Tidelines – May 10, 2018
“Fight ‘em fair, Billy. Fight ‘em fair,” was the call from Capt. Ray Brittain, of Spring Tide Guide Service out of Topsail, that Billy Thorpe (Fisherman’s Post Sales Manager) heard for at least the tenth time that morning as we trolled around Diver’s Rock cashing in on an early season bonito bite.
Billy got in place once again behind one of the trolling rods that Ray had set up with a #4 planer and a large Drone spoon. Of course casting to busting fish is the ideal way to target the springtime run of bonito off our NC coast, but a recent storm seemingly had been keeping fish down in the water column. We had our Diamond and Big Nic jigs ready for any sign of surface activity, but while we were looking we thought it worthwhile to troll to help put fish in the box.
Ray had been out on the water the two days prior to our morning trip together, meeting at Fulcher’s Landing boat ramp and heading out of New River Inlet, and in those couple of days he had discovered that the bonito were holding lower in the water column than a Deep Diver would reach.
He had not only found that the Deep Divers weren’t effective, but he had also discovered that the smaller Drone spoons (the more logical size for bonito) weren’t working. As soon as he had tied a larger Drone spoon behind a #4 or #6 planer (a basic commercial king mackerel rig), though, he had found the fish.
Billy and I were grateful that Ray had done his homework prior to our time together, and we also appreciated his versatility and willingness to find a way to produce. We had been steadily putting a nice class of bonito into his fish box (most in the 8-10 lb. range), and we had yet to spot our first sign of bonito crashing bait on the water’s surface. Trolling was clearly the correct call as we waited hopefully and patiently for fish to cast to.
Billy was more than happy to reel in bonito after bonito, pausing when the planer reached the rod tip to let Ray hand line the fish off the back of the boat, keeping the fish out of the prop and then in one smooth swing over the gunnel landing the fish into the box.
Ray had started the day’s mantra—“Fight ‘em fair, Billy”—in part because he often fishes for fun with Billy the Ice Cream Man, a guy whose demeanor begs to be yelled at (or at least heckled).
For me, the repeated call of “Billy” had reminded me of the short story “The Open Boat,” where there was just one named character, the character of Billie the Oiler, who was also the only character that dies in the famous tale by Stephen Crane that wonders if nature is indifferent to man or if nature is actively working against man.
Billy didn’t care about the different reasons why we liked yelling his name out loud. He was just happy to be the one fighting fish to the boat.
Our company on the water that day was more commercial than recreational, so just about everyone was trolling. A boat would hook up, and then boats would move in that general direction. We were doing the same until just off the starboard bow we saw our first school of bonito bust the surface.
Ray pulled back on the throttle while Billy and I quickly made our way up front. We both sent our flashy metal jigs into the fray, and after counting just a couple of seconds, started bringing them back to the boat just as fast as we could reel. On this first cast, Billy came back empty, but my treble had found the target species.
My bonito, as bonito will do, went on the classic blistering run, and my light tackle setup screamed and doubled over, showing much more emotion than the planer rods. Then once in sight of the boat, the bonito went on a final big run before circling into Ray’s waiting landing net.
The surface school had quickly disappeared, so we went back to our 5-6 knot troll in 40-45’ deep water, pulling the pink/green and silver/gold spoons anywhere from 15-35’ deep.
A few more fish later on the troll, it was Billy that hooked the target species on a cast to busting fish. I must not have been reeling in quick enough, as my line came tight but to a much lesser fish, a small bluefish.
Only a few more times that morning did we see surface fish, each time getting a cast into the fracas, but on our early season day it had been the troll that had been the real producer. We headed back to New River Inlet and started to plan how the night’s dinner was going to go.
All three of us were looking forward to bonito sashimi, but Ray also suggested we cook a couple of the fillets. His recipe called for several hours of marinating—sesame oil, soy, a lot of fresh ginger, and brown sugar—and then rolling the fillets in black and white sesame seeds before searing quickly on each side. Billy and I were convinced.
Capt. Ray Brittain, of Spring Tide Guide Service, understands the nature of being a guide. Yes, casting to surface feeding bonito is more fun and glamorous than trolling, but sometimes you have to play the odds to make sure your clients go home with fish for dinner.
In addition to the bonito run, Ray will also hack a little by targeting spanish (casting and trolling), as well as sight fishing for cobia. His bread and butter, though, is red drum and trout in the inshore waters, with some flounder and black drum fishing thrown in here and there.
So if you want a guide that’s versatile and motivated to find a way, any way, to get his clients on some fish, then give Ray a call at (910) 330-7344 or visit him online at Spring Tide Guide Service on Facebook.
If you go, don’t be like the Ice Cream Man, and definitely don’t be like the Oiler. Be like Billy the Sales Manager and “fight ‘em fair.”