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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.

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Fish Temperature Chart (Alphabetically)

Species

Lower avoidance T

Optimum T

Upper avoidance T

Albacore, False

62

65

76

Amberjack

60

65-75

80

Atlantic Bonito

60

64

80

Barracuda

55

72-80

86

Blowfish

46

93

Bluefish

50

66-72

84

Bonefish

60

72-84

92

Cobia

65

72

79

Crevalle Jack

70

74-86

90

Croaker

45

63

70

Dolphin

70

72-78

82

Drum, Black

52

72

90

Drum, Red

52

70-90

90

Flounder, Summer/Southern

55

66

72

Flounder, Winter

35

48-52

64

Mackerel, King

65

68-76

88

Mackerel, Spanish

65

78

88

Marlin, Striped

61

68-76

80

Marlin, White

65

68-78

80

Pompano

65

70-82

90

Red Snapper

50

60

70

Sailfish

68

72-82

88

Sea Mullet

48

65

86

Sheepshead

58

66

74

Spot

56

71

90

Striped Bass

50

55-65

75

Swordfish

50

66

80

Tarpon

70

75-90

100

Tautog

60

70

76

Trout, Grey

45

55-68

78

Trout, Speckled

48 (41-stun temp)

68-78

88

Tuna, Bigeye

52

62-74

80

Tuna, Blackfin

65

70-75

82

Tuna, Bluefin

50

60-72

82

Tuna, Skipjack

50

62

70

Tuna, Yellowfin

64

72-78

80

 

 

Fish Temperature Chart (by Lower Avoidance Temperature)

Species

Lower avoidance T

Optimum T

Upper avoidance T

Flounder, Winter

35

48-52

64

Croaker

45

63

70

Trout, Grey

45

55-68

78

Blowfish

46

93

Trout, Speckled

48 (41-stun temp)

68-78

88

Sea Mullet

48

65

86

Bluefish

50

66-72

84

Red Snapper

50

60

70

Striped Bass

50

55-65

75

Swordfish

50

66

80

Tuna, Bluefin

50

60-72

82

Tuna, Skipjack

50

62

70

Drum, Black

52

72

90

Drum, Red

52

70-90

90

Tuna, Bigeye

52

62-74

80

Barracuda

55

72-80

86

Flounder, Summer/Southern

55

66

72

Spot

56

71

90

Sheepshead

58

66

74

Amberjack

60

65-75

80

Atlantic Bonito

60

64

80

Bonefish

60

72-84

92

Tautog

60

70

76

Marlin, Striped

61

68-76

80

Albacore, False

62

65

76

Tuna, Yellowfin

64

72-78

80

Cobia

65

72

79

Mackerel, King

65

68-76

88

Mackerel, Spanish

65

78

88

Marlin, White

65

68-78

80

Pompano

65

70-82

90

Tuna, Blackfin

65

70-75

82

Sailfish

68

72-82

88

Crevalle Jack

70

74-86

90

Dolphin

70

72-78

82

Tarpon

70

75-90

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Updating North Carolina’s Artificial Reef Program; New Directions. by Dr. Bogus

According to Jim Francesconi, Coordinator of North Carolina’s artificial fishing reef program, the program was started back in the 1970s, when it was mostly organized by coastal fishing clubs and local municipalities. But in 1984 the North Carolina’s Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) fully assumed implementation of the program, including planning, permitting, construction, maintenance and buoyage.

“For much of the time,” said Francesconi, “we were working quite a bit on the ocean reefs, but early in 2009, we had to make a switch to concentrate on inside waters. Part of that, and I think the greatest aspect of it was a new demographic of users. People have been out in the ocean and have done very well and spent a lot of their life out there and enjoyed it, but some people are now looking more inshore, with a broad range of users. And the other thing is habitat. There are certain species that are very dependent on the estuarine waters so we’re very heavy right now making reefs with an emphasis on the habitat.”

As Francesconi described it, the switch is from producing fish attractors (ocean reefs) to estuarine fish habitat particularly important in development and nurturing juvenile fish.

