Fishing on the Piers of the OBX aka Outer Banks of NC the basics
A Good Day at the BEACH
YOU GOTTA GO:
John Denver never wrote about the shore; if he had it would have been about the OBX of North Carolina. Sun, sea, sand and surf are of course there but also the shore is in a more natural state where dunes, wild grasses and wetlands can be found. The development is not 5th avenue nor is it boardwalk tacky, mostly houses, condos and (becoming fewer) motels. Freedom rings on the OBX, would you believe you can take your dog on the beach, you can drink beer on beach, the beach patrol does come by once in a while but there is no whistle blower every 50 feet.
There is so much on the OBX; history abounds. Pirates loved the place, Sir Walter Raleigh founded the Lost Colony, a major Civil War battle was fought there, the bankers played a role in the Revolution, and the Wright brothers took their first flight there. Speaking of flight, it is great place for bird watching and other nature related pursuits. Normal beach activities are the main time passers, but there are other beachy kinds of things to do, such as kayaking on the sound side or looking for Hermit crabs in the sound or just enjoying the calm warm water. So; the wife and kids will have much to do while you are fishing on the pier, BUT they will join you once you tell them what a great time you are having.
Nags Head Pier with Restaurant in Foreground
52 miles separate the Avalon pier at Kill Devil Kills to the last one at Avon. The Avalon and Nags Head piers are in the more highly developed parts of the Outer Banks while the other 3 are in much less developed, mostly residential, parts of the islands. All are about 800 feet long, made of wood and have their own unique flavor. I most frequently fish the Nags Head pier. It is near many motels and businesses and has really nice movable benches with backs. The restaurant on the pier has very good food, a great view and super pleasant staff. Methods and quality of fishing is all pretty much the same on all 5 piers. They all sell and rent fishing tackle and have snacks and beverages.
Now 6 piers on the OBX
In the fall of 2003 hurricane Isabel did serious damage to most of the OBX fishing piers and destroyed Jennette’s pier. The North Carolina Aquariums Society purchased the pier and beach property and built the newest attraction on the Outer Banks. The new Jennette’s is 1000 feet long and built of concrete with a 16,000 square foot pier house. It promises to be a favorite site for fisherman and vacationing families. It is located at 16.5 mile post in Nags Head near the causeway to Roanoke Island.
Jennett's Pier looking south from the Nags Head Pier
Frisco Pier at Cape Hatteras
WHY FISH on a PIER:
The outer banks offers terrific off shore fishing and certainly someone on the pier will tell you about their boat trip. Fishing from the beach can be rewarding especially if you have 4 wheel drive and motor to a productive spot. But when you fish from a pier you stay dry, you are not seasick, the bathroom is close by, as is a variety of reasonably priced food and beverage. Your car and place you are staying is close by, you can come and go as you wish and even come back in the middle of the night, the price is downright cheap and you can get by with minimal gear. The people you meet are pleasant and interesting and there is always something going on to watch, in the other words the hanging around is great even if you don’t catch fish; but you will.
80% RULE and 1 OTHER:
In most retail businesses 80% of the sales will come from 20% of the items. With pier fishing the same concept applies even more so; 90% or maybe 99% of the fish will be caught with very little equipment, maybe 10% of the equipment most people bring. This hubpage concentrates on the 10% and techniques needed in its use. Another rule is learning from the successful fisherman by watching and asking questions. Most of the good fishermen catch all the fish they want and will be happy to share their knowledge.
In Your Hand
This is the reel and line that I use
I have found so far that Stren is the best line. Cast very well, holds knots without breaking and is of the advertised strength.
ROD, REEL and LINE:
Fishing the Outer Banks near CapeHatteras requires a 10 foot rod with a monster reel; correct? Well maybe from the sand but from the pier a 6 foot rod will be fine. The rod should be a fairly stiff spinning rod which uses 8-12 pound line and is capable of casting a 1 ounce weight. A satisfactory rod will be about 3/8 inches thick at the top of the fore grip and seem very stiff when the rod is flicked up and down when holding it at the reel seat. The grip below the reel seat should be about 9 inches long; this allows the rod to be levered with your hand when making a long cast and braced against the forearm when fighting a fish. These are guidelines, a long surf rod is not necessary and can be very awkward to use on the pier, and a Barbie rod is too light and does not hold sufficient line.
The reel should match/balance with the rod. A medium size spinning reel similar to a Shimano spinning reel in the 4 series (Sahara 4000 for example) is quite satisfactory. As above the reel should hold 8-12 pound line.
