along the side of the road at the lower boundary of the new catch and release water. I decided to start the day fishing a Thunderhead dry fly, one of my favorite patterns. I hadn't fished far when a nice wild rainbow rose to my fly and the first fish of the day was brought to hand. I couldn't help but remember that the first trout I ever caught on a dry fly was a wild brown from this same river on a Thunderhead. In a way it felt like I had come full circle back to the beginning of my fly fishing career.
Wild Brown

I continued working my way upstream, and passed a small tributary or two as the river began to narrow. I managed to catch a few more wild rainbows, and then came upon a deeper plunge pool that just seemed perfect for a nice trout to be hiding in. It took several casts and drifts, but eventually a brown trout made a slow rise to my dry fly, and sipped it in. Once I set the hook, I realized that I had a better fish on than the previous ones I had caught that day, and took my time to make sure I didn't horse it and break it off. After a minute or two I had a nice wild brown trout in the net, and I couldn't help but stop and admire the beautiful golden color and red spots before I released it. It rivaled anything I had caught on the lower river, both in size and beauty, and I couldn't help but wonder why I had taken so long to explore the headwaters of this river. This brown led me to think that the headwaters might be hiding some secrets that I would like to learn, and so I continued upstream with a renewed sense of wonder at how pretty wild trout could be. I decided they must be made that way so they would match the places where they live.

Heading Upstream
Somewhere along the way I donated my Thunderhead to the overhanging rhododendron, and decided since I had to retie anyway I would switch things up a little bit and try a Rio Grande Trude. This is another one of my favorite fly patterns, and one that I had enjoyed some success with on the lower stretches of this river. I had a few more rainbow trout decide that the Rio would make a good morning snack, and then I had the surprise and pleasure of catching the first native brook trout of the trip. I knew that some of the tributaries of this river were rumored to contain healthy brook trout populations, but in my previous experience the lower river belonged to the rainbows and browns. I was excited to see that the natives were still holding on up in the headwaters, and I had to once again marvel at the colors of a wild brook trout. A few pools later another brookie came to hand, about the same size as the first. Unfortunately I was about at the end of my trip and I decided since access to the road was becoming harder to find I would fish until I came to a good spot to climb out. Another pool or two and I found a trail winding up the ridge back to the road and decided it was time to call it a day.

Brook Trout
Once I reached the car, I was surprised to have two NC Wildlife Officers stop by to ask how the fishing was and to check my license. I was glad to see that they were out enforcing the regulations, and we spent a pleasant few minutes talking about fishing and the trout I had caught. They were especially happy to hear that I had caught a few brook trout, and said that they were wondering how the population was doing in the main river. I asked them if there was much fishing pressure in the headwaters, because I was surprised to be one of the only people fishing on a beautiful Saturday morning, and they said in their experience most people tended to fish down around the campsites on the lower river. This just gave me more incentive to come back to the headwaters again and do some more exploring. It has also made me rethink some of my other favorite trout streams and caused me to wonder just what might be just a little farther up the trail or over the ridge. Hopefully I will have the chance to find out someday soon.

- Joseph

Friday, July 28, 2017

Beating the Heat

Cold Water
It's been hot here for the last week or two. Not just hot, but 90+ degrees, high humidity, and sweating by the time you walk from the house to the mailbox hot.  When my Uncle Greg, whom I had fished with the previous week, called last Thursday night and asked if I had anything going on the next day, it was all the encouragement I needed. With the forecast for last Friday being for temperatures above 95, it seemed like an ideal day to head for the high country. We both figured that regardless of how the fishing was, wading in a trout stream in the mountains would beat almost anything else we might do that day.

Wild Rainbow
We decided to head up toward the same general area that we fished the previous week, although this time we would be fishing a stream that was fairly familiar to both of us. We had fished this stream several times together, as well as separately. This particular stream is one of my favorites, and it contains all three species of trout that can be found in North Carolina. The majority of the trout I've caught here over the years have been wild rainbows and browns, but the occasional brook trout does make an appearance, especially as you get farther up into the headwaters. I have heard that some of the tributaries to this stream contain healthy populations of native brook trout, but I haven't personally fished the tributaries.

When we arrived at the stream Friday morning the temperature, at least according to my truck, was a cool 68 degrees. This was a welcome relief from the sweltering heat at home, and the first few steps into the water were just a little bit of a shock to the system. We split up and began fishing, working our way upstream and planning to check in with each other after an hour or two to see how things were going.

