February 17, 2014

Outer Banks Angling: Puppy love


I swear I feel like I am living in the Twilight Zone when I think about three different snow events hitting the Outer Banks in almost as many weeks.

The first two snow events definitely had an impact the north beaches more than Hatteras or Ocracoke, but this past event finally gave a fair amount of snow to the islands. Pictures of kids and families finding just about any type of incline or hill to play on were all over the Internet.

The snow storm that hit on Tuesday was fairly strong for a brief period of time and actually caused brief periods of white out conditions. That's not something you generally see around here. The event had the least amount of impact since it was mostly melted by the next day.

We are mighty lucky in the big picture, as a great deal of the Eastern Seaboard has been crippled by the snow and ice. Massive power outages and traffic jams have plagued many areas.

The Outer Banks has been inconvenienced by the storms, but we have had little suffering to speak of.

And the surf fishing has been crazy good despite the weather.

Puppy drum have been blitzing the shoreline from Oregon Inlet to Hatteras in numerous locations.

This is hard to wrap your head around, since in some locations the water temp is around 40 degrees. In most cases, drum become very lethargic in those temps and have no desire to feed.

But, these puppy drum are moving in fair-sized schools and feeding regularly throughout the day and week.

Hatteras saw something similar in the winter of 2010 when the sound temperatures dropped and forced puppy drum into the ocean to seek warmer waters. The bite was incredible and lasted roughly three to four weeks, but during that blitz the fish were highly concentrated, mostly around Frisco.

This time around anglers are finding fish in a lot of different places.

The fish are in tight schools that lead to puppy drum being caught in the mouth one moment and being snagged in the body the next.

I am sure that most anglers do not care how they are catching them right now, because 99 percent of those anglers are local residents who are very much over the weather and will take just about any action they can get.

There used to be a time in January and February when local anglers could count on a little action from the striped bass in the surf, but it has been sometime now since that has happened.

Getting a little “puppy love” right now is a great distraction from the weather, but who would've thought that you could catch a few dozen pups in 32 degree air temps and 38 degree water?

I had friends who whacked puppy drum during the first few hours of Tuesday's snow storm--that's nuts.

But, never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Basically, about the only good thing that has come from these extreme winter weather patterns is the puppy drum bite.

I did speak with a North Carolina Marine Fisheries officer, who is a friend, and he told me that the trout kills he saw in the past couple of weeks were depressing.

2011 and 2012 saw mild winters and this helped the freshly spawned red drum each of those years have a high survival rate in their normal sound habitat. Most young puppy drum will spend the first 18 or so months in the shelter of the sound learning how to survive.

Since the puppy drum can be just as susceptible to cold stuns as the trout, the mild winters lead to a boom in their population that most anglers capitalized on all year long in 2013.

These recent storms are forcing these pups to push out of the sound in search of warmer, deeper water. They are using a lot of energy doing so and when any living creature uses energy, they need to feed.

I went down to Oregon Inlet to observe some catching and to take a few photos.

The fishing was a little slower, as it was late in the day and the fish had made a stronger appearance earlier in the day, but I did see a couple caught and snagged.

There were also a couple seals stalking the schools of fish in search of a good meal.
The pups definitely had more to fear than just a few anglers.

Standing on the catwalk of the Bonner Bridge, I could see small schools of fish racing around and at times being stalked by the seals.

It was five times more entertaining than watching the Discovery Channel. Seeing 20- to 30-inch puppy drum spraying out of the water like finger mullet, running for their lives from the seals was quite impressive.

The pups are being caught in a few different ways, but most anglers are using trout rods with lead heads and a variety of grubs or Berkley Gulps.

On the days that have had moderate winds, the fly fishing guys have had a great deal of luck.

If you go to chase the fish, make sure you dress warm under your waders and raincoat. The water and air get cold fast.

I don't read tarot cards or try to predict the future, so I can't say how long this bite is going to last, but I know a whole lot of anglers that are going to enjoy it as much as they can while it lasts.

The weather has continued to make fishing a hard go for the fleets and the offshore fishing has been scarce for the most part.

I hope we see a break in the weather, but not from the surf fishing.

Summer will not get here fast enough.

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 www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)

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