Springtime Brings on Super Surf Fishing Action
Surf fishing is a great way to spend a warm spring day, or night, with Memorial Day weekend one of the most popular camping weekends at the beaches. All southern coast’s beaches have walk-in access with dedicated parking. The walk-in accesses at Oak Island are plentiful and free. Topsail and Carolina Beach are other great destinations for walking to some great surf fishing. Parking places at Wrightsville Beach are metered and fill up early. For those who prefer driving on the beach, Freeman Park at Carolina Beach’s north end and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area at the south end offer beach driving for a fee.
Flounder swarm in the surf in April and May. But many of them will be “shorts” too small to keep. Still, a few will top the 5-pound citation weight toward the end of May.
Red drum will form dense schools, with the fish weighing between three and 14 pounds. These are the juvenile fish that have headed for the ocean from the backwaters as the water starts heating up.
Other fish that can be caught during a super surf-fishing trip include Virginia mullet, bluefish, pigfish, pinfish, sheepshead, black drum, pompano, dogfish and other sharks, and spot and croaker.
Anglers should fish with fresh shrimp, cut mullet or menhaden, squid and mole crabs. A two-hook bottom rig is the ticket to the surf fishing action. But some anglers prefer using a sliding sinker rig, also called a flounder rig or Carolina rig, for targeting flounder.
While almost any spot may hold a few fish, dedicated surf fishermen look for anomalies to find the best fishing spots. Walking or driving along the beach during low tide will help the angler discover changes in the bottom such as bars, current rips, clay and cochina rock formations, shell beds and steep drop-offs. These are the places that hold the most fish as the tide rises. The best fishing action usually occurs as the tide hits its peak and the following two to four hours of falling tide.
One of the best things about surf fishing is that it is inexpensive. All you need is a rod, a couple of bottom rigs, a PVC rod holder and a bucket to haul your gear to the sand and haul your catch back home. Remember to take along some sunscreen, drinking water, a knife, pliers, a hand towel and sunglasses. If you will be fishing after dark, a lantern or flashlight is a necessity. A folding chair is a nice addition. But if you want to travel light, you can always just sit on the bucket or soak up some rays while lying down on the warm beach sand on a towel.
More From Mike Marsh
Mike Marsh’s New Book, “Fishing North Carolina,” ($26.60 ppd.) along with “Inshore Angler – Coastal Carolina’s Small Boat Fishing Guide” ($26.20 ppd.) and “Offshore Angler – Carolina’s Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide” ($22.25 ppd.), are available by check or M.O. to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Dr., Wilmington, NC 28409. Visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com for credit card orders and more hunting and fishing information.
Larry Horowitz (Voyager Fishing Charters, 910-575-5978) said the bottom-fishing seasons would open.
“Fishing for beeliners will open the first of April and grouper fishing will open the first of May,” he said. “The beeliner fishing will be excellent. Most of the bottom fishing will be happening from depths of 100 feet on out.”
Tuna, wahoo and dolphin will be biting in the Gulf Stream, with the 100/400 lines one of the top spots. The best bets for offshore trolling will be ballyhoos and strips rigged fished on trolling heads and skirts.
The top nearshore action will be the Spanish mackerel, Atlantic bonito and false albacore fishing. King mackerel will also move closer to shore as the water warms up in May.
Holden Beach/Ocean Isle Area
Capt. Brant McMullan (Ocean Isle Fishing Center, 910-575-3474) said inshore fishing for speckled trout would be excellent.
“It’s catch-and-release fishing, but our May speck bite is the best of the year,” he said. “Redfish action will be excellent in the creeks and Ocean Isle canals.”
Sight fishing for red drum will be excellent. Anglers should watch for the fish on the oyster beds and cast wherever they see shrimp popping.
Flounder will arrive in early May. The inlets should host great flounder action, with Tubbs Inlet a popular destination.
In late April, Atlantic bonito will bite over structure in 60 feet of water. Anglers should watch for the birds and sight-cast spoons and Got-cha lures for bonito. Trolling Clarkspoons is the best way to find the fish when they aren’t showing on top. Once the fish have been located anglers can catch them with jigging spoons.
Spanish mackerel and bluefish show up when the water hits 66 degrees. Big schools of menhaden will attract these toothy predators.
King mackerel will arrive at structure in 100 feet of water by April, then move to 35 to 50 feet of water in May. Kings will follow the baitfish and Spanish mackerel schools.
