One can never have too many hobbies, right? I picked up fishing this year. After dabbling in 2021—reeling in a Red Drum and a Sandbar Shark on my annual spring Cape Lookout trip with friend Jeff, then catching Cobia, Spanish Mackerel, and more on an inshore trip with brother-in-law David—this year I decided to really “start” fishing. Now I’m hooked. (Sorry…)
Before I share this year's highlights, I want to address the reasons why I started fishing. First and foremost, fishing helps fill personal knowledge gaps about the natural world. Over the last several years, I’ve expanded my natural history pursuits beyond birds to encompass many other forms of aerial and terrestrial life. However, exploring and understanding the many wonders of aquatic life is challenging. Oceans, lakes, and rivers are effectively a black box where humans are out of our element. Fishing is one way to break into that box (or, to break fish out of the box?). Moreover, it offers a truly visceral connection to the fish in question—a more intimate (through admittedly more disruptive) means of understanding the natural world than simply observing.
Second, fishing is a lot of fun. Although I care deeply about the natural world, I am also self-interested, and having fun is important. I suspect the excitement of successfully landing a fish draws most folks to the sport. Saltwater fishing also pairs exquisitely with coastal birding, eliminating the potential for boredom while spending a day on the water.
Third, and not to be discounted, responsible recreational fishing is a sustainable means of obtaining high-qualify protein. I love seafood, but there are a lot of problems with the global commercial fishing, fish farming, and fish marketing industries. (PSA: check out www.seafoodwatch.org.) Harvesting one’s own food (whether fishing, hunting, or farming) really helps put other eating choices into perspective. Of course, one can’t keep every fish, and I’m learning more about handling fish and maximizing catch-and-release survival.
My fishing this year was all saltwater. I’m not sure when I’ll start fishing freshwater.
North Core Banks (May)
As detailed in this separate blog post, this year’s OBX kayaking/camping trip with Jeff involved more fishing than usual. I borrowed some of Jeff’s gear and spent a fair amount of time fishing the tidal creeks and flats on the sound side of North Core Banks. On our first day, we brought in a half dozen Red Drum with a mix of artificial and cut bait, most of which were “over slot”—too big to keep. The next day, I caught a nice slot drum while trolling a lure behind my kayak. As usual, the surf fishing was relatively uneventful, but I got to bring in a nice Bluefish and a less-nice Southern Stingray. Smaller fish observed during the trip included Striped Mullet, Spot Croaker, and Pinfish.
OBX Pelagic (August)
As detailed further in a to-be-written blog post, I went on my first warm-season offshore birding trip this year (called a “pelagic”). This wasn’t a fishing trip. However, while cruising to, from, and around the Gulf Stream, we saw a number of fish that chose to break the water’s surface on their own volition. This was my first encounter with flyingfish—we saw hundreds, most of which were very hard to photograph and identify. Some were definitely Sailfin Flyingfish, aka “Oddspot Midget” (Parexocoetus hillianus). Others look like Clearwing Flyingfish (Cypselurus comatus), but that species is supposed to be found in warmer southern waters, so I’m not sure about the ID. Another I photographed might be a Blackwing Flyingfish (Hirundichthys rondeletiid) or Margined Flyingfish (Cheilopogon cyanopterus), or maybe something else. In any case, all the flyingfish were fun to observe. They skittered along the water, propelling themselves into impressive glides—sometimes exceeding 50 meters—before either plunging under the surface or skittering into another glide. We also saw some Common Dolphinfish (aka Mahi-mahi) chasing the flyingfish. After the pelagic, I saw some large rays (not sure what species) jumping out of the water around Cape Hatteras.
Bald Head Island (September)
I eventually bought my own rod, reel, and tackle, which I brought to Bald Head Island for a wedding in September. I didn’t spend much time fishing—my wife and I were otherwise occupied with the wedding, hiking through maritime forest, and biking in the rain. In the couple hours I spent fishing from a pier on a tidal creek, I didn’t catch any game fish, but I did catch a few interesting juveniles, including Oyster Toadfish, Atlantic Croaker, and Pinfish. I also saw Striped Mullet, an unidentified ray, and what was probably a Red Drum. This trip introduced me to the hazards of fishing near oyster beds and braided line wind knots.
East Shackleford Banks (October)
A separate blog post chronicles this year’s solo kayaking/camping adventures around East Shackleford Banks. I spent a fair amount of time fishing the bays, channels, and flats on the backside of the island, mostly from my kayak, and pretty much exclusively with artificial bait. Over two days, I caught and released two Red Drum, one Bluefish, and three Flounder (one Summer Flounder and two small Gulf Flounder, I think). I also caught a few Inshore Lizardfish—including an enormous one that measured ~16”—and several Pinfish. I saw Cownose Stingray, Striped Mullet, White Mullet, and some unidentified needlefish. My "lessons learned" included how to create and avoid excessive line twist (don’t troll a weedless spoon too fast without a swivel).
North Topsail/ New River Inlet (October)
A couple weeks after my Shackleford trip, my wife and I joined Jeff and his fiancée for a weekend at North Topsail Beach. On the first day, Jeff and I motor kayaked around New River Inlet and the nearby tidal creeks and flats. After a slow morning—Jeff caught a couple small Red Drum and all I managed were Lizardfish—we hit the jackpot in the afternoon, mostly fishing cut bait from a little soundside beach near the inlet. Between the two of us, we brought in another 8 slot-sized Red Drum, 2 of which we kept for dinner.
Throughout the day, I worked on my skill throwing my new cast net. We collectively netted a nice variety of small baitfish, including Striped Mullet, White Mullet, Pinfish, Spot Croaker, Striped Killifish (aka mud minnow), an unidentified Silverside (aka Glass Minnow), and several unidentified Mojarra.
On the second day, we joined up with two of Jeff’s friends for another round of kayak fishing. We didn’t have much luck; Jeff landed a Red Drum and lost an unidentified monster fish, and we all caught a bunch of Lizardfish (I won that contest, with 4 or 5). Still, it was a nice half day on the water. Surf fishing in the evening was unproductive but relaxing, as usual.
I expect I’ll do some fishing while down in Georgia and Florida for Christmas this year. I’ll undoubtedly catalogue that trip in a separate blog post, but I may update this post with the fishing highlights.
That's a wrap for my first fishing-focused blog!