Tidelines – May 24, 2018
The spanish arrival ushers out the bonito every year, so it made sense to follow up my Topsail bonito trip/article in our previous issue with a Topsail spanish trip/article in this issue. I called up Capt. Mike Oppegaard, of Native Son Guide Fishing, to make spanish plans, and he was on board as long as the weather would allow us to comfortably get out of New Topsail Inlet to about 40’ of water.
If not, then he suggested we stay inside and throw topwaters for red drum. Or if the weather is good, he added, we could cast for spanish in the early morning, maybe even pull out a fly rod, and then throw topwaters for red drum later.
Mike basically made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
As luck would have it, our day did have good weather, so we easily made it out to 35’ of water about a mile or so off of Jolly Roger Pier where we saw a few birds working. We didn’t have any trolling gear on board, so we were committed to the cast and needed to see fish to catch fish.
We came off throttle and idled around a little to see if the birds were truly our allies. After 15 minute or so, all we had spotted was one spanish breaking the water’s surface, and then it was probably another five minutes before we saw our second spanish. I enjoy a little run-and-gun after surface feeding fish, but it’s hard to get excited to try and chase down a single spanish mackerel.
Mike was marking bait, and the birds were staying around, sometimes looking but other times diving, so we decided to give the spot more time. Then we saw a couple of fish in the direction of 10:00 off the bow of his boat come out of the water at the same time. We both sent our Hogy Heavy Minnows beyond the school, waited a few seconds to let the jigs sink a little in the water column, and then retrieved as quickly as we could.
Mike was the first to hook up, and he brought in a near-20” spanish—not only were our fish cooperating, but we were apparently in a school of good-sized spanish.
We generated hookups here and there, steadily putting some fish in the box, and then the figurativet switch was flipped on and the entire school got active. We were no longer spotting one fish at 10:00 or a couple of fish straight off the stern at 6:00. Now we were seeing a bunch of fish from 11:00 all the way to 3:00.
The bite was on, and we were catching 17-22” spanish at will. We hooked fish just as soon as our jigs hit the water, we hooked fish at any time during the retrieve, and we hooked fish at the end of our retrieve with the jig just 10’ from the boat.
It was this last scenario—hooking a spanish just 10’ from the boat—that gave me the confidence to pull out the fly rod.
Mike has plenty of experience helping fly anglers on guided trips, and he did his best to help me succeed, placing the boat in the right position so that the wind would push us across and into the school of fish while not blowing in a way to hamper my casting ability.
My struggles were some of the basic struggles of fly anglers that rarely (as in never ever) practice their skills. I would either not let the line load enough on my back cast, or try to overthrow the line out instead of letting it shoot out. Mike was patient, but the spanish weren’t.
About 30 minutes after putting the fly rod away, we pulled into a bay in the Topsail area where Mike had been on a pod of red drum (10-12 fish). He put a silver MirrOlure Top Dog in my hand, and we both started searching water from the bow of his boat.
Mike had told me that the drum weren’t acting predictably this season. Instead of hanging out on shorelines, he had found more fish out in the middle of the bays and holding around the little grass islands. So we started working little grass islands just barely showing through the higher tide, and that’s exactly where my topwater came tight to what would be a 24” red drum.
The high tide had the bay filled with clean water, and the shallow area where I hooked up allowed me to keep an eye on my fish during the entire fight. My drum seemed to be in one of the pod’s Mike had described, as I saw a handful or so of his friends swimming around and trying to figure out what the commotion was.
The curiosity and excitement of the other fish, though, vanished quickly into deeper water as soon as they heard the noise of Mike putting down the Power-Pole to keep us from drifting over the oyster bed that separated us.
My fish stayed away from the boat during most of the fight, but it eventually came into Mike’s waiting landing net. We took some traditional fish photos with me in the bow of the boat, but then after some quick reflection, Mike decided it would be a better idea for him to stand on the seat in front of the console so that he could angle down on me to avoid anything identifiable in the background. He did, and we took another round of fish photos.
Capt. Mike Oppegaard, of Native Son Guide Fishing, has a number of different ways that he can put anglers of any age or skill level on some fish. He explained to me his basic formula for a successful charter trip, “Put fish in the cooler, get everyone on board catching fish, and make a memory.”
So whether you enjoy the finesse of throwing topwaters at red drum and trout or sight casting to cobia, or prefer the easier-to-guarantee results of trolling or casting to spanish mackerel and bait fishing for red drum, flounder, and black drum, Mike understands that his role as guide is to play to his clients’ strengths to make sure everyone has a good time on the water.
You can talk to him about your party’s best options at (910) 233-8295, or check out more information at www.nativesonguideservice.com.
My suggestion? When you’re catching fish with Mike, don’t stop to wave a magic wand. Just keep catching.