It wasn't long until I got a strike from a pretty little wild rainbow trout, and as I fished my way upstream I missed a several more strikes. It was a little bit of a puzzle, as the trout seemed interested in my fly, but they would almost seem to come up and bump it instead of eating it. Most of the time our wild trout in NC don't seem to be very particular about flies as long as the presentation is good, but these fish were acting like there was something they didn't like. I don't know if this was due to fishing pressure, or some other factor. I do know that this stream is fairly popular, and we did see a few other fishermen during our time there.

Beefsteak Fungus? (Best guess from Google)
Eventually, I fished up to where Greg was and we fished together for a little while as we made our way through a small gorge section. This area was full of deep pools, and the water was flowing swiftly. I was having a hard time in places trying to get a drag free drift, but we both managed a few fish out of the plunge pools. Once we climbed our way out of the gorge the stream leveled back out considerably and we decided to split up again, with it being my turn to walk upstream before I started fishing. Along the way I saw another fisherman's truck parked along the side of the road, so I made my way further upstream along the road to give him plenty of room to fish.

Caught Several of These
Once I got back down into the stream, it looked a lot different from the lower gorge section, with it becoming fairly shallow, although still  moving swiftly. I did hook a nice trout that managed to hang my tippet on a rock and break off. After this trout, I fished quite a way upstream without another strike. After losing my fly to a rhododendron that was out of reach, I decided to downsize and go with something a little less flashy than the Rio Grande Trude dry fly that I had been fishing. I switched to a smaller female Adams dry in the hopes that the fish wanted something a little smaller and more natural looking. This seemed to be the answer, as I began getting strikes on the Adams almost immediately. I managed two more rainbows, although one was so small I'm not real sure how it managed to get the fly into its mouth.

Its Eyes Were Bigger Than Its Stomach
Shortly after the second fish, I lost the Adams to another rhododendron. Since it was the only one I happened to have in my fly box, and it was also time to head back toward the truck to meet Greg and head home, I called it a day. I was surprised that rainbow trout were the only species I managed to catch on this trip, because in the past I would usually catch at least a few browns mixed in with the rainbows. I don't know where they happened to be hiding that day, although Greg did catch a brook trout along with the rainbows.

Overall, even though the fishing wasn't exactly fast and furious, it was another great day spent in the mountains. The relief from the heat, even though it was only temporary, was worth the entire trip. I didn't manage to catch any big trout this time, but I did catch a nice handful of pretty wild rainbows. This, along with wading a cold stream and seeing the blooming rhododendron made for time well spent. When we got in the truck to leave around 2:00 pm, the temperature was 81 degrees. By the time we made our way down out of the mountains, the truck thermometer was up to 95 degrees. It was a tough adjustment, but it just proved that the mountains are the place to be in the summer. Hopefully it won't be long and I'll be back, chasing wild trout and trying to run from the heat. Until then, I'm thankful that at least somebody had the brains to invent air conditioning!

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Tale of Two Streams, Part 2

At the end of part one of this blog post, my uncle Greg and I had just left a stream after exploring it for the first time and catching some native brook trout. We had one more stream on our agenda for the day and plenty of daylight left to go check it out. This second stream was one that Greg had fished for the first time about a week before our trip, and he said that he didn't have a whole lot of time to fish but it looked like a place worth coming back to.

Stream Number Two
 Getting to this stream took us around the ridge from the first stream of the morning, but was only a ten or fifteen minute ride away. As with the first stream we fished, this one required a little bit of a hike to get up into the national forest and away from the development along one side of the stream. However, this hike was a rare one for these mountains, in that it was almost a flat trail, especially compared to our first stop of the morning. After a quarter of a mile or so, we passed beyond the last houses and were surrounded by the national forest on both sides. We decided that this would be a good place to start, and so once again we split up to try different stretches of the stream.
Wild Rainbow
From Greg's description, I had an idea of what to expect with this stream. It was just as advertised, with an abundance of fishy looking plunge pools and deeper holes in between short stretches of riffles. If I was going to design the ideal North Carolina mountain trout stream, this particular stream would be a good one to use for a pattern. It seemed to have the type of habitat that would support a very healthy trout population. As with the first stream we fished, this one also had several small waterfalls that dropped into nice deep plunge pools.
Waterfall and Plunge Pool

