Inshore water temperatures will probably hit the 60-degree mark by the end of the weekend. As most anglers know, the magic mark that most fishermen wait for is 68 degrees, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the fish will spontaneously show up when the temps hit that mark. They can show up later and even much sooner, so it’s time to get serious, at least as serious as fishermen can be.
Virginia mullet, also known as whiting, have been the talk among the local inshore anglers as the mouth of the Cape Fear River has been on fire. Fresh shrimp hooked to double drop rigs and soaked on the bottom is the ticket when expecting to bring home a mess of fish. Unfortunately, this fishery, at least in the river, is limited to those who have a boat or access to a friend who has one. However, the larger mullet have now started appearing in and around the surf of Wrightsville Beach and can be caught from both Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and from the beach. To improve your chances, scout the beach at low tide and find the deeper holes, then return to those spots when the tide is covering them up.
Small bluefish are also being caught in the surf and from the area piers. Their size should continue to increase up to the arrival of the chopper bluefish, which should be about two to three weeks away. While bluefish in general are not considered great eating by many anglers, those who know enjoy the taste of the smaller ones, (1 to 2 pounds). The larger “chopper” blues, (5 to 10 pounds), have earned a worse rap as far as taste goes, as they are primarily a dark and oily meat. If you manage to catch one of these larger fish and decide to keep it instead of releasing it, smoke it in thin strips outdoors, rather than frying or broiling it in the house.
Speckled trout and red drum are still on the radar, and again, the lower Cape Fear River is producing good quantity and quality trout. Most of the fish are being caught on soft artificial baits on lead heads, although a few are enjoying some decent top water action when conditions permit. Red drum are being found in the same creeks and along the same banks and will readily eat the same bait intended for a trout. Close to the Wrightsville Beach area, artificial baits are working on the reds, although lots of anglers are also having luck using shrimp and cut bait. The natural baits are also enticing a few black drum to bite as well.