Thursday, September 15, 2011

So what's going on with the fish?

Ten years ago, when I met Anna, she was working on her masters degree in marine science. She hired me and some of the other Down East Guides to help deploy her hydrophones which would record the courtship calls of red drum.....and many other fishes, but it was red drum that was her focus. Only the male drum make the drumming noise with muscles along their swim bladder and they only spawn at night, starting about sunset and winding down by midnight.

The hydrophones had to be set up before sunset and they had to be picked up by dawn so she could download the data, charge the batteries and get them ready to go back out in the afternoon. Anna was recording drum calls for 3 summers.

Drumming drum were recorded throughout the Pamlico Sound, lower Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. Spawning calls were recorded in late July, with peak activity occurring in August and September. There also seemed to be a peak of spawning during the full/new moons, but not enough years for this observation to be statistically significant. By late September, nearly all of the females had spawned out. During the last full moon in September or the first full moon of October most of the drum quickly left the sound.

So what's going on this year? The full moon was in early September, on Sept. 13 and fishing has been tough the past few days. Why?

1) The full moon factor: I've always said that the best fishing that I've ever had (tarpon, sailfish and drum) has been on the full moon.......and the worst days that I've ever had have been on the full moon. If you are there when they are biting, it's "epic", but they only seem to bite for a few hours each day. If you aren't there when it's happening, it ain't happening.

2) The spawn: With the big drum, the full moon factor can be compounded because they are activlely spawning and have something else on their mind than feeding.

3) Elvis has left the building: The big migration out of the sound is usually on the last full moon in September/early October, but the September full moon was a few days ago. Last week we started seeing many drum that have spawned-out, but also many drum that are still very gravid and far from finished. I believe that a lot of the fish that have already spawned chose this moon to exit the sound. Two days ago there was a large school of drum seen heading out of Drum Inlet. At about the same time, large schools of tarpon were seen between Cape Lookout and Beaufort....heading South.

4) Hurricane water: Before the storm, the best fishing was upstream of Oriental. After the storm, we had the best drum fishing ever, but each day we have seen the biggest body of fish slide down the river towards the sound, staying ahead of the dark, fresher water from upstream.

So what's the forecast? Getting better.
The full moon factor is subsiding each day, so fishing is going to improve, and fishing did get much better for me yesterday, we had a double digit afternoon. We are still catching a lot of fish that have not spawned out, so these fish should be around for a while. Although a lot of fish pushed into the sound or beyond from the fresh water, this nor'easter is going to turn things around. It's supposed to blow out of the NE for the next couple of days, which always makes for good drum fishing. It's going to mix up the water and shove a lot of saltwater up the river, with it will come the drum that are still out there.

Despite the slow down, here are some pics from the past few days:

Mike with a big female that still has some spawning to do:

We thought that we had a quad, but the 4th turned out to be a branch off of a persimmon tree, persimmons still attached:
"Hey George,
Man how time flies, it seems like only yesterday me, my dad and bother were out on your boat having the time of our life. I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know how much each of us enjoyed fishing with you. Your personality and professionalism made even the slow times (what few there were) enjoyable. I've shared my photos with the guys here at work and even seasoned "Drum" veterans were amazed at the quality of the fish we caught. " ----Jason