As I worked my way upstream, I was blown away by the sheer number of places that I felt like I needed to fish. It seemed that there was a likely looking pool or lie every few feet, so I took my time and tried to fish slowly and carefully. Within the first few pools, I had a strike and brought a pretty little wild rainbow trout to hand. Once again, my rusty reflexes betrayed me as I missed a few strikes as I worked my way farther upstream. A few pools later, and another rainbow decided that my fly was what he wanted for lunch. 
Biggest Rainbow of the Day

There were some surprisingly deep holes in this stream, and it was good to see a healthy amount of water flow for this time of year. The last year or two have been pretty dry, and a lot of the streams had gotten almost too skinny to fish by this time last year. This year, everywhere that I've fished so far has been running clear and cold, with plenty of water in the streams. Hopefully we will have a few more summers like this one to make up for the drought years of the past. 
Rosebay Rhododendron 

We fished for a couple of hours, and I managed several pretty wild rainbow trout.  I was a little surprised that I didn't see evidence of more fish, but then again it was the middle of the day and I was fishing with a dry fly, so I understand that it wasn't necessarily ideal conditions for fish catching. After meeting up at the agreed upon time, Greg and I decided to call it a day. Overall, it was a wonderful day of fishing and exploring. I had the chance to fish with my uncle, and in the process discovered two new streams that I didn't know anything about.
Rhododendron Carpet

The rosebay rhododendron  were blooming all along the stream, and the hike out along the trail had us walking on a carpet of rhododendron petals. Both of these streams are definitely on my list to come back to soon, because I know that I've only just barely begun to explore the secrets that they may be hiding. There's still a few weeks of summer left, and I plan to try to make the most of it while it lasts. 

- Joseph

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Streams, Part 1

Waterfalls and Boulders
I'm not usually in the habit of writing multi-part blog posts, the ones about Oak Island being the exception to the rule. However, I hope you'll forgive me if I take two separate posts to talk about my most recent trout fishing trip. This trip involved two fishermen, two streams, two species of trout, and a whole lot more pictures to share than will comfortably fit into a single blog. Since the number two seemed to be a trend on this trip, I decided to go with two blog posts, one focused on each of the streams I fished.

This trip started with a conversation at church with my uncle Greg, who told me about a couple of new streams that he had recently discovered and wanted to check out. I'm always up for exploring new places, and we made plans to try these streams out. One of the streams Greg had fished briefly once, and the other was one that he had seen from the trail while on a recent hiking trip. Since both of the streams were within a ten minute drive or so of each other, we decided to check them both out.

The Bridge to Brook Trout
The first stream we fished the morning of our trip was completely new to both of us. This was the stream Greg had noticed while on his hike, so we had no idea what we might find. From the road coming in, this stream doesn't look like much to grab a fisherman's attention. However, once we parked and started up the trail and gained some elevation, I saw what had prompted Greg's curiosity. The stream went from a small, flat, and fairly featureless ditch to a beautiful mountain stream full of plunge pools and small waterfalls as it cascaded down the mountain. There were some surprisingly deep pools at the base of a lot of these waterfalls, and it went from looking disappointing to very fishy as soon as we gained a little altitude.

We decided to split up like we usually do when we fish together, especially on these small streams where there just isn't room for two people to fish together. We always agree on a rendezvous place and time just to occasionally check in see how things are going and to make sure nobody has suffered any kind of mishap. There's lots of boulders and slick rocks in a stream like this, and it always helps to ease my mind to know there is someone close by just in case.

Little Native
After a short hike up the trail into the national forest, crossing an old bridge with a few planks missing along the way, we decided to try our luck. All we knew at this point about this stream was that it fell under Wild Trout regulations, just as all the other streams in the national forest do that are not specifically identified otherwise. This stream had the look of one that hasn't been fished very much or very hard, and there were not even the usual diamond shaped regulation signs along the stream. As I climbed down into the first pool, I couldn't help but have a feeling that this looked like the type of stream that might have native brook trout in it. I had no idea if it would or not, but it just had that steep, boulder filled, headwaters look that I tend to associate with places where I've caught brook trout before.

Pretty Pool
After a few casts, my suspicions were confirmed when a pretty little brookie took my dry fly. I was excited to see this, especially because most of the streams I fish contain wild rainbow or brown trout, or a mix of both. I know of another stream that is almost exclusively native brookies, but for the most part I catch an occasional brook trout when I get high into the headwaters of most of the streams I fish. I love to catch brook trout, our only truly native trout species, (and I realize they aren't really "trout" but char instead), mainly for their beauty and willingness to take almost any properly presented fly. They also live in some of the prettiest, most rugged streams that I've ever fished. This only adds to the excitement of chasing them. There's also something special about catching a fish that can trace its ancestors back thousands of years in these mountains.