“Your structure oriented fish in the juvenile phase,” said Francesconi,” is going to be primarily gag grouper. They are 100-percent reliant on estuarine waters for their early juvenile development, until about the four or five month age. But also black sea bass, although they are not 100-percent requiring reefs.”

To fulfill this new mandate, Marine Fisheries has taken several approaches including improving older existing estuarine reefs (AR 392), construction of new reefs (AR 398) and continued development of oyster reefs and oyster sanctuaries.

First, the New Bern Reef (AR 392) was initially constructed in 1983 by Craven County and NCDMF and lies just down river of the Neuse River bridges. The original 27 acre site was constructed mostly with 100,000 tires and some concrete pilings. Increased usage and diminishing ability to hold bait and fish made it a good target for expansion.

Reef balls being deployed at the New Bern Reef AR 392

Reef balls being deployed at the New Bern Reef AR 392

“That’s a 63-acre reef site,” explained Francesconi, “it was a tire reef, and the tires have done fairly well on that site, there isn’t a lot of energy to tear them up, and there was a little bit of concrete piling, but what we’ve now put on the site is 500 reef balls. That was a big project, we had 500 reef balls, put down of 3-different sizes, and we had about 600-tons of marl-riprap limestone. Some of that funding came from the CCA (Coastal Conservation Association); we also put down a lot of pipe. We’ve still got some more room and some deep-water areas to fill and we have some more marl for that. We’re hoping that that’s going to be done soon.”

According to Francesconi, the New Bern Reef holds plenty of silversides and some larger baits and has mostly wintertime recreational fishing activity for Neuse River striped bass.

One of the newest reefs, AR 398, has been constructed on a site in the New River, and was constructed from concrete materials recovered from the demolition and replacement of the Buddy Phillips Bridge over the New River along Hwy. 17 in Jacksonville.

“The first material (from the bridge) went down in December of 2010” said Francesconi, “and that was about 40% of the processed material from the bridge, and when I say processed I mean it was broken, it was stripped of all the asphalt, they brought it down to the bare concrete.”

Concrete bridge rubble being downloaded to AR 398 in the New River

Concrete bridge rubble being downloaded to AR 398 in the New River

Size? “Concrete chunks were softball to cantaloupe size and some might be a little bit smaller,” explained Francesconi, “after it was cleaned, it was brought out to the site and we made mini-mounds, each mound was 1.8 cu. yards. The actual reef size covers 31-acres.”

According to Francesconi the reef was built in 7- to 10-feet of water or less and the mounds reach a height to about 5-feet below the surface and are arranged in a geometric patchwork pattern of small mounds.

Ar398_3sThe question is how is the fishing? “It produced fish right away,” smiled Francesconi, “I guess within about 6-months, the first summer after it went down. Then in 2012, we put additional material down, the balance of it, and it’s been doing pretty good. It’s gotten real good reviews.”

Ricky Kellum, local New River trout fishing guide gave two thumbs up, “The REEF has been great,” said Kellum, “there are lots of trout on it.”

And the good news is that this reef was 100% funded by the by our saltwater fishing license fees (CRFL). Our fishing license money at work for us and this is only a start, as Francesconi reported, “We have a lot of irons on the fire right now.” So there is much more to come in the future for our developing estuarine reef program.

GPS for center of AR 398: 34 39.600 N, 77 22.451 W

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Dr. Bogus’ Feted Feta Trout

Ingredients:

1-4oz.-container smooth feta cheese

2-cloves of garlic (pressed thru garlic press)

6-slices of sun dried tomatoes, soaked to softness and chopped

2-T Olive oil

½-bag fresh baby spinach leaves (4 to 5 ounces)

1-T butter

4-trout fillets (skinned)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Preparation:

1)      With a fork, blend together the feta, garlic, dried tomatoes, S&P and enough olive oil to make a smooth paste (this is an excellent hors d’overs with crackers or thin crispy bread slices).

2)      Sauté spinach briefly to just wilting.

3)      Add feta cheese mixture to the spinach in the sauté pan, and mix.

4)      Place the trout on a lightly oiled sheet of aluminum foil.

