Winter is finally in full swing on the Outer Banks. The air is cold, the water is cold, and the fishing is mostly slow.
But, because the weather has turned, doesn’t mean the fishing has completely shut down. I had a chance to get offshore and chase some blackfin tuna on butterfly jigs.
This particular trip was supposed to be a mothership trip, where we haul kayaks out on the back of an offshore boat and then deploy them to hunt pelagic fish. On this day, I had three other kayakers experienced in this type of adventure and two newbies.
We were all looking forward to this, as it had been a while since all of us had fished together, but the overall conditions got the better of us. While the ocean was a little choppy and the wind was a tad bit blustery when we got out to the fishing grounds, it was still fishable from the kayaks.
However, the current was racing and the schools of fish were small. There were plenty of fish in the big picture, but given the pace of the current, it would have been very difficult for us to have jigged fish. We would have caught from the kayaks, but we wouldn’t have caught much.
So, we all decided to stay on the boat and fish this day, so that we could maximize our catch.
I first got the opportunity to butterfly jig over six years ago, and I have been in love with it ever since. This form of fishing uses very light tackle in the grand scheme.
A light-tip conventional or spinning rod paired with a reel that can hold a few hundred yards or so of 50-pound braid is generally what one needs. And, yes, there are rods specifically designed for this and they give better action to the jig than a standard rod.
The jigs are generally long and slender and come in a variety of weights and colors.
This type of offshore fishing allows for a lot of hands-on fishing for the anglers, as opposed to traditional trolling.
The braided line generally used for this is measured by meters or feet that are represented by different colors. This gives anglers the advantage of being able to know just how far down the jig has been dropped by counting the different colors as they go off the reel.
It also allows the captain to mark fish at a certain depth and then tell the anglers just how many colors to let out to be as close to their depth as possible — and it’s highly effective.
The actual jigging action that the angler must use takes time to get used to and to be very good at, but that doesn’t mean a novice will not catch fish. It simply means that the better you get at it, the more often you will hook-up. And that is the reason this type of fishing is very addictive.
When you are fishing like this, it’s quite the rush to be ripping on a jig one moment and having it feel as if you hooked into a brick wall the next. Because, no matter the size of the offshore fish you hook into, you know it when it happens and it’s an excellent adrenaline rush.
The beauty part of this manner of fishing is that you never truly know what you might have hooked, and it’s possible to hook just about anything that swims with a butterfly jig. I have seen blackfin tuna, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, false albacore, amberjacks, wahoo, white marlin and grouper myself, but that list has no bounds.
I like to refer to it as potluck fishing.
On this particular day when we went out, we mainly caught blackfin, along with a few amberjacks.
The average size of the tuna was less than 10 pounds, and we saw quite a few that were less than 5 pounds, but we did manage a few that required gaffing.
This was truthfully not bad, given the fact that blackfin are the smallest of the sought-after tuna, and in North Carolina a citation size fish is a mere 20 pounds.
We caught close to 60 fish — not bad for six anglers.
There were five other boats on the water that day and all fared well.
Before and after this trip, the boats hunting blackfin have done well, and I can only imagine that this will continue for a while, when the conditions are right.
My gang and I were onboard the Good Times out of Hatteras Harbor Marina, but there are plenty of boats offering this type of trip and you can call around to the local marinas to find out more or to book a trip. There are definitely a lot more local boats offering this kind of fishing now than there were when I first tried it. It has grown worldwide.
Other than blackfin, there isn’t a whole lot going on offshore right now. However, there have been several large bluefin tuna taken to the south of us near Morehead City.
One of these tuna was just over a 1,000 pounds, and looks to have shattered the current state record by almost 300 pounds. However, this fish will not officially take the record, since it was sold commercially.
As of right now, I know of no bluefin taken in our immediate waters or any waters to the north of us.
So how is it that there have been several taken so much farther south of us, since these fish migrate at this time of year from north to south?
I don’t know. I am not a scientist and there are plenty of times when there is no rhyme nor reason for what goes on in the ocean.
The piers are closed and surf fishing has been slow overall, though a fair number of puppy drum have been caught in the Oregon Inlet area as of late. Some of the pups have been caught on bait, and others on lures. You can stop by any local tackle shop and ask for advice on what you should be using.
Once again, it is winter and I will refrain from a weather prediction, since, at this time of year, that’s like guessing winning lottery numbers. However, I will say that while fishing is slow overall, there is something to be caught around here and giving it a go and failing is better than sitting at home any day.
Go fishing and play hard.
(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 13 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, Release Reels, Yakattack and is an ambassador for Ugly Stik. You can follow his adventures at www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)