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Yakin’ for Kings Dr. Bogus

Several years ago, lured by the mantra of “going where no flats boats dare to go,” my wife, Louise, and I purchased our first kayaks. These were really first generation of actual kayaks made specifically for fishing. They had rod holders and an anchor line and cleats but that was about all…fishing kayaks. In just a few years since then, fishing kayaks have gone from do-it-yourself to generation-one fishing kayaks to high end fishing machines. Or as Capt. Jerry Dilsaver commented, “the fishing kayaks have really come into their own in the last five-years, and in the last three years the manufacturers have really listened,” said Dilsaver, “they have called up fishermen and said ‘what do we need, how are we going to do this?’ And so fishing kayaks have really come a long way.”

Capt. Dilsaver, tournament fisherman, freelance writer and guide in his own right, has taken to kayak fishing like a finfish to water. As with most of us he started by fishing the interior shallow marshes and sounds and bays, but as a long time king mackerel fisherman, it wasn’t to long before Jerry dragged his kayak across the barrier islands to the ocean side in search of bigger prey, smokin’ king mackerel.

“I fish a Hobie Pro Angler,” explained Dilsaver, “it’s the big boy of all kayaks. It is wider, not necessarily longer but has more storage. It’s 13-ft. 8-in. long, but what makes it so incredible is that it’s 38-inches wide, it’s rock solid! It is in my opinion, the kayak to be on in the ocean. You might fall out of it but you’re really going to have to do something foolish to turn it over.”

Overturning a kayak can happen at any time, in an instant, but an ocean launch and a dry return in unpredictable surf can be high-risk maneuvers. So how is it done? Dilsaver, also a surfer from “back when” explained it to me.

“The waves tend to come in sets,” said Dilsaver, “they’ll typically be three to five, and then there will be smaller waves for a period of time, before another set will come in. What you do on the way out is you watch for a few minutes…you don’t get down there and get so excited you just chunk the boat in the ocean and jump in and try to paddle out. You watch, you get a feeling for how long those lulls are (between the sets) and you ease out to about knee deep water, let a set roll under you, already have broken, and at that point you jump in the kayak and paddle for the horizon with nothing else in mind, and try to get out before the next set comes. Now going out straight is the way to go. If you get the least bit turned, when that wave picks you up if you get caught in one it really gives you some balance challenges. So straight is the way to go on the way out. When you come back in, you stop just outside of that surf zone or impact zone, and do the same thing again.”

Of course there is always the chance you will go over, and Jerry has a simple philosophy on this. If you need to have it when you get back you need to somehow tie it on, and if it has to be dry, then it needs to be in a dry bag. Think tethers and leashes, there are commercial products, but most of us can do with bungee cords to meet our needs.

Capt. Dilsaver is a longtime boat king-mackerel fisherman and uses the same rigs rods and reels he did while motorboat bound. A seven-foot light-action-tip rod, conventional reels that will hold 400-yards of 20-pound test mono-line and a five to six-foot wire leader. The basic rig is two treble hook live bait rig.

For baiting up, Dilsaver sometimes uses menhaden (bunker) but prefers menhaden-size bluefish. In his experience, while nearshore fishing for kings on a kayak, the king mackerel seem to prefer live bluefish baits to menhaden. And the methodology is simple; Capt. Dilsaver usually sets out two rods, one for the surface and a second line weighted to fish about six feet down, and trolls or slowly drifts waiting for a screaming hook-up.

So eventually you’ve found a king mackerel, and he’s eaten your bluefish, then what? “The first thing you do is yell and scream,” screamed Dilsaver, “because you are getting ready to go on a sleigh ride.” “You lean back, take the weight off the bow of the kayak so it will pivot and turn easy and go after the fish and you really just hold on for the first little bit. He makes that run, he calms down, you are really reeling yourself to him instead of him to you. He’s got more purchase in the water than you do in the kayak. Even with a big teenager king, it’s a 300 to 400-yard ride. They’ll get half of that in their first run, then when this big shape comes up to them, they’ll go again and the second run will be 50 to 100-yards and then the little stuff on down until they gradually start wearing out. There is definitely sort of a feeling of hopelessness as this fish takes off and is ssssmoking it,” exclaimed Dilsaver.

When the fish is exhausted, Jerry uses a two-ft. gaff, with the hook bent slightly outward, and the fish is struck, in the middle of the back under the second dorsal fin and quickly placed in the fish box. Yet another nice feature of his Hobie kayak.

Of course kings aren’t the only fish in the ocean, there are plenty of by-catch possibilities with live bait. Spanish mackerel, big bluefish, and of course sharks. “We’re going to see some sandbar sharks, blacktips are especially fun,” said Dilsaver, “they will give you at least one jump.” “It is one of those things that if your adrenalin does not spike and your pulse rate and breathing don’t go through the roof when that happens, you probably need to pull out your cell phone and dial 911 because you are in need of medical help and just haven’t realized it yet!”

Ocean fishing can be treacherous at times, so Capt. Dilsaver stresses safety above everything else. The first thing is you PFD. Dilsaver likes the light weight inflatable ones, especially on hot summer days, but remember, they do any good if you don’t wear it! Being seen in a kayak in the ocean is a major consideration; even a two-ft. swell can hide your kayak from other boats, so Dilsaver recommends a bright orange VISIPole flag by YakAttack for visibility. Capt. Dilsaver also has a fish-finder with a GPS feature. It will help you get to your fishing destination and as Dilsaver put it, “if you should need, it gives you bread crumbs to get back.”

