Tournament Reports – Topsail Fall Surf & Pier Fishing Challenge
The Fisherman’s Post phone was ringing off the hook in the month leading up to the 2018 Topsail Fall Surf & Pier Challenge. Hurricane Florence had really changed the landscape of the Topsail beachfront and its piers, and anglers were worried they weren’t going to get a chance to fish one of their favorite tournaments of the year. Other than some shortened piers and reduced beach driving access, though, everything came together in the end, and the race to find the biggest fish in the suds was on.
The Fisherman’s Post Topsail Fall Surf & Pier Challenge allows anglers to choose which category (surf or pier) they’re competing in, and the event splits each category into four divisions (bluefish, flounder, black drum, and sea mullet). There are also two optional TWTs (red drum for the surf, and trout for the pier).
Anglers have 36 hours to find the heaviest fish in each division, starting at midnight on Friday (Nov. 2), and ending at noon on Sunday (Nov. 4). This year, 102 surf and 36 pier anglers registered for a chance at the prize money.
In the surf category, David Rockenhouser caught the winning blue, a 1.4 lb. fish that fell for a piece of cut bait on a drum rig, very early on.
“The bite was steady,” he said, adding that he was the only angler fishing his stretch of beach near the Jolly Roger Pier. He pulled in five drum and a flounder that Saturday morning before hooking his winning blue right around 5:30 am. After weighing the fish in, he put his gear up for the remainder of the tournament.
“The last fish I caught was the smallest bluefish I’d caught all year,” he laughed, but it would be enough to win the first place check. This was Rockenhouser’s first year at the tournament, though he had wanted to get into it since moving to the area six years ago.
Fishing stayed productive throughout the weekend. The surf flounder division was taken by Robert Carter for his 1.8 lb. fish, while Matthew Crabtree caught a 3.0 lb. black drum to win the surf division. The biggest sea mullet in the surf, a 1.6 lb. fish, was landed by Charles Marks.
Then on Sunday morning around 8:45 am, Stephen Hawley pulled a 7.7 lb. red drum from the surf to win the surf TWT. He had been fishing about three miles north of Jolly Roger Pier when the redfish hit his bait shrimp.
“I was tickled to death,” he said. “There were a bunch of people on the beach watching, and after I rode the fish in on the waves, I had three of them measure it.” The red ended up being just inside slot at 26.5”, which was good enough to earn him the $711.10 check for first place.
With all the success that the stretches of beach around the Jolly Roger Pier saw, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the pier itself provided anglers with plenty of action as well, especially for Zach Hubbard.
Hubbard pulled off a buzzer-beater win in more than one sense of the phrase when it came to his 0.8 lb. bluefish. Not only did he weigh the winner in with just 50 minutes left in the tournament, but he added, “As soon as I brought him over the railing, he broke loose and flopped onto the pier. If it had taken me just one more second to reel him in, I would have lost him.”
Hubbard fishes the tournament with his brother and a buddy, and each one of them has now won the division once over the course of the last three tournaments.
Another pier angler to beat is Darry Sloop, who has won a division in the last four tournaments. This time he topped the flounder leaderboard with a 1.5 lb. flattie. When asked what his secret was, he simply said, “Showing up.” Sloop fished 32 out of the 36 hours the tournament gave him, and he caught his winning fish from the Jolly Roger Pier around 1:00-2:00 pm on Saturday.
“It was a really low tide, almost dead,” he recalls, “and I saw some smaller flounder moving into this one hole under the pier.” He dropped down a live shrimp and brought it back up in the mouth of his winning fish.
Sloop also caught the third place speckled trout in the pier TWT, and his son, Joshua Sloop, caught the winning sea mullet. He wants to share his success with others, encouraging other Topsail-area anglers to come out and join the fun next spring.
The pier black drum division was won by Jason Sholar for his 3.3 lb. fish, and his black drum was the biggest pier leaderboard fish of the weekend, earning Sholar and Surf City Pier the Pier Cup honors. Ronnie Whitaker took the Trout TWT title with a 2.3 lb. speck.
For a more complete leaderboard, you can visit www.FishermansPost.com. The date for the Topsail Spring Surf & Pier Challenge is May 3-5, 2019.