Alphabet Soup; Fishing by the Letters by Dr. Bogus
National security, the sounds of freedom Camp Lejeune, the Marines, and the “alphabet buoys”, what do they all have in common? The so-called alphabet buoys in Onslow Bay off the shores of Camp Lejeune run along an arc sector roughly from outside of Bogue Inlet to New River Inlet on a radius of approximately 12-miles. They provide a demarcation danger zone that subtends the military restricted area between Bear and Brown’s Inlets. Specifically they designate the Camp Lejeune firing range, an area that is restricted when live firing exercises are conducted or when the military requires access to that part of the ocean for carrying out maneuvers. Locally, we refer to the firing range maneuvers as the “sounds of freedom”, which has taken on even more significance since the tragedy of “9-11”. But then the question is what does all this have to do with fishing?
Well, as Capt. Bob Townsend (Sea Dancer, Swansboro) was quick to point out, “I think they’ve been here for about 12 years,” remarked Townsend, “and the thing is the presence of the buoy, the anchor chain and the adjoining weight that holds the buoy there. They attract the small fish, and of course the larger baitfish get there and the predators come after that.”
So basically we got ourselves attractors, and a food chain is established, in fact a stable food chain for each of the buoys “A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H” and an abundance of bait fishes.
How abundant? “Normally we could find cigar minnows, greenies, Spanish sardines, and chub mackerel there,” said Townsend, “in addition obviously to your pinfish and small black bass and that kind of thing too.”
With the great variety of baits available, everyone has their own favorites. When asked, Townsend said, “For me, the primo bait for king mackerel and most striking fish is what I call a chub mackerel. It’s a Boston mackerel, probably seven to eight inches long, and it’s very lively and pulls real well, it doesn’t weaken as bad as the cigar minnows do.”
For many others including Capt. Shane Brafford (Second to None, Swansboro), the cigar minnow is top of the bait food chain. Why? There are lots of cigar minnows out there,” said Brafford, “and they’re good for just about anything you want to catch.”
If you motor over the Charley Buoy for example and turn on your sounder, what you’ll often see is massive balls of bait, sometimes on the surface often somewhere there and the bottom, which for Charlie Buoy is around 60-feet give or take a few lumps and bumps. But seeing all those potential bait doesn’t make it your bait, it’s the Sabiki or bait catcher rigs that make them bait, a string of maybe six or so tiny gold, laser sharp hooks that are jigged up and down just looking for bait to bite! Typical gear for using the Sabiki rig is simple, as Brafford pointed out, “I use real light line spinning tackle, said Brafford, “that is eight to ten-pound test (line) so if I have to break it off I can do it without ruining a whole bunch and I have a heavy egg sinker on the bottom which I paint them black.” Why I asked? “Otherwise they get eaten off,” snickered Brafford.
Getting the weights eaten off isn’t the only problem however a Townsend quickly pointed out. “Quite often when we’re jigging, we’ll have our Sabiki rig cut off on the way up,” said Townsend. “It seems like the attraction of those baitfish hooked on the Sabiki attracts strikes from the kings as we’re bring them up. They’re eating the fish even before we can get them up and rigged.” “That’s not so bad of course,” Townsend explained, “we like to have that sign, because it means that there are kings present, so if we can get a couple of baits up and get them on the light line even while we are jigging, we’ll get a fish on while we’re still jigging bait.”
Getting those baits off the Sabiki rig is the next problem. Sharp hooks, squirming fish on a thin line, but not to worry as Brafford picked up a special tool. “I got a little a little de-hooker or two,” said Brafford, “or a long nose pliers works well too, and you just shake them off right into the live bait well.”
Obviously you have to be more considerate of live bait than dead bait, so how do you rig your live bait? “Like most live baiters,” said Townsend, “I try to go light; I use a small nose hook, where it doesn’t cause too much trauma to the bait when you hook him up. I hook him through the lips or sideways across the nostrils. Then normally I have a stinger hook with a little heavier wire that I put a treble hook and normally I imbed that stinger hook on the top of the back, up in front of the tail so it doesn’t interfere with the swimming of the bait.”