Finally, Capt. Dilsaver strongly recommends the buddy system when you go out, but sometimes that’s not possible, but filing a “float plan” is always possible. Let somebody responsible, a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, aunt, uncle, neighbor, whatever, know where you are leaving from, where you are going to fish and when you expect to return. And make sure they know when you return and cancel the float plan at that point.

“I’m an old man, I don’t text well,” admitted Dilsaver, but if I go by myself you can bet as soon as I‘ve got things under control, and out of the water, I text my wife with just a little “IR back”. That’s all it’s got to be.”

Hopefully “IR back” and with fish in the cooler!

Capt. Jerry Dilsaver is a freelance writer, national king mackerel champion, and avid kayak fisherman from Oak Island, NC, http://www.captjerry.com/.

 

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Back to the future: A case for the new high tech low stretch fishing lines.

By Dr. Bogus 

Remember the good old days with Dacron polyester by DuPont?  “Better living through chemistry.” Right? Dacron kites, boat sails, rope and remember braided Dacron fishing line?  Yes they still make braided Dacron fishing line and all the rest, but now the tackle shops’ shelves are filled with a host of high tech fibers that make up a contemporary list of no stretch or low stretch fishing lines.  Exotic names like Spiderwire, Fireline, PowerPro and such. What do they do?  Are they better than “mono”? Are they worth the added co$t?  Good fishy questions.PowerPro

All I have to say is, “try it, you’ll like it!!” So what DO they do?  Fishing is a tactile sport. You cast, you feel, you jerk, you reel, you hopefully catch. Reacting appropriately to touchy, feely cues is an important part of successful fish catching.  The more information (tactile input) you have the more fish you will catch.  These low stretch lines in fact, are what they advertise.  Did you ever feel a fish on the end of your line, and wonder just what he is doing?  Ok, so with spot or blow toads or bluefish this is not so critical. They pull, you pull back and viola you have a fish, but how about that finicky pounder flounder or the subtle speckled trout.

Conventional monofilament is like a rubber band, your baited weighted line is stretched with your line in the water, and when you pull it stretches more before it responds with a hook set. It also stretches when the fish bites or strikes.  Monofilament stretch can be as much as 25%, that’s 25-feet for each 100-feet of line. Low stretch lines, many of which are braided from gel-spun polyethylene strands, have virtually no line stretch when stressed.  This means that you get what you feel and you feel it NOW.  How would you like to feel the heartbeat of a Rat-L-Trap lure, a flounder scraping the scales off your captured finger mullet (it’s a myth though) or that mysterious nearly imperceptible bump of a citation speckled trout as he grasps your 17-MR MirrOlure, your Vudu Shrimp or Halo Shad. This is the information age you know.  Braided and linear non-stretch lines can provide you with more information and more fish as well.  You feel faster, you set the hook faster, you catch more fish.  The other big plus is their strength.  These lines are very thin, very strong and very tough high tech fibers.  You often see designations of line strength, versus the strength of mono line of similar diameter.  For example, the PowerPro braided line I’m currently using for my trout fishing is rated as 10/2.  This is a 10 lb. test line with the diameter equivalent of 2 lb. test monofilament line.  Very thin, very strong and very tough around abrasive structures.

Sensitivity is one advantage, but there are others too. With smaller diameter lines, you get more line capacity on your reel, you get better casting distance and if you are trolling there is less water resistance and therefore less weight to get your line to a bite zone. Since we are now officially in winter, braided lines have little or no line memory even on cold frosty mornings; the “slinky” coil effect (remember the slinky toy?) you get with mono lines is virtually nonexistent with the braided lines.

With all these positives, what are the downsides of braided line? Braids are slippery critters and you must be careful in tying knots. I always use a fluorocarbon leader tied directly to my braided line. Albright or reverse Albright will do the trick, many also use uni- to uni- knots for this function, I prefer a four-turn surgeon’s knot it’s quick and easy. Cutting and trimming the line is often difficult, although there are good tools to do this these days. Also, after I cut off the excess braid, I use a cigarette lighter or charcoal lighter to melt the end. It creates a bead and prevents the braid from fraying.

Another problem with the thinness of the line, which at times can slip through split rings, “eyes” on lures, snaps and other small gaps. The thinness of the line also can create a cutting hazard that will cut through fingers if you pull hard and cut through mono fishing lines as well.

tangled_braid2One of the main complaints you get from users and most “former” users is the so-called wind knots, especially with the lighter pound-test braided lines. These will create a tangle that is almost un fixable and may cost you $20 or more worth of line. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the so-called wind knots are actually the angler’s effort to blame Mother Nature for their own “operator error” and if you follow a few tips on the care and feeding and use of braided line, they can virtually be eliminated.

So here are some tips for braided line users for the elimination of the dreaded “wind knots”.

It’s never good to overfill your spools regardless of the line you use, and it’s even more important with braided line, so under fill your spool to minimize snarls from loose line/coils, this works for mono too.

Next, I always close the bail manually to minimize loose coils and manually tug on and place line in bail roller, then raise rod tip to tighten line and remove any loops. Look for loose coils that may have wrapped around the top of your spool. You can also and cast and rewind the line periodically through finger tips to tighten the line.

If (i.e. when) a loop gets caught under the line, do not open the bail and pull the line off of the top of the spool, and definitely don’t or cast it! Each time your line comes off the spool over a loop it wraps around the offending loop creating the so called wind knot. Instead, loosen the drag and pull the braided line through roller with the bail down, not flipped up.

