Rain and wind make for tough fishing weather

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By Brant McMullan, Fishing Correspondent

Just as we were coming into the middle of last week, the fishing and weather were finally starting to work in our favor. The torrential rainfalls of a couple weeks ago had turned the waters brown and left nearshore fishing at a near standstill. However, as the weather settled, we were starting to see schools of Spanish mackerel and bluefish move back close to shore, a sign we have not seen much of this season.
Well, that didn’t last long, as the weekend was a total washout and blowout. Now we are once again left with dirty water and slow nearshore fishing. Do I sound in the dumps? I’m mostly disappointed in our Spanish mackerel fishery this season. We had a great year last year, and this year I can count the number we have had on a hand. Spanish are an important part of our charter fishing, as they provide great table fare and are close to shore, making those short half-day trips much more exciting.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the king mackerel have started biting pretty good in depths of 55 to 80 feet. This past week, we had great catches at locations such as the Shark Hole and Jungle, both in 65 feet of water. We also saw good catches of kings and large Spanish mackerel coming from the 390/390 area, which is only 8 miles from Ocean Isle Beach. There have been plenty of pogies along the beach to catch and use for live bait, but I have to say we have been having more luck on dead cigar minnows. This is contrary to everything I believe and know in king mackerel, but we have truly caught more and just as big king mackerel this year on dead bait.
Simply get a box of dead cigar minnows, rig them on a dead bait king mackerel rig (typically consists of one-half ounce, skirted jig head and stinger treble) and slow troll a spread of three to four lines at 1 to 2 knots.
We also pretty much have stopped using downriggers, too, because sharks have gotten so bad. I thought I’d never say that, as the downrigger is typically a must for successful king fishing.
Besides the kings, we are still seeing scattered cobia and mahi-mahi, as well as the occasional sailfish mix in with the kings. All in all, the fishing is much improved over the past couple of weeks, but the weather is not.
My family and I had an exciting adventure this past weekend. My brother, Barrett; wife, Amy; and children Caroline (8) and Brayden (3) fished with me in the Carolina Beach Got’em On King Classic fishing tournament. This king mackerel tournament is typically one of the biggest in our area, and winning it is considered a great accomplishment.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature put on her spoiler alert and brought torrential rain and howling winds on Saturday and Sunday. The forecast Saturday was southeasterly winds 10 to 15 mph, with gusts to 20 mph, and heavy rain. For Sunday, the forecast was southeasterly winds 15 to 20 mph and gusty conditions.
The tournament director called me Thursday to ask my opinion on whether they should have the tournament; they were getting lots of phone calls from concerned fishermen who did not want to compete in those conditions. My opinion was that having the tournament as a reschedule was no guarantee the conditions would be any better, and if they had to reschedule, it might likely kill the event for the year.
The conditions were bad, but they were fishable and the show must go on. As such, an event that usually hosts 150 to 200 boats was cut down to 81 diehard fishing teams. Of course, you know Team OIFC had to be in the mix, as we weren’t going to let a little weather scare us away.
As Barrett and I loaded the boat on Saturday morning, it was raining so hard we could barely see. The wind was howling hard from the north, blowing against a 4-foot southerly swell; it was just beautiful. We cleared the inlet at daybreak and found pogies immediately, throwing the net one time and heading out.
We made a run 25 miles to a spot in 80 feet of water where some good kings had been caught earlier in the week. A few other boats joined us at the spot, but the action was slow. We fought barracuda, amberjack, sharks…but nobody was hooking kings.
At 9 a.m., we started contemplating the next move. By this time it was blowing 15 to 20 knots from the southeast and seas were 3 to 5 feet with some bigger. The plan all along was to make this our first stop on the way offshore to deeper water. I had a spot in mind I wanted to get to, and I would not be satisfied unless we gave it all we had.
The team hunkered down as Capt. Barrett drove the 32-foot yellowfin into the seas. We slugged our way another 15 miles offshore to an area of live bottom in 100 feet of water. It was rough, but it was fishable and we again began deploying.
A curious cobia came up quickly to check us out and we cordially showed him the inside of our fishbox. Next a mahi-mahi came along and joined the fun.
We again were resetting and my wife, Amy, was in charge of the ribbonfish. We don’t always use ribbonfish for bait, but with the seas so rough, it was easier to run the dead bait than an entire spread of live baits. Besides, we won this very tournament a few years ago on a ribbonfish and you just never know when they will pay off.
Amy had rigged the ribbon to her specs and was letting it out into the spread. She carefully pulled line of the spool when something hit the bait. She engaged the reel and wound tight and set the hook. The fish lay there and then at a less-than-impressive speed took off 50 or so yards of line, staying relative high in the water column.
My initial impression was not good, but I did take note of the angle of the line and kept a glimmer of hope that maybe it was a king. The fish made a couple more short 50-yard runs and then hunkered down. Amy moved to the bow and began hoisting the fish toward the surface while Barrett continued to deploy lines and work baits out the back. I was at the helm trying to balance the boat so as not to drift past Amy’s fish and not back over Barrett’s lines in the 4- to 6-foot following seas.
Amy’s fish circled toward the stern, passing the motors and then heading back toward the bow. This is the time when I started to get more interested, as it is typical for large kings to make big circles under the boat as they are pulled to the surface. Amy quietly did her thing (she is a current IGFA world record holder) and announced “color.” Barrett headed forward to try to get a glimpse. I watched Barrett and then saw him go from a casual stance to a state of panic as he leapt for the gaff, nearly tearing the Fiberglas off the boat in an attempt to free it from its clips.
The fish was a king and it was a good-size fish. I was at the helm, balancing four lines behind us and a king in front of us, so I caught only one glimpse of about half the fish. I thought it was a good fish, but I could tell by Barrett’s body language he thought it must be very special.
Amy and Barrett worked together as the king made a couple more lunges and small circles before Barrett sunk the gaff in its back. He brought it to the surface and then did a double pump as he hoisted the king onto the deck. High fives and possible a two-step broke out as we had been rewarded for all our hard work and effort in the very tough conditions. The kids were excited, and the feeling of working hard to accomplish a goal with them was very special.
We iced our catch and continued fishing for another hour, boating a nice mahi-mahi. At about 12:30 p.m., something changed in the weather and the winds and seas picked up. I guarantee the seas were pushing more than 8 feet as the winds easily peaked at 25 knots. We could no longer fish effectively and we had a fish to take the scales, so we wisely called it a day.
The ride home was long and wet. At the tournament site in Carolina Beach, we were greeted by a squall of rain and wind, but the looks of the spectators and dock crew as we unloaded our fish told us we had done well. The kids and Amy accompanied the fish to the scale while I held the boat in the basin to wait on the news. That is a feeling I relish in tournament fishing, knowing you caught a good fish and just waiting to get word of how big the fish was and how it stood in the tournament.
The final word was 39.75 pounds and first place.
We waited in great anticipation as the event continued, and we were nearly toppled when a 38.9-pound King was weighed. But at the end of the event, Team OIFC stool alone as the leader and winner of the tournament. Caroline and Brayden were top junior anglers and Amy was the top lady angler. It was a great family experience, and despite the tough conditions, the lesson of hard work equals success was well worth it.
And so, Team OIFC is riding high right now. As we say, “You are only as good as your last tournament.” Right now we are on top, but this week we are heading down to fish an event in Alabama where we will most likely be humbled once again. Far better is it to dare mighty things and risk failure, than to never know the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

Brant McMullan, a two-time winner of the SKA national championship, is a charter captain and fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at captbrant@oifishingcenter.com.