A quiet, relaxing Thanksgiving

What a strange thing for a North Carolina surfcaster to type!  In years past, Thanksgiving could be counted on to be among the most exciting peaks of the fall fishing season.  A couple weeks ago, I was in a tackle shop on the Outer Banks when a customer asked an employee whether the ocean stripers were in yet.  His reply was that it was waaay too early for stripers in the surf.  Too early?   Let’s take a look at some recent history…

1996 was probably the first year that stripers were caught in the Outer Banks surf with regularity since the early 70s.  That year, big blues and stripers were consistently caught from mid-November to mid-December (and probably later). In 1997, stripers began to be caught regularly from the Outer Banks surf by the end of October.  A strong NE blow on November 5th and 6th produced some of the best striper fishing in over 20 years, with at least 45 stripers to 28 pounds decked on Outer Banks Pier (S. Nag’s Head) alone.   Big blues blitzed Nag’s Head on November 12th, and stripers hit the north point of Oregon Inlet on November 17th and 18th.  Mixed big blues and stripers blitzed the Outer Banks over Thanksgiving weekend.  Surely there were other excellent bites that went unreported this fall.

In 1998, keeper stripers were being caught in the Outer Banks surf beginning around October 26.  In 1999, lots of stripers were reported on the shoals off Oregon Inlet as early as November 11.  In 2000, stripers were being caught for at least two weeks prior to Thanksgiving.  In 2001, stripers were reported in the surf in early November.  They blitzed Kitty Hawk on Nov. 15-16 and Thanksgiving was hot along the beaches near Oregon Inlet.  Stripers were reported in the surf at Pea Island on October 20, 2002, with great bites on eels and plugs by early November.  The first ocean stripers in 2003 were reported in late October, although the fishing didn’t really take off till after Thanksgiving.  In 2004, the first ocean stripers were reported in late October to early November.  In 2005, decent numbers of stripers weren’t reported till around Thanksgiving, with the first all-out blitzes coming in early December.  In 2006, fish were being caught at Pea Island as of November 12, with the bite moving further south by early December.  In 2007, only a few stripers were being caught by Thanksgiving, with a little better fishing in December before action fell off.  Since then, stripers have been nearly non-existent in the surf , with just a short flurry of fish for a week in early December, and then a handful of strays throughout the rest of the season.

So, no, historically mid-November is not too early for migrating stripers at the Outer Banks. However, things have changed dramatically since the heydays of the late 90s and early 00s.  For a while, we blamed it on the weather – warm autumns.  However, the past several years have probably been colder and stormier than those prior.  Its not the weather.  There’s just less fish…lots less, and their range has retracted accordingly.

That said, a few big stripers have been reported from the Oregon Inlet area for the past week or so…and sadly, that’s probably the most exciting news as we pause at the symbolic start of North Carolina’s late season.  Our other late season target – the specked trout – continue to run small.  Blues, you ask?  Fuggetaboutit.

We hit the Outer Banks the weekend before Thanksgiving to take advantage of the nice weather (turned out that Thanksgiving weekend itself was cold, but otherwise pretty nice).  My fishing was decent – if not relatively good – with four small pups (one 18.5″ keeper) and a flounder (a short, of course) Saturday morning, and a slew of small specks at a great break in the bar on the outgoing tide Sunday.  In between, we fished bait in Frisco (ramp 49) with one microblue to show for it, and I managed to fish a nice flurry of small soundside stripers late Saturday night, after fruitlessly plugging the sloughs in KDH and KH for trout under the full moon.  The schoolie stripers moved within range of my cast, and I hooked up on 6 or 7 successive casts before they disappeared again.  These were real rats, though, with only one just over 18″.

Microblue

A WOW! sunrise

My partner, Sarah, works that great cut

As we pause mid-season, most of us probably find that we still have plenty of fishing left in us.   The question is: will the fish cooperate?  The excitement level recently is more reminiscent of early March than early December and reports are getting harder to come by.  Now’s the time to either get back to basics or to try something new…either way, get motivated to find the fish!  There are some mildly encouraging signs from the lower Virginia coast, where striper action has just started to turn on and a few nicer specks are showing.  I, for one, am thankful that we still have another month or so to make something of the so-far disappointing season.  Anything can happen…and quick!

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~ by surffisher on November 30, 2010.

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