Ten Tips For A Winter Tacklebox “Overhaul”

August 17th, 2010

From BoatU.S. Angler Expert Steve Chaconas

It’s time to let the tacklebox do the talking.

After a spring, summer and fall of hard use, your tackle is showing some wear and tear. Now, with winter approaching, Steve Chaconas, a BoatU.S. Angler fishing expert and professional guide, has these ten tips for a winter tacklebox “overhaul” that will get you ready for next season, and keep you focused on fishing while the waters are frozen over.

1. Take a look at all of your lures. There are likely a few you never tied on. Here’s an idea: Get some lure paint from a fishing craft store such as Jann’s Netcraft and change the color of the lure to match up closer to ones that produce. If you don’t want to do that, just give them to a kid to use or another fishing buddy.

2. Next, examine the hooks on your crankbaits and topwaters and replace them or sharpen. With spinnerbaits, sharpen hooks and take a look at the rubber skirts. Replace them if necessary. A tip: Tying some nylon thread above the rubber collar on the skirt will keep it in place.

3. Organize. Inventory. Stocking tackle over the winter gives you a great running start in the spring.

4. If you’re a bit more organized, you can take your reels apart to clean, grease and oil.

5. If you decide to remove the line completely from a reel, you don’t want to re-spool until you go fishing again next spring as line memory makes it harder to cast. Another school of thought that may save a little time and money is to not remove all of the line, leaving some “backing,” or a permanent length of line on the reel. This way, you don’t have to replace all of the line every year.

To leave the correct length of backing, make one long cast and then cut the line. Then tie the lure or weight on and make a second long cast, cut the line, and repeat this process one more time. Now that you’ve gotten about three cast-lengths of line removed from the reel, you’re ready to tie your new line onto the end of the backing line.

No matter which route you go, try to recycle your discarded fishing line.

6. Back to the reel. After you clean the exterior, pay attention to areas where line passes. On baitcasting reels, it’s the line guide. Use a Q-Tip or pipecleaner dipped in WD-40.

For spinning reels, it’s the line roller. To lubricate, put a drop of oil or grease on the worm gear, on the spinning reel line roller, and on the bail pivot points. It’s also a good idea to clean the handles and oil the axles.

7. For rods, check the guides and wraps. If a guide has a scratch, nick, or groove, replace it. Some anglers brush a Q-Tip inside the guide to see if a piece of cotton is left behind. I use a magnifying glass. I want to see what’s really going on. If the guide wraps are loose or exposed, repair this area. Again, your tackle retailer has all the supplies.

8. Winter is also a good time to take a hard look at what you’re carrying in your tacklebox. Is there something in there you don’t use? Something you’ve needed? Winter allows you the time to research new lures, or even a new tacklebox.

9. Beyond tackle, there are a few other items you may want to think about having in your tacklebox: basic first-aid items, an extra mini-flashlight, spare knife, a small bottle of bug repellant, an emergency space blanket, and perhaps some extra cordage. Just make sure it’s serviceable.

10. This last tip isn’t for your tacklebox, but it’s an important one and something I do every year. If you use inflatable life jackets, I like to test and replace my re-arm kits in the fall when we revert back to Standard Time. That way, it helps me remember to change my smoke detector batteries and re-arm my life jacket at the same time.

The Secret Behind a Fall Staple – King Mackerel

August 17th, 2010

By Dan Kibler

King mackerel are an important fish along the Cape Fear coast, and out of Wrightsville Beach, Capt. Rod Bierstedt of Onmyway Charters has figured out the secret to consistently good catches from October into December.

Run out to 60 feet of water and start looking for rocks and reefs.

“In October, you’ll get a temperature break starting out along the 60-foot line, and it will get stacked Coast mapup with kings,” said Bierstedt (910-798-6093). “If you look at a chart, you find that the 60-foot line matches up with hardbottom and artificial reefs up and down the coast. That makes it an extremely productive place to start, all the way from Topsail to the (Frying Pan) shoals.

“You’ve got about 35 miles of perfect structure, a perfect edge, and (the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries) just happened to put three artificial reefs in those areas. It’s just a really hot king mackerel fishery.”

Even the most wet-behind-the-ears fishermen can read a nautical chart and pick out places like Dallas Rock, the dredge wreck, the 8-mile boxcars, 10-Mile Rock and 30-30. All of them can be extremely productive in the fall, and all are an 8- to 10-mile run out of inlets like Masonboro and Carolina Beach.

“Those ledges and rocks around the 60-foot line will get good as soon as the water starts to cool down, and you can catch kings there as long as you’ve got 68-degree water,” said Bierstedt, who fishes out of Wrightsville Beach. “The good stuff starts off Topsail with really good ledges and livebottom. There are a bunch of ledges just north and south of the dredge wreck. You’ve got a whole fishery right there – eight to 10 different places to fish.”

Big kings are a fall staple, and live-baiting has traditionally been the way to catch them, but Bierstedt said that dead baits will often outfish live ones, if they’re rigged properly. And being able to buy cigar minnows at most tackle shops can save you as much as a good hour the first thing every morning. Instead of drifting around the ICW and feeder creeks looking for live menhaden, you’re already at the fishing grounds, putting baits in the water.

