Scott Garris remembers the insanity.
Big trucks trolling the beach near Oregon Inlet searching the surf for roiling packs of blue fish, running frenzied prey ashore.
“Anglers would be running up and down the beach. When somebody spotted a school they would get on the CB. In minutes, guys would be shoulder to shoulder,” he says. Garris, a builder by trade who also works part of the year at Whalebone Tackle in Nags Head, N.C., describes a scene captured in magazines and on older videos digitized for YouTube of thousands of surf anglers lining the beach and wading in the water, panicked fish running into their legs in an attempt to escape the hungry blue fish. But those days are gone.
Surf anglers still catch some blues, but in the fall, when the legendary blitzes once took place, the big game now is stripers and puppy drum.
“We have some of the best puppy drum fishing to be found,” Garris says.
In the summer, well, it’s a different type of insanity altogether-tourists. But in spite of all the people, the Outer Banks of North Carolina remains a world-class angling destination with plenty of room along its wide beaches and piers to drop a line and tangle with coastal fish. Many summer visitors come expressly for the fishing, while many others travel there with families bent on other beachside interests, but are easily able to insert some quality fishing time in the mix.
When It’s Hot It’s Hot
Shark and skate are running the beaches coming out of March and into April, while some of that awesome winter puppy drum fishing is still to be had in the sound on into mid- and even late-April, says Whalebone Tackle owner Bill McCaskill. By the first of May, some blue fish will begin to appear along the beach and by the end of that month, anglers are pulling in Spanish mackerel. Speckled and grey trout are also found at this time.
As summer heats up, puffer or blow toads cruise the surf, as will sea mullet, spot and croaker. Blues and Spanish mackerel are best targeted from one of the many piers that stab into the ocean from the thin ribbon of land that makes up the islands of the Outer Banks into late May and early June. At the same time, cobia will begin to appear. While surf anglers certainly stand a chance of pulling one of these fish in, they are best caught by the fisherman who can get just offshore by a hundred yards or so with a boat. Later in summer southern whiting and pompano will appear.
Flounder are always around, though McCaskill says many summer anglers don’t fish them right because they only want to fish during the middle of the day, and even then, they are usually on the beach with family, which translates into kids and people playing in the water.
McCaskill says flounder fishing is best on a rising tide, about an hour or two after low water and on days when the water is clear and in places that aren’t being disturbed by swimmers.
In fact, for the angler serious about catching fish along the beach, just as in most hunting and fishing efforts, before breakfast and in the evening when most folks are settling back for a refreshing gin and tonic are the times to truly set a hook. With fewer people on the beach and fish in their normal feeding patterns, the fishing can’t get any better.
“The fish don’t want to be out in all of that sun and heat anymore than we do,” laughs McCaskill.
For anglers looking to haul in sheepshead or black drum, summer fishing off the Oregon Inlet bridge or near any pilings along the inlet will produce. Black drum in excess of 25 pounds can be caught.
Squid, blooodworms and live minnows are still popular surf baits, but McCaskill says most of your blue fish, trout and mackerel are caught on artificial lures. Sting silvers, Hopkins and small silver spoons are among some of the most popular among anglers in the know. Other popular options include buckhead jigs and leadheads. Most lures used are in the ½ to 4 ounce range.
On the piers, anglers use jerk jiggers, a hard lure with double treble hooks that are jerked or popped to provide a wounded bait fish action on the retrieve.
For sheepshead, black drum and pompano all prefer to feed on mole crabs, better known as sand fleas. They are small hard crabs that burrow into the sand along the shore and among pilings.
Other critical gear includes a good surf casting rod or two. Fishbro.com suggests summer anglers go with an 8- to 9-foot light action rod capable of spooling 250 to 300 yards of 8- to 10-pound test line.
North Carolina began requiring a saltwater anglers to purchase fishing licenses around 2007 and the crush to buy one at a tackle shop or other local store during the height of summer can translate into waits in line of up to 45 minutes. For that reason, McCaskill’s shop and others don’t even sell them. It ties up too much time that they can be helping customers who are ready to get out on the water.
He does provide a computer for folks to use but even that can eat up time.
He recommends calling the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s toll free number at 888-248-6834 or you can visit the NCWRC’s automated license and vessel network (https://www.ncalvin.org/Alvin/default.aspx?MenuTabID=138&SiteID=1&TranTabID=488&trid=41&vid=0). The automated phone system is the best way McCaskill recommends to purchase the North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License, which costs nonresidents $10 for 10 days of fishing or $30 for the entire season.
From Corolla all the way down to Hatteras Island, the Outer Banks boasts a lot of great places to stay, fish, eat and drink. Following is a list of useful links for planning your next angling vacation.
Outer Banks Official Website:http://www.outerbanks.org/
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries:http://www.ncfisheries.net/
NCDMF Fish Identification Guide: http://www.ncfisheries.net/fishfind/index.html
TW’s Bait & Tackle: http://www.twstackle.com/
Whalebone Tackle: http://www.whalebonetackle.com/
Hatteras Jack: http://www.hatterasjack.com/
Red Drum Tackle Shop: http://www.reddrumtackle.com/
Avalon Fishing Pier: http://www.avalonpier.com/
Oregon Inlet Fishing Center: http://www.oregon-inlet.com/
Where To Stay
Saltaire Cottage Court: https://www.smartscouter.com/ssDefault.aspx
Holiday Inn Express: http://www.hiexpress.com/kittyhawknc
Hilton Garden Inn: http://www.hiltongardeninnouterbanks.com/
SeaKove Motel & Cottages: http://www.seakove.com/
Sun Realty Cottage/Condo Rentals: http://www.sunrealtync.com/
Oceanhouse Motel: http://www.oceanhousemotel.com/
Sea Ranch Hotel: http://www.searanchhotel.com/
Colony IV by the Sea: http://www.motelbythesea.com/index.htm
Sea Gull Motel: http://www.seagullhatteras.com/
Where To Eat & Drink
Fishbones Sunset Grille & Raw Bar: http://www.fishbonessunsetgrille.com/ordereze/default.aspx
Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar: http://www.awfularthursobx.com/
Pigman’s Bar-B-Que: http://www.pigman.com/
Outer Banks Brewing Station: http://obbrewing.com/
Chilli Peppers Restaurant & Bar: http://www.chilli-peppers.com/
Goombay’s Grille & Raw Bar: http://www.goombays.com/
Black Pelican: http://www.blackpelican.com/
Owen’s Restaurant: http://www.owensmotel.com/restaurant.asp
Sam & Omie’s Restaurant: http://www.samandomies.net/
The Sugar Shack Fish Market: http://www.sugarcreekseafood.com/sugarshack/index.htm
Outriggers Offshore Bar & Grill: http://www.outriggersoffshorebarandgrill.com/