4.29.2016

Ocracoke, NC: Where I cut my teeth in surf fishing. Oh, and Tonights the Night: first night out in New England!

OK so let's get one thing out of the way before I start into my story telling from the NC trip: Tonight's the night (4/30).  First night out in New England.  Still agonizing about where I'll go, but I've seen solid reports of fish (big ums) from CT to North Shore MA.  So, hopefully, tomorrow morning you'll be seeing some pictures of me kissing my first New England bass of the season.

Fuck it, hopefully it'll be the first keeper!

Because, as you'll read, I've already landed 36 stripers from the surf in 2016!






Ocracoke, NC.  The place of my surf fishing birth.  13 miles of solitude, sand, and wonderfully fishy waters.



I started fishing there during summer a long time ago.  I had a $50 rod and reel combo, 20lb monofilament, 5/0 J hooks, and chunks of dead mullet.  It's all I could afford, it's all I knew of.


I initially camped at the NPS campsite, and just walked over the dunes and fished.  I'd stand on the beach from before sunrise until ~10am, then from 6pm to 12am.  Every day, all week.  70 or 80 hours of just standing there.  Tides, winds, structure, moon phase, bait patterns- I didn't know about or care about any of it.  I just soaked chunks; rod in the rod holder most of the time, me standing next to it most of the time.


The first year, I didn't catch anything more than a few small blues and one beautiful, glorious  shark that was about ~36" that changed my life (not a dog fish, a real shark!).  Looking back I don't know how I did it, so much time for so little pay off.


But my god was I obsessed.





And when I caught that one shark, all of a sudden the possibilities of what could be out there, what could be caught, we sitting in front of me.  Could I catch a 50" shark?  How about a 50" fish!?!? 


Over the next few years I'd start paying attention to deep spots, rip currents, I'd start using braid and circle hooks, different bait, and even started throwing small tins.  I'd return 4 more times and catch bigger blues, bigger sharks (and tiny ones), huge rays, flounder, speckled trout, sea mullet, and the beloved red drum.


Anyways, it's a place I hold dear in my heart.  So, after 3 years, we decided to return.


And I thought with all my knowledge, I'd slay the fish.  I mean, come on, I KNOW this place, and I am a MUCH better fisherman than I was back then.


Welp.  I was wrong.



And it sure made me appreciate the striped bass.  Yes, no denying, I'd love to still catch a bull red fish.


But I've now confirmed: bait fishing, standing in one or a few spots for hours- it ain't my thing.  And after a few days of casting lures, and some discouraging chats with locals, it was clear: lures weren't going to get it done.  Not with the big reds, and not in the surf especially.  And I really don't have interest in catching 15" blue fish- I can do that back here with my fly rod (which actually I've yet to even try really, focusing instead on night fishing for bass).


So, what I want to say before I wrap this up with an actually report, is: don't take the bass for granted.  Yes, other places have red fish, or tarpon, or rooster fish.  But the Striper, the Striper is the fish of the surfman.  It is a fish that readily takes lures, often even over bait, from shore.  It is unique, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


I'm so thankful to be able to interact with these wild creatures, the adventure and the intensity, and will take this renewed sense with me into the rest of the 2016!



And final note before I press on: If you're ever in or around Ocracoke, make sure you stop in and chat with Jimmy, Alan, and Melinda of Tradewinds Tackle.  They're great people, it's such a friendly little shop, and they won't BS you, try to sell you anything, and they will honestly try and help you as best they can to get on and catch fish.  I bought my first plugging rod here, and my first reel that cost more than $50, and they really helped me out in figuring out this whole "surf fishing thang".


So.


Sunday we arrive to very strong (40mph+ gusts) NE wind.  It had been blowing for almost a week, and the water had dropped almost 10 degrees!  I tried to scout Sunday morning at low tide, but the wind was sand blasting me, and poor Gus our dog, and so I only  made it a short time, and didn't find anything too promising.  On the way back, I stopped on the side of the road and used binoculars to look for structure, and I found lots of pelicans diving right outside the first bar.  A great sign.  Tomorrow AM should be game on!



Monday morning
We get up early- on the water by 6am.  We're in the first hour or so of the ebb- big, chocolately waves are pounding on the bar.  It's big and nasty out there.  As you'll see in the video below, I lost two very significant fish on a heavy needle (SS 3oz).  I don't know what, I don't know how, and I am still very mad about it.  This is just the second fish hook up below.



These would be the only bites I got on lures, other than flies, the rest of the week (minus pin fish from the dock).


After a few hours, Carly was tired, I was bored, and we called it a day.

