Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sciaenops Ocellatus or The Red Drum : Part 1

Today I'm beginning a two part series on fishing for Red Drums , also known as the Channel Bass , the Redfish or Spot Tailed Bass. One of the most popular game fish on the East Coast , this species has a strong , almost cult like , group of followers who prefer to catch these noble fish over anything else. They are a protected species , with slot limits and no posession rules in many places. They are the state fish of North Carolina , which offers some of the best Drum fishing in the world off the coast of the Outer Banks. The current world record Red Drum weighing 94 lbs 2 oz. was caught off of Hatteras Island in 1984 and the previous record holder was also caught in NC waters 11 years prior. Red Drum can be caught on the East Coast from Virginia to Florida and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.

Currently the larger specimens are valued more for sport than as a food source , though smaller slot fish are often eaten. They are a source of income for many charter captains along coastal waters because catching a trophy sized Red Drum is truly a once in a lifetime experience. These hard fighting behemoths are released after a few pictures and a couple measurements to fight another day. Many Drum fisherman cringe at the thought of killing these fish that so many people enjoy catching , and handle them respectfully and very carefully. This wasn't always the case. I've heard horror stories of dead Drums being piled in dumpsters , unwanted because of their coarse flesh and strong flavor , killed only because the angler wanted to weigh it or have his picture made.

Thankfully , today's anglers are a more enlightened bunch , having learned from our predecessors that fish are a finite resource. Certainly many of us eat fish , but the practice of keeping only what you will eat and releasing the rest has taken a firm hold in the minds of most fishermen. Many anglers can testify to the increase in fish stocks since the implementation of regulations. Stocks of Red Drum have increased significantly since these regulations were put in place and it's now possible to catch them year round in many areas.

There are three generally accepted " Classes " of Drum. Younger fish measuring less than 30 inches are called " Puppy Drums " or simply " Pups ". The next size up , ranging from 30 inches to 40 inches are called " Yearlings " regardless of the fact that they are probably 10  years old or older. The trophy sized fish over 40 inches are " Red Drums " or just plain " Drums ".  Studies done on the otolith bone from large Red Drums indicate the largest of these fish are capable of reaching 30+ years of age , another reason conservation of this magnificent species is so important.

There are many effective ways to catch these fish from the surf. They cruise along the shoreline in schools feeding on just about anything in their path. Red Drum actually prefer rougher water than most other species and can often be caught right where the waves break. Because of their preference for rough water , anglers targeting these fish must use  heavier weights and shock leaders , both of which I'll explain in depth in my next post.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Braving the Elements

I've seen this scenario play out many times while fishing. Someone pays ten dollars to fish on a pier and everything is going great. Then it starts to sprinkle. The angler decides to tough it out thinking maybe the rain will pass over. Then it really starts to rain. Five minutes into the soaking , the unprepared angler grabs his gear and heads home , drenched and miserable with no desire to fish any more that day and ten dollars poorer. Twenty minutes later , I'm stowing my rain gear  getting ready to fish again. Today I'd like to recommend some things that will keep you fishing in all but the worst weather conditions.

First , a word of caution : NEVER try to stay out during a thunderstorm. Seek shelter in a building or vehicle. That said , it's important for anyone wanting to fish in the surf or on a pier to realize that in most coastal areas rain showers can , and often do , develop every day. Fortunately most are short lived and with a little preparation you can continue to fish while others go home to dry off.

The first thing I'd like to recommend is a good rain suit. Not just any rain suit will do because in my experience the cheap poncho type rain suits don't last and don't keep you dry. Lightweight rain suits made of tough breathable material are by far the best option and most come with a small bag to store them in. If they are a little too pricey for your budget , nylon lined pvc rain suits are a more affordable option. My advice is to get the best you can because this is an important piece of gear that most serious fishermen will use often.

In warm weather , I like to wear closed toe sandals when I fish. The closed toe protects your feet from flopping fish and flying hooks , while the sandal design allows them to dry quickly after a good soaking. Socks and tennis shoes are a recipe for misery after a rain shower and it also ruins the shoes. On colder days I recommend a good pair of water proof boots if your going to be on a pier , or cleated waders if you plan to fish the surf. An even better option for the surf would be to invest in a pair of high quality convertible waders . Either way , having dry feet will certainly prolong your fishing trip!

Other things to consider are your personal items. Car keys , cell phones , wallets and cameras are all vulnerable to damage from water. For your keyless entry car keys , cell phones and wallets I recommend a simple zippered plastic bag . This will also work for cameras , but if you plan to spend a great deal of time on the water you may want to look into buying a waterproof digital camera. Another option would be to keep a single use disposable waterproof camera in your tackle box.

