When it comes to traveling for some fine saltwater fishing, the arrival of fall has much to recommend it. School is back in session, so the family vacation crowd has gone home. Also, the calmer weather conditions of late summer are hanging around, offering warm and sunny conditions for the angling. That’s a prescription for some good days on the water.
That still leaves you with the question of where to go fishing. What follows are three suggestions. In each case, the fishing is great, and in couple of instances not very well-known. All are well worth hitting the road for this year.
WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA: False Albacore
The angling for false albies is well documented in the late fall up around Cape Lookout on the Old North State coast. On the other hand, the action for these fish farther south in the Wilmington to Carolina Beach area too often gets overlooked.
The albies in the 2- to 8-pound range are found offshore here year-round but begin to move in close in September, with the action peaking in mid-October. According to Capt. Allen Cain, the best area for targeting the albies is from Topsail Beach in the north, down to Carolina Beach, with ground zero for the action located from Masonboro Island to Figure Eight Inlet.
The standard technique for this fishing is to cruise slowly parallel to the beaches, especially near the various inlets. All the while you need to be scanning the water for any sign of gulls diving to the surface. That’s a sure sign that a pack of the albies has pushed a school of menhaden to the top and are working them over from below. But, be alert for bait fish scattering on the surface even when no birds are active.
Either way, once the action is spotted, move in close, but cut the main engine early to coast into casting range, or close that final distance using a trolling motor. Getting too close before cutting the motor is a sure way to cause the albie school to sound.
Once in range, cast just past the surface action and run your offering through the melee as fast as possible. The fish expect to see their prey trying to escape, not doddering around waiting to be eaten.
Spinning lures should be flashy minnow imitations. Color is of secondary importance, but size does usually matter. It’s better to err on the side of smaller for this fishing. Lures in the 1 1/2- to 2-inch range work best. Fly casting also is very effective when the albies are working on a bait ball on the surface.
The Wilmington region from Wrightsville Beach down to Carolina Beach provides a host of accommodations that range from comfortable to luxurious, with many of them right on the water. One good mid-range option is The Golden Sands Beach Resort in Carolina Beach. Located right on the sand, with plenty of dining options readily at hand, the hotel is a classic beach destination, ideally suited to visiting anglers.
Capt. Allen Cain guides both spin and fly trips for false albies throughout the Wilmington region.
LITTLE TORCH KEY, FLORIDA: Tarpon
The Lower Florida Keys are well known for giving up some giant tarpon. That action mostly takes place from April to June when the annual migration of those 100-plus-pound beasts happens. The fishing also draws a lot of anglers onto the water at that time of year.
In fact, the fall offers an alternative to avoid that watery traffic jam. The area from No Name Key west through Big Pine Key to Little Torch Key provides a year-round fishery for silver kings that gets much less notice. These late summer fish are resident tarpon, with the bulk being “babies” of 10-40 pounds. However, there are some 80-plus-pounders as well.
Also, just like the Carolina Coast, the late summer period finds most of tourists back home and not clogging up the roads and waters.
The spring migration finds the big boys out in the channels between the islands, offering deeper and open water for the angling. In September, the fish often are found up on the flats and readily available for sight casting.
For the most productive of this fishing, you need to join the “dawn patrol.” Getting on the flats in 3-4 feet of water just at daybreak is the ticket. Before the sun begins to bear down, the silver kings can be found rolling and feeding on the surface, making for obvious casting targets. Small gurgler-style lures and flies are deadly for the tarpon in this scenario.
Once the sun is high, that doesn’t mean the fishing is over—instead, moving back to the shaded mangrove shorelines is the next option. Finding troughs or holes in these locations is the key. Here the fish are likely to be smaller, but if anything, more hungry and ready for a fight. And, they continue to hit the same offerings. This is tarpon fishing that doesn’t consist of hooking one fish and fighting him for hours. Rather, it is common to jump multiple fish in a day on the water. It is then up to you to get them to the boat.
Of course, knowing which flat or shoreline to target makes or breaks the angling. Capt. Scott Yetter of Sight Fish Charters has been guiding the region from Marathon to Key West for two decades, but the area around Little Torch Key constitutes his home waters. He guides both spin and fly angler for tarpon here. A few days on the water with him can school you in this type angling.
This part of the Keys is not blessed with a lot of lodges and hotels. But, one good for headquartering a fishing trip is Parmer’s Resort on Little Torch Key. They offer a variety of accommodations in a 5-acre compound with a touch of Old Florida. That includes docking facilities for private boats.
BURAS, LOUISIANA: Redfish
When you head down south of New Orleans to the village of Buras, it is a very likely bet you are a sportsman. In the winter, the region draws waterfowl hunters, but year around it offers a siren call to anglers wanting to battle big redfish in shallow water. With miles of shallow flats fringed by marsh grass, the area does not disappoint.
Particularly here on the western side of the Mississippi River and Louisiana State Route 23, a day on the water often provides dozens of shots at redfish in clear water that is less than 3 feet deep. Some of those fish are going to tip the scales in the double-digit range.
The usual tactic for catching these fish is to drift or pole across the flats, watching for the tell-tale signs given by the fish. Ordinarily, you will actually see many of the fish, while others give away their location by “pushing” a wake on the surface. On the other hand, that wake may be the result of not just a fish, but a pod, school or herd of reds.
Placing a cast in the path of that movement is likely to quickly put a bend in you rod, whether you prefer spinning or fly casting. For the spin fishing, a jig-and-grub combination works, while fly casters score with Clouser Minnow patterns. As to color, this is LSU country, so purple-and-yellow is the go-to hue.
One good area for this type fishing is Bayou Pompadour, which is easily accessed from Joshua’s Marina in Buras. Just across the highway you also find Cajun Fishing Adventures, a lodge that has been serving traveling anglers since 1980. Their accommodations are full service, including meals and a staff of guides knowledgeable about the area waters.