A northeast wind had been howling for three days, whipping the ocean waves until they looked like they had been topped with a layer of white chiffon that glowed beneath a row of lights stretching 1,000 feet outward from the beach. Beneath those white-capped waves, schools of fish were swarming. On the pier above, anglers were casting baited hooks to catch them.
One of them tossed a two-hook rig weighted with a chunk of lead shaped like a pyramid. It tore a hole through the foam that quickly repaired itself. As soon as the rig struck the bottom, the rod top bounced, indicating a fish had eaten the bait. The angler set the hook and began winding the fish upward. For a moment, it was swallowed up by the pier’s dark shadow, but then it wriggled into the light. The fish’s flipping flanks reflected the light like living mirrors, except for the dime-sized black spots behind its gill covers.
“We have been coming to Kure Beach Fishing Pier since we were kids to catch spots,” said Tajh Thompson, 21, a student at N.C. A&T University. “We came in at 3 o’clock this morning and have caught about 30 so far.”
On Sunday, the spots had been running during the northeaster because easterly winds push the migrating fish close to the beach. However, in the wee hours preceding dawn, the pier was devoid of the hundreds of anglers who had flocked there over the weekend.
“Most of the fishermen had to head back home because it is Sunday,” said Russ Kirtwright, 74, who works at the pier house. “It has been the best spot run I’ve seen in three years and it should be a good start to the season. They usually get here in October, but lots of people were leaving the pier with their coolers full of fish. A run this good might even last until November, but October is usually the peak.”
Spots are small fish that bite readily and taste great. Kirtwright said anglers stretch the truth when bragging about 2-pounders.
“I’ve never seen a 2-pound spot and I’ve worked here for 28 years,” he said. “The favorite bait is blood worms and the run was so strong it shocked everyone at the pier and emptied the refrigerators of blood worms. However, we have more on the way. They also bite the artificial blood worm strips. They even bite red worms and night crawlers, but we’ve sold out of red worms, too.”
While the pier has a website and a pier-cam, Thompson, used the old-school method to summon his family members and a friend. He called the pier, discovered the spots were running, and awakened his brothers in the middle of the night.
“After Tajh called the pier, he called everyone else,” said Jameze Thompson, 25, a student at Fayetteville Tech. “We have been coming down from our home in Lumberton with our parents and grandparents ever since we were kids. I was so young I don’t remember when I first came here to go fishing. But if we had woken the older folks up, they would have gotten mad at us.”
Larry Thompson, 23, who works at Cree, Inc. in Morrisville, was also along.
“Tajh just called and said the spots were running,” he said. “We all got together and drove down. It didn’t take me long to get ready. All I had to bring was a fishing rod and a cooler to put the fish in.”
The fish were biting steadily. Although a good spot run will have anglers swinging fish over the rail, two fish at a time, the anglers were content with hauling in one fish with each cast. Aiyana Smith, 19, a student at A&T, was along for her second spot-fishing expedition.
“I came last year on my birthday, October 7,” she said. “They were not really running then and I only caught two. But I’ve caught more than that, this time.”
As the sky began to lighten with the yawning dawn, other early-bird anglers bought their pier tickets and joined a growing procession that was marching from the pier house onto the deck with its rods and gear.
Before the day was over, dozens more would likely arrive to take advantage of the season’s first spot run. The elders of the Thompson family would not be among them.
“They would have been mad if we had called them to wake them up to go fishing,” Tajh Thomson said. “But we are catching so many spots, they will be madder because we didn’t.”