Spring may have been a little slow in arriving, but Rick Bennett of Rod-Man Guide Service in Wrightsville Beach said that Spanish mackerel have arrived off the beaches on the east side of Cape Fear and are in full attack mode.
"We were wondering what was happening this spring, and then, before the ocean got settled, we were hit with tropical storm Ana," Bennett said. "Everyone thought all the wind and rainwater runoff would keep the nearshore water dirty for a while, but the water cleared in about a week, and the Spanish began moving in. They aren't all big fish, but most are keeper size or larger, and there are some nice ones scattered throughout the schools. Limits have been pretty commonplace since late last week.
Bennett said mackerel are scattered along the beach from Topsail to Fort Fisher. Inlets, nearshore artificial reefs and nearshore rocks like John’s Creek Rock have been hot spots.
Fishermen targeting Spanish area also seeing a few cobia prowling around schools of menhaden, according to Bennett (910-520-7661), who said it’s wise to have a heavier jig rig ready.
"I recommend fishing for Spanish simply," Bennett said. "I'll troll a few lines below the surface and a couple of bird rigs on the surface. Some days they like to feed on top, and some days they prefer to be deep. If you cover both areas, you'll find where they are pretty quickly. The bird rig is always a potential surprise, as its splashing attracts fish from farther away than they can see the spoons, and it sometimes attracts larger fish."
Bennett's standard diving setup for Spanish mackerel is 30 feet of low-visibility, 20- to 30-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader with a Size 00 gold or silver Clark Spoon on the business end. The other end has a ball-bearing snap swivel used to connect the leader and lure to a No. 1 planer that is connected to the line from the reel. Bennett adjusts the depth by lengthening or shortening the line from the rod to the planer.
Bennett believes in bird rigs for fishing the surface and feels their splashing attracts fish. He shortens the leaders on his bird rigs to 6 to 7 feet so the lure is close to the splash of the bird and in the line of sight of fish coming in to see what is causing the splashing.
"Spanish are fast and like lures that are moving quickly," Bennett said. "I usually begin trolling at about 5 to 6 knots, and sometimes they want the bait to be moving quicker. If I'm marking or seeing fish and not getting strikes, I speed up a little. If you are catching bluefish, you're trolling too slow and need to speed up."
Bennett said fishermen should never troll through a school of fish feeding at the surface. He said to troll around them and allow for the swing of the lines to pull your lures into the edge of the school. This doesn't usually bother the fish, and they will stay up and continue feeding, but running into or across the school will spook them, and they will dive. Once they are spooked, sometimes they come back up close by, but most of the time they don't.