by Ken DeBarth
It is that time of year again! Spring is here and it is time to go fishing. After the long winter, you are probably anxious to get out on the beach and to start the year with a memorable catch.
April and May are great time to fish Ocracoke’s waters. The red drum and bluefish are very active in the spring. The big drum that have spent the winter in the ocean will move to the beaches to feed and into the sounds to breed and spend the summer. Bluefish that moved south in the fall are following the warming water temperatures north again. Big specimens of both species are available in the spring.
With a very few exceptions, fish are cold-blooded animals. This means their metabolic processes, needs and demands are dependent on their environment. The cold water temperatures of winter slow a fish’s metabolism which means they do not require as much food to survive. In the spring, as the water temperature rises, a fish’s metabolism will speed up and they require more food to meet this demand. What this means to you is hungry fish aggressively feeding.
Big drum spend the winter in the ocean and move through the inlets into the sounds in the spring. April is the main month for this migration. Even though the drum move through the inlets, they can be caught anywhere along the beach in the spring.
Use large pieces of fresh cut mullet on 4/0 to 6/0 circle hooks on a bottom rig. Crabs are good bait, too, but it is sometimes hard to find crabs for bait.
Circle hooks move to the corner of the fish’s mouth before hooking the fish. This prevents deep internal injury to the fish and allows you to release a healthy fish to breed and hopefully to be caught again. When fishing a circle hook, allow the fish to run with the bait and then slowly pick up the tension on the line and begin to reel. Jerking the line to set the hook like you would with a “J” hook will pull the circle hook out of the fish’s mouth preventing a hook-up. If this doesn’t make sense, ask someone at the tackle shop or another angler to show you how this works.
Be sure your bait is fresh. You want a lot of blood, oil and scent in the water. Serious drum anglers will replace their baits every 20 to 30 minutes.
April brings some of the year’s biggest bluefish to the beach. Blues are very aggressive feeders.. Larger blues will not hesitate to eat smaller blues so they travel in schools of like sized fish.
Use the same bait and rigs for blues that you use for drum.
It is a good idea to keep a second (or third) rod rigged with a metal casting lure like a Hopkins, SlingSilver, or Gotcha ready. Occasionally a school of surface-feeding blues will suddenly appear and you need to be ready for the quick shift to lures. Casting a lure into a school of jumping, slashing, feeding blues is not only very exciting, it is very productive.
Watch the birds. They will follow schools of bait and predator fish. Cast lures toward the birds, and it is a good idea to keep a bottom-bait rig in that area as well.
Be sure to check size and bag limits. Anglers can keep one drum per day between 18” and 27”; smaller and larger fish must be released unharmed. Blues do not have a size limit but bag limits vary based on the size of the fish.
Spring is great time to fish the waters around Ocracoke! Good luck and tight lines!
Ken DeBarth lives and fishes on Ocracoke Island.