5)      Spread the spinach/feta mixture evenly over the filets salt and pepper to taste.

Bake in a hot oven (375°-400°) for no more than 10 to 15-minutes, until the trout just starts to flake.

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Cobia, a fish with an attitude! By Dr. Bogus

 

Ling, cabio, lemonfish, crab-eater, flathead, black salmon, black kingfish, sergeant fish and, runner are among the many monikers of this prized, hard fighting and tasty fish.

“This is a peculiar looking critter,” explains Capt. Ron McPherson, operator of Highlander Charters (Atlantic Beach, NC), “they actually look like a catfish got crossed up with a shark, that’s what these guys look like and in crossing them up it gave them a pretty bad attitude.”

And, every May, when local water temperatures nudge near 70-degrees, hopeful cobia looking for love chart a course from their more southerly winter digs to their North Carolina spawning grounds.

“The easiest way to find them and catch them,” said McPherson, “is when they are entering the sounds to spawn, so Bogue Inlet and Beaufort Inlet are good places and Barden’s Inlet at Cape Lookout.” “There are also some big ones caught inside “The Hook” and at Barden’s Inlet at the mouth of “The Hook”. There’s been some really big fish caught there over the last couple of years,” explained McPherson.

How about some other local hot spots? McPherson has several favorites, like the 20 to 25-ft. deep water slough that that runs behind Shackleford Banks, and Rough Point, which is on the east side of the Beaufort Channel as you pass Shackleford. As you continue moving into Bogue Sound from the Beaufort Inlet there is the Morehead City Port Turning Basin, and past the Atlantic Beach Causeway, along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), there area deep soughs off the ICW near Spooner’s Creek, another one near Pelletier Creek, that are popular deep water anchoring spots for cobia.

Now lets get down to business. “What you want to do,” said McPherson, “and we’re talking about boat fishing, is you’re going to be anchoring up, and some of the spots to anchor up are in Beaufort Inlet, I like the east side of the inlet in like 25-feet of water.”

This is not a light tackle fishery, so McPherson recommends some meaty tackle. “I use 50-pound class gear, “ said McPherson, so that you can sort of control him, there is no controlling this fish, just know when he bites and takes off it’s going to be really hard to slow him down, but the 50-pound class gear, rod, reel, line will help you do that.”

“For terminal tackle,” explains McPherson, “you need about seven or eight-foot of 80-pound test monofilament leader, and you’re going to attach a fish-finder rig with a six or eight-ounce pyramid sinker on it, that will hold your bait on the bottom, and a big 7/0, 8/0 or 9/0 hook.”

“One of the things that people miss on these fish”, said McPherson with a sigh, “is that when he picks your bait up, you’re anchored, your bait’s out on the bottom, and the reel starts clicking, you let him go! You let him run off, maybe 30, 40 or 50-feet, then he’ll sit down and then he will eat the bait. Think, grab, run, stop and eat! A lot of people don’t realize that. And when he eats the bait and starts his second run you engage the drag and sock it to him. If you don’t do that, you’ll pull the bait and hook out of his mouth before he’s had a chance to consume it. He’s a bit like a flounder when you’re fishing with big minnows, you don’t set the hook just as soon as the flounder picks it up, you let him run off with it first.”

Speaking of bait, cobia bait is typically some type of live bait, bluefish, pinfish, menhaden, or live blue crab, but you can also catch these fish on dead bait. Chumming also is a good tactic for luring the fish to your bait.

Now the battle begins. “After you set the hook, and start fighting this fish,” warned McPherson, “you may get him up to the boat, but when he sees the boat, he goes crazy and he will leave, and you will wind him backup again and he will leave again, and as long as he wants to do that it’s better to let him because the more you can wear him down the better off you are.”

Another warning, “If you bring one of these fish in the boat and he’s “green” he will hurt you,” explains McPherson, “an 80-pound fish will break your leg. To land the fish you can either use a big dip net if it’s a 20 or 30-pound fish, but for these big guys you’re going to have to gaff him. And when you gaff him…he doesn’t like the gaff, and so throw him in the boat and then the best thing to do is have a wet towel handy and throw the towel over his head, cover his eyes up, that will just chill rim right out. Or if you forget your towel, you didn’t get one out of the hamper, then a small bat applied directly to his forehead several times will chill him out. But I like the towel routine, because, put the towel over his head take the hook out and put him right in the fish box.