If you forget to follow the above tips, or are a braid novice, remember, heavier pound-test braid, like 20-pound test will tangle less than lighter-pound test.  If you follow the same tips for standard monofilament line as well, you also will eliminate most mono tangles not caused by line twist. I also use the Fuji guide design and micro guides on all my rods with braided line, which also helps minimize looping of the line around your rod guides.

Finally here are a few other tips for the braided line user. First, be careful to no overmatch your rod with a much higher strength line than it’s rated for, you may risk breaking your rod. Since there is little or no stretch, use gentler hook-set like a gentle sweep or wrist snap. Don’t try to set hook and land fish in one motion!! In the same vein, lighten up on the drag to compensate for the lack of stretch. Lastly, if you get hung-up on an obstruction, grab your reel spool and put pressure on the line from the spool to and pull straight back until you pull free or break off the line, NOT your rod, which you may break or worst, your hands where you risk a departed finger or minimally a nasty cut.

These suggestions should eliminate 95% of the knotting; the other 5% are usually caused by not following the above tips!

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Effects of Coastal Storms on North Carolina Fishing

Here in eastern North Carolina we are “blessed” with hurricanes, Nor’easters and the like. We all remember the “storm of the century” back in March of 1993, and most recently the massive late season hurricane Sandy. I frequently get asked what impact these storms have on our fishing.

The physical effects of these storms include wind creating rough churned up seas, and rain producing dirty water and lowering the salinity of the water, creating a mixture of chemicals, natural and not in the subsequent runoff and flattening many of the holes and bars we like to fish along the Bogue Banks surf.

With Sandy, we had an extraordinarily large cyclone creating large long period swells, a storm surge of many feet around the full moon, and unlike many early season tropical storms, Sandy has also been associated with a dramatic cooling of our unusually warm air and water temperatures. Even while we were still feeling the effects of Sandy, air temperatures dropped into the 50s and lower, surf temperatures measured at Bogue Pier has already dropped to 67-degrees from 73-degrees and Bogue Sound dropped from 72-degrees to a season low of 60-degrees in just a few days.

The turbulence associated dirty water and runoff quickly scattered the mobile fish and shrimp baits, important in attracting and holding the fish, to deeper water along with the fish that feed on them. As such storms approach us, just prior to the actual maladies to be inflicted by the storm, often the fishing picks up. I remember having one of my best above slot red drum fishing the day immediately prior to hurricane Isabel in September of 2003, which subsequently moved up the coast with devastating effects and even creating “Isabel Inlet” to our north on the Outer Banks.

After major events like Isabel and now Sandy, recovery of the beaches and water quality can be slow. In the aftermath of such storms, we normally get a northeast wind from a cold front that, unlike the northeast winds associated with a coastal cyclone, calms the waters allowing the sediment to settle out leading to the iconic clean and green waters of the Crystal Coast again. As the seas calm and clean, the baitfish come back along with the predators, fishing returns to normal.

I know people often say there is also an effect of the low air pressures associated with these storms, however there is no scientific evidence for this. Think about it, sea water is 1000-times more dense than air, and fish routinely move up and down in the vertical water column, which results in larger pressure changes than a slight change in air pressure.

Last year with Sandy, because of its size and unusual storm track, the associated winds impacted us for the better part of a week. Then the progressing cold front behind it settled in and further cool our waters, even producing some frost inland. However, this should have the effect of instilling a more seasonal sense of urgency recently lacking in our local fall fish and fisheries. Hopefully bait and fish held up in the sounds and rivers will move more aggressively out of the internal waters to the surf and suds. Here I’m not only talking the predatory speckled trout, drum and flounder but even the lowly spots. I am hopeful that this year the peak of the speckled trout season will be back to the time around Thanksgiving, which is more usual than some of the past recent years where the bite has been a month earlier. I would also guess the trout should soon be thick at the Lookout Rock Jetty, and I also hope the Bogue Banks, Shackleford and Cape Lookout surf.

 

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Dr. Bogus’ “#bait equal fish” mini-Fishing Report for 8/24/13. Surf 82°, sound 85°.

Every Monday Morning at 7:30 am on www.TheTalkStation.com. 107.1 FM (WTKF), 1240 AM (WJNC). If you can’t listen on the radio, you can log in to www.TheTalkStation.com and listen on-line or check out Coastal Daybreak on Facebook. The show will be linked there as an mp3 file. Now rebroadcast on each Sunday morning at 6:00am.

Now is the time to get a birthday or gift subscription for a fellow fisherman or spouse for fishing lessons (surf, pier or Bogue Sound) or the “Totally Bogus Fishing Report”. How about a Dr. Bogus hat? Gift Certificates are available. Don’t spend another year in the fish market, make this YOUR season to catch the big ones, just like me

SPONSORs OF THE WEEK: These are VIP sponsors of Dr. Bogus and www.ncoif.com so please support them this season, Crystal Coast Adventures, Cape Custom Rods, Coastal Marine & Sports, Reel Outdoors Bait & Tackle and Village Market, Emerald Isle Realty, Cape Crusader Charters. Check the Sponsor’s section of www.ncoif.com for details and contact information, and please tell ‘em Dr. Bogus sent you!

