For the fourth year in a row I was lucky enough to be able to trailer my boat down from home on Cape Cod, MA to Cape Lookout, NC to fish for false albacore, but with the recent hurricane this year was a little different. Normally my wife & I rent an oceanfront house "out west" in Emerald Isle and I fish a good bit at that west end of the area. This year hurricane Florence did enough damage to our rental house and others in Emerald Isla that we could not stay there and I had to hunt at the last minute for a place to stay. Generally speaking there was less damage from the hurricane to the east, so I contacted a friend on Harkers Island and he put me in touch with a woman who had a vacation house for rent and I was in business--thanks Brian! But my wife opted not to go since she enjoys the ocean view and beach walks etc., and the Harkers house did not really offer that. And I was also only able to get the house for three weeks instead of our usual four weeks, so on October 13th I crossed the bridge to Harkers towing my Parker 1801 solo.
The house was great for my needs and only a mile from the Harkers Island Fishing Center where I planned to launch each morning. Over the weekend I met Rob Pasfield, who owns the Fishing Center, and also reconnected with Sarah Gardner & Brian Horsely who guide out of the Fishing Center for the fall season. Monday morning was the first fishing day and Brian was nice enough to let me follow him out of the Fishing Center and to the Hook--there are a couple tricky, shallow spots and you definitely want to have a good track and marks to get out.
dawn at the fishing center
Sarah's, Brian's & Rob's 23' JonesBros boats ready to go at sunrise
Sunrise by the light & headed out
The first week I explored west and found scattered fish all the way to Bogue Inlet and the Bogue Inlet Pier, which had suffered some damage from Florence--hopefully it can be repaired--
Around the pier I found very scattered fish chasing half-beaks and simply could not get on them with a fly rod, but a fast cast with spinning rod and a white spook-type surface lure got absolutely crushed. These were the first albies I had caught with a spin rod in a few years and I have to admit, on topwater like that they were kinda fun.
The first week I also wound up offshore 3 or 4 miles where there was an incredible bite NOT happening on snot bait. I heard a couple people hooked up on fly, but I did not, and did not see anyone hook up either. But the damn fish would absolutely crush a pink AlbieSnax ripped on the surface with a spinning rod--what's that about? I'd try all kinds of stuff on the fly rod--tiny clear epoxies etc., little bunny things, and yes, creases flies and poppers, but the 'core did not care. But throw a pink AlbieSnax and I could not go three casts without getting hit, chased or hooked up. Very strange, but they are called "funny fish."
Wednesday morning of that first week there were some fish in the Hook at dawn and they were much better behaved and I got a couple on the classic Tutti-Frutti Clouser
They were there again on Thursday, but there were a lot more boats so I bagged that and went to where they had been offshore earlier in the week. It was really a littler too rough and windy for that but I did not have anything else to do. When I got out there I regretted it--there were three and four footers and it was not pleasant. So I sat there thinking about my next move and I saw a couple fish come up 50 yds away! They did not show a lot and the wind was cranked up around 15+, but I threw an old Maria I had on the spin rod and managed to get 5 or 6 over the next hour or two. Around noon the wind started to lay down some and the fish started coming up better and were chasing small bay anchovies--thank goodness the snot bait wasn't around! For the next couple hours the spot lit up pretty good and I got a dozen on fly with the classic BobPop Deep Candy in dark tan with a gold tungsten bead up front--finally a solid day with the fly rod.
Friday seemed a little too windy and I stayed in, but I wish I had gone, at least for the morning. There was a very good bite in the Hook and I missed it. Brian, Sarah and Rob hit it though, so I was happy for them--I guess that's why they're professionals and I am just a part-time amateur...
Saturday the 27th was a blow day and Sunday and Monday might as well have been. A friend was down from Cape Cod and we tried to go out, but the Hook was dirty and had no fish and outside the Hook was too rough to do anything--very frustrating.
Tuesday, October 30th we did manage to get out of the Hook and out to where fish had been the week before. Again it was rough and bouncy with N winds at 15+ but we found fish and wound up with 14 or 15 total--half spin and half fly. In the afternoon it laid down some and we moved further out and found more fish.
Wednesday, the 31st was actually nice and we went about 10 miles SW of the Hook where we had left fish the afternoon before. At first I thought I had chosen poorly, but fish started to show on 'chovy bait balls and it just got better and better. Fish were up all over and biting well--if we got our little tan Surf Candies in 'em and stripped fast, we were on. We had fish for hours. There was a slight lull at slack tide in the late morning and then it started over. Fish up and raging and sometimes covering a couple acres and slowly moving south into the building S wind. I don't know how many times we doubled up. At one point we got into a school of bigger fish and my friend landed a 16#er, a 16 1/2#er, and an 18#er! I lost the two big ones I hooked, but one was right at the boat and easily 16# or more, so I counted it.
My friend's 18#er
I'll try and put in a couple phone videos of the action. It was amazing--the best eight hours of albie action I have ever had. We caught at least 50 fish, all on fly. By 4 o'clock we were 18 miles from the Hook and had to slog back in following seas as the South wind had come up to 10 to 15 kts. I was washing the boat and trailer in the dark that evening, but it was worth it.
The really amazing thing you may notice in the videos is the lack of other boats--we had these fish virtually to ourselves. I actually tried to call a couple friends but we were out of cell range and my VHF is poor--I may have to upgrade that this winter. Anyway, the good news was that I did not need to call my friends. While we had fish out west of the shoals, they had just as many fish east of the shoals, and the buoy chain outside Beaufort Inlet had fish too. It was a great day everywhere.
And it was also the end of my fishing... For the next week it blew more and more and screwed up everything. Tried to go a couple times, but just found dirty water at the Hook and could not do anything else given the conditions. After that epic Wednesday I did not see a fish or make a cast for 5 days. I finally pulled the plug a couple days early and headed home to Cape Cod on Tuesday.
So my trip to Cape Lookout was kind of "feast or famine" this year, but I still loved it and have already booked a house for four weeks for next year. The wind and conditions made it tough, but I still enjoyed being on Harkers and meeting Rob Pasfield--his Harkers Island Fishing Center is Albie Central this time of year and has a great ramp and small harbor with very reasonable launch & slip rates. And, of course, it was really nice to be around Sarah & Brian each morning--they could not have been nicer or more helpful. And I finally got to meet SOL's Jabster on dry land--he and "the Finns" were there and it was wonderful to hangout with them a little. They even invited me over for a great barbecue one evening--thanks a lot Jabster--I couldn't think of a nicer way to spend time on a blow day!
So that's it for this albie season for me. I have had "better" trips to Cape Lookout, but this one was still well worth the time and effort. I saw old friends, made new friends, learned a lot of new stuff about the area and put over 100 'core in the boat (thanks largely to one epic day), so I am not complaining. But it would not hurt my feelings if the wind blew a little less next year.....
sunset on Harkers