Gary Hurley

Tidelines – April 13, 2017

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“It should be easier to catch a legal-sized sea bass” is a thought that has been uttered by many of us. A minimum size limit of 13” basically guarantees that most of these tasty bottom fish you bring up will be 12-12.5” long.

However, “it should be easier to catch a legal-sized sea bass” took on a new meaning this past week when Capt. Mark Greene, of Angry Pelican Charters, took me and my oldest son Owen out for a half day of sea bass fishing.

Mark keeps his boat docked at Blue Water Point, a marina towards the west end of Oak Island, and up until early February he could make the quick run out of Lockwood Folly Inlet and be at productive bottom just a few miles outside the inlet. That was before the heavy shoaling that has been occurring in Lockwood Folly Inlet, which now has the inlet too shallow to safely navigate.

The cans are still up, but conscientious boaters don’t want to take on the less than two feet of water (at low tide at the middle shoal, and then three feet at low tide at the outer shoal).

For Capt. Mark Greene, he certainly isn’t going to put clients at any type of risk by trying to cheat out through the shallow waters.

A diagram of the Lockwood Folly Inlet showing the severe shoaling (marked in red) that is shallowest at the middle bar near the Bendigo wreck.

The powers-that-be know about the problem and have been addressing the issue at a handful of meetings. My understanding of the status of Lockwood Folly Inlet is that the inlet is now too shallow for the Corp of Engineers dredge to access to begin work, so a private dredge boat (at considerable more expense) would have to be hired, and extra money is hard to come by from just about any government agency at this time.

Perhaps the shoaling was an unfortunate byproduct of the beach re-nourishment that Holden Beach has been engaged in? Or perhaps it’s a consequence of Oak Island’s beach re-nourishment the year before?

Studies show that the problem wasn’t Hurricane Matthew, as water depth increased rather than decreased as a result of that storm. The unfortunate news, though, is that since Matthew didn’t worsen the condition, then there’s no FEMA money to help solve the problem.

So Mark showed me and Owen how Long Beach got its name. We made the run east down the ICW before heading out the mouth of the Cape Fear River. A few miles off Oak Island we anchored over a piece of hard bottom that has regularly produced for Mark. On spinning gear we dropped down chicken rigs baited with squid, and the bites, as predicted, happened immediately.

Owen Hurley with his first keeper sea bass of 2017. He was eating Mike and Ikes and fishing off of Oak Island with Capt. Mark Greene of Angry Pelican Charters.

Owen and I consistently pulled up singles, doubles, and triples (Mark likes to use three circle hooks on his chicken rigs), and while most of the fish were sub-legal, the keepers were there if you were willing to put in the work. For a guy who mostly defines work as sitting in front of a computer, the kind of work that involves culling sea bass was welcomed.

Bottom fishing for sea bass is a great way to get or keep kids interested in fishing. The action was nonstop, and Mark did a great job of keeping Owen interested during periods of smaller fish by sharing some sea bass knowledge.

Some of the info I already knew, such as the males are the ones with the “knot head” and the females have more of a slope head. He also pointed out that the males (like many species of birds) are the more colorful ones, with vibrant shades of light and dark blues. Then a sea bass fact that I didn’t know was that it takes about 8 years for a sea bass to reach that 13” legal size.

As it should be, the memories of a parent/child day on the water always extend beyond the number and size of the fish landed. In addition to the fishing, Owen loved watching an octopus that we brought over the rails as it constantly moved around trying to find an exit point from the boat, and over the course of the day we saw turtles, birds, schools of tailing bluefish, and pods of dolphin (mammals). His attention span may have been fueled by a steady supply of Mike and Ikes, but that’s part of the memories, too.

If you’re looking for an easy fishing trips for kids, or an easy trip for yourself that culminates in a cooler full of some of the best tasting fish around (perfect for fresh fish tacos), then make a plan to go sea bass fishing. Capt. Mark Greene, of Angry Pelican Charters, would be happy to take you out past the Cape Fear tide line where a series of rocks gives him plenty of nearshore options.

And if you have any interest in restoring Lockwood Folly Inlet, then all of the area’s boaters would appreciate you taking a moment to reach out to express your support. You can search “Help Keep the Lockwood Folly Inlet Open” on Facebook where you can get more information and updates, or you can go to www.ipetitions.com and search “Help Keep the Lockwood Folly Inlet Open” and add your name to the 1000+ signatures.

Finally, who’s going to start a petition or a Facebook page to reduce the minimum size limit on black sea bass down to 12” so I can start catching a bunch of 11-11.5” fish?