What a difference the bait makes, 24-million little fishies… Next to “where’s the fish Doc?” the question I get asked more than any other is, “is better to have no bait around or too much bait in the water?” Daaaa, no bait, no fish, #bait equal fish! This past weekend, for the first time this season there were Spanish, blues, ladies and Crevalle jacks busting the little stuff along the beach and on out. An even better, we saw finger mullet and medium sized hard-head mullet riding the wave curls like a mini-mullet-blow. Bait! And although there will be a bit of a lag for predators to find out the mullet are arriving, fishing is picking up and we should be seeing the red drum, trout and flounder in the surf soon. By the way we are already seeing speckled trout and red drum at Bogue Pier.

How is the surf fishing…bottom fish? What about Old Drum fishing in the Neuse? There has been a good summer speck bite, but where are they? Any offshore action? Need an update on Bogue Banks or Topsail piers? I got it! How about a surf fishing update? Where have I been catching slot drum? Mullet Blow? What’s that and when can we expect our first mullet run? For this and much more, you can subscribe to the full “Totally Bogus Fishing Report” for less than 7-cents/day, still only $25/year. It’s getting close to summer fishing season, so there’s no reason for YOU to miss out! Just send a check for $25 and your e-mail address to:

Dr. Bogus

P.O. Box 5225

Emerald Isle, NC 28594

The Ask Dr. Bogus Fishing show, heard every Monday morning at 7:30 on WTKF, 107.1 FM and 1240 AM can now be accessed on the Coastal Daybreak Facebook page. Sign up and be a friend at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000671941944, and never miss a show. And now WTKF daily programming, including the Ask Dr. Bogus radio show is available in live streaming audio too. Just go to www.thetalkstation.com and click on the arrow. Just click to listen, it’s just that easy!

Bogus Notes: 1) Check me out at www.Facebook.com/Dr.Bogus. 2) Log onto my web site at www.ncoif.com. 3) www.drbogus.com can now be accessed at http://69.36.162.232/. 4) “Ask Dr. Bogus” is on the radio every Monday 7:30 AM, WTKF 107.1 FM 1240 AM. Call in and Ask Dr. Bogus, 800.818.2255. 3) I’m located at 118 Conch Ct. in “Sea Dunes”, just off Coast Guard Rd., Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Mailing address is P.O. Box 5225, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Don’t forget a gift certificate for your favorite angler for fishing lessons or my totally Bogus Fishing Report subscription. Please stop by at anytime and say “Hi” (252.354.4905).

 

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ANNOUNCEMENT https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/08/21/2013-20229/proposed-designation-of-marine-critical-habitat-for-the-loggerhead-sea-turtle-caretta-caretta-under

 

All,

Thank you again for your continued interest concerning the loggerhead critical habitat designation issue, and as mentioned a couple times in the past; the critical habitat designation is twofold – “on the land” is under the jurisdiction of the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the “in the water” designation is under the auspices of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The public hearing on August 8th concerned the “on the land” designation that was proposed on March 25th.  However the “in the water” proposal was released later by the NMFS on July 18th and we since requested and have been granted a separate public hearing regarding this proposal.  The official announcement from the NMFS regarding this public hearing was just listed today (see link above) and will be held on September 10th, 7 – 9 pm, with doors opening at 6:30 pm at the Crystal Coast Visitor Center.    I thought the attendance and participation at the August 8th meeting was tremendous and would love to see a similar turnout on September 10th.   This NMFS’s proposal could greatly impact the fishing community (commercial and recreational) and I really don’t run in those circles, so please pass this message along to anyone you may know in that demographic.

 

Likewise, I will pass along some notes for your consideration within the next few weeks, but in the interim; the following is a “one pager” concerning the proposed “in the water” designation – http://www.protectthebeach.com/newsletters/2013/Sept13.pdf; and attached is a presentation we provided to our County Board this past Monday that summarizes the entire critical habitat issue.  Thank you and please don’t hesitate to call/email if you have any questions or comments.  Cheers – rudi

Greg “rudi” Rudolph
Carteret County Shore Protection Office

P.O. Box 4297
Emerald Isle, N.C. 28594
252 393-2663
252 241-3264 (cell)
252 393-6639 (fax)
www.protectthebeach.com

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“Mullet Blow”! On the Crystal Coast, NOW it’s fall. By Dr.Bogusmullet_blowFall Mullet Blow

NEWS UPDATE: Read my lips, “MULLET BLOW” and right on time for the first MB of the season. What is a mullet blow you ask? Cool breezes, a blast of northeast wind and the finger mullet and the hardhead mullet decide it’s time to head south for their winter spawn…it is the start of the fall fishing season here along the Crystal Coast. “Mullet blow” is the cry. Over the years this biological migratory phenomenon has taken place from late August to early September. Not fall you say, well don’t tell the fish that. The massive migration of these forage fish out of our creeks and sounds, rings the dinner bell for fall to begin, and the drum, flounder and speckled trout are following their tails out the inlets and along our beaches. Dates over the last few years for the FIRST mullet blow (there will be others to follow): 9/1/1999, 9/6/2000, 8/25/2001, 9/1/2002, 9/6/2003, 8/24/2004, 8/26/2005, 9/2/06, 8/29/07, 9/1/08, 9/01/09), 8/28/10, 9/2/11, 8/25/12 8/25/13 and 8/26/14, 8/25/15, 8/30/16 with an average surf temp for those dates of 81° and an average date August 30.

So who are these fish of forage you ask? First of all, they are NOT in anyway related (except via fins) to the sea mullet, a.k.a. kingfish, whiting, also called the Virginia mullet. Those sea mullets are Sciaenids and actually in the drum family.