Native Brook Trout
After that first brook trout, I was curious to see what was farther upstream. I worked my way over, around, and through the pools and boulders, fishing every likely looking spot on the way. Almost any spot that looked deep enough held trout, although I did miss more than my share of strikes. It was a reminder that a trout's reflexes and instincts are perfectly tuned to survival, while mine may have been a little rusty. I managed to fool a few more little mountain jewels along the way, with the best trout of the day being a brightly colored eight inches. It was a perfect day to be in the mountains, escaping the ninety plus degree heat at home, and catching pretty natives. When Greg and I met up and compared notes, I found out that his luck was similar to mine and that we had both caught brook trout exclusively. With our curiosity slightly satisfied, at least as to what this stream held, we decided to spend a few hours exploring another new stream a few miles away. I can't wait to get back and spend more time here exploring farther up into the headwaters and seeing what other secrets this little stream might hold. In the meantime, I'll pick up with this story on the second stream in part two.

To be continued...

- Joseph

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Salty Memories Part 6 - Fishing the Surf, Pier, and Other Places

Three years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts titled Salty Memories about my memories of Oak Island, NC and the good times I enjoyed down there with family and friends. These posts were inspired by a return to Oak Island after being away for a few years. If you haven't had a chance to read these, please take the time to check them out here: Salty Memories Part 1 - The BeginningsSalty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, and Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide. These three posts provide the background to this new series of posts about my most recent trip. 

This post is the start of the current trip: Salty Memories Part 4 - Familiar Places with New Faces. Part five focused on our trip over to the Fort Fisher area and can be found here: Salty Memories Part 5 - Fish Everywhere But No Fishing! This post will be the wrap up of this installment of Salty Memories, and yes, finally, it's time to talk all about the fishing.

- Joseph

I've come to the conclusion that I must be crazy. That's the only explanation that I can come up with for someone who goes on vacation and sets an alarm for 5:00 am or earlier every single day that they are there. There's something wrong with waking up earlier on vacation than you do to go to work, but I did. Every day. However, as crazy as it may sound to some folks, I think anybody who fishes and reads this will understand. I'm not crazy, just crazy about fishing.

Salt Marsh Buck
It had been eight years since I had the opportunity to do any saltwater fishing, and when the opportunity presented itself I was not going to waste a single day. Most of the fishing that I have done over the years at Oak Island has focused on pier fishing for spotted sea trout, or speckled trout as they are commonly known on the island. These aren't to be confused with the other speckled trout in North Carolina, which are what native brook trout are known as in the mountains. Personally, I love fishing for both kinds of speckled trout, and I did make a trip for the mountain variety the other day, but I'll save that for the next blog post. In the meantime, I'll talk about the saltwater variety of speckled trout. 

Our arrival at the island on Saturday, July 1 started with Trent and I going to catch our bait for the next day's fishing. Speckled trout fishing from the piers on the island is mainly a live bait affair, with the bait of choice being live shrimp. There are several places that these can be caught with a cast net and a little effort, but the best time to catch shrimp in most areas is at low tide when the shrimp have fewer areas to hide in. Low tide on Saturday morning was at roughly 8:30, and since Oak Island is a four and a half to five hour ride from home, we left at 4:00 am to be sure of catching the tide. After an hour or so of throwing the nets, we had a bucket full of shrimp ready to go for the next morning. 

Surf Fishing
After we caught our bait, we had time to kill while the rest of the family made their way down to the island, since they weren't too keen on leaving at 4:00 am. I can't say that I blame them either. We made a stop by to see my good friend Luke Horn who had moved to the island a few years ago. Luke and I started fishing for speckled trout together at Oak Island right after we graduated high school. We were trying to decide what to do to celebrate graduation, and both of us have always loved to fish, so we decided to take a trip to the beach to do some fishing. From this trip, we began learning from the veteran pier fishermen about how to rig up live shrimp and catch speckled trout, and this initial trip led to all the following trips that added a few extra friends along the way. Luke now trout fishes year around on and around the island, and has even been featured in this past May's issue of Carolina Sportsman magazine in an article about pier fishing for speckled trout. If you happen to be able to get your hands on a copy, he explains how to fish for speckled trout from the pier. The techniques described in the article are the same ones that we have always used that were taught to us by the fishermen we met on the piers several years ago.

