“Just because it’s winter around here doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the house just staring at your boat while you fiddle with tackle.”
So says fishing buddy Steve Fifer. Fifer was for many years president of the angler friendly Salt Water Light Tackle Fishing Club out of Morehead City and spent much of his career in the tackle industry, most recently retired from Big Rock Sports.
“When the weather permits, there is some exceptional fishing around our town. The Cape Lookout Rock Jetty (CLRJ), the mother of all ‘Community Holes,’ holds a surprisingly good amount of sporty and great eating fish, sheepshead and black drum, all winter,” exclaims Fifer. “It is actually pretty easy fishing, too. Both fish have a large body cavity and rib cage meaning there’s not much meat on the small ones. You’ll get quality fillets from fish measuring 14 inches and up. Throw the small ones back, please.”
Of course, the CLRJ is well known in the area, as a search in Google describes this iconic jetty “The 2,500-foot jetty, built in 1914, is a few hundred yards southwest from the Cape Lookout Lighthouse near the tip of South Core Banks. The jetty is a mass of jagged, jumbled, barnacle-covered chunk rocks, almost invisible during high-tide periods and a couple of hundred yards uncovered at low tide.”
As noted, the jetty is long and rocky, so the question, if you haven’t fished it before, is how do you approach fishing this massive structure?
“I like to fish the jetty on the down tide side,” says Fifer, “that is the inlet side on a rising tide and the Shark Island side on the outgoing.”
How about rods and reels? The answer is simple.
“I just use the same spinning rods we use for speckled trout,” said Fifer. “They work just fine out here. I prefer braided line in the 10-to-20-pound range. And because the water is usually really clear, I prefer a fluorocarbon leader testing around 20-to-30-pound. Of course, mono works just fine too.”
Terminal tackle is also straight forward.
“The most common terminal tackle is a Carolina Rig and the nice thing about that is you can carry all the stuff for it in a small plastic box; barrel sinkers from ¼ to 1-ounce, plastic beads, barrel swivels, and circle hooks in sizes 2 to 2/0” explains Fifer. “I’m a terminal tackle minimalist, so I’ll use the smallest sinker that’ll get to the bottom, a 5-to-8-millimeter bead, the tiniest swivel you can find, and top-quality hook.”
Fifer prefers the Owner Mutu Light hooks and points out that trending in the past couple of years are the Bottom Sweeper-type jigs. His only issue with them is, “they’re kinda, sorta expensive”, he exclaims, “especially given the number of times they end up in the rocks. Bait is really simple. Fresh is first choice, but frozen will work too, it just falls off the hook too easily.”
Now the question is how to work the 2500-foot-long jetty?
“I find the best fishing is right smack up against the rocks,” says Fifer, “I usually start about halfway in towards shore and work my way out towards the end if I’m not getting bites, and I’m never without some small metal jigs either just in case there’s some gray trout, specks or redfish to add to the cooler.”
The last point is a good one from Fifer, there are lots of possibilities of jigging up grays, specks, blues, and even a false albacore, black sea bass or even a blackfin tuna on metal jigs. The Thingama Jigs have been very popular over the last few years. Spanish Candy, Stingsilvers and Kastmasters will do fine as well.
That area, which includes Shark Island, also holds loads of winter reds from the shoals over to the surf, which can be fished from the beach.
Finally, Fifer reminds all of winter safety.
“With the water temps in the upper 40’s to lower 50’s an ‘Oops’ can be very serious,” Fifer warns. “The point is to stay dry.”
Fifer has two tips, “first, your outer layer of clothing should be waterproof, and secondly, always carry several towels stored where they’ll stay dry in case you don’t.”
Hopefully we can get some more insight from him in the future. Also check out https://www.ncoif.com/steve-fifer-winter-panfishing/ on my website for more winter fishing options from Steve.
So, I wasn’t joking about the famed CLRJ, the fishing there has been very productive with limits of sheepshead possible.
The place seems overrun by black drum and there are also the less targeted tautog being caught regularly on the bottom rigs. If you have live shrimp fished on a slip-cork, you will also be rewarded with some big speckled trout. Metal jigs are producing gray trout, finally some late season speckled trout, and plenty of bluefish too.
CLRJ isn’t the only jetty producing fish.
The Shackleford Jetty had blues and grays, and the Radio Island Jetty has blowfish, and some trout.
Just out of Bogue Inlet, within sight off the beach, working hard structure will reward you with black drum, and tautogs along with keeper sea bass as well. If the weather gets bumpy, stay inside and work the Morehead Port Turning Basin, there have been sea mullet in 50-feet of water along with the red and black drum as well.
Inside, the reds are schooling in the skinny, clear water flats, but that may change as we are expecting real winter weather by the end of the week.
The trout bite is still strong from New River to the Neuse with some citations pushing nearly 30 inches. The Neuse is also yielding striped bass in the New Bern area. I still haven’t been able to find specks in my usual Highway 24 creeks, or Pettiford Creek. I’m starting to get annoyed at Facebook posting my successes of years past!
Surf here in Emerald Isle is still yielding some puffers, a rare sea mullet, some black drum, but lately mostly dogfish sharks. The sea muller bite from the Topsail surf has been better than Bogue Banks.
Some important info on Bogue Inlet dredging and beach nourishment underway in Emerald Isle: https://www.carolinacoastonline.com/news_times/article_7bbb05bc-a67a-11ee-b6a9-172cc59881be.html and dredging of the long overlooked Cape Lookout and lighthouse “drain” area boat channel to be started soon and must finish by April 1: https://www.carolinacoastonline.com/news_times/article_2701811e-ab06-11ee-9b84-6319cd6c5474.html.
Finally, the NCDMF has new contact information: telephone numbers at Division of Marine Fisheries offices in Morehead City will change on Wednesday, Jan. 17, when a new phone system is installed at the headquarters and central district offices.
The new main number will be 252-515-5500. The former phone number will be temporarily forwarded to the new number, but callers should note the change for future reference. The toll-free line will remain 1-800-682-2632. Direct lines for individual staff will change, as well. The public should refer to the contacts page on the Division of Marine Fisheries’ website for updated numbers or call the main number and ask to be transferred. The public may also contact staff members by email.