DSC04985Sea Mullet (a.k.a. Kingfish, Virginia Mullet)

The foragable mullets are actually in the Mugilidae family, which contain nearly 70 species of fish worldwide. North Carolina is home for two of these species, which make up some of our most favorite and widely used natural baits. The striped mullet, also known as hardhead, Popeye, or jumping mullet, are the celebrated stars at the annual Swansboro Mullet Festival. The other and more diminutive member of the family is the silver or white mullet, most commonly known on the beach, as the finger mullet, are finger food for many foraging fish.

jumpingmulletStriped (Jumping) Mullet

Named for horizontal stripes that run laterally along their body, the striped Striped (Jumping) Mullet can be found along the west Atlantic coast from Cape Cod to Brazil and often grow to three pounds or more, with a maximum of three feet and weighing in at an astonishing 12-pounds. The silver, or finger mullet are similarly caught up in this yearly spawning pilgrimage to the sea.

d3 afinger mulletFinger Mullet

By the way, the finger mullet are NOT juvenile striped mullet; they are silver and have no stripes, do not have a flat head or pop-eyes and only attain a diminutive stature of inches and not feet. Since both these fish feed on bits and pieces of living and/or dead vegetation (detritus) neither of these mullets are routinely caught on hook and line, although there are many stories to the contrary, particularly with the striped mullet. Striped mullet have been known to suck up dough balls with a concealed hook inside and I’ve actually landed one on a fly. And yes the mullet was hooked in the mouth! This being the case, nets are the primary mode of mullet fishing.

Commercially, the striped mullet have been harvested via a “stop net” fishery from the ocean beaches or by seine netters. Stop nets are defined by the NC Division of Marine Fisheries as “a stationary net (not intended to gill fish) whose purpose is to impede the progress of schooling fish so that they can be harvested with a seine.” We have all seen the stop nets like a lazy “L” running out from and along the beaches each October and November, and the dories to set the seines and the 1940s vintage tractors to haul in the fish laden seines. The rest of us use cast nets, assuming you’ve mastered throwing one.

Earlier in the season, finger mullet and striped mullet are readily found in the sound, along the piers and docks, along the marshes, particularly on a falling tide and up in the local canals and creeks. For use as bait, the mullet can be readily cast netted from the docks, and banks of the sound or on a boat, drifting along the marshes or in the creeks. Although large striped mullet are often used live for king mackerel baits, most often they are cut into chunks for cut-bait fishing for drum, or Hatteras blues or big strip-baits for trophy flounder. These days, since all of the citation drum fishing is catch and release and much of the puppy drum fishing is similarly a release fishery, many anglers have switched to circle hook fishing while targeting drum with natural baits to minimize gut hooking, and promoting safe release of our state fish.

Small striped mullet (3 to 5-inches) and finger mullet can also be used as cut-bait or more often they are used live for flounder, puppy drum, speckled and gray trout, big Spanish mackerel and blues, and even ladyfish. Rigging is straightforward, I like to lip hook the mullet, from the bottom under it’s chin and through the top of it’s lips, using a Carolina rig either with a circle hook or No. 2/0 Kahle hook. Remember, if you are flounder fishing, give the founder sufficient time to capture, kill and eat your mullet, or there will be lost fish and regrets.

The mullet themselves also can provide good eats, some pickle or can the finger mullet like herring or sardines, and of course the striped mullet is famed for it’s succulent roe while the whole fish is often butterflied and grilled or smoked.

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Gator encounters of the fishing kind, by Dr. Bogus

Many of us have seen the recent You Tube video gone viral with Fred Boyce, a herpetologist at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, wrestling a big alligator in a roadside ditch in Down East Carteret County. Boyce recovered from the arm bite and finally he and the alligator eventually went their separate ways. Score one for the ‘gator.

This fresh in my mind I recently saw a Facebook post with photos of a hissing alligator that John Mauser (Swansboro) encountered while fishing for redfish with fly fishing friend Rick Grither (Cedar Point). It turns out that Mauser is an Aquarist also at the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium, a local fishing guide (Tailing Tide Guide Service) and a close colleague of Boyce.

With these two events just weeks apart, the question that arises is how rare are alligators in coastal North Carolina and how rare are sightings and human interactions. According to Mauser, although sightings are somewhat rare, alligators aren’t. Luckily alligators are fairly secretive, and spend most of their times in areas where we usually fear to tread, with some exceptions, in the spring when males are seeking female breeding partners or while looking for to expand their food supply.

On May 17, 2012, Mauser and Grither were testing their fly fishing skills looking for redfish in the shallow marshes and creeks, off the beaten path somewhere behind Bear Island working their way down towards the New River. Perfect areas to sight-fish for reds on the fly.

This fishing requires a shallow draft flats boat. “I’m fishing out of an Ankona Native skiff, with a poling platform a couple feet above the engine and a push-pole,” explained Mauser. “It’s quieter than a trolling motor, and you can get a lot closer to the fish, so you can actually see the fish we’re going to cast to.”

Foot and a half of water, poling their way some 300 yards up no-name creek, so where does the ‘gator come in. Who saw who first?

“I don’t’ think anybody saw anybody at first,” exclaimed Mauser, “what happened apparently was, he was lying down in the mud in that foot-and-a-half of water, maybe waiting for a red drum to come by, the water was really muddy, you could only see a few inches down.” “I pushed the boat right over the top of the alligator and didn’t know he was there at all, we were just casting to the fish, and I put the push-pole down, to propel the boat forward. When I put the pole down in the water right below the engine the water exploded underneath the engine. I thought I hit a school of redfish and then I saw an alligator sitting about four feet directly below me.”