Grouper season will reopen May 1. Anglers should fish early to take advantage of uneducated fish. Vertical jigging in 150 to 250 feet of water will be the best bet for grouper and will also result in catches of cobia, African pompano and amberjack.
Trolling for wahoo, dolphin and tuna will take off. Anglers can also catch blackfin tuna by vertical jigging the top 100 feet.
Southport/Oak Island Area
Capt. Butch Foster (Yeah Right Charters, 910-845-2004) said whiting would be biting.
“Virginia mullet, which some people also call whiting, will be biting at the nearshore structure such as the Lighthouse Rocks and the artificial reefs,” he said. “That’s going to be your best bet for nearshore bottom fishing with the sea bass fishing closed until later on. Offshore, the grouper fishing will be good in May.”
Foster catches most of his grouper at Frying Pan Shoal. But he heads for the Same Hole for top trolling action. Another good place for finding wahoo, dolphin and tuna is The Steeples.
“We are hoping for better yellowfin tuna fishing,” he said. “It was not very good last season. But blackfin tuna turned on early this spring and it should continue to be very good into May.”
Inshore, the red drum fishing will be excellent, with the Bald Head marshes and Elizabeth River good places to catch redfish. Speckled trout will be biting, but the numbers of fish may be down due to winterkill and the fish cannot yet be retained.
Wrightsville Beach/Carolina Beach Area
Capt. Jot Owens (910-233-4139) said anglers would begin seeing redfish in the shallower water.
“On the warmer days the redfish will be on the mud banks and oyster rocks on the falling tide,” he said. “Black drum will mix with the red drum. Any kind of fresh cut bait or a scented soft plastic like the Berkley Gulp Shrimp will catch both species. Best Berkley Gulp colors are Molting and New Penny.”
The catch-and-release speckled trout fishing should be good, depending on the winter carryover. A topwater lure such as the MirrOlure Top Dog will be a good choice for fishing the grass banks.
Anglers should start looking for false albacore and Atlantic bonito from right on the beach to 10 miles offshore. Bait concentrations at the hard bottoms, artificial reefs and ledges will attract the fish and the seabirds. Small jigs, casting spoons and soda straw rigs are the best lures for these schooling fish. Trolling a No. 1 planer with a Clarkspoon down deep and a Bluewater Candy Daisy Chain on top is a good tactic for cover the water column. Good colors are pink and silver.
The big chopper bluefish weighing 5 to 15 pounds will show up at the inlets. They will strike live menhaden or mullet fished on float rigs. Good lures for bluefish include topwater poppers and mid-depth jerkbaits.
Cobia will arrive by late May. Fishermen should look for cobia around the inlets and the big schools of baitfish anywhere, from right in the surf to two miles offshore. Sight casting bucktails and pitching circle hook rigs baited with live menhaden are good ways to catch cobia.
The flounder will begin biting, with good numbers of small fish back in the creeks. The bigger fish will move inshore later in the summer.
Hampstead/Topsail Beach Area
Capt. Wayne Crisco (Last Resort Charters, 910-465-0611) said anglers should begin catching a few decent flounder in May.
“The best places for flounder will be the inlets and marina basins,” he said. “Live baits fished on bottom rigs will be the best way to catch them.”
Speckled trout fishing will be good, but anglers cannot retain any specks. Atlantic bonito will arrive in May. Bluefish will arrive in April or May and mix with the schools of Spanish mackerel and bonito. Schooling fish will be at the inlets and at the natural ledges. Divers rock is a great place to find schooling fish.
Red drum will move back into the creeks. Black drum will bite at the N.C. 172 Bridge in New River and at the N.C. 50 Highway swing bridge across the ICW.
Surf City/Sneads Ferry Area
Rusty Pate (Rusty’s Bait and Tackle, 910-329-0247) said the warm water would stir up red and black drum.
“Red drum will be biting on the south side of Lea Island,” he said. “Topsail Inlet as another red hot red drum fishing spot. In the backwaters, Turkey Creek and all the creeks in New River will hold some red drum. Black drum will be mixed with the red drum.”
Shrimp, cut baits and minnows will be the best drum baits. Speckled trout will also be biting in the same waters and the drum and trout will strike MirrOlure 17MR lures and the newer, similar Bomber Badonk-a-donk lures.
Some bonito, Spanish mackerel and bluefish will school in April. Anglers will also catch spots at Surf City pier and in the ICW.