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Cape Lookout Primer

Morehead City - Atlantic Beach - Harkers - Cape Lookout
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Cape Lookout Primer

Postby bhorsley » Sat Apr 11, 2009 3:11 pm

Fall at Cape Lookout – It’s Not Just for Albies Anymore

We all find out sooner or later, the only constant is change. And things have changed at Cape Lookout in the fall. Cape Lookout in the fall is still home of the East Coast’s best false albacore fishing, but it has also grown into a broader and richer fishery.

October’s anglers now enjoy fishing not only for albies, but also for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, king mackerel and sharks. November offers the albies, plus sharks, king mackerel and ocean reds. All of these fish can be found in the traditional little tunny grounds around Cape Lookout and Beaufort Inlet. Well-prepared albie anglers stock their boats with the necessary equipment not only for the albies, but also for a diverse variety of fish. If the albies aren’t biting for whatever reason, these anglers won’t go home disappointed.

By the time the sea oats have turned golden and the prevailing winds have shifted from the south to the north, the fall migration has begun. Baitfish, predators and anglers are making plans to spend the fall at Cape Lookout, the center of the migration and home of the annual albie blitz.

The yearly blitzes are caused by several factors: cooling water temperatures, migrating baitfish and hungry predators. The cooling water temperatures send baitfish fleeing out of the sounds and southward ahead of the coming winter. Anglers and predator fish alike take station around Cape Lookout and Barden’s and Beaufort inlets waiting for this push of bait. Bay anchovies and spearing make up the biggest part of the small baitfish, and large schools of menhaden arrive later in the season. Over the live bottom and artificial reefs, Spanish sardines and cigar minnows cloud the bottom structure, giving the albies and kingfish plenty of food.

It’s a Party, Blitz at the Cape
When the water is still in the 70s and cooling, it’s time to check out the Cape. Cape Lookout is a series of sand shoals that often extend 15 miles off the beach. Big balls of anchovies cross the shoals and get ambushed by Spanish and bluefish and, later in the season, by albies. The Spanish, bluefish and false albacore fish drive the baitfish into the shoals and white water. The cuts and pockets in the shoals will often funnel the schools of bait into ambush points next to the white water breaking on top of the shoals. The breaking waves confuse the baitfish and make them easier prey. The first predators to greet the migrating bait are Spanish mackerel and bluefish. These toothy fish are gorging themselves on small bay anchovies.

The bait is small so small flies are the best — this is perfect for 6 and 7 weights. Most of the Spanish are from 1 to 6 pounds and the blues are 2 to 3 pounds — a handful on a 6 weight Small Clousers or epoxies are two effective fly patterns — tie plenty as your quarries’ teeth are sharp and make short work of most flies. Hot colors every year seem to be pink and white, chartreuse and white, all pink, and all white. If you are tying Clousers, try tying them on long shank hooks and tying them “High Tie” style, which protects and thread and bucktail a little longer. Coating the heads with epoxy only makes Clousers a little more durable, but the fishes’ teeth still shred the bucktail before the head goes. The best rule is to tie lots of Clousers and small epoxies. Gamakatsu SL11-3h hooks in size #6 to #4 are strong and sharp, the perfect regular shank hooks. Long shank hooks seem to wear a little better against sharp teeth. Mustad makes a long shank hook Mustad S74 S that is perfect for this fishery

To wire or not to wire, that is the question. Spanish have great eyesight, and sometimes short pieces of wire-bite tippet will result in fewer bites. Most of the time a short piece of 20 to 25 pound fluorocarbon in place of the wire will generate more strikes and fewer bite offs than straight monofilament, but you will still get bitten off. You will lose a few flies but get more bites.