Final words of wisdom, if you see one swimming around the boat, some people might be tempted to free-gaff it! McPherson’s edict is “Never! Never, never, never free-gaff one of these animals! It will be really hazardous to your health, you and the gaff might be overboard or worse yet, you get him inboard and you will have the gunnels and he will have the deck.” Ouch!

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Maurillo Marquez, Cary, NC 21-pounds 12-ounces (blackfin tuna)

Pier fishing for tuna! By Dr. Bogus (Richard Ehrenkaufer, PhD)

Maurilio Marquez is a construction worker from Cary who has enjoyed fishing in Emerald Isle for the last 18-years. Marquez, who started king mackerel fishing just six-years ago may have already had his best season, and it’s only April.

Equipped with his new Shimano reel packed with several hundred yards of tough braided line and a green headed Got-Cha plug he was ready for a fun day of pier fishing. Out at the end of the pier, he watched as “false albacore” were jumping and feeding some 500-yards out. After about 20 minutes they got close enough to the pier to cast the Got-Cha plug to them.

“I tried one time and didn’t get anything,” said Marquez, “I tried a second time and one of them just swallowed the Got-Cha plug and just took off taking about 200-yards of line.”

According to Marquez, the fish went right then left, then right and left again and even went into the beach twice, somehow avoiding a lurking buoy just 200-foot out from the pier.

“That’s when I tightened the drag a little bit,” said Marquez, so I could get him in, I figured it was tired already.” And so was Marquez, his arm was starting to give out after the 75-minute battle.

By that time they could see what it was, a false albacore, a king mackerel, no a tuna fish!

That’s when Danny Glover, pier staff and fellow fisherman, gaffed him.

“Finally we brought him up,” exclaimed Marquez, “and there was so many people taking pictures. What I enjoyed most of all was the crowd of people that you have around. They were all cheering and when you catch the fish they applaud, and that’s the joy I get when I catch a big fish.”

Once on the deck, the “false albacore” turned out to be a 21.75-pound citation blackfin tuna. Unusual? Pier Owner Mike Stanley said it was a first on Bogue Pier, after over 50-years of operation.

I asked Marquez if he ate the tuna. “Yes sir,” laughed Marquez,” and oh it was so good.”

By the way, the blackfin tuna was legal for Marquez to catch and keep. It is a tuna that doesn’t require a state or federal permit.

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Spanish Tricks, by Dr. Bogus

Pier fishing:

Typically, the Spanish mackerel return in a blitz condition in early May and along Carolina’s Crystal Coast, and May Day has been synonymous with the return of the Spanish. This is however fairly remarkable, since barely a decade ago, the fishery was on the verge of collapse from over fishing in the 1970s and 1980s, but now is a shining light of successful fisheries management. At this time here in North Carolina the creel limit is now up to 15-Spanish mackerel per day, and the average fish is getting noticeably bigger and bigger every year.

Make no mistake about it; one of the most used and successful baits for Spanish mackerel, especially from the piers, is a lead weighted piece of plastic laced with gold treble hooks, known as the Got-Cha plug. The crank and jerk retrieve works wonders and will land not only Spanish but many other predators as well. Many color combinations are available, but white and chartreuse bodies with orange, pink, red, blue, green or chartreuse lead heads are most popular.

Walking the pier from Ides of March through November’s turkey day can be a perilous duty indeed. Blues and Spanish flying and flopping Got-Chas chartreuse and white being slung in directions that defy gravity and the most certainly the owner’s intentions to and from locations only Alice and the Mad Hatter can comprehend. Unfortunately a common sight throughout the fishing season. Ever try to grasp a feisty fish with a multi-troubled trebled gold hooked Got-Cha?? Wrestle the fish to the boards, grab the needle nosed pliers and surgically remove as many hooks as are imbedded?? Safely return the fish to the sea or plunk him into the cooler?? This is the ideal of course, but we all know that in the heat of battle like This past May’s Spanish blitz, the ideal is somewhere in “Wonderland” with Alice and the crazed Hatter and the final destination of the golden hooks are often unintentioned. And, with all the great darting action of the plug many of the fish are foul hooked. We have all seen the results, fingers, shirts, pants, foreheads and other bodily parts and appendages. Ouch #*@%&*!! Don’t get me wrong, Got-Chas are great, Got-Chas are good and we thank Sea Striker for all those fish, but are there any alternatives??

