Overnighting for bottomfish opens up a new fishing world off North Carolina coast

Toby Grantham of Raleigh caught this 30-pound scamp grouper, a potential state record, on a 48-hour offshore bottom-fishing trip out of Morehead City this week.

Grouper, snapper, sea bass biting offshore of Morehead City

Offshore fishermen who’d like a mixed bag for their coolers will find what they’re looking for well east of Cape Lookout, but the key is an extended trip and being flexible.

Capt. Dave Tilley of the Continental Shelf made a 48-hour trip aboard his 100-foot headboat to waters fishermen usually don’t get to fish, and the result this past week was a trip on which 28 fishermen caught just about everything from black sea bass to mahi-mahi to a variety of snapper and grouper – including a potential state-record scamp.

Toby Grantham of Raleigh landed the scamp, which weighed in the neighborhood of 30 pounds on uncertified scales. He planned to weigh it on certified scales after the trip.

As far as Tilley knows, this was the first 48-hour offshore fishing charter on the east coast. “They do these trips all the time out of California,” said Tilley (800-775-7450), who plans to offer at least three more 48-hour trips this year. “They have much more stable weather in the Pacific than we do in the Atlantic, but we can do these trips here as long as we are flexible.

Tilley practices what he preaches. While most headboats fish exclusively for bottomfish, Tilley won’t hesitate to troll for wahoo in between stops, and he’ll stop at weed lines to cast for mahi-mahi. The anglers with him on this trip landed five out of the seven wahoo that struck deep-running lures he was trolling, and 15-year-old Zac Tilley landed a mahi-mahi while the boat was anchored.

“We keep rods ready for a variety of situations. Zac grabbed our light-line setup, baited it with a cigar minnow, and pitched it to the mahi, which chomped it immediately,”  Tilley said.

Those weren’t the only impressive catches of the trip. Jim Wright of Bedford, Indiana caught a citation wahoo and Jason Cox of Ft. Bragg reeled in a citation red grouper. Large amberjack, vermilion snapper, grunts, and triggerfish were easy prey for Tilley’s anglers who used cut squid, cut snapper and cut Boston mackerel while bottom-fishing about 35 miles out of Morehead City in depths that ranged from 75 to more than 400 feet deep.

Dion Clark drove down from the Bronx to fish this 48-hour trip.

“You pay about twice what you pay for a 24-hour trip, but you get three or four times the fishing in, because of the time you save going back to port, and you can’t beat the crew on this boat,” said Clark, whose big catch of the trip was a chunky gag grouper.

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About Brian Cope 2235 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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