Said dock where we caught rays (see text below)
Monday night
We gave it an honest effort.  I found a really nice hole near the Pony pens that was on one side of a huge point, where the sand bars came right into shore.  It defined "perfect" in my mind.  I fished bunker heads/big chunks on 6x 8/0 circle hooks, with my new Fiberstar Predator rod.  It was fun- for like 30 minutes.  Then I got bored.  Carly stuck with 2/0 hooks with shrimp.  She ended up catching a few sea mullet, and one plate sized ray.  We only fished until about an hour after dark, and called it a night.

Tuesday
Tuesday was a much nicer day.  S, SE winds were gentle and the sun was strong.  We didn't fish in the morning, but did a little bit more scouting.  I didn't find any spot that was better than what we had fished the night before, so we stuck with that.  That night, from about an hour before sunset to a couple hours, we had plenty of tiny fish action.  It was nearly constant, and it actually was very annoying.  So many sea mullet in the wash.  I remained with my 8/0 and 5/0 hooks and didn't land any bought lost tons of bait.  Carly did land a few , but also mostly just got her bait stolen.

Wednesday
We again didn't get up in the morning- afterall, it was vacation.  And the NE wind was back, and very strong yet again.  Long story short, we fished the same spot one more time.  And the sea mullet were thick again, and Carly landed a few.  Right before dark, Carly hooked up with something that finally felt like it could pull a little, and ended up with a nice little speckled trout.  She was very excited.  Video below.



Thursday
Thursday morning.  The day of surprises.
Gentle W wind.  Much warmer.  From this day forward it was in the 70s every day.

Thursday morning I got up at 5:00am- which was way too early and ended up standing around waiting for it to lighten a little bit- and rode my bike (with waders on and rod budgied to my basket of my rental cruiser) to a beautiful spot called Springer Point.  It's on the sound side, and has a nice little beach and mini-jetty.  I decided to fly fish this morning, finally breaking out the stripping basket and the 8wt I brought with me.  Right before sunrise I had my first hit- and man was my heart pounding!  It was a speckled trout!  I got it RIGHT to my feet, and it came off as I was trying to reach for it.  I let the line go slack and it came off because I crimp my barbs.  Bummer.

I was pretty upset, but just kept at it.

And lo and behold- about 10 minutes later- I had a little tap and set the hook hard.  The fish fought decent and I figured it was another decent trout.

Nope.

Turns out it was a schoolie striper!  Yeah, it was only about 8" long (pictured), but I was floored!  Stripers!  I couldn't help but laugh.  I drive 14 hours to Ocracoke, and catch a striper!



I let the little guy go gently, and took another cast, and immediately I was into another schoolie.

Long story short: over the next 90 minutes I caught about 30 schoolies between 8 and 15".  Most were in the 10-12" range.  I started to even feel bad- these were the next generation after all, and I don't need to catch tiny stripers to have fun.  But I just couldn't get away from them!  I moved all around in a 300 yard area and they were every where!  I would have left but I got bit off twice and hooked up and broke off on something larger- so I think there were probably larger fish mixed in of unknown type.  I just couldn't leave.



Around 8:15am, when the sun got high enough it really lit up the water, the bite turned off and I figured that meant the other types of fish would move on as well so I called it a day.

And it reminded me, stripers can FIGHT.  Those little guys pull hard, even on the 8wt.  It was fun, I'll admit it.

So good morning I guess!

Thursday night was really fun too.  We decided to fish the north end of the island after talking to the guys at Tradewinds.

We parked at the lot, and only had to walk a little ways to the south where we found a nice hole and a rip.

Immediately I saw what I thought was large drum RIGHT in the wash.  My heart was FUCKING POUNDING.  Carly was getting bites immediately, and landed a puffer fish and a few sea mullet.

While she was coming over to show me the puffer fish...all of a sudden I had a solid pull.  Not a tap, it just started going.  I reeled hard and was immediately tight to what i assumed was a large drum.  It didn't run fast at first, just steady.  And I thought I could feel head shakes.



Well, the video is TERRIBLY embarrassing so I won't post it here.  I was losing my mind, I mean, it felt like this was a huge fish.  It never stopped, it just kept running, and going back and forth in front of me.

And after a few minutes, I started to think.  Wait.  This doesn't exactly feel like a fish.

Could it be a ray?

Now, I've caught plenty of giant rays in my day from 15 to over 60lbs.  I caught a ray once that was 60" wide and I couldn't even flip it over it was too heavy.

This was so different- it didn't ever sit.  It didn't ever stop.  But something wasn't right.