Regardless of what you do to stay dry , always shake off any excess water and let your gear dry thoroughly before storing it  to prevent mold. Following the manufacturer's recommended cleaning and storage procedures should allow you to get years of use out of your gear.

The rain doesn't bother the fish , be prepared so it doesn't bother you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pomatomus saltatrix or The Bluefish

The only species in the family Pomatomidae  ,  the Bluefish is one of the most widely distributed game fish in the world. Known as Tailors in Australia , as Shad or Elf in parts of Africa and as Bluefish here in the U.S. , they are a fish that many people love and that many people love to hate. Bluefish are famous for biting off lures and even attacking other fish before the angler can get them out of the water. There are even reports of this fish attacking swimmers , though not verified. I have heard many seasoned old fisherman say they would rather take their chances with a shark than to swim through a school of feeding Bluefish.

Why are they so vicious? Bluefish have a single row of razor sharp teeth on both the upper and lower jaw and a hearty appetite. They travel in schools of similar sized fish because smaller Bluefish wouldn't last long around their bigger relatives. Bluefish are capable of decimating an entire school of bait fish in a matter of minutes , with all of the smaller fish either eaten or beached in an attempt to escape. This is known as a " Blitz " and it is truly an awesome sight to behold.

The Bluefish's ravenous appetite is also their greatest weakness. They will repeatedly strike at just about anything that passes in front of them. For this reason , they are easy to catch using several different methods.

My favorite has always been sight casting to them with a Gotcha Lure. It's simple , cheap and highly effective. The lure should be attached to an 18 inch 40 or 50 lb. leader to prevent bite offs. The leader can be attached to the main line by using a swivel or by tying an Albright Knot. Fish the lure fast and jerk the rod tip to make it move left and right to trigger strikes. You may have to vary the rate of your retrieve until you find the depth that the Bluefish are feeding at. Be prepared for hard strikes because quite often 10 to 15 Bluefish may go after your lure at once. It's even possible to hook two at the same time and if you watch the fish as you reel him in you will frequently see other Bluefish try to take the lure out of his mouth!

Another good way to catch Bluefish is by using a Fireball Rig baited with cut bait or finger mullets. This rig is basically a bottom fishing rig with bright colored styrofoam " Fireballs " above the hooks to keep the bait off of the bottom. I like to fish Fireball Rigs just behind the inner sandbar because Bluefish will frequently chase schools of bait fish onto the bar as they feed.

These fish can also be taken in various other ways including trolling , fly fishing and the use of various other real and artificial baits. Regardless of how you catch them , always take care when handling bluefish. Many unwary anglers have had nasty cuts from the teeth of this aggressive fish. They are one of the few fish that will try to bite your fingers as you unhook them. I handle them by gripping them behind their gills and using needle nose pliers to remove the hooks.

Eating bluefish is a subject that is constantly debated by anglers. I like them , but others are often turned off by their strong flavor. They are excellent grilled or smoked and fairly good fried. They are certainly worth trying for anyone who enjoys fish.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

" Cut Bait " explained

 As a fisherman , I'm guilty of telling people who ask me about baits  for saltwater fishing to " Just use some cut bait on a bottom rig , you'll catch something ". The question " What in the world is cut bait?" is often asked right after , so I'll go over it in detail today.

Let me start by saying that most saltwater species are not picky eaters and many are often cannibals. Some may be a little more choosy , but most will eat anything that drifts by and doesn't try to eat them. Using cut bait is a cheap and effective way to catch more fish and to catch fish that don't regularly feed on worms and shrimp.

The first order of business if you want to use cut bait , is to catch a fish or , as a last resort , buy one from a tackle store. I advise against buying frozen fish for use as cut bait. Freshness is critically important. Personally , I like to start with bloodworms or shrimp and catch a small Spot or Sea Mullet to use for bait. Even better options would be to use lures to catch a small Bluefish or a snag rig to catch Menhaden.

Once you have a fish to use , it's time to get busy. Scale the fish and fillet it , then cut the fillets into one inch chunks. Alternatively , you can cut the fillets lengthwise into strips to add movement to your presentation. I like to run the hook through the piece of fish twice because it holds better. Push the hook through the skin side first then turn the hook and push it back through. Keep the pieces you are not using in a cooler. Time to fish!

