Wave after wave of weather systems have struck the North Carolina coast, making a trip to the beach to fill a cooler of fish iffy. However, some anglers arrive every year, no matter the prospects. Those who waited until Thanksgiving week were having some of the best luck all fall.
“My grandson had been wanting to come down to the pier,” said Herb Cook, 70, a retiree from King. “So, we made the drive down to spend a few days. Fall is supposed to be a good fishing time.”
It was Nov. 20, the final Friday before Thanksgiving and about 40 people were fishing at Kure Beach Fishing Pier. Spots, the mainstay of fall pier fishing, typically arrive in October and November. However, they had been biting sporadically. A major spot run had not materialized all fall until the night before. Joaquin, a major hurricane, had brushed the coast in October, stalling a major weather system arriving from the west. The resulting heavy rains and winds came at precisely the time that spots should have started their major runs. The few fish that made it past the hurricane had been small and their numbers were so low that anglers who caught a dozen considered themselves lucky.
“I fish in ponds back home,” said 12-year-old Connor Shaw, Cook’s grandson, a seventh grader at Southeastern Stokes Middle School. “I catch bass, bream and catfish. I just love going fishing and catching anything. Today, we caught some striped bass that were too small to keep, a spot, a pompano and a Virginia mullet.”
One member of the family party, 88-year-old Calvin Cook, of Winston-Salem had caught some fish as well. He held up a black drum that was too small to keep before returning it to the rolling waves below.
“It’s a shame there are so many limits for fish,” he said. “I have been coming to the pier all my life and, back in the old days, we could keep everything we caught and take it home. We were hoping to catch spots, but most of what we see people catching are whiting.”
Many people use the holidays as an excuse to head for the pier and those who did were steadily reeling in fish and swinging them over the rails. However, rather than a preponderance of spots, most of the fish hitting the ice in their coolers were whiting. Whiting are typically later arrivals than spots and stick around all the way through the winter.
One angler was cleaning fish at the pier’s cleaning station. He had a mixed bag of fish.
“I caught ten fish today,” said John Gordon, a 71-year-old retiree from the U.S. Navy supply system who lives at Kure Beach. “Half of them are spots and the other half are whiting. I used Fish Bites artificial bloodworm strips because they stay on the hook better than real bloodworms. There are still some bait stealers down there along with the good fish. If it gets colder, the bait -stealers will leave.”
Gordon moved to Kure Beach in 1999. He lives a long walk or a short drive to the pier, so he heads there to see if the fish are biting before he buys a fishing ticket.
“We have not had much of a spot run this year,” he said. “I think Joaquin pushed them offshore. But, the whiting have really been picking up lately and I would rather eat them. They taste like flounder.”
Like most pier fishermen, Gordon was using a spinning rod with what he called a top-and-bottom rig, which had two No. 6 long-shank hooks and a pyramid sinker to hold the bait stationary against a heavy surf kicked up by a northeasterly wind.
“These onshore winds usually make the fish bite,” he said. “I heard the spots made a good run late last night before I got here. I came down after daylight and missed the run. I had to use a 4-ounce sinker to hold the bait on the bottom because of the waves. The weather may be bringing spots closer to the shore and we will be able to catch more of them.”
Nevertheless, he was satisfied with his morning’s catch. Whiting have flaky white meat and many prefer them over spots as having better flavor and texture. He scaled the fish, cut off their heads and removed their entrails. Those that were too small to eat, he saved for bait.
“I fillet the smaller ones to use for bait later on,” he said. “You never know when you will arrive at the pier to find a good run going. I want to be ready when it does.”