Over the wrecks, artificial reefs and live bottom, king mackerel, albies and a few amberjack take advantage of the big food source of Spanish Sardines and cigar minnows. These 3 to 5-inch bait fish are in tight schools around and over the structure. These schools of bait are very thick and look like rain drops when they come to the surface. Bigger flies and sinking lines are the best bet for this time of fly fishing. Sink-tip fly lines in 350 to 550 grains are needed. Flashy Clousers and Half and Halfs form 4 to 5 inches long are effective. King mackerel really like solid pink flies and a lot of silver flash. Another good fly is the solid white Half and Halfs with pearl crystal flash. All flies need to have wire bite leader. There are several ways to attach the wire to the leader, one of which is with the Albright knot and the other is to use a tiny swivel made by Spro. Both methods work. The bait will for the most part stay over the structure for protection. Try setting your boats drift along the edges of the bait and the structure. The deeper you can get your fly more of the water column you can cover and the more predators can see your fly. A tip to get your fly the deepest cast in the direction of your boat is drifting. This will take the pressure off the fly line and let it sink quicker. A rapid strip without too many pauses works well. A good strip strike on the bite is essential as kingfish have hard mouths and lots of teeth. The kings are on the reef and wrecks for much of the season. You can also catch albies while dredging the structure. If the albies are thick the wire never seems to bother them. You can also try no wire and if you are only catching albies stick to straight mono.

Traditional albie fishing is also happening early to mid October. They tend to be a little smaller and eating small bait. These albies are perfect for 7 and 8 weights.


Cooling Water Temps
When the water temperatures drop a few degrees, usually in mid to late October after a hard north wind, the next wave of fishing begins. It does not take long to realize something is different; the tempo and ferocious attacks have noticeably changed. The Spanish are gone, but the big boy albies are in town. The action now takes place from the Cape along the beaches to the Barden’s Inlet (the Hook) and along Shackefort Banks to Beaufort Inlet and even down the western beaches of Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle. There will be good action along the eastern beaches of the Core Banks, but caution is needed as crossing the shoals can be dangerous unless the weather and sea conditions are calm.

Bait can range from 2 inches to 5 inches long. The most common bait is the 2 to 3-inch bay anchovy along the beaches and the 4-inch spearing inside the Hook and the beaches just outside the Hook. The last few years the big bruising albies have shown up with the big anchovies, locally called silver sides. The 14 to 20-pound albies gorge on the bigger baits, and the last two seasons they have been on the east side of the Cape. Along with the albies eating the big baits are sizeable black tip and sandbar sharks. It’s quite a sight to spot a bait ball with 5 to 8-foot sharks on top and albies under and along the edges.

Everyone is aware that running and gunning to breaking fish is stupid — no one wins, you do not make friends and don’t catch fish. Watch the schools and birds and ease your boat into position — do not over commit. The best piece of advice to anglers bringing their own boats and fishing with friends is to fish one at a time. Let one person run the boat and the other person fish — then switch off. At the end of the day you will have had more quality shots and probably caught more fish. When casting to breaking albies, do not lead them, cast in the froth, aim for the birds. It is very hard to lead a fish who has no idea where he is going. After a squadron of albies has blasted through a bait ball, they circle back for another swipe, looking for wounded bait. Keeping your fly with the bait is an effective technique. Don’t waste time stripping your fly back to the boat if you are 10 feet outside the fray — pick your fly back up and put it in the white water. By keeping your fly in the zone, you will stay hooked up more.

Albie tackle over the years has changed to lighter, stronger rods and reels that can take the pressure of the long-running fish. But the basics have remained the same: 9 to 10 weight rods and reels with sufficient drags and 200 yards of backing will tame the meanest albie. Intermediate fly lines are the most versatile, but floaters are becoming more popular. 7 to 10 foot tapered leaders in 16 to 20 pound are fine, and regular monofilament works very well. Only on the calmest of days does fluorocarbon seem to make any difference. A well-outfitted boat should have rods with a floater for poppers, intermediate line for most situations and a 10 weight rigged with a 350 to 400 grain sink tip.

The biggest change over the years has been the flies. In the beginning it was Alba Clousers and Clousers. With so many anglers traveling from outside the area, many different fly patterns have been tried here, and some have proven themselves very effective. The locals call it the Yankee Factor. Flies like Dave Skok’s Mushmouth and Joe Blados’s Crease Fly are two of the best northern flies for Cape Lookout albies. Skok’s Mushmouth is deadly and one of the most effective flies at the Cape. Captain Jaime Boyle’s version of Skok’s Mushmouth — the White Bait Mushy —is essential and a favorite fly of many guides. The original mushy is tied with angle hair and the white bait is tied with Unique Hair, and it is translucent and super effective when the albies are on smaller bait. Joe Blados’s Crease Fly is a killer for big albies inside the Hook when they are feeding on spearing and nothing else seems to work. Fishing poppers for albies is the ultimate in fly rod action. Old favorites still work well, like Bob Clousers Deep Minnow tied on hooks from #6 to #2 in standard colors, chartreuse and white, pink over chartreuse, gray and white, brown and white, pink and white. Small epoxy flies tired on the same hooks are also effective. A well stocked fly box will also have some Lefty Kreh Deceivers and Clouser/Kreh Half and Halfs when fish are on bigger baits.

