North Carolina’s dolphin and sailfish alley

Dolphin and sailfish move in very close to North Carolina’s shore during the heat of summer.

North Carolina’s dolphin and sailfish alley

Two favorite species of gamefish break free from the Gulf Stream and move much closer to shore as the water warms each summer. Pods of dolphin are the first to do this each year. Anglers have been reporting sporadic encounters with them since mid-May. And an unexpected encounter with a sailfish can quickly become the cherry on top of any fishing trip.

These open water pelagics usually prowl the rips, eddies, color changes, temperature breaks and grass lines at the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream. However, once the surrounding water temps rise into the upper 70s and higher, they often move well inshore when foraging on schools of baitfish.

Capt. Rod Bierstedt of On My Way Charters (, 910-352-2719) in Wilmington zeros in on this to give his clients a day of reeling hard and filling the fish box with great tasting fillets. They keep dolphins and release all sailfish.

Bierstedt catches enough nearshore mahi and sailfish each summer to know it isn’t a coincidence. He said dolphin are almost always ready to feed and will usually bite when found. Sailfish aren’t as plentiful and are often finicky about grabbing a bait.

Frying Pan Tower to 23 Mile Rock

“When targeting dolphin and sailfish, we use a spread of small ballyhoo, with some naked and some rigged behind small lures like the Mold Craft Chuggers and Blue Water Candy king skirts,” Bierstedt said. “We also use teasers and spreader bars to get their attention. They aren’t always on the surface, so we troll at least one deep line that might be a Rapala swim lure or another rigged ballyhoo. We troll this spread at 5 1/2 to 6 knots to cover more water and locate that day’s hotspot.”

Bierstedt said the prime zone for dolphin and sails runs from roughly Frying Pan Tower to 23 Mile Rock and inshore. Numerous rocks, shipwrecks and artificial reefs in this area attract and hold baitfish. Bierstedt checks anything found floating as dolphin are attracted to the shade they make.

NOTE: Approximately 20 years ago, several Wrightsville Beach fishermen began the Capt. Eddy Haneman Sailfish Tournament, held in late July each year. The tournament, which is the only sailfish tournament in N.C., honors Haneman for calling attention to the number of dolphin and sailfish caught in this area each summer. Fittingly, dolphin is the secondary category in the tournament. The boundaries in the Capt. Eddy Haneman Sailfish Tournament enclose the area Bierstedt noted.  This is Cape Fear’s dolphin and sailfish alley.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1167 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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