Gary Hurley

Tidelines – April 27, 2017

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We were headed out of the precarious New River Inlet, opting to take the left route that hugs along the Onslow Beach shoreline before gently angling out beam to the breakers, when Capt. Mike Oppegaard, of Native Son Guide Fishing, let me know that he didn’t have any trolling rods or tackle on board.

We were going to be casting to bonito and only casting to bonito, so as soon as we made it beyond the breakers and into about 15 feet of water, we immediately began scouring for birds or any signs of life on the water, while keeping an eye on the electronics for good bait or fish marks.

We had taken the northerly route out of the inlet, instead of the more direct line straight out of the inlet that goes across a mostly undivided sandbar, because for a few days prior Mike had been finding his bonito a little north and fairly close to shore, rather than out further at the always-popular-this-time-of-year Divers Rock.

Gary Hurley (left) and Capt. Mike Oppegaard, of Native Son Guide Service, left their dignity a couple of miles out of New River Inlet when they decided to pose for a selfie with a couple of the bonito they caught casting epoxy jigs in the mid-morning.

Mike’s machine started lighting up with huge schools of bait in just under 40’ of water. Birds were moving into the area talking to each other, doing some dips and circles to take better looks, and sometimes even hitting the water, but from the best we could decipher the birds were working bait and just bait. They weren’t working and we weren’t seeing any bigger fish.

When this happens—all the conditions are right, there should be fish around, there was just fish around a couple of days ago, but now there aren’t any fish here this morning—is when it’s good to be a guest on the boat and not the captain of the boat making decisions. Mike’s question that morning was one most anglers have been faced with: do we commit to this spot because all of the conditions are good and that was the original plan, or do we move to another spot because though the conditions are good we aren’t catching any fish?

No fish yet just didn’t feel right to Mike, so he decided to move. A quick call to a buddy out at Divers Rock confirmed that not much had been caught offshore, so Mike put us on plane and pointed us north in the direction of some live bottom he knew about off of the water tower.

The bonito hunt is exciting, constantly scanning to the left and the right hoping to catch the erratic splashes of bonito busting bait on the surface. You have to tell your eyes, as they scan the water’s surface, to look both close to the boat and far away off at the same time, as covering more water increases your chances of spotting the quick-to-surface and then often the just-as-quick-to-sound bonito.

Mike and I were still a good distance away from the water tower when we saw our first school.

“Fish at 9:00,” I said, using the popular clock method to get Mike to look perpendicular off the port side of the boat, rather than pointing to them with hand or fishing rod and telegraphing the school to the other boats in the general area.

We came off plane, and I quickly grabbed a rod and moved up to the bow of the boat. Mike idled us to just inside of casting distance, which is a good distance away when you’re casting diamond jigs using 7’ medium/light tackle, and I sent my flashy metal lure (in this case a Hogy Epoxy jig) to the far side of the school. My adrenaline was pumping, but Mike wanted me to let the jig sink for a 3-4 second count before reeling it in as quick as I could.

First there was a bump, then nothing, and then there was a second bigger bump followed by a huge bend in the rod and the scream of drag. I was fast to my first bonito of 2017.

Mike could have hooked onto his own bonito while I started the process of bringing mine in, as our fish were still active on the surface, but he opted for playing gracious host until this first fish was in the boat. The sight of the boat sent my fish on several scorching runs, but even its circles near the engine propeller and under the stern and bow of the boat weren’t enough to keep the bonito from ultimately ending up in Mike’s waiting landing net.

So the plan to head north paid off, just as did his decision to only bring casting gear. For all of his good decisions that morning, though, Mike made at least one very questionable one. He agreed to pose for a selfie with me and two fish. My selfie stick came out, he grabbed a couple of fish from the box, and then two middle aged men awkwardly huddled together and holding out fish posed in the bow of his boat.

The bonito will only be around for a little while longer, so make plans now—whether with Capt. Mike Oppegaard of Native Son Guide Service or on your own—to target these delicious speedsters. The good news is that as the bonito begin to move out, some big spanish mackerel will be moving in, and either trip will be a good decision.

Whether or not to bring a selfie stick on your next fishing trip? That decision hinges on how badly you want a fish photo (and how importantly you rate dignity and self-respect).

Basically you need to look at our photo and then ask yourself if you want to be like Mike.