Although admittedly excited, Mauser claims not to have been worried at this time, rather politely commanding Grither to get his camera for some cool photos.

RickGator2So the creek is only 25-foot wide, 18-inches deep in the middle, the boat 17-foot and an alligator estimated at seven-feet, not much room to maneuver, what next?

“He actually just sunk back down into the water,” chimed Mauser,” and I could watch a silhouette of him just below the surface as he moved down the creek”. “Unfortunately we also had to move down the creek to get out of the creek. So once Rick got the camera out and as we moved down he was maybe about 10-feet from the boat and he just came up in a foot of water with part of his body out and we got a couple of really great shots. He opened his mouth and you could hear him hissing at us. He never approached the boat, never like he was going to come after us. He basically stood his ground, showing us that this was his territory, but he didn’t actually come towards us. So we just really carefully pushed the boat passed him, trying not to make contact with him, and once the boat went passed him, he just slumped back down into the water.”RickGator1

So did they catch any fish?

Mauser and Grither abandoned the ‘gator’s redfish up in the creek that day, but back at the mouth of “Gator Creek” they did catch some keeper flounder and slot reds that day on plain old-fashioned white Clouser flies.

Finally, I asked Mauser what advice would he give someone may who have an alligator encounter such as theirs.

“I guess what I would say is enjoy and respect them from a decent distance,” said Mauser, “most alligator attacks are provoked in one way or another, somebody messing with them or trying to feed them, so I think that as long as you respect them and know what they have the ability to do, as long as you keep a safe distance from them and as long as you are not trying to feed them, I think you’ll be just fine.

Wade- fishing anyone?

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Lions and Tigers oh my: The “alien” invasion by Dr. Bogus

Hold onto your hat Batman, beware of the alien invasion! No they are not critters from outer space or refugees from Area 51 or Roswell, New Mexico, but according to Dr. James Morris from the NOAA Labs in Beaufort, NC, the invasion of lionfish is well underway.

So what is an invasive species and where DID they come from? According to Morris, “Invasive species are essentially organisms that invade a new area; they are not from that area, explained Morris. They can cause ecological harm or economic harm or both and many times it is both.”

Just think about it, over the past years we have heard about the accidental introduction of the of zebra mussels into the Great Lakes, kudzu all over the countryside and the likes of the aggressive snakehead fish and leaping carp to our rivers, as well as fire ants and even the dreaded killer bees.

“We now live in a global marketplace,” said Morris, “and you look at the transport of goods and commodities all over the world, and there’s plenty of pathways…air travel as well as ocean travel, which can wreak havoc in many ways in terms of the transfer of organisms all over our planet. The number of invasive species has been really ramping up in the last 50 to 100-years. We have hitchhikers, but we also have organisms that are on-purpose transplanted from one area to another.” Think Kudzu!

But the invaders that we will deal with at this time are marine species, the lionfish and the Asian tiger shrimp. First the lionfish, an ornamental tropical fish from the Indian and Pacific Oceans and very popular in the aquarium trade, from whence it was probably initially introduced into the waters of south Florida.

According to Morris, discovery of the lionfish in south Florida waters dates back to 1985, but was initially discovered in the offshore wrecks of North Carolina in 2000 by Paula Whitfield (NOAA) and others, essentially marking the beginning of the establishment phase of lionfish in North Carolina.

Lionfish“It has really become a poster child for invasive species to be honest with you,” explained Morris, “there are so many, even school kids now recognize as a non-native species. It’s a brilliantly colored fish is beautifully ornate, spectacular, and for that reason we have been importing that species in the thousands into the US. But now it is thriving along the southeast US in less than a decade became established in hundreds per acre in some coral reef habitats and some hard bottom habitats in the southeast, the Caribbean and it’s presently invading the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t’ expect this fish to really stop its invasion until it reaches the waters of South America, probably Northern Argentina.”

Why will it stop at northern Argentina? Temperature, the lethal minimum temperature, according to Morris is about 50-degrees Fahrenheit. “So although the Gulf Stream has carried larva and juvenile fish even as far north as Long Island and New England,” said Morris, “but north of the Virginia-North Carolina line, it gets too cold for those tropical to overwinter. So Lionfish, like other tropicals just literally perish in the winter. They just can’t stand the cold.”

So after more than a decade, it looks like the visually spectacular lionfish are here to stay, and are indeed thriving, not just surviving. In fact these days, lionfish are abundant enough to be routinely caught on hook-and-line by fishermen fishing our offshore waters while looking for coveted grouper, snapper and other tasty bottom dwellers and also regularly encountered by divers reconnoitering our famous offshore reefs and wrecks.

What about natural predators to keep them in check? “The natural predation story is a little interesting,” sighed Morris, “we really do not know of a natural predator even in their native range, although there have been only some anecdotal observations. Here in the Atlantic we have seen a number of our native species that are eating lionfish, but not regularly, we only have sporadic observations. To really be a natural predator you have to impose predation mortality that’s significant enough to reduce the densities that we see on the reefs. You know this is a venomous fish…it has evolved a venom defense system that works!”

So HOW venomous is the lionfish? First, according to Morris, the venom glands are in grooves along the side of the spines so that is when the spine punctures something, the skin around the spine is torn back and that releases the venom. It’s a passive venom delivery system, there’s no pressure or vacuole shooting it out. That is where and how, but really HOW poisonous is the venom.

