Monday, October 5, 2015

Hurricane pier fishing in North Carolina

I'm in North Carolina this week, and over the weekend I was able to visit some family in Greensboro and head to the coast for a bit of fishing.  It wasn't the best time to be in the area, because Hurricane Joaquin is currently offshore.  Joaquin didn't actually hit the coast, but its low pressure zone is causing historic amounts of rain and fairly steady 20 to 25 mph winds in the region.  This was one of those trips where you make lemonade out of lemons, so my friend Ali (who I met while fishing in NC two years ago) and I decided to give it a shot anyway.  We decided to avoid the ocean piers and go to a smaller pier in the Intercoastal Waterway near Morehead City.

By the time we arrived at the pier I had been awake for nearly 23 hours, so I promptly went to sleep in the front seat of the car.  I didn't care how many species I was potentially missing out on - sleep was a necessity.  Ali, on the other hand, was eager to fish and joined a couple other fishermen at the end of the pier.  As the tide was moving they did pretty well catching rays, skates, eels, and a variety of bottom fish like whitings and croakers.  Ali shared these photos with me once I woke up from my near-comatose slumber.

Atlantic Stingray (Dasyatis sabina)

Clearnose Skate (Raja eglanteria)

Shrimp Eel (Ophichthus gomesii)

Around 5am I woke up with a jolt.  It was time to fish!  I assembled my travel rods and made my way out to join Ali and his new fishing buddies.  Right away Ali and the guy next to him hooked up with a nice ray.  Ali's hook was in it's mouth, and the other guys' rig was tangled up in Ali's line, so turned out to be an awkward team effort bringing it in.

Southern Stingray (Dasyatis americana)

I wanted a ray quite badly (Atlantic and southern would be new for me), but the bite died down as the tide slowed and the sun began to rise behind the clouds.  Our luck of not getting rained on too much ran out when we saw a big storm front approaching.  The rest of the day was on and off heavy rain and constant wind.

The bite started off slow once I had bait in the water.  My first catch was this silver perch, a species that I only recently added to my lifelist when I was in Louisiana with Ruoxi earlier this year.

Silver Perch (Bairdiella chrysoura)

At low tide we caught a few hermit crabs.  They were pretty cute, and since we weren't catching many fish we didn't mind them stealing our baits from time to time.

In the late morning the bite picked back up.  Unfortunately it mostly consisted of pigfish and pinfish, two species that are ubiquitous to the Atlantic coast.  They're handsome fish though, and it was nice to have a more steady bite.

Pigfish (Orthopristis chrysoptera)

Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)

In the early afternoon I finally caught a new lifer, a northern puffer.  It was hanging out close to one of the pier's wooden pilings.  I'm lucky I got a photo of it, because as soon as I got it over the railing it bit through my 8 lb fluorocarbon line.  He posed nicely for a photo and swam off quickly when I released him.

Northern Puffer (Sphoeroides maculatus) - new hook & line species #313

Ali caught his first toadfish when he fished close to one of the pilings.  He was quite pleased about it!

Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau)

Later in the afternoon the outgoing tide was moving pretty good.  As the grass and other debris floated by, we caught a few other interesting species.  This spottail pinfish was especially large.  I had never seen one with blue pelvic fins.

Spottail Pinfish (Diplodus holbrookii)

Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata)

Even though we could have fished quite a while longer, the rain and wind kicked our butt, so we packed up around mid-afternoon.  As we moved away from the coast the rain switched from sudden bursts to a steady drizzle.  Ali's dog and I were pretty out of it, and I'm glad Ali brought us back safe.

This was a day of fishing unlike anything else I've experience, and I'm happy we did it.  I'm also glad I was able to get a lifer!  Huge thanks to Ali for driving from Chapel Hill to the coast and finding a somewhat sheltered pier for us to fish.


  1. Hard to tell for sure, but I think that might be a Shrimp Eel, not an American Eel. The dorsal fin starts pretty far up on the body. Shrimp Eel also tend to have an overbite and the tail ends in a harden tip (whereas American Eel have more of an underbite and soft rays go all the way around the end of the tail). I caught my first Shrimp Eel off a saltwater pier and misidentified it as an American Eel at first...they do look similar. Check out these photos for comparison:

  2. WHAAAAAAT??? NC now? Forget Forrest Gump, there is a new cross-country champ.

    Nice fish though, especially that puffer and the ray Ali caught. Ali is a beast. I do not know how it was done, but he has caught a creek chubsucker.

  3. Great Blog man. I'm located in Portland, Oregon trying to make the transition from spin fishing to fly fishing. And really just generally thrilled to catch new species as well. Here is my blog:

  4. Hey Neil, nice blog! Not sure I'm on board with the fly fishing, but I'll reluctantly add you to my blog roll anyway. ;) Seriously though, great blog, and it's good to make your online acquaintance.

    1. HaHa ! Curious to hear your thoughts on fly fishing sometime. As I fished lures for a really long time before joining the dark side (fly fishing). I'm also from Iowa - so I grew up fishing the Mississippi all the time.

  5. Hey Ben -

    I enjoyed the blog posts and I really appreciate someone getting out there and getting excited about the great diversity of fishes out there to be caught!

    My name is Luke Schultz and I am actually one of the chairs of the Western Native Fishes Committee of the American Fisheries Society. We're a network of folks (mostly fish biologists but also some fish enthusiasts) that have expertise and interest in native fishes in Western North America. One of our recent initiatives has been to engage additional people that have an interest in native fishes and have them be part of our group. I wanted to invite you to check out our Facebook page and get involved with us if you'd like. I think your ability to connect with different readers would be a tremendous asset to our group to help promote conservation of native fishes. I think you might get a kick out of some of the unique fishes we have swimming on this side of the continent too.

    Here's our page and some additional information about our group:

    Thanks much!
    Luke Schultz

  6. Hey Ben! Have really enjoyed reading your blog. I do kayak fishing mainly at Banner Marsh and Emiquon. Have you fished those waters and do they have any interesting species besides the crappie and bass I chase? I am heading down to St. Augustine next spring for a few days and wanted to see if you knew of any good spots to fish from piers for some of the colorful species you 've posted in your blog. Would be neat to catch something like the parrot fish. I think my two young boys would really enjoy catching fish you don't see in Illinois. Here is a website with the piers around that area if you have happened to fish there or know someone who has that could offer advice. Thanks!


    1. Hey Paul, good to hear from you! Send me an email at so we can chat more. Banner Marsh is great for muskie, especially right now as it starts to get cold. I haven't fished Emiquon yet, but I know they've put all sorts of interesting species there, like bowfin and redspotted sunfish. Not sure if they're in high enough numbers to target though.

      St. Augustine is pretty far up the coast, so I'm not sure if you'll be able to get the really colorful fish that we caught in Miami and the Keys. My advice is to search for the facebook pages for the piers in the area, and scroll through all their old photos to get an idea of what people catch. Longer piers that have rocky bottoms are your best bet for weird colorful species. If the bottom is just sand, you'll probably have less diversity and less of the colorful ones.