Cape Fear’s spring whiting run is in high gear

Good numbers of whiting arrive in the Cape Fear area this month after making an appearance in March. (Photo by Jerry Dilsaver)

First panfish of the year have arrived

Whiting, aka sea mullet or Virginia mullet, are the first panfish to arrive along North Carolina’s southern coast each spring.

Many fishermen consider these fish, more properly known as Gulf, southern or northern kingfish, to be the best table fare of any of the spring panfish. They eagerly anticipate the fish’s arrival. Whiting typically arrive by mid- to late-March, and the action builds through April. Coming off a mild winter when some whiting never left the Cape Fear area, expectations are high for this to be an exceptional spring.

Whiting usually make their first appearance around the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Some will move into the river and feed along the edge of the shipping channel between Battery and Bald Head islands. Others stay in the ocean in the general area between Jaybird Shoals and the Hot Hole.

Jaybird Shoals, on the west side of the inlet, is on all charts, but the Hot Hole isn’t. It is the local name given to the place where the water used to cool the Duke-Progress nuclear power plant at Southport is returned to the ocean. It is roughly a quarter-mile off the beach. An obvious upwelling marks its location.

Later in the month, whiting will move closer to the beach, within casting range of pier and surf fishermen.

Whiting travel in big groups

Butch Foster of Yeah Right Charters ( enjoys fishing for whiting with charters and his family. They are one of his favorite fish to eat, and he often catches them in good numbers once located.

Foster prefers the edge of the shipping channel. He doesn’t know if he has ever marked whiting on his fish finder, as they are usually milling about, right on the bottom. Foster said to anchor in 18 feet of water and start fishing. If you don’t begin catching them pretty soon, try a little deeper or shallower. He said if they are there and your bait smells good, they’ll bite.

“I tie a double-drop bottom rig in the end of the mono line on a light spinning outfit,” Foster said. “I begin with a surgeon’s loop on the bottom to attach the sinker. Then add a pair of surgeon’s loops for hooks in the foot of line above that. I like the Eagle Claw L072 long-shank hook in No. 6. I bait them with small pieces of the freshest shrimp I can find.”

Foster prefers tackle shop or seafood shop shrimp over grocery store shrimp and cites the preservatives used on grocery store shrimp as the difference. He has also used small pieces of Gulp! baits and shrimp flavored Pro-Cure scent gel to cover the smell of older shrimp. Smelling good is key!

There are no size restrictions or creel limits on whiting in North Carolina waters.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1171 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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