Most North Carolina waters are crowded the weeks before and after the Memorial Day weekend. Some anglers, though, find some great angling by heading a bit father offshore than most and finding a live bottom off the beaten path. Even using a tactic that is out-of-the-ordinary will put some great-tasting and hard fighting fish into the cooler if an angler is willing to go the extra mile – or 10.
“We are heading to a rock off Topsail Inlet that doesn’t have any manmade structure,” said Capt. Bruce Trujillo, 64, a semi-retired machinist from Castle Hayne who also takes a few parties fishing each month. “It’s about 10 miles from Masonboro Inlet, but the lack of structure that might be an obstacle to other fishermen is why I like it. When a fish is on the hook, he doesn’t have any high-relief structure to cut the line.”
Passing AR 370, the Meares Harris Reef, 3.5 miles from the Masonboro Inlet sea buoy, he counted two dozen boats, and the sun was just peeking above the horizon. Last Thursday was calm and therefore a good day for using light tackle to catch Spanish mackerel.
“Any rod and lure that catches bass will catch Spanish mackerel,” he said. “If the lure looks like a baitfish, a Spanish will eat it, because he is always hungry. It’s not rocket science. It’s simple math. One, show him the lure. Two, he bites it.”
Trujillo is also an expert at catching freshwater fish from rainbow trout to largemouth bass. Once his GPS unit told him he was at the right location, his perpetual partner, Russ Luhm, took the helm. Luhm, 75, is from Wilmington and retired from Terex Crane in 2002. Watching the depthfinder screen, he described what he saw while Trujillo tied on lures.
“The baitfish are everywhere, from top to bottom,” Luhm said. “I see a big fish, too.”
“Keep the boat straight while I set out the lines,” Trujillo said. “That will keep them from tangling.”
If the lure looks like a baitfish, a Spanish will eat it, because he is always hungry. It’s not rocket science. It’s simple math. One, show him the lure. Two, he bites it.
Capt. Bruce Trujillo
Trujillo tied on Yo-zuri Chrystal Minnow Deep Divers. The lures are renowned for shine and wobble. Bass anglers should be familiar with the lures, but Trujillo said similar lures made by other companies also catch Spanish mackerel.
“For someone unfamiliar with trolling spoons, which require planers, trolling sinkers and long leaders, using a lure is a simpler transition,” he said. “Just like trolling for freshwater species, all you do is let out line, make sure the lure is tracking true and bump the speed to about 1,100 rpm.”
The anglers were so intent on putting out the lures and watching the depthfinder that they missed the first strike. Trujillo looked back at the lines and saw a fish splashing. He grabbed the throbbing rod and wound in the line. He pumped the rod a few times to gain line but soon hauled a Spanish mackerel weighing about 2 pounds into the boat.
“There’s no such thing as one Spanish mackerel,” he said. “Russ, keep circling that area, and we should pick up more.”
Only one other boat was in the area. Its anglers were using spoons – the traditional way of catching Spanish mackerel. Every time they had one near the boat, they had to deal with a swinging pendulum of a planer, then use the hand-over-hand method of hauling in 30 feet of leader. Trujillo had only tied on a 2-foot, 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to keep the fish from biting through his 15-pound test monofilament main lines.
“What we do is so easy, it surprises me other anglers don’t try it more often,” Trujillo said. “These lures run 15 or 20 feet, about as deep as a spoon with a small planer.”
A school of baitfish showered the surface. Luhm slowed the boat, and Trujillo grabbed another rod rigged with a casting spoon. He cast to the school, but nothing struck.
“If you are trolling and see some baitfish showering like that, you can slow the boat and pick up another rod to try to catch whatever ran them up top. The Yo-zuris will float up and may even draw strikes as they do, but a spoon with a planer will sink to the rocks on the bottom where it might snag and cut off, so most anglers just keep on trolling by and missing the extra chance to catch a fish.”