So you really want to keep it naturally looking and swimming in the water to be most successful I asked? “Absolutely,” exclaimed Townsend, “if you hook your treble hook or stinger hook too far to the stern of the fish, it interferes with his ability to swim in a natural way.”
Brafford goes light and short too. “I use a small number-six treble hook, noted Brafford, “and number-six solid steel wire, I personally prefer it over the stranded wire. Most time when I live-bait, I use only about a foot of wire, which is tied directly to my 20 or 30-pound mono fighting line. The less (wire) you set; the more you hook up with them.”
A natural looking bait is one key to successful live baiting, which includes trolling speed. So how slow do you go? “Just a very slow troll, just as slow as I can go,” said Brafford.
Just like baits, everyone has a favorite buoy to fish. Charley Buoy is by far the favorite of many anglers. Why? More bait? More fish? Why? Townsend speculated on one possibility. “I think one of the things, it’s a coincidental thing,” said Townsend, “there wasn’t an intention there but the Charlie Buoy, which is one of the most popular ones to fish because of the proximity to the inlet is right on the edge of Southeast Bottoms, and it’s a good live bottom area. So not only does it provide structure but it’s also on a good hard bottom also.”
Bait in the bucket, or the live well and rigs in hand, where is the best place to fish? Brafford prefers to stay close to the bait. “I do most of my fishing around the C-buoy,” said Brafford, “you’ve got Southeast Bottoms, and AR-345 very close, and there is just a lot of good bottom around C-buoy, it’s just a good hard uneven rocky bottom.”
Townsend uses plan “D”. “I normally don’t fish the “C” or Charlie Buoy that much,” explained Townsend, “if I get there and I’m jigging bait and we’re drifting, I’ll put some light lines out so I’ll fish there some, but unless there is a presence of fish I won’t fish there because it’s fairly crowded, it’s just hard to fish. Some people fish the “D” Buoy, and it’s just offshore of a really good out-cropping of rock, so it gives you the buoy to fish around and the rock just inshore of it maybe three-quarters of a mile.”
There are many other good locations nearby those buoys to fish too, that’s another reason that makes them popular fishing destinations. What are some of them, and which ones do you like to fish? When you get your bait, where do you go? The most popular place to fish of course to fish is Southeast Bottoms,” said Townsend, “and then to Honey Hole, the 50’s-Bottom and Sponge Rock area, which are all within two or three miles of the Charlie Buoy. So you have pretty much a real good choice on which way you want to go on that particular day. Get your bait at Charlie Buoy; you don’t have more that a mile or two run before you can start fishing pretty good structure.”
Good baiting and fishing are important, but another aspect is the convenience, closeness and accessibility of these inshore locations so how far out are some of those buoys? I know I can see Alpha buoy from the beach at Bogue Inlet. “Well the Charlie Buoy I think is only about eight-miles,” calculated Townsend, “and the Alpha Buoy and the Bravo Buoy are only within two or three miles of the beach. And of course, the Bravo Buoy is just offshore of the Keypost Rocks and AR 342, so that makes a convenient place where you normally can count on getting bait and go right on to fish on the structure you choose there.”
So this is really available to some not very big boats, boats that don’t or shouldn’t go very far offshore? “Absolutely,” Townsend remarked, “the inshore reefs and the artificial reefs that are in there, in conjunction with those alphabet buoys as you call them, are a real god-send for the 21-foot boats that really don’t care to go out of sight of land. There are certain days when they can go where they want to, but the average day here with the southwest wind two to three-foot sea, the 21-footer needs to stay fairly close to shore.”
Bait in hand, rigs made the night before and ready to go, now what kind of fish can you expect? “Well,” said Townsend, “I think in the early spring you would count on catching flounder and the bottom feeders there, but as the water warms up in the early summer the smaller kings are the first thing to show up there. And anytime during the summer or in the fall you are subject to catch a big king there. All those buoys are somewhat around an inlet, and my personal opinion is that most of the big female kings that are tournament grade fish are caught somewhere around an inlet as a rule, in 60-foot or less of water.”
