The run from inlets in southeastern North Carolina to the Gulf Stream is a long one, but when the water begins warming in the spring, a lot of fishermen make the trip. Sometimes the waters around the more popular spots get rather crowded, but on the positive side, a crowd usually indicates a good body of fish that is biting. When they aren’t, fishermen spread out trying to locate them.
The spot most fishermen are familiar with, at least in name, is the Steeples, which are approximately 20 miles south/southeast of Frying Pan Tower offshore of the end of Frying Pan Shoals. It is at the upper edge of the break at the edge of the Continental Shelf between the 30 and 100 fathom lines.
Maps Unique locates 33.14.99N and 077.16.00W as a prominent point on the inshore edge of the Steeples at 45 fathoms and 33.13.57N and 077.16.07W as a prominent point on the offshore edge at 60 fathoms. Between them is a 90-foot drop in around 1 1/2 miles.
Butch Foster of Yeah Right Charters (www.yeahrightcharters.com) fishes this area a lot; he said the Steeples gets its name from the tall rock spires that rise from the bottom. When viewed from above, the depth change really tests a fish finder. When viewed from the side, it resembles a community of churches, with their steeples rising tall.
The rock spires extending up from the bottom not only give the Steeples their name, they combine with the rapidly rising ocean bottom to deflect the Gulf Stream current and push warm water to the surface. The interruption in the northward-flowing Gulf Stream creates eddies and upwellings that bring grass and baitfish to the surface, which, in turn attract predator fish.
The Steeples is the most-prominent and well known, but there are several other rock outcroppings located in the general area. The Same Ole is a popular spot with fishermen leaving from Carolina Beach and Masonboro inlets, which are north and east of Cape Fear. It is approximately 15 miles northeast of the Steeples..
The Blackjack Hole and 100/400 are a couple of spots approximately 10 and 15 miles to the south and west. These spots are consistently productive, and many fishermen leaving inlets, south and west of Cape Fear and Frying Pan Shoals often stop and troll these spots for a while and sometimes don’t run the final miles to the Steeples.
The primary April catch in all of these areas is wahoo, and the fishing is world class, with good numbers and lots of large fish. Foster said wire leaders ending with ballyhoo rigged into sea witches or plastic skirts is the bait of choice to attract wahoo and survive their razor-sharp teeth. Citation size for wahoo begins at 40 pounds, and it’s a slow day there isn’t at least one of that size caught.
Blackfin tuna are also around in good numbers. For years, all fishermen trolled at these areas, but working deep-water jigs is growing in popularity. Other fish will hit them also, but blackfins respond well to jigs.
Dolphin are the other fish that should be caught along the rips and weed lines. They are usually smaller at the beginning of April, but will get larger and more numerous as the month progresses. There is also an occasional yellowfin tuna or billfish wandering along the rips and weed lines along the Gulf Stream eddies at or near the Steeples.