“The venom is a very potent venom,” exclaimed Morris, “scorpionfish get their name for a reason, and the reaction to envenomation (getting stung) can range anywhere from mild to extreme pain, to blisters, we’ve even had one case of a person that was stung in an aquarium recently actually had paralysis of his arms and his legs for four- to- five-hours. And there are some very extreme and rare cases of people actually dying from lionfish stings. Most of these of course come from the Pacific (Ocean). I haven’t heard of anyone dying at all in the Atlantic. But people die from bee stings and wasp stings as well. But you have to throw that in there, put that in perspective.”

So, they are venomous, they don’t have any natural predators and they are thriving. The next question to Dr. Morris, was, is there any hope of, if not exterminating the lionfish at least controlling their spread or are they destined to take over our offshore reefs to the exclusion of our economically important reef fish like grouper, snapper, triggerfish and sea bass? Maybe the answer is…if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!

“There have been lots of efforts to get this fish on the market,” said Morris, “there is so much interest there. This is a scorpionfish which we know is the basis for many French and Mediterranean cuisines. There are scorpionfish all over. We (in the US) harvest literally tons of “rock fishes” on the west coast, and those are also a scorpionfish. They have the same venom system as lionfish. And there had been interest from day-one; could this species be harvested as a fishery? We don’t think that we can harvest them into extinction, that’s just not possible. But in the same light we do need a solution to how to control this invasion in some areas. One problem is that there is really no good way of catching them selectively. We’re working on some trapping methods, but right now we’re still working on that.”

Maybe you can develop a good way to catch the lionfish commercially, but will the public go for it, so how do they taste? Morris has filleted them and eaten them so how do they taste? “They taste really good of course,” smiled Morris, “they have a nice white flaky meat, like many of our grouper and snapper species. Of course they are feeding on many of the same things that snapper and grouper are feeding on, so they taste like a reef fish and they taste good.”

And since only the spines are venomous, there is generally not a problem with eating fish meat, the venom is NOT in the meat, it’s just white, flaky and tasty. Maybe they taste just like turkey, which is another name for the lionfish…turkeyfish!

Another invasive species that is definitely edible is the Asian tiger shrimp. They have also been in the newspapers lately highlighting some of our local commercial shrimpers that have been catching them in their shrimp trawls. Consider for a minute, holding in your hand an enormous foot-long quarter- pound shrimp! So what’s the history about that invader?

Tiger shrimp“This one has been really interesting problem,” said Morris. “I grew up shrimping in Core Sound and Pamlico Sound and I’ve always been fascinated by shrimp and the shrimp fisheries. When I first saw this shrimp and held it in my hands I was amazed at its size. This shrimp gets up to two- or three-count, it’s like a quarter of a pound. It’s called the Asian tiger shrimp and it’s very common in shrimp aquiculture. Some people call them tiger prawns. It has been a staple in the shrimp aquiculture industry in the Caribbean for years,” explained Morris.

The question then is then, are there Asian tiger shrimp farms in the US that could account for their presence? According to Morris, there used to be farms in the US, there are no active shrimp farms that farm this species currently.

“We have been tracking this species really for about 10- or 12-years,” explained Morris, “and for some reason, in 2011, this past summer we saw a rapid increase in the number of sightings and collections along the southeast US.”

Could this increase be related to last year’s Hurricane Irene?

“Probably not,” said Morris, “because we are seeing the same increase in the Gulf (of Mexico) too.” “We’ll have to see coming up in the next year or two. If we continue to see the increase that we’re seeing in 2011, they may be self-reproducing and we may be undergoing a complete establishment of this non-native species of shrimp.”

We’ve talked about the potential problems of the lionfish, but how about the potential impact of establishment of the Asian tiger shrimp in our coastal waters?

“Just like the lionfish,” said Morris, “we are concerned about the ecological impacts of this invasion.” “We have to remember that we are very young to understanding the impacts of marine invasive species. We don’t really have that many examples. The lionfish is really the first marine fish to invade the southeast and Gulf and Caribbean, so like lionfish we really don’t know what will be the consequences of this invasion. One thing we do know is that this shrimp species gets much larger than any of our native shrimp species. It actually can become carnivorous once it gets larger and it eats other small shrimp, and small fish, even so the consequences of this invasion are really unknown, but we anticipate that there may be food-web related consequences which can have a long list of concerns.”

So you put a quarter pound carnivorous shrimp in the food web you don’t know where and what it impacts.

“Absolutely,” said Morris, “the realm of possibilities is everything from no observed or no detectable ecological impact to extreme ecological impact such as a complete disruption of the food web and competition with our native shrimp species.”

So can we eat this one into submission too? Get a viable marine, not farm based commercial industry?

“All things are possible with this one;” explained Morris, “it is farmed as an edible species that is grown commercially around the world, we know it obviously tastes good. But there aren’t enough of them being landed now; we’re only talking hundreds of shrimp of this species being seen, so we are a long way from it potentially being a resource. And it’s one that we’ll be following closely.”

Closely indeed, so keep your eyes open in your favorite restaurants for “turkeyfish of the sea” and maybe “Atlantic Ocean” tiger prawns!

NOTE: Recently the FDA has shown that some lionfish samples tested positive for the toxin that can causes ciguatera, a potentially dangerous fish food poisoning often found in reef fish and has recommended against eating the fish. However, so far, there are no known confirmed cases of ciguatera in the U.S. that have implicated the lionfish.

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Fish mounts; preserving your trophy fish for the ages. By Dr. Bogus

We all like to memorialize our very special fish. One caught on a trip to an exotic local, an unusual catch or a truly outstanding trophy fish. Most of us take out our digital camera these days take photos from every which angle, post them on Facebook and send in the citation “pink sheet” so we can get a congratulatory proclamation from the governor suitable for framing.

