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Monday, June 17, 2013
The other day I had a minor bout of envy when I spotted a loaded-down Suburban, its roof racks topped with duffel bags and a covered deep v-hull boat hooked to the trailer hitch.
It was my friend and neighbor, Keith McCurty, parked outside a neighborhood convenience store while someone in the gang was apparently getting some last-minute road trip supplies.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Ocracoke,” he said, grinning big.
It’s that time of year when we mountain folk head east to the coast en masse.
Some will play golf.
Some will rent kayaks.
Others will do little more than vegging out on the beach for hours on end.
Plenty will, like McCurty, fish.
A great thing about coastal fishing is that while we are on the cusp of the dog days of summer, and that can make for some challenging inland fishing, coastal fishing can be pretty good even on the most oppressive summer days.
Most coastal fish are pretty good on the table, so a good day of fishing can not only be fun, but also provide for a meal or two.
For saltwater fishing novices, the Atlantic and its myriad inlets and bays can be intimidating.
When I first arrived in Hampton Roads, I remember standing on the Virginia Beach sand with a fishing rod in hand, looking out at the vast sea and thinking, “Where do I start?”
I should have started elsewhere — specifically, a local tackle shop.
Folks in coastal tackle shops want you to catch fish because your success is critical for their success. If you catch fish and have fun, you’ll be more likely to return to the spot, and to their shop.
Spending money won’t hurt, but you won’t have to drop a ton of cash.
Unless you plan to fish off a commercial pier, anglers 16 and above will need a saltwater fishing license in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
A 10-day resident license in North Carolina and Virginia is $10. In South Carolina, $11 will get you a 14-day license.
If you plan to chase big quarry such as monster red drum in the heavy current and rollicking surf those bull drum prefer, you’ll need a big surf stick to handle the weight of the sinkers and to make the required long casts.
But if you’re happy plucking saltwater panfish such as spot, croaker, whiting and pompano out of the bays, inlets, and small breakers and gentle surf wash, the same gear that works for our river and lake bass will be fine.
As for terminal tackle, for starters it’s hard to beat a standard, two-hook bottom rig, which hang by the hundreds on the walls of every coastal tackle shop.
Small pieces of bloodworms were once the go-to bait for ocean panfish, especially whiting and spot, but Fishbites have simplified things.
The bloodworm variety of the manmade bait — a bait McCurty tipped me off about a number of years ago — is just as effective as the real thing, if not better. Plus Fishbites are more durable and will not rot when left in the warm sun. (If you want to stink up your car, leave a carton of bloodworms in it on a hot summer day.)
The squid and shrimp varieties of Fishbites can work well for flounder and croaker, which also love Berkley Gulp! shrimp.
A ½-ounce sinker will hold the bait in place in light current and surf. If you need an ounce, so be it, but you’ll lose some of the fun of fighting the fish.
Long casts are rarely necessary.
Along the beach, those panfish often hold in the first deep slough, just behind the shorebreak. Sometimes the fish will actually be in the shorebreak itself.
One summer afternoon a number of years ago at Hatteras I used a fly rod to pitch small Crazy Charlie bonefish flies flavored with small bits of shrimp to pompano I could see patrolling in the breakers. Dinner was great that night.
Certainly, you should plan to keep some of your catch, provided the fish are of legal size. (That’s particularly important when it comes to flounder, red drum and sea trout, which are closely regulated.)
If the fish are a pound or more, they can be filleted. For species such as spot, panfish and whiting, the best approach is to gut and scale the fish, cut the head off, coat them with your favorite fish coating or light batter, and deep fry in peanut oil. So a Fry Daddy or similar deep frying implement completes the coastal fishing gear list.
Finally, be sure to take a camera so you take home lasting mementos of the action and to strike envy in the minds of your friends stuck up here in the mountains this summer.
Weather JournalPossible scrape with snow Tues