Just about any kind of fish will work as cut bait , but there are some that are better than others. Always make sure the fish you are using is a legal catch where you are fishing. My favorites have always been Spot , Menhaden , small Bluefish and Sea Mullets. Oily fish , such as the Menhaden and Bluefish , seem to attract more strikes , but the others will work just fine too.

It is very important to keep the bait you have in the water as fresh as possible. If I haven't had a strike in 20 minutes , I change my bait. After that amount of time the scent starts to wash out and the bait becomes less effective.

Save the heads of the fish you use for cut bait for use on fish finder rigs for larger species like the Red Drum , one of my favorite fish to catch and also one that will be discussed here on the blog in the next few weeks.

Have a great day!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bottom Fishing - The Usual Suspects

As I mentioned in my previous post , bottom fishing is not only effective for spot but also for several other species commonly found in the surf. The basic rig used is the same for most species and so is the bait. This allows you to catch several types of fish during the same day without having to change anything. One of the things I love about saltwater fishing is the uncertainty of the catch. You can target a specific breed of fish , but you may end up catching six different species and none of the type you set out to catch.

The Northern Kingfish , also known as a Sea Mullet or Roundhead , is a fairly common species of fish here on the East Coast. They are a spirited fighter , especially once they have reached lengths over 12 inches , and can make for a fun day of fishing when they are abundant in the surf. They can be caught on a wide variety of baits. Squid , shrimp , cut bait , bloodworms and sand fleas have all produced for me in the past.

Atlantic Croakers are another common fish caught in the surf. Like the Norfolk Spot , they are a member of the drum family and can be found in schools at certain times of the year. Croakers get their name from the distinct noise they make when caught. While other members of the drum family are capable of using their swim bladders to voice their opinion when being handled  ,  the Atlantic Croaker is certainly the most vocal. They can be caught using squid , shrimp , cut bait , clams and occasionally live minnows.

The Florida Pompano is common in coastal waters south of the Chesapeake Bay , although catches have occurred farther north. Small schools of Pompanos can often be seen feeding on barnacles around pier and bridge pilings and they will also feed in the surf where sand fleas are present. Pompanos will readily take small pieces of shrimp or sand fleas presented on a bottom fishing rig. Catch rates may be improved by the use of smaller size 4 or 5 gold hooks.

Summer Flounders or Flukes are highly sought after by both commercial and recreational fishermen. They are strictly regulated at this time in an attempt to restore the fishery from decimation due to over fishing. Thanks to these restrictions , I have personally noticed an increase in size and numbers of fish in the past few years. Summer Flounders are often caught on bottom rigs baited with shrimp , cut bait and squid. There are several other methods for Flounder fishing that I will cover at a later time.

This covers some , but certainly not all , of the most common fish caught when using a bottom fishing rig. Red Drums and Black Drums are both a possibility as are Bluefish , Speckled Trout and Weakfish , but I feel these species deserve a more detailed write up because of the many different ways they can be caught. Stingrays and Skates are also a common catch , but because of the danger involved when handling Stingrays they will also get a separate page here on the blog.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leiostomus Xanthurus or The Norfolk Spot

One of my favorite fish to catch this time of year is the humble Spot. They are a small fish when compared to their larger cousin , the Red Drum , but Spots are easier to catch and excellent table fare once they reach a pound in weight. Norfolk Spots travel in schools that contain hundreds of fish , so once one is hooked and landed it is almost guaranteed that you will catch more.

In my opinion , they are more fun to catch on light tackle. A 7' Medium Heavy (MH) action rod with a reel capable of holding 120 yards of 20 lb. monofilament is more than enough to handle 2 or even 3 spots at a time.

Most people use the bottom fishing rigs sold at tackle shops that sell saltwater fishing equipment. This is unnecessary and can be expensive if you lose too many rigs. I tie my own out of 30 lb. monofilament and have always had good luck with them.

To tie a bottom fishing rig for Spots , start with a 5' piece of 30 lb. line. Tie a size 7 brass barrel swivel to one end using a Palomar Knot then tie a Dropper Loop about 8-10 inches below the swivel. I leave the loop around 3 inches long. Now tie another Dropper Loop 8-10 inches below the first and another 8-10 inches below the second. Some people use 2 and I have seen some use as many as 5 , but 3 has always worked for me. After you finish tying the loops you can either tie a 3 ounce Pyramid Sinker directly to the end of the rig or you can tie a Snap Swivel to the end so you can change the sinker as needed. Now tie the brass barrel swivel to your main line. Next you will need to put hooks on the Dropper Loops. I use stainless size 1/0 O'Shaugnessy Hooks. Pinch the loop and thread it through the eye of the hook then pass the hook through the loop and pull it tight. This is called a Handshake Loop connection and it allows you to easily change hooks or remove them. Add some bait and you are ready to fish!

