- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Spring is almost here, and with it comes the annual seasonal upswing in inshore fishing. A lot of bait will soon be filtering through our local waters, and the number of fish to choose from is about to dramatically increase. The water temperatures this year got a little bit colder than last winter, but not so much so they won’t quickly bounce back into prime range for good fishing.
Speaking of last year, spring turned out to be one of the better seasons in 2008 with a particularly strong speckled trout bite and lots of different species arriving right on time. In fact, we had a good spring, summer and winter last year, while only fall, usually the most reliable season, was disappointing. Just in case we have a repeat this year, there’s no reason to avoid jumping in early and putting some fish in the cooler.
One fish that never really go away are the trout, although some of the coastal freezes can cause fish kills among them in the winter because they stubbornly stay inshore all year. It looks as if that occurred in a few places this year but mostly on a small scale that shouldn’t really impact the population significantly.
Spring is known as a time of two different speckled trout runs. Some very big specks are caught in the creeks and waterways as “gator” trout 4 pounds and heavier gather inside. On the ocean-side, however, spring is a time of numbers instead of size, as “spike” trout just over the legal limit cruise in big schools around the piers munching shrimp and minnows.
The best bait for trout of all sizes is live shrimp, often fished under a float, but live shrimp is usually not available at the beginning of the spring season. Most anglers use lures early in the season. While bulky plugs like MirrOlures can catch the larger fish, the most popular spring speck lures are lead head jigs with grubs attached. These days you can find about any kind of grub to go behind a jig, as the market is flooded with different varieties.
The Gulp line of baits is very popular and has a devoted following among trout anglers, but old-fashioned curly-tail grubs or long Troutkiller strips take plenty as well. Trout are among the most notorious fish for switching the color and style of the lure they will hit, not just from day-to-day but sometimes minute-to- minute. In addition to the specks, some gray trout usually show up on the piers in spring as well.
Two very important early fish are the whiting and black drum, which make up a lot of the spring pier catches. Both of these species love to hit fresh cut shrimp, so they are prime targets for bottom fishermen doing it simple. Smart anglers are aware that if whiting or black drum are around, they will bite better after dark than they do during the day. Black drum may barely make their presence known while the sun is up but make a big run at night.
Whiting are a fish of the surf and found in sloughs and holes where the water dips slightly deeper. They have underslug mouths that gobble up shellfish like sand fleas and tiny shrimp swept into these fast-moving areas. Veteran pier fishermen know where the best holes are year-to-year, although their location is sometimes a secret.
Black drum, meanwhile, hang around pilings and hard structures, and it is often best to just drop your bait straight down when fishing on a pier. While whiting hot-spots can shift with the sand, you can always find black drum around bridges, piers and oyster beds.
Spot are the other big bottom-fishing target, usually showing on the piers a little later than whiting but often available anytime in inside waters. They stage a strong showing in the spring, and although their size at this time usually does not match the larger fall spot run “yellow-bellied” fish. Last year, however, I saw very few big spot actually landed in the fall while earlier in the spring good numbers of decent eating-size fish were taken. Spot also like to hit at night, though runs are more often just after sunrise or before sunset.
Spot hit bloodworms, which are never cheap, or imitation bloodworms like Fishbites, which will save you money because the cut strips stay on the hook longer and you can often catch several spot on one bait. A lot of people use regular earthworms and they work fine. Spot hit cut shrimp as well, but rarely any other baits.
This has been another great winter for red drum fishing for those who know where they are and are hardy enough to go get after them. Spring breaks up the big schools a little but also energizes them as they feed on the baitfish that suddenly come alive in the warmer water. While winter red drum angling is mostly from small boats, surf anglers begin to have their chance at these “spot-tail bass” as the water temperatures nudge them to roam back into the surf.
Bluefish, one of my favorite fish to catch, show up a little later in the spring. Surf and shore fishermen catch them on cut bait, while many pier anglers chase them with pencil-popper plugs like Gotchas, which come in every shade and model themselves these days. Blues often react to the color red and they are always hungry and, for some reason, angry. Bluefish have sharp teeth and unresolved issues, so beware even if you catch one.
It is tiring to keep casting plugs if the blues are not biting, so the best thing to do is to find some young kid who is doing it and watch him. If the kid reels in a bluefish, put down the spot rod and go to work with the plug.
You might want to walk by the flounder anglers as well to see how they are doing. These are the guys with the live bait whom you encounter first at the shallow end of the pier. They often start out the spring bored, walking their bait around the rails quietly, but they won’t stay that way. Flounder will eventually make their presence known, usually right around the pilings. Flounder have to be netted up on the deck of the piers or the flopping fish may release itself.
At some point the annoying pinfish will inevitably return. That brings an end to most bait fishing in the waterway, since pinfish strip your bottom rigs before larger species are aware your bait is even there. They are a great excuse to fish with lures, since pinfish don’t nail MirrOlures or Gotcha plugs, though you might snag one of them by accident.
These continued warm winters have led to a true year-around fishing season in Brunswick County, but spring is the season where things really come alive though. The best action right now is still the redfish in the creeks. As the water temperatures undergo a steady rise, more and more varieties of fish will show up. It’s only the start of the fishing season and, hopefully, the beginning of a good year for anglers.
JEFFREY WEEKS is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.