Solitude is often a big reason people give for getting out on the water to do some fishing.
Unfortunately, many people can only go fishing on the same days that a whole bunch of others can. Weekends, and especially holiday weekends, will find waterways jammed with boats and anglers wrestling to get into the same prime locations — not conducive to solitude.
The beauty of living and fishing in North Carolina is that there are great opportunities here in winter. You can find action on a variety of species without the crowds and often catch more than you would have at the more popular times. I have been in some amazing speckled trout bites in January and not seen any boats anywhere, in places that in October would be overflowing with other anglers.
In winter you need to be prepared for more than just catching fish. The weather is your biggest adversary. Things change quickly out there.
First thing is to get a marine weather forecasting app for your smartphone, or have the marine forecasts from the National Weather Service bookmarked. Watch it. It’ll change. Whatever it said about the weather for the days you want to fish, the closer that day becomes, the more the chance it’s going to change.
It’s not because they don’t know what they’re doing. Quite the contrary, they’re exceptional in my experience. It’s that fronts move around and form so quickly that things that they saw at the beginning of the week are not so by the end.
Remember that the same wind that creates waves that splash you with warm water in July and just get you wet, is now going to be moving cold water that can give you hypothermia in December and January. Dress appropriately. Start with a base layer, a long-sleeved shirt made of a moisture-wicking material. Then I will wear a fleece vest with a microfleece hooded sweatshirt over that. Finally, top it off with a waterproof windbreaking layer. You also want to have bib rain pants and waterproof footwear for venturing into the open ocean. This is not the time to be getting soaked by stray waves.
There is good action for anglers in winter with black sea bass. This is a feisty bottom-dweller that resembles a small grouper. Here, they are usually found quite far offshore but move closer during winter. As a bonus, they gather into pretty large schools, so there is a good chance that if you find one, you’ve found a bunch and can fill a fish box quite readily.
Capt. Tom Roller of Waterdog Charters in Beaufort tells me that, “The best places to look are reefs and wrecks in 55 to 80 feet of water from 10 to 20 miles offshore. The fewer people who are fishing there, the better the action will be.”
He’ll use double-bottom rigs with whatever weight you might need to reach bottom and circle hooks baited with squid or cut fish. The circle hooks are required in federal waters because there is a chance you will catch grouper, which must be released, or undersized sea bass which you must also let go, as well as any other fish you don’t wish to keep. With a circle hook it’s easy to get them off the hook safely.
Another piece of gear you will need is a “descending device.” This is a dedicated pole or line with a minimum 16-ounce weight, or a weighted container, with at least 60 feet of line that is capable of returning fish back to a depth of at least 50 feet. These devices allow for the safe return of fish that exhibit signs of barotrauma. This is commonly seen by the stomach protruding from the mouth, bulging eyes and distended intestines. The descending device that Roller uses is The Seaqualizer.
Regulations for sea bass in waters south of Cape Hatteras allow you to keep seven fish per day at 13 inches or better. North of there you can keep 15 fish per day at 13 inches long. Note that this is correct information at time of publication but the regulations seem to change every year, so make sure to check before you go.
Let me add that I am a pretty dedicated catch-and-release angler who will put a sea bass in the cooler without thinking twice.
Offshore bottom fishing in the summer around artificial reefs often needs a traffic cop and stoplights. In winter, you can often have the same place all to yourself. If you are prepared with the right equipment, are dressed properly and know what fish you are targeting, all the preparation can be worth it.
A couple of holiday notes to end the year with: First let me say how much I’ve enjoyed writing The Anglers Angle this past year. I’ve gotten a lot out of it, and I hope you have too. Thank you to the editors of Coastal Review.
Next, Christmas is coming up and I wanted to hit on some gift ideas for anglers either to ask for or to be given. The number one on the list as far as I am concerned continues to be the Gerber multitool with the snap-out pliers and easy one-hand operation. I never go anywhere without mine and the few times I forget, I always wish I hadn’t.
I asked a few friends what they wanted but didn’t get last year. Here’s what they said:
- Kesley from Los Angeles said, “A record-breaking Lahontan Cutthroat Trout from Pyramid Lake in Nevada.”
- My buddy Bo from Newport wanted a 25-foot Contender but would have settled for a nice rain jacket.
- Capt. Rick specifically asked Santa for a new Ranger bay boat but he’s still waiting.
- Josh just wished for more time on the water.
- John asked for a nice custom-made fishing rod.
- Capt. Seth from Wilmington asked to take a fly-fishing trip to Cuba.
- Owen from Morehead City wanted a Daiwa Saltiga 10 for the really big ones, I guess he’ll have to settle for the little ones.
- Capt. Matt cleans so many fish these days that he wanted an electric filet knife to make things go a bit faster.
- Chris from Sneads Ferry wanted a season pass for the pier so he can go every day.
- Capt. Dave just wanted one more bonefish trip, and really, you can never have enough of those.
- Rip asked for an iBobber wireless sonar system for his smartphone.
- Lastly, Capt. Tom asked for good health for himself and everybody else, which is really the correct answer after all.
Here’s hoping for a great Christmas and excellent winter fishing weather so we can get out for those sea bass, or maybe some trout, red drum, bluefin tuna …