Others want to go one step farther, have a mount made that can be hung on your living room wall, den or man-cave for all to see and marvel at. I recently talked to Dan Ervin, owner of the Dog Island Art Works in Bogue, NC, that specializes in fish mounts and reproductions. But how did Ervin, a former school teacher morph himself into a fish taxidermist? Laughing, Ervin said, “I always have been skinning fish, I grew up a fisherman.”

As it turns out, for Ervin it was a great combination of two loves, art and fishing. “The two have always been very close to my heart,” said Ervin, “so I took the leap and decided to make that my livelihood. I kind of worked to support my fishing habit.” Sure sounds familiar!

As Ervin described to me, there are several options; mounts made from the actual skin of the fish, molded reproductions from an actual fish and reproductions from only pictures and measurements, and fading memories. But regardless of kind of mount pictures are priceless, as Ervin said, “If you can get a couple of photographs and a couple of close-ups and different angles, it’s great, it always helps, especially on a fish like a speckled trout where the markings are different from fish to fish.”

Now the specifics, say I just caught a trophy trout and want a real skin mount what do I do? Ervin suggests to put your fish on ice, or even freeze it then bring it to him. That’s when the artist takes over.

“I’m going to take the skin off,” said Ervin, “remove every bit of flesh, because that’s what holds the oils which will deteriorate in the future, we’re going to tan and preserve that skin, and the head and the fins and then carve a foam form.”

“At this point,” explains Ervin, “I have a fish that’s absolutely flat and it’s very thin, and gray, and lifeless, there’s not much left to the skin when you remove all the flesh. Then after we preserve the skin, it will still be in a damp form and then we will adhere it to the foam form and once that dries, that’s when the coloration begins.”

“Traditionally what a lot of taxidermists do is just use an airbrush,” said Ervin, “but with that you don’t get the depth that you need with just an airbrush, and so I use hand paints, powders, charcoals, watercolors, oils and I do use an airbrush, but I use it sparingly, because we really want to create that depth and realism that every single scale has.”

Finally the skin mount is sealed with a lacquer based or epoxy sealer to give that desired high gloss “wet” look like it just came out of the water, and then mounted or a board, or tree stump or other natural habitat for effect.

pompano1Pompano Mold

pompano2Pompano Tail

If it is longevity and detail you want, Ervin suggests a reproduction mount. “Reproductions, explained Ervin, “are molded directly off a newly dead fish, and then fiberglass is made into that mold, so you have all the detail of the freshest fish in a reproduction. We are basically using the process they use to make fiberglass boats. So now it comes in as a white “canvas” and that’s where it really takes a lot effort to get the depth and realism. I spend a lot more time coloring a reproduction but it pays off.”

dolphin1

Dolphin Mold

Of course if you don’t have a fish to work from, just memories and photos, Ervin can handle that too. As Ervin pointed out, “If a wife says, my husband caught this sailfish 10 years ago, and he’s always wanted a mount.” Ervin can get as close as he can using just measurements and pictures, and then add the coloration. There are reproduction “blanks”, which are fiberglass, available commercially for just about any fish and nearly any size and dimensions to work from.

dolphin2Hand Painting of Dolphin

dolphin3Air Brush the Finishing Touches

I wondered which mounts were among his favorites or most memorable, “Well, said Ervin, “I’ve just finished doing a great little bluegill (below), as tiny as they are, I don’t know that there is a prettier fish that swims, I love doing them. bluegill1Then there was the 80-inch sailfish there at the opposite end,” chuckled Ervin, “and boy do they use a lot of paint!”

 Advantages and disadvantages of the different kinds of mounts and reproductions.

Skin Mounts, Advantages:

-Fish can be filleted and eaten

-You use parts of the actual fish that was caught

-Some of the unique characteristics of the fish will naturally remain

-Costs are often less than reproductions

Skin Mounts, Disadvantages:

-Some oils may leak through over time and cause some discoloration or skin shrinkage

-Some fish like pompano are delicate and make it difficult to remove the skin

-Fish over 30″ often contain too much oil in their skin to make mounts that will not show shrinkage or deterioration over time

Reproductions, Advantages:

-Fish can be released unharmed or kept and eaten

-Mount will never deteriorate

-You can mount a fish you caught in the past or one that was not preserved well enough to skin mount

-You can purchase one for decor without having caught the fish

Reproductions, Disadvantages:

-Usually more costly than a skin mount

-You have to use a reputable wildlife artist or you can get a reproduction with very little detail, giving you poor results

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Doc Ford’s Yucatan Shrimp

Yucutan Shrimp (Doc Fords)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large clove garlic, minced

Juice of two large limes

1 tablespoon ( or more!) Indonesian sambal (preferably sambal oelek, by Huy Fong, though sriracha will work as well)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound large, fresh, shell-on shrimp

1 teaspoon jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional) (I use a whole jalapeño)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (I use a fist full of cilantro).

 

1. In a small saucepan set over low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.

2. Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter to saucepan. When it melts, stir in the lime juice, chili sauce, salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and allow the sauce to rest. (I usually reduce the volume a bit.)

3. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes or until they are just firm and pink. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Drain into a colander and shake over the sink to remove excess moisture.

4. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp and chili sauce. Add jalapeño, if desired, sprinkle with cilantro and toss again. Serves 4, messily. Adapted from Greg Nelson at Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille, Sanibel Island, Fla.