While albies are most anglers’ main target in November, do not overlook the big reds and sharks lurking around, waiting to eat someone’s fly. Most of the red action takes place along the beaches of the Core Banks up the east side. For the most part this is not a surface fishery and is a fish of opportunity — if you run across them take advantage of it. Anglers mark the schools of reds in water from 20 to 50 feet deep with their bottom machines. Big reds have a signature similar to striped bass or amberjack. When the mark is found, the race is on the get the fly down to the schools. This is where the rods rigged with sink tips from 350 to 450 grains and Half and Halfs are needed. Most of the reds are in the 25 to 40 pound range.

Around the shoals and out of the tip of the shoals the sharks arrive in November for the same reason — to eat the prevalent bait. Both the bay anchovies and the albies make tasty morsels for these big predators. Chumming with either ground menhaden or a hapless, half-chewed albie will often draw the sharks to the boat ready to eat a fly. You’ll need standard shark flies like Lefty’s Deceivers in red and orange tied on a 6/0 hook. You’ll also need a wire bite leader and a minimum of a 10 weight, but a 12 weight is a better idea.

Every angler who has chased albies, Spanish and blues around Cape Lookout , Shackefort Banks and the Hook has bypassed by one of the best spots for speckled trout in North Carolina — the Rock Jetty at Cape Lookout. The outside edge of the jetty is marked with a buoy and the number 2, and most of the action takes place in and around the rocks. Fly anglers can target these fish with 7 and 8 weights with sinking lines and Clousers. You will never be lonely fishing the jetty. The trout fishing improves into November and reaches a peak in late November.

The albies brought us all to the Cape Lookout, but the diversity brings us back. There is a lifetime of fly fishing opportunities to explore on this stretch of the North Carolina coast.



Sidebar 1: MFC website for artificial reefs
http://www.ncdmf.net/reefs/lok2fear.htm
http://www.ncdmf.net/reefs/index.html
Sidebar.2 Local Fly Club
http://capelookoutflyfishers.com/
growing old ain't for sissies
Pure-T-Mommicked

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Re: Cape Lookout Primer

Postby lineastenso » Wed Apr 29, 2009 9:55 am

Brian:

Great stuff esp. the run & gun portion of your treatise.

My boat pusher drives with one hand a soaks a clouser with the other while drifting. He regularly out fishes the flailers. How many fly rod & reels are on the bottom, lost because the fly was left in water?

Looking forward to 2009 at the Hook.

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Re: Cape Lookout Primer

Postby fishermike » Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:13 pm

Great info, but you left out that the fact that you and Sarah will be down there from mid Oct thru late Nov offering guide services and that you often fill up quickly, so people should get their requests in early to be assured of getting the dates they want. There are a lot of good places to stay in the area, and some people come down in groups and rent houses on Harkers Island, but these also get taken early for the best times. The Virginia Coastal Fly Anglers rent a house on Harkers Island every year, this year they have it from Oct 31 thru Nov 21, and anyone interested in staying with them should contact them. It's always a fun time and the fish usually cooperate! Thanks and tight lines!

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Re: Cape Lookout Primer

Postby flyinby » Sun May 03, 2009 11:25 am

No love for the Gummy on the albies? Have seen days when it would outfish most basic patterns....

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Re: Cape Lookout Primer

Postby bhorsley » Sun May 03, 2009 11:48 am

gummies are good in chum--but i have found nothing that will out fish a Mushmouth---nothing
but every boat is different
growing old ain't for sissies
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Re: Cape Lookout Primer

Postby flyinby » Sun May 03, 2009 3:57 pm

Your right about the gummy.. I would classify it a specialty fly, not my "goto" pattern , but at times pretty good. I just don't hear alot of the captains recommending it....

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