Spots will readily take several different baits. One of the most commonly used baits is the bloodworm , but in recent years Fishbites Imitation Bloodworms have been gaining popularity because they are easier to handle and not as messy. Either way , you only need a small piece so use these expensive baits sparingly! Another good choice for Spot is shrimp. Peel them and cut them into small pieces for smaller fish , cut them in half or use them whole for larger fish. Another option would be cut bait , which is basically small pieces of the first suitable fish you catch.

My favorite place to fish for Spots is just behind the inner sandbar from any of the many piers on the East Coast. Short casts or even just dropping the rig straight down into the water are all that is really necessary , so they are a great fish to target if you have young children fishing with you

Norfolk Spots begin their migration to warmer waters every year in mid to late September. This is usually when large schools are seen , but Spot can be caught almost any time during the year. Fishing piers from Virginia to South Carolina are usually very busy during a Spot run because they are easy to catch and great to eat.

My favorite way to prepare them is to scale and fillet them , then soak them in saltwater and lemon juice overnight. Rinse them off and dip them in beer batter and deep fry them. Serve with hush puppies and coleslaw. Delicious!

I'll try to cover what is suitable for " Cut Bait " and also some other species of fish that can be caught using the above methods in the next week or so.

Edited 10/26/2010 to add : I was never satisfied with the way I described tying your own rigs in this article. I have since written a better ( I hope ) description with pictures. You can find it here

Have a great week!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hurricanes

My thoughts are with those affected by Hurricane Karl in Mexico today and will be with people in Bermuda this weekend as Hurricane Igor passes over or near the island.

The east coast of the United States from Florida to the New England states can probably expect beach erosion and strong rip currents from Igor. Areas along the Outer Banks may experience beach erosion severe enough for the ocean to wash over Route 12 in several places that have been problematic in the past.

If you ever happen to get caught in a rip current DO NOT try to fight it by swimming directly towards the shore. Swim north or south PARALLEL to the beach to escape the current. I have seen several close calls where people simply did not know what to do or panicked and forgot. Pay close attention to any children with you because rip currents are very dangerous to even the strongest swimmers. Please be safe!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Traveling to the Outer Banks

As I mentioned earlier , the Outer Banks of North Carolina is my favorite place to vacation. We spent a week there in August this year and it never ceases to amaze me just how beautiful it is. The dunes and the ocean are just amazing. The fishing is outstanding too.

I'd like to share a few links to websites that are helpful to anyone planning a vacation.

First I highly recommend Midgett Realty for accommodations. They have a wide range of rental homes from affordable to outrageously expensive. The agents we have dealt with have always been friendly and helpful. You can find them here: Midgett Realty

Second I recommend Island Free Press for general information about the islands. They have all the info you need regarding beach access issues , local laws and just about everything you could think of that is OBX related. This is where you need to go if you have questions about beach driving. Unfortunately , beach driving is a political issue now. There are links on Island Free Press that explain what's happening and what YOU can do.

Third , for anyone who is interested in fishing , I recommend a couple of sites that have useful information and are mostly fish related. Oregon Inlet Fishing Center is a great place if you want to hire a charter boat for a day or spend the day on the Miss Oregon Inlet party boat. Most of the captains that run out of Oregon Inlet are journeymen of the Outer Banks - certified and very experienced. If boat rides aren't your idea of a good time check out OuterBanksFishing.com. There is a ton of useful information on there concerning surf and pier fishing as well as tide charts and other fishing related info.

I hope some of you are able to enjoy the Outer Banks as much as my family and I do. It is truly a unique experience to spend a week on a barrier island.

Be sure to check out my Link section below for more fishing info.

Trying my hand at blogging...

Why not? It seems everyone is doing it these days. I'll probably put some adds on here also , just in case anyone ever sees it. I doubt if I'll get rich or even make a dime , but I might as well!

What this blog will be about: I am an AVID fisherman when I am able to go , so that will be part of it. Mainly it will be about whatever catches my eye on any given day. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is one of my favorite places on Earth and I'll probably post some things related to our vacations there , the fishing there and just general OBX related info.

More later on after I figure this out and come up with something interesting to share. Feel free to ask questions or make requests in the comments section.