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

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