by Ken DeBarth
There is an old saying that tells us the best day to go fishing is today. This is especially true if today happens to fall in October!
Fall fishing on the Ocracoke beaches can be spectacular. Many of the summer species are still in the area and the fall migrations of bait and predator fish is at its peak. The water is still warm, but the seasonal shortening of daylight combined with falling water temperatures will stimulate the fish to feed and move to their winter habitat.
Red drum that spend the summer in the sound move through the inlets as they migrate to deeper ocean waters for the winter. Bluefish that spend the summer in cooler northern waters are migrating south following the cooling water temperatures to their winter grounds. Black drum are usually found close to the beach through October and November.
Large schools of finger mullet move through the surf zone in the fall. These finger mullet are a vital food source for Red Drum and Bluefish and keep the game fish close to the beach.
The summer species of flounder, sea mullet, speckled and gray trout are still in the surf zone as well.
The most popular bait for fall drum and bluefish is mullet. You can use cut chunks of large mullet, sometimes called “corncobs” because of their size and shape, or finger mullet. Both are available, fresh or frozen, at tackle shops. Fresh usually works better if you have a choice. You can catch your own finger mullet for bait if you know how to use a cast net.
Chunk mullet and finger mullet are fished on the bottom. There are many types of rigs. A “slider” has a small plastic device that holds your sinker and moves up and down the line before snubbing against a swivel attaching your hook. This allows the fish to pick up your bait and swim away without feeling the drag of the sinker. There are a number of options in vertical bottom rigs. Usually these have two separate hooks and baits with a sinker at the bottom of the rig. Some rigs have colored bucktails; some have small floats to lift your bait off the bottom, providing more movement of the bait while keeping it out of reach of crabs. Any place that sells tackle will have a variety of rigs to consider, but it is always a good idea to seek local knowledge at the tackle shop where you are going to fish.
There is a special finger mullet rig available on the market. It consists of a swivel to attach to your line, a length of heavy line ending in a clip for your sinker. Midway down this rig there will be a piece of wire through a small float (available in different colors) and extending 3 or 4 inches before ending in loop that fastens to the hook apparatus. This looks like a pair of hooks folded in the middle. The hooks are slipped out of the loop, which allows the wire to be pushed through the finger mullet’s mouth and out the vent. The hooks are then slipped back through the loop and you are ready to go. [This is hard to describe in words. Ask someone at the tackle shop to show you how this works.]
One rule about using mullet as bait is to keep it fresh. The blood and oil that seeps from the bait will attract your target species, but in a short time the effectiveness of this scent will be leached away. Some serious drum anglers recommend changing baits every 20 minutes.
Big drum are caught along the entire length of Ocracoke’s beach. Many anglers prefer the points— North End or South Point, but these fish are mobile and can be found in the middle of the island, too. Some prefer to fish after dark, but many big drum are caught during the day. Drum are caught in the churning white water of breaking waves and the smooth water of deeper holes. The key is to get out there, somewhere, and get your bait in the water!
Other species—flounder, sea mullet, trout, black drum, and croakers—can be caught along the entire island as well. Preferred baits are shrimp, squid, clams, and crabs. Try a second rod with smaller hooks baited for these guys while working your long casting rod for drum and blues.
A few last thoughts:
Keep your baits fresh.
Get your fishing gear, bait and advice locally.
Use the smallest weight sinker that will hold bottom.
Use big baits and big hooks for big fish.
Return “trash fish” to the water—come to think of it, there are no trash fish. Don’t kill anything you aren’t going to eat.
If you aren’t going to eat it, practice CPR—Catch, Photo, Release.
Pick up your trash. And someone else’s, too. Leave a place better than you found it.
Make good memories even if you don’t catch fish.
Come back and try again!
Ken DeBarth lives and