September 17, 2013

Outer Banks Angling: Get to popping


Well, Labor Day is behind us and fall officially arrives this weekend. Thus far this September has been very nice in the weather department, which has kept the fishing hot and the tourists coming.

This is much welcomed by all folks and businesses on the Outer Banks after having two separate hurricanes in 2011 and 2012 wreak havoc on the fall shoulder season.

Most Septembers, the area is being hit by a hurricane, tropical storm or northeaster or at least under threat of one of the three. To have a September this mild has brought a huge sigh of relief from all locals and tourists alike. (I am now going to knock on wood for some protection in October.)

I recently had my kayak in the water at Cape Point, and I saw a ridiculous amount of life.

From the shore to open water, there was a fair amount of bait on the move, which is always a good sign that fall fishing is launching. There were also lots and lots of Spanish mackerel and bluefish around.

Of late, I've seen a lot of bait on the move in the sound water, which is another good sign that fall fishing is rapidly approaching and in some cases, has already begun.

The slot-limit puppy drum have dominated the sound water reports in most cases and made a strong showing all along the beaches of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

These fish are a big crowd pleaser, as they are great fighters and an angler can take one per person, per day. The size limit is known as a slot and says that the fish must be no shorter than 18 inches and cannot touch, nor exceed 27 inches. In all fairness, the rule should read 18 inches to 26 and 7/8ths.

From the surf, a variety of rigs and baits can be used to target these fish.

One can use a traditional fish finder rig, river rig, or a double rig with at least a solid 4/0 hook.

Cut mullet, menhaden, shrimp, or squid can all be a great bait from the surf.

One can also slowly retrieve a variety of lures off the bottom in the surf to try and catch a slot limit fish.

In the sound waters, one of the favorite ways to target these fish is by using either live bait or artificial lures on a popping cork.Many of you may be scratching your heads right now asking, “What is a popping cork?”

In short, there isn't much to it. The device consists of a couple beads, a cork and a couple of small weights all threaded on a rigid piece of wire with a barrel swivel on either end.

The end with the beads is attached to your main line coming off the rod, while the opposite end should have a piece of fluorocarbon leader that leads to a live bait hook, jig head, or whatever your preference is.

This tool provides a lot of help in a couple different areas.

First of all, with a slight twitch or pop of the rod, the popping cork will cause a small splash, rattle, and vibration through the water. All three are a major fish attractant and simulates bait fish scurrying across the surface.

Secondly, the angler has the ability to regulate the length of the leader, which allows you to help keep the bait from tangling or snagging in areas where the bottom has thick or tall grass.

With live bait the popping cork can help keep your bait floating in an ideal water column for a strike.

In most cases, the popping cork will work best in an area that is 3-4 feet deep or where the fish have been biting closer to the surface in deeper water.

The longer the leader, the more difficult this set-up can be to cast, especially if you are not used to it.

But, once again, this set-up can be and is highly effective. I almost always fish a popping cork with artificial baits.

I prefer to use Berkley Vanish 20-pound fluorocarbon as my leader. This is a great product for the money. A spool will generally cost around $12-$15 for 250 yards, making it the best bang for the buck in the fluorocarbon market.

I then attach a 3/8- or -ounce jig head, along with a Berkley Gulp.

Berkley Gulp has become one of the most recognized and effective artificial baits on the market. I typically stay with the 4-inch swimming mullet in either white or chartreuse, but these baits do come in an almost endless variety of shapes and colors.

You can purchase these baits in a small resealable pack or they come in a couple different sized tubs.

For me, as a kayak fishing guide, the artificial baits are easier to deal with when it comes to clients and at the end of the day my clients and I have caught a great deal of fish.

The popping cork set-up can produce flounder, speckled trout, and especially, puppy drum.

When the fish are in deep water or biting hard, the popping cork will more than likely not be necessary or useful.

But I highly suggest you keep one handy, because I think you will surprise yourself with just how productive they are--especially when you are competing with a lot of live bait swimming in an area or if the fish are a little slow to bite.

All of these products can be found and purchased in local tackle shops.

Now, just get to popping and see the results for yourself.

As of late, along with the puppy drum, a couple larger drum have appeared around Cape Point, which is typical for this time of year and the larger fish should get caught in larger numbers, more frequently, as the water and air temps begin to cool down.

From one end of the islands to another, the bluefish bite has been semi-consistent and you can expect these fish to hang around well into October. The average size will range from 1-4 pounds and will be caught mainly on cut bait or metal lures.

The Spanish mackerel seem to make random appearances at Cape Point and when they are hot, the fishing is really good, with some nice-sized mackerel caught. These fish will begin to thin out as the water and air temperatures drop.

Sea mullet, pompano, and flounder are being caught scattered along the beaches, and while the sea mullet fishing should only get better in fall, you can expect the pompano fishing to fall off as we get further into fall.

Piers have had work done on them this year, and they can be a great place to fish for those that may have trouble moving around in the sand or for those traditional pier fishermen.

Fall pier fishing is a long standing tradition on Hatteras, and if you have never tried it, then I can only suggest you give it a whirl. You may just find the hidden "planker" (pier fisherman) in you.

The offshore fleets out of Hatteras and Ocracoke are seeing some billfish in their spreads, but the yellowfin tuna and wahoo bite remain very solid. There are still some mahi-mahi around and the overall offshore bite should remain good for a while to come.

The inshore boats down south have done well with the flounder as of late, and the puppy drum, gray trout, and speckled trout bite has remained solid.

The offshore fleets out of Oregon Inlet continue to hammer the billfish. The white marlin bite has been off the chain, and there has been some fair showing of blue marlins as well.

Tuna, wahoo, and mahi have all found their way onto the docks.

I'd expect a little more time for this insane white marlin bite, but not much. If you have been on the fence about one of these trips, I'd go now.

Yet again, the waders, kayakers, and small boaters continue to do well with the puppy drum, but the speckled trout and flounder can be a little harder to come by on the north end right now.

I am hearing a lot of reports of good speckled trout deeper in the sound, so my guess is as the weather starts to change, these fish, along with the puppy drum, will make their way into the Oregon Inlet area prior to going into the ocean.

Places like Pea Island and the Tri-Villages could soon see exceptional puppy drum and speckled trout fishing from the surf.

Overall, the immediate, extended forecasts show decent weather, and this should help to ease us into fall and create ideal conditions for both fishing and catching.

In the end, only time will tell.

The one thing I know is that you can't catch them from your couch.  So make some plans and come on down--the open signs are on.

Go fishing.

(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 12 years and has worked in the recreational fishing industry the entire time. A former variety fishing TV show host, beach fishing guide, tackle shop and pier employee, Rob currently owns and operates Outer Banks Kayak Fishing. He is on the Pro-Staff of Bending Branches LLC, Wilderness Systems Kayaks and Release Reels. You can follow his adventures at or

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