KURE BEACH — A northeasterly wind was blowing 20 to 30 miles per hour, and, according to the weather forecast, anyone out on this blustery day would also be pelted with intermittent rain. Nevertheless, about four-dozen undaunted anglers crowded the northern rail of the Kure Beach Fishing Pier.
Some anglers were clad in rainwear from head to toe, while the more hardy souls among them simply wore sweatshirts. The gathering was as colorful as it was diverse. Young and old, men and women, boys and girls, they all had come to the pier for one thing.
It was the first big spot run of the year. Named for the dark spot just behind its gill, a big spot weighs less than a pound. Despite its small size, no other fish lures so many anglers to the coast's ocean fishing piers.
"They started biting at night on Wednesday on Sept. 7 and have continued biting all the way through Sunday morning," said Mike Robertson, whose family owns the pier. "The northeast wind cooled the water down and the spots really went to biting. I've seen a spot run last six weeks, with the biggest push of fish usually coming around the second week of October."
Alice Locklear, 84, had traveled two hours from her home in Shannon when she heard the spots were biting. Clad in a yellow rain suit, she had been landing flopping fish on the pier deck all night long and into the morning.
"We got here last night about 12:00 and have caught around 100 spots," Locklear said. "I've been using bloodworms for bait. It's pretty windy, but we try to go anywhere they're biting. Sometimes we go to Southport and fish from a boat. But we will probably come to fish Kure Beach Pier three or four times this year."
Locklear's grandson had gone to the pier house to take a break. But there were no strangers in any crowd casting shoulder-to-shoulder during a spot run. Beside her, Roy Johnson, age 60, who lives only a few minutes away in Wilmington, was also busy hauling spots over the rail.
"I've been here since last night, but the fish really started biting the best this morning after it quit raining," he said. "I come two or three times a month when the spots are biting. September and October are my favorite months of the year."
Like Locklear, Johnson was using real bloodworms for bait. Some other anglers were using artificially scented bloodworm strips or pieces of shrimp. But he said he depended upon the "real thing."
"They cost $10 a dozen, but spots like bloodworms more than anything else," he said. "I cut them into small pieces so they last longer. It doesn't take a big bait to catch a spot."
While he doesn't skimp on his bait, Johnson is cost-conscious about where he fishes.
"I come to Kure Beach Pier because it's the cheapest fishing," he said. "A pier ticket costs $6 and there's no charge for parking nearby. I fish at Johnnie Mercer's Pier at Wrightsville Beach after October 26 because that's when they take up the parking meters."
Tough but worth it
The wind had whipped up some huge waves. Johnson had tied his own two-hook rig with 80-pound monofilament line, No. 6 hooks, and a swivel. But he had to rig it with a heavy, 6-ounce pyramid sinker to hold the bait on the bottom in the rough conditions. Locklear was using an over-the-counter two-hook rig with two, 3-ounce sinkers.
Despite the heavy weights they used, the two anglers' rigs occasionally became tangled because the rough seas moved the sinkers around. But anglers' tempers don't flare flares at such petty details. Locklear smiled from beneath the hood of her rain parka.
"I've been fishing for spots more than 70 years," she said. "I make a batter with cornmeal and House Autry Seafood Breader Mix and fry them then fry some hushpuppies to go with them."