“Live-baiting is fun, but it takes a lot of time. Pogeys can be tough to catch,” he said. “You can fish pogeys, and kings will eat ‘em, especially if you’re fishing around the inlets. But the reality is, when they’re out on the wrecks and reefs, they’re normally feeding on something else: cigar minnows, sardines, flying fish. That’s why a king will eat a dead cigar minnow over a live pogey.”

King Mackerel

Bierstedt fishes cigar minnows on a live-bait rig that’s been modified. Instead of starting with a hook through the nose of the bait – with two “stinger” treble hooks tucked under the flesh of its back and tail – he’ll use a Hank Brown Hookup jig, a Barefoot jig or a Gitzem jig and stick it through the bait’s nose. The added weight keeps the dead cigar minnow from spinning, and it swims upright – almost naturally.

A typical spread that Bierstedt runs will have a dead cigar minnow on a downrigger about 30 feet below the surface, then a live bait on a downrigger about 15 feet from the surface. He’ll have three more baits trailing behind the boat close to the surface.

“Using dead baits, you can troll a little faster – maybe 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 knots,” Bierstedt said. “You can cover more territory … You can cover about twice as much water with dead bait as you can with live bait.”

And once Bierstedt strikes a king, he’ll stay in an area, knowing that the water temperature, availability of baits and good bottom structure tends to congregate kings in certain areas.

“It’s not unusual to have three or four lines hit at one time, once you get the first one in an area,” he said. “We’ve had some charters where you limit out with 20-pound fish in two hours.”

Flounder Fishing with Capt. Jimmy Price

August 17th, 2010

By Dan Kibler

Capt. Jimmy PriceThere may never have been a fisherman on North Carolina’s coastline whose name is more associated with a single species of fish as Capt. Jimmy Price is with the flounder.

The veteran guide from Southport catches more big flounder in a year than many fishermen do in a decade – or a lifetime, for that matter. He understands what makes them tick: where they live on different stages of the tide, where they’re likely to feed, and how they move seasonally.

“I’ve kept records for years for every trip I’ve ever taken – wind direction, tide, temperature – all that stuff, so I almost know where the fish will be any time I go fishing,” said Price, who guides in the mornings and hangs out at Wildlife Bait & Tackle in Southport in the afternoons. “When the water heats up, in July, your mullet minnows will arrive, and they’ll be big enough to catch in cast nets, so we’ll go out and fish the inshore reefs and wrecks in July, August and September.

“When it gets hot, the flounder will go to deeper water for cooler places, and in the fall, when it cools off in the ocean, they’ll be back in the bays and the creeks.”

On summertime flounder trips, Price normally starts by throwing a cast net for finger mullet, one of his favorite baits. “They will start to show up around the first of July, and they’re easy to catch in a cast net,” he said. “A 4- or 5-inch mullet minnow is just perfect.”

Once he’s got his bait, he heads out the mouth of the Cape Fear River, headed to the buoys that mark the McGlammery and Yaupon artificial reefs, both of which are within sight of the beach. He tries to anchor up around the edge of the reefs, which include barges, concrete rubble, discarded steel and neat little hollow concrete cylinders known as “reef balls.”

“The look like hornets’ nests, only they’re made of concrete, maybe three feet across and four feet tall, and they’ve got holes in ‘em so small baitfish can go in and out,” Price said. “I call ‘em ‘flounder hotels’ because flounder will lay on the bottom around those reef balls and wait for the little baitfish to swim out, then they’ll swim up and get ‘em.”

Price fishes what freshwater anglers would recognize as a Carolina rig – a hook tied to a length of leader (different fishermen have different length preferences), tied to a barrel swivel. Above the swivel, an egg sinker from 1 to 1-1/2 ounces is threaded on the running line, which is tied to the other eye of the swivel.

The sinker stays on the bottom, but the baitfish is free to swim freely, several inches off the bottom, within the confines of the leader. That usually puts him right in a flounder’s strike zone: several inches off the bottom.

After Labor Day, when the water starts to cool, flounder will move back into the Cape Fear River, the ICW and the creeks that feed both.

Price works areas where flounder can move from deep to shallow water and back as the tide moves. “At high tide, you fish right up next to the marsh,” he said. “We’ll use live bait – peanut pogies or mullet minnows or mud minnows. When the tide falls, you have to back out and fish closer to the channels.”

Flounder will always lie on the bottom, facing the direction of the current. Not being able to swim swiftly for any distance, relying on baitfish to swim within easy reach, a flounder is at the mercy of the current. He’ll position himself in spots where the current of a falling tide will wash baitfish within range. The mouth of little feeder creeks are perfect areas, as are little ridges on mud flats or sandbars where the water drops off several feet back into deeper water.

“There are some little creeks, when you go to them on a (high) tide, all the live bait will go up in those creeks, and when the tide turns and gets to a certain point coming out, it will be like flushing a commode. All the bait knows that it’s got to get out, and the flounder know it, too,” Price said. “They’ll line up around the mouth of a creek like a picket line. You can anchor up and catch ‘em, fish after fish.”

Price locates places where a lot of flounder congregate in much the same way that a deer hunter figures out a big buck’s pattern – by the sign he leaves.

On low tide, Price will often beach his boat and walk a mud flat, looking for the dish-shaped indentation in the bottom sediment that shows where a flounder set up to feed when the water was up. He said he’s often found flats and mud banks in certain areas that held dozens of “flounder beds.” He was back on the next high tide, anchored up, casting live bait to those spots.