Welp.  That's because it was a cow nose ray.  Same thing I saw in the wash that I thought was a drum (or I think so now anyways).



And when I realized it was a ray, I was pretty pissed.  So I clamped down on the drag and the hook bent (I was only using a 2/0 2x) and I lost it in the wash.

After the initial dissappointment, I was kinda pissed at myself for not landing the ray.  I mean, it fought great- it fought like a game fish really.

Well, we'd have our chance again.

Carly and I each caught one after that in the surf.  See video below.  It was entertaining at least.

Oh, and as I was fighting my second ray, Carly walked up with nice little flounder she caught.  I forgot to mention that.  Here's a funny video of that:





After the rays, we both had several sea mullets, with a couple decent ones.  But by decent, I  mean 15", and I have to say- I don't really enjoy catching 15" fish on my 10.5ft surf rod and 30lb braid.

No gamesmanship there.

At the bottom of the tide, we stopped getting any bites, and quit at about 10pm after a long stretch of no hits.



Friday
Nothing really to report.  We went back to the same spot from 6:30 to 9:30, and only caught sea mullet.  No rays, no big fish.  But the consolation was there were trucks around everywhere both nights, and we didn't see anyone catch anything of any size.  It's kinda fun walking on the beach with just my tiny cooler and surf bag, 1 rod, and out catching all these jokers with 8 rods on their beach buggies, 4 rods in rod holders that they're casting 150 yards out into the suds, and full fish shop like bait processing tables.

Saturday, our last day.
So, we're sipping our coffee on the dock Saturday AM.  All of a sudden these big rays swim by, and I'm like: Carly, I'm going to catch them on the little rods (we had little rods to throw tins with for blues, etc.).  She said, come on you're just going to break them.  But I run back to the house anyways, grab a couple hooks and a 1/2oz sinker, and the finger mullet and run back.  Of course they're gone, but I cast around anyways.  Tons of little fish nibbling, so one thing turns into another and next thing Carly and I are giggling like school kids catching pin fish and croaker on gulp shrimp while drinking coffee and eating waffles.





But after about 20 minutes, Carly says: they're back!  I come over to the side she's on and I see this ray- the thing has got to weight at least 20lbs- in about 1ft of water.  I quickly switch from the gulp to the 2/0 hook I had and put on 1/2 a finger mullet.  I toss it out there, and it lands about 10 feet away from the ray, who's just lazily swimming around.  Again, it's not a rough tail, it's a cow nose, which swim pretty much constantly and are much more triangular shaped vs. round like a disc.

As the scent drifts towards it, it starts to move.  It swims towards my bait and I'm laughing saying "I'm going to get him Carly!"

Remember: my rod I'm using is 7ft long, rated to 3/8oz, and is a 3 piece travel rod designed for freshwater bass applications.  The things bends under a 4oz pin fish.



So ray swims over my bait, I feel a slight tap, and I rear back hard.  I watch the ray pause, and then start to swim away, and my rod is bent to the hilt.  I'm using 20lb test and I back way down on the drag because that could easily snap the rod.

Suddenly, the ray realizes it's hooked.  Things get hilarious really quick- it takes off like a ROCKET.  I mean, bonefish style.  I yell CARLY GET THE CAMERA and she takes off to get the camera.  While she's gone, the ray takes almost all of the 150 yards of 20lb braid I had, and it jumped twice!  I was laughing hysterically.  The poor little 3000 size Penn battle was hot to the touch.

But, I did turn the ray and get it headed back.  It took about 15 minutes, but I did get it back to the dock after dancing around poles on the little cabana at the end (it was a great place to stay!).  Eventually I started cupping the spool and working the ray to shore.  I couldn't believe I was going to land it!  I couldn't believe the tsunami classic travel rod I was using didn't break.  Kudos to the them: great products!  Such good values.

So anyways I landed the ray and we snapped a few shots and went back to sipping coffee and catching croaker and pin fish.

Five minutes later, Carly is slaying the pin fish (LOL!) and she yells "JERRY WHAT DO I DO?" and I look over and her rod is bent to the hilt and she looks like she might be pulled off the dock!

Ray.



Again, to keep it short, the long story short is she fights a similar sized and powered ray with her small rod (which is stronger than mine but still very light at 1oz rated) and lands it on her own with my coaching.  It got tense once when the thing went under the dock but she cupped the spool and pulled it back out while alternating between laughing and fake crying.  I was laughing the whole time.





It was fun.

And that was the trip!  We wanted to fish Saturday night before we left but it lightening pretty bad and we couldn't do it.

It was a good kick off to the season, and I'm raring to go!