Whiting From The Surf
After stopping by and visiting a while, Trent and I decided to try a little fishing while we were waiting on our rental house to be available and for everyone else to arrive. Luke gave us some tips on a few places where we might try throwing jigs for flounder, so we set out to do a little exploring. We didn't happen to have any luck with the flounder, but we did see a young whitetail buck out in the salt marsh. I also got to see a few new places to fish that I didn't know about before. This was a nice way to waste a few hours, and before long it was time to head over to the house and get settled in for the week.

A lot of the fishing at Oak Island is dependent on the wind. A strong southwest wind had been blowing for a few days before our arrival, and was forecast to continue at least through Tuesday morning. This meant that the water in the ocean was very stirred up and dirty, which usually means that the fishing on the pier will be difficult at best, at least for trout. With this in mind, Trent, Luke, and I decided to do some fishing on the inland side of the island. We started out at daylight throwing topwater lures, but didn't have much interest from the trout. Trent and I switched over to throwing popping corks with artificial shrimp and Trent hooked up with the first trout of the trip. 

The next morning, with the wind still blowing and the ocean still full of sand, Luke and I went back to where we fished Sunday morning. Once again, we tried topwater at first, which Luke has a lot of success with, but the wind was making it difficult to work the lure properly. I decided to give the popping cork another try, and wound up hooking up with a nice trout about 18' long. That was about all the action that morning other than Luke catching a bluefish on his topwater bait. Still, it was nice to get the first fish of the trip out of the way.
First Trout Of The Trip

We fished this area a few more times over the course of the week, and had a little more success with live shrimp fished under corks. Trent hooked a nice black drum fishing shrimp, and we had a few missed strikes and caught a few pinfish as well. However, this was always our Plan B spot, although with the water conditions it became Plan A more mornings than not. However, our luck changed on Monday afternoon when the wind calmed down and became more south-southwest instead of directly out of the southwest. After the wind changed, the high tide brought in cleaner water than we had seen up to that point, and we decided if conditions held it would be an ideal morning to fish the pier on Tuesday.

Croaker From The Surf
Tuesday morning brought calmer winds and clear water, and we were waiting along with the other fishermen when the pier opened at 6:00 am. Once we paid for our pier pass, we rolled my old pier cart out and began fishing. It was a good morning to be on the pier, as everyone was having success. I caught several trout, although all but three were just a little undersized to keep. Speckled trout in NC have a four fish, 14" size limit. Most of mine were in the 13-14" range, but I did catch three nice sized trout that made it into the cooler. Luke and his friend Roger both caught a limit as well, and Trent caught several trout too, although his were like most of mine in that they were just barely undersized. There was action all up and down the pier, with most of the trout fishermen having success. 

We had high hopes that Wednesday would bring more of the same, but although we fished the pier again Wednesday morning the water had begun to dirty again and the trout just weren't willing to bite. However, Trent seemed determined to catch every species of fish in the sea. Over the course of a week he hooked up with black drum, speckled trout, a small blacktip shark, several ladyfish, a ribbon fish, silver perch, pinfish, bluefish, and whiting. Most of these came from the pier during our two days of pier fishing, with the majority being on Wednesday. Once the water dirtied up, we went back to fishing inshore for the rest of the week.

Along with the trout and flounder fishing, we also spent a few evenings surf fishing while the family enjoyed the beach. This brought back memories of some of my earliest fishing trips as a child, using bottom rigs on a surf rod to catch whatever might swim by. The first fish I ever caught actually came from Oak Island while surf fishing, a nice pompano that started a lifelong addiction to all things fishing. We stopped by a local fish marked and picked up some fresh shrimp for our surf fishing. I believe that fresh shrimp is the key to catching more fish in the surf, and to be honest a dozen or so of these local shrimp didn't make it any farther than a pot of boiling water and some Old Bay seasoning. It just seemed a waste to use all of them to feed the fish. I can't say how they taste raw to the fish, but boiled they were excellent. We had some success with our surf fishing, catching mostly whiting, along with a croaker and a small pompano. It also gave my niece a chance to see a fish up close, and judging from her interest in everything we caught it won't surprise me if she starts coming along on our fishing trips when she gets old enough. 
Trout From The Pier

Overall, it was a great trip spent with the family and catching up with one of my oldest and best friends. Even on days when the fish weren't cooperating, there is something special about watching the sun rise over the ocean and being out on the beach before everyone wakes up. This has always been one of my favorite times at the beach, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to go. If you are ever down at Oak Island, my suggestion is set your alarm for 5:00 am and enjoy the sunrise over the water. If you do, you may not think I'm quite so crazy after all. Thanks for coming along with me on this sandy ramble. 