But what other kinds of game fish do you find in the summer, some of the big stuff, dolphin, wahoo, sails? Townsend goes down the list. “I have caught dolphin, I have caught wahoo at the alphabet buoys, primarily the “C” and “D” buoy. In the years past, there’s been some days when the “C” and the “D” buoy both were excellent, where you had excellent catches of average kings, teenagers…in the teens as far as weight goes, and very large numbers of them too. I’ve even caught a dolphin or two in on the “A” or “B” buoy, and the “F” buoy way off of Sneads Ferry, is really more prevalent for dolphin, with the “E” and the “F” being the best for them. And you’re always going to have you share of amberjack and barracuda around those buoys too.”
Quite a list indeed, some for sport, some great on the dinner table, but are there even some surprises? “Well,” exclaimed Brafford, “I’ve caught sailfish at Charlie Buoy and I’ve caught them as close as the B-buoy before too!”
How much fun is that? “I’ll tell you,” said Brafford, “it’s a whole lot of fun on 20-pound test! They jump, and they put on a real good show. It can last 35 or 40-minutes trying to get him in.”
When you get him in, what do you do? How do you release a fish like that? “With a sailfish,” said Brafford in a serious voice, “we never put him in the boat, if I have to we’ll cut the wire, but we try to get the hook out first! We’ll take some pictures beside the boat, and we’ll put a hand on the bill and one on his tail and drag him and revive him until he’s good. When he’s good, you can tell when he is revived and you let him go. And we use bronzed hooks so they rust out fast, no stainless steel around here, just number-6 4X (4-strong) bronzed hooks, that’s all we use.”
So the next time you hear the sounds of freedom booming in the distance, think of Camp Lejeune and our Marines first and then how lucky we are to go fish by the letters of the alphabet buoys. Recite and hum after me: A-B-C-D-E-F-G, H…, you know the children’s alphabet song!
Specific information about the rules of Navigation in these restricted areas can be gotten from “Coast Pilot 4, Chapter 2, Navigation Regulations” (http://chartmaker.ncd.noaa.gov/nsd/coastpilot4.htm) and warnings of impending military use of the area will be contained in the weekly “Notice to Mariners-District 5” (http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/lnm/d5/).
Alphabet Buoys: GPS Coordinates and Water Depths.
| Buoy Longitude Latitude Depth
|A- Buoy N 34 36.348 W 077 05.508 46
|B- Buoy N 34 35.467 W 077 01.590 49
|C- Buoy N 34 30.056 W 077 02.086 60
|D- Buoy N 34 25.538 W 077 05.737 70
|E- Buoy N 34 22.601 W 077 10.951 68
|F- Buoy N 34 21.930 W 077 17.515 60
|G- Buoy N 34 23.656 W 077 23.645 51
|H- Buoy N 34 27.938 W 077 21.164 44
45-Minute Rock: N 34 33.06 W 77 03.31
Bear Inlet Rock: N 34 35.14 W 77 08.71
Christmas Rock: N 34 23.54 W 77 09.52
East Rock (Bogue): N 34 35.33 W 76 56.75
Honey Hole/Sponge Rock: N 34 26.30 W 77 01.30
Honeymoon Rock: N 34 27.65 W 77 08.78
Keypost Rocks: KP1: N 34 38.18 W77 01.90, KP2: N 34 37.75 W 77 01.76
Lost Rock: N 34 32.00 W 77 06.06
Southeast Bottoms: SEB1: N 34 29.42 W 77 01.62, SEB2: N 34 30.10 W76 59.74, SEB3: N 34 29.18 W76 58.34
Station Rock: N 34 35.27 W 77 04.11
AR342 N 34 36.320 W 77 02.110
AR340 N 34 34.210 W 76 58.180
AR345 N 34 32.180 W 76 58.280
AR350 N 34 29.900 W 77 21.300
AR355 N 34 21.110 W 77 20.000
Hutton N 34 39.461 W 76 48.434
Suloide N 34 32.694 W 76 53.729
Jerry’s Reef N 34 28.970 W 76 53.190
Rock South of 13 N 34 28.510 W 76 54.260