Fall Fishing on the Outer Banks
By Mattie Dalia –
Cooler weather, less people and great fishing. Shh, don’t tell anybody, but this is the best time of the year for the angler (or anyone else for that matter) to be on the Outer Banks.
The summer was good to us this year. The piers and beaches had good runs of spot, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, even keeper speckled trout and flounder. The pin riggers at the end of the piers were rewarded with nice cobia and big blues. Oregon Inlet Fishing Center reports prove that it was a good summer to charter a boat, with inshore catches of cobia and mackerel and deeper water successes with dolphin, yellowfin tuna and marlin.
But back to the fall… here is what anglers can hope to land this autumn on the Outer Banks.
Billfish, billfish, billfish! Not only does historical fishing data prove this is a good time for the boats, but it is also the time of year that most of the big fishing tournaments occur. While charter boats do have good success year ‘round, the fall is the most prolific for white marlin and sailfish. The peak for blue marlin is in the summer, but the season also bleeds over into the fall, producing nice catches. Yellowfin tuna are also in the waters and are consistently found in the fish box… and ultimately your table! Best advice for offshore fishing in the fall? Book a charter early and often!
In the fall, you will find a lot of migrating fishing, from north to south and from inside the sound out to the ocean. This trends towards good fishing. The start of the fall sees continued catches of snapper, tilefish and black sea bass. A party headboat provides a good and inexpensive opportunity to fish the wrecks and other structures that hold these fish. Trolling boats will find Spanish and king mackerel and bluefish. Red drum and cobia can be caught via boats equipped with towers for sight casting. Another fun and productive method is to drift for flounder in the sound. Rig up with a trolling weight, a swivel, and an 18 inch leader to a snelled #5 hook. Bait with live baitfish, cut squid or a scented Gulp bait.
I run into quite a few people on Nags Head Pier that plan their vacations specifically for fall fishing. Smart folks. The piers are a great attractor (or, better stated, obstacle) for fishing migrating south for warmer waters. Speckled trout are one of these fish and provide lots of fun on a fall morning or evening, when they are biting. Cooler (and dirtier) waters can prompt good runs of croaker, sea mullet and spot for the bottom fisherperson. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a school of the larger spot that show up in the fall, called a “yellow belly,” then you are in for a fun day and, even better, a delicious dinner! Be sure to check the pier schedules, as most will shut down for the year, some time around Thanksgiving.
There is no better time for surf fishing than September through November. Best advice is to study the beach and find a slough, or “hole” where fish will bunch up. While there is a knack to reading a beach, the easiest thing to do is to survey at low tide and determine where the holes are for the returning high tide. Here you should find the same fish you will find on the pier: speckled trout and puppy drum for those casting lures, and spot and sea mullet for those bottom fishing. As the fall progresses, larger red drum can be found along with larger bluefish. Make sure you have a N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License and, if driving the beach, the appropriate pass for your vehicle.
Tips and cool info
Know local terminology. Good luck keeping up with all the different, regionalized fishing terms. Here are just a few to either help clarify or confuse:
bunker – which are menhaden, a common bait fish
sea mullet – which are whitening, also called roundheads
mullet – which are jumping mullet, a baitfish (not to be confused with the above). There are fingers (smaller fish, used whole) and corncobs (larger, usually cut up for bait…or smoked and eaten).
bluefish – come in different sizes: candy bars are 8 to 12 inches (good sized bait for pin rigging), tailors are one to three pounds (good eating size), and large ones are called chopper blues.
red drum – also known as redfish, are called the following, based on their size: puppy drum are up to 30 inches, yearlings are 30 to 40 inches and bulls are over 40 inches (at least according to an old timer I spoke with).
eight and bait – set-up used for “bombing baits” for big drum with long casting rods, consisting of an eight ounce lead weight and spot or sea mullet head for bait.
Smoke some bluefish – For a delicious twist, try smoking your blues. There are lots of how-tos on the web, but in a nut shell: Catch a mess of blues (I prefer tailors). Filet and skin. Soak in saltwater brine (2 cups water, 1/8 cup salt, two bay leaves) for 24 hours. Pat dry and let sit on counter for several hours to form a sticky surface (called pellicule… helps the smoke stick to the fish). Fire up the smoker to 180 degrees and maintain for about three hours. Put a dab of cream cheese on a Ritz cracker and top with a chunk of smoked bluefish. Heavenly.
Find your own bait – Here are few ways to catch your own bait and save some money. Sand fleas are found in abundance on the surf line and are excellent bait. Best way to catch them is to invest in a sand flea rake… or get the kids to dig for them. A cast net can yield jumping mullet in the sound and the surf. You will need an aerator to keep them alive or you can pack them on ice for cut bait. And you will need to practice your cast for good technique and success. Remember to keep bait as fresh as you can for the best fishing results.