- Joseph

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Salty Memories Part 5 - Fish Everywhere, But No Fishing!

Three years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts titled Salty Memories about my memories of Oak Island, NC and the good times I enjoyed down there with family and friends. These posts were inspired by a return to Oak Island after being away for a few years. If you haven't had a chance to read these, please take the time to check them out here: Salty Memories Part 1 - The BeginningsSalty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, and Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide. These three posts provide the background to this new series of posts about my most recent trip. 

This post is the start of the current trip: Salty Memories Part 4 - Familiar Places with New Faces. The following post will pick up where Part 4 left off. 

- Joseph
Trina and I on the Southport-Fort Fisher Ferry

I'm getting closer to talking about the fishing at Oak Island, I promise. This post will definitely contain a lot more fish than the last one, they just won't be on a hook. One of our traditions on almost every visit to Oak Island with my family growing up was to take the ferry from Southport over to Fort Fisher and visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This was always one of the highlights of any trip to the beach for me, because the natural world has always fascinated me. I loved being able to see all the different fish and animals that were around the beach, especially the ones that I had never seen before while fishing. 

The trip to the aquarium always begins with catching the ferry from Southport over to Fort Fisher. This is an adventure in itself, as you never know what you might see while crossing the Cape Fear River. On this last trip, we saw pelicans diving on schools of bait fish, a dolphin jumping, and several species of shore birds. Once we arrived at the dock, it was a short drive to the aquarium itself. Before we entered the main aquarium building, Trina and I decided to check out the new lorikeet exhibit right outside. This was a small extra charge, but we got to enter an aviary with lorikeets and lorries, and also got the opportunity to feed a few with nectar provided by the staff. It was a neat experience to get close to these bright, colorful birds and well worth the few extra bucks for admission. 

Feeding a lorikeet
The aquarium itself has changed over the years since I first started visiting, with the biggest change being the first exhibit area where you enter the aquarium. This area is now set up to represent the freshwater areas and swamps of the Cape Fear River basin, compete with bobwhite quail, box turtles, several species of fish, and alligators! The star of the alligator exhibit is an albino alligator named Luna. Trina and I saw Luna on a visit here about eight years ago, so it was interesting to see how much she had grown. Also, it was fun to see how our niece Addyson reacted to the fish tanks. She would walk up to each one and point at the fish and watch them swimming. I think we may have a future fisherwoman in the making!
She kept saying "Fish!"

Once we went through the Cape Fear exhibit, we came to the part of the aquarium that I can remember from my very young days, where there are all kinds of exhibits of marine animals and fish. We stopped by the touch pool, took a look at a loggerhead sea turtle, and saw many many different varieties of fish, lobsters, jellyfish, and other water dwellers. One thing that has always been interesting to me about this particular aquarium is their focus on species that are found in and around southeastern North Carolina. Just about all of the habitats in the exhibits are designed to simulate habitats found in coastal North Carolina, such as wrecks and artificial reefs or pier pilings. 
Fort Fisher Aquarium

We also took the time to take in a presentation on fishing basics, which covered things like license requirements and regulations along with identifying organisms that are fish versus crustaceans and other water dwellers. I thought it was a well put together introduction to fishing for anybody that wasn't too familiar with fishing but might like to give it a try. Somehow along the way I got talked into trying the hurricane simulator, which exposed you to winds up to about 75 miles an hour. It wasn't too bad, but then again it only lasted for a couple minutes. I can't imagine being in a full force category four or five hurricane, the simulator was as close as I ever hope to get. 

After a full morning at the aquarium, we drove from Fort Fisher up through Kure Beach and Carolina Beach. After a stop for doughnuts at Britt's Doughnuts in Carolina Beach, (a first for us, but highly recommended), it was back to the dock to board the ferry for the return trip to Southport. I did fish early in the morning before we went to the aquarium, but the majority of this day was spent looking at fish that were off limits, even though I have my coastal fishing license. It was a fun trip, and a nice continuation of a tradition that started with my family when I was very young. I have a lot of memories of Southport and Fort Fisher, and this trip only added to the wonderful store of them. I was glad to get to share another special place with family that had never been there, and I think they enjoyed the trip as much as I did. 
I'd like to catch one this size!

Thank you for rambling along with me on this trip. The next post should wrap up this installment of the Salty Memories series, at least until the next time I am able to make it down to the coast. Part six will be all about fish that can actually be fished for. Until then, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings!

- Joseph