Anglers are catching a bounty offshore on the bottom

Gags and other grouper move closer to shore as winter approaches, giving North Carolina anglers more opportunities for bottom-fishing success.

Bottom-fishing is the way to go

December is a great month for fishing offshore along North Carolina’s southern coast, especially on the bottom. Hurricane season is finished, and the gusty northeast winds of fall take a sabbatical before ramping up again in January. The seas are typically small. And it’s a prime time to make quick runs offshore. Many days, fish boxes fill up and fishermen are homeward-bound by early afternoon.

Bottom-fishing is the most-productive offshore fishing along the southern coast year-round. And it cranks up a bit as waters cool in December. Fish are feeding aggressively in preparation for lean pickings during the winter.

One of the biggest concerns is getting up to date on the regulations. Many species in the snapper-grouper complex have special size and creel limits. And several species may already be closed for the year due to allocations already being caught. Anglers have met the 2019 allocation for red grouper, and the season is closed. And fishermen may only keep a single black or gag grouper. All shallow-water grouper seasons close Jan. 1 to April 30.

Anglers don’t need to travel far

The action often begins pretty close to shore with gag and black grouper — plus black sea bass — being caught as shallow as 50 to 60 feet deep. More species join the catch as you move to deeper water, with a great variety of grouper, snapper, triggerfish, black sea bass, porgies and grunts joining the catch. Many fishermen highlight grouper and snapper, but don’t discount the others. They taste good anytime, but especially on a cold, blustery, winter day when you can only think about going fishing.

Some fishermen prefer to drift, but many charter captains, like Butch Foster of Yeah Right Charters ( in Southport, N.C., said you’ll catch more and larger fish if you anchor so your baits aren’t constantly moving.

Foster likes to fish a simple, double-drop bottom rig using medium-size circle hooks and pieces of natural bait. The hooks allow catching some of the smaller species, but they are sturdy enough to handle larger fish. He likes natural baits, as the bait thieves are almost always pecking on them as soon as they reach the bottom and the little pieces they tear off act like chum to lure in larger fish that might be more wary.

An offshore bottom-bouncing trip is a great way to spend a December day and should provide lots of fillets for the table and freezer.

Jerry Dilsaver
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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