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I guess I could say it has been a long winter, but honestly, it didn’t really start until February. But the last month has certainly been a cold, wet and miserable one.
For the last couple of years, I have looked forward to the month of February, when schools of giant bluefin tuna have been congregating and feeding off the Outer Banks. I am no stranger to fishing for giant bluefin tuna; my crew and I have been participating in the fishery for 15 years now, which peaked in our local area from 2006-2008.
But fish have tails and they use them to move around, and the fishery, too, moves. The current hot spot during February and March is from Oregon Inlet down to Hatteras. I have never seen more bluefin tuna in one spot than I have seen in this area for the past two years.
A couple of years ago, my crew and I were fishing a slick calm sea; we were in the bite and hooked up to a pair of bluefin tuna in the 150-pound range. As I looked out across the water, I could see acres of bluefin tuna under the water, their white bellies shining as they rolled up on their sides.
When we used to fish for them off Morehead City and then locally out of Ocean Isle Beach, we would deploy trolling baits and then begin searching for signs of baitfish. In this new fishery, the bluefin are schooled so thick and tight we don’t even troll anymore. We simply ride around and watch our fish finder. When we see huge red streaks on the screen, we stop, throw out the baits and basically hand feed the bluefin. It’s hardly fishing, more like riding and then catching; or sometimes it’s just riding, as they certainly can be elusive.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is the weather has been so bad this February that we have not gotten a chance to go. I have word the bluefin are there, but in our relatively small outboard boats, we have to have better weather than the big commercial boats.
I am eyeing the forecast for this week, and maybe there is a light at the end of this week, toward the weekend. The gear and boat are ready, so when we do get a break, you can bet we’ll be headed north to chase those bluefin.
In the meantime, my family and staff at the Ocean Isle Fishing Center have been working hard to get boats ready and inventory checked in. Most people look at island businesses and think the owners and staff must be enjoying their vacation time; there are little to no customers and thus nothing to do. However, that could not be further from the truth.
February and March are the two busiest back-end months at the Ocean Isle Fishing Center, and I’m sure it’s similar with other area island businesses.
We have stacks of boxes, full of inventory, that all have to be checked in. It is the unglamorous side of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center; it’s not all boats, fishing and fun.
I actually had a chance to slip away on Saturday for a little fishing excursion. Fishing friend Chris Bryan, his 8-year-old daughter Vivian, my 8-year-old daughter Caroline, my 3-year-old son Brayden and I jumped aboard the Team OIFC boat to do a little fishing.
As the federal government reports, we were chasing the “endangered” black sea bass. Luckily for us, we found plenty of big and hungry ones, and the kids had an absolute ball catching sea bass measuring 10-16 inches.
Honestly, unless you go the Gulf Stream, that’s about all that is going on right now for offshore fishing. The stream is producing catches of wahoo, but they are hit or miss as the wahoo are hanging in tight packs. But, when you hit them, you will hit big, so it’s definitely worth going, particularly if you like to gamble.
That’s the first report of the season. It is all work right now for my brother and I and the staff of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center. We hope to see you soon.
Brant McMullan, a two-time winner of the SKA national championship, is a charter captain and fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.