1) Remove one of the trebles-back if Spanish are about, front is blues are about. Blues bite the tail, Spanish go for the jugular (head). This way the only hooks are the ones in the fish.

2) Mash the barbs, just keep the pressure on and you capture rate will be the same as with barbs, just your personal bodily release rate will go up dramatically.

3) Go to the single hook Got-Cha with a treble up front and a single hook bucktail in the back.

4) Dr. Bogus’ favorite; switch to a 5/8 chartreuse or white lead jig head and 4″ clear plastic (with sparkles of course) Fin-S or Trout Killer grub. Looks and tastes just what those finicky Spanish may be eating, especially if they are chopping glass minnows and turn their noses up anything else.

This will last several Spanish, since they shred from the head, and don’t chop from the tail like the blues. With blues around, they only last about ½ fish. Jig the grub just like a Got-Cha just a bit slower. With the 5/8 oz. head, the action will be very similar and nearly as effective. The advantage is mouth hooked fish almost all the time and 5-less hooks to worry about as the fish comes over the railings. “Fish coming over” will have a new meaning. Fear of the fish coming off prematurely, launching a Got-Cha into friend, neighbors or complete strangers is a thing of the past, and hook removal is a snap. Yes, you have to change off the shredded mutilated grub every couple of fish but still cheaper than a Got-Cha and they get bitten off too.

5) “The Bare and the Baitless”, the gold hook rigs (we’ve been there before). They simply work!!

6) Some of the biggest Spanish every year are bagged on live-lined shad, or finger mullet free spooled on long shank, No. 2 gold hook, or on a cork or a slider rig. Remember, citation weight for Spanish is 6-pounds, and this year there have been many citations weighed in.

7) NO wire!! NO wire on Got-Chas, NO wire on your jigs. You will get some cut offs but you’ll also get more hook ups too.

Boating for Spanish:

A staple of Spanish fishing is trolling along the beaches, around the inlets and over the reefs and rocks of the Crystal Coast and the ubiquitous Clarkspoons work well for Spanish are the workhorses for this fishery. Both chrome and gold are used, although I prefer gold. The most popular sizes are the small ones which imitate the small anchovies and small silversides that are the favorite forage of the Spanish mackerel, so the small #00 and #0 spoons are the most productive and most used. Spanish are very keen eyed, so you need to use 20 to 40-ft. of 20-40-pound test mono leader for trolling the Clarkspoons. You can use a trolling weight of 1 to 4-oz., depending on how deep you need to get. If you need to get deeper than you can with a trolling weight, you may need to use a small No. 1-planar to get down. Usually early in the day (sunrise and early morning), Spanish are feeding on the surface but go deeper as the day progresses and therefore you have to fish deeper. They feed most heavily in low-light conditions. In the evening, the fish often return to the top to feed again. Trolling speeds is usually 5 to 7 knots.

Other trolling techniques that are good producers are trolling birds with a squid chain behind it and more recently YoZuri-DD (deep divers) have trolled up some big Spanish as well.

If you find Spanish and don’t like the idea of hand-lining many feet of line when you reel up to the trolling weight or planar, you can always stop trolling and cast to the fish. I usually use a small (1/2 oz.) Kastmaster, Stingsilver (3/8 oz.) or a clear or white Fin-S or Trout Killer grub. I use the 4-in. size with a white grub head and shorten the grub if the Spanish won’t hit. Spanish are notoriously finicky when it comes to matching the hatch size. Another good lure that is often used is a spec rig, perfect to match the little hatch of silversides, anchovies and small shad.