Surprise; 8-12 pound monofilament line is the line of choice. 8 pound is easy to handle, will cast further than 12 pound and manage most fish. The 12 pound is more versatile in that it can safely handle a 2 once sinker and can land bigger fish. 12 pound is preferable for a minimalist collection of tackle.
A word on tackle maintenance is appropriate. Rinse the rod and reel thoroughly with fresh tap water after the fishing trip. The ocean is obviously salt water and if tackle is not rinsed it will quickly corrode and become unusable. If rinsed it will last for years, you will replace it because you just want new gear.
The End of the Line
TERMINAL TACKLE (or lures, rigs, hooks and sinkers) AND ACCESSORIES:
The fishing tackle shown in the picture and described below is all that is required to catch almost all the fish caught on OBX piers. There is of course much, much more to be collected and if you enjoy the sport you may eventually require a pier cart to carry all the tackle that you have accumulated. I joke that I usually buy a lifetime supply of fishing tackle every year; there is more truth than fiction in the statement.
Towel: Holding fish, cutting bait among other things can get your hands dirty and wet, a towel is a necessity.
Pliers: Fish are caught by getting hooked; pliers are very helpful in removing the hooks.
Nail clippers: Tag ends always result from tying leaders or lines to lures, nail clippers clip the tags very neatly.
Knife: Bait is almost never used in whole chunks the knife makes the pieces smaller. If artificial bait (Fishbites) is used the knife is used to remove the net from the hooks after the fishbite jell is dissolved.
Hooks: Surprise! Fish are caught on hooks, snelled hooks (hooks with leader pre attached) are very convenient. Size 4 hooks are most effective on most fish but size 2 is also effective.
Wire Rig: The hooks and sinker are attached to the wire rig which keeps the hooks separated and untangled from the main line. The hooks are attached by inserting the hook attachment wire through the loop on the hook leader then bringing the hook and leader through the loop on the wire and then pulling on the hook. The sinker attaches to the pin clasp on the bottom of the rig.
Sinkers: 2 size sinkers are needed. The 1 ounce will be used most; when the water gets rougher a 2 ounce weight will be needed. Pyramid style is the style of choice since it will hold the bottom most effectively.
Fishbites: Fishbites is an artificial fresh bait which is clean and neat, last a long time on the hook and in the tackle bag and catches most bottom fish. The most popular is the red blood worm flavor, the green and orange shrimp flavor works very well.
Got-Cha Lure by Sea Striker: The Got-Cha is the 1 positively must have lure. It catches Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel and sometimes a surprise or two. The lure comes in a variety of colors and weights. The 1 ounce size in orange/white or chartreuse/white is the most popular (and I think effective) chrome and gold are also very good. The Spanish Mackerel seem to prefer pink.
30 Pound Monofilament: Bluefish and Spanish mackerel have teeth and will cut the light line on your reel. The Got-Cha lure should be tied to the light line with a 8-10 inch leader made of heavy line. A cheap spool of line can be purchased or the friendly fellow behind the counter on the pier will sell you a couple of yards.
Trout Rig: Ocean trout can be caught by a variety of methods the most popular is a rig consisting of 2 jigs. They are tied together with a 2.5 foot long piece of heavy monofilament with a loop tied about 8 inches from the larger jig. Bucktail is becoming old school and being replaced by a variety of soft plastic tails. The bucktail is still effective and longer lasting than the soft plastic. The Trout rig is also an effective Bluefish lure.
Knots: Knowing 2 knots is essential, a simple loop to make in the top of the leader and the Improved Clinch Knot to attach lure or rig to the line. Google knots and learn from a knot expert how to tie them.
CATCHING FISH GENERAL:
Usually the best times to catch fish are early morning just before sunrise until maybe 10:00, then in the evening from 4:00 until dark. Heat of the day is usually not very productive. The word usually is emphasized, fishing is highly variable and anything can happen, and as noted above even when the fish are not biting the hanging around is great.
Incoming tide seems to be a fishy factor, but I have found time of day to be much more important.
In the spring fish on the southern side of the pier, in the fall the northern side is fished, because that is generally where the fish are. The very end of the pier is good for fishing with Got-Chas, bottom fishing best from sides of the pier. The surf itself should not be overlooked, the most experienced fisherman usually can be found there fishing for trout. (See etiquette below). There is usually a sandbar about the middle of the pier; this can be a very poor spot to fish especially at low tide. The piers open around April first and stay open until Thanksgiving week. I will make several trips between early May and early October.
Most important; watch where and what kind of fish are being caught and fish there for that kind of fish. (See etiquette below). Fish travel in groups so the fellow 100 feet to your left can be catching fish and you not, go become his friend, or be patient, the fish will likely come visit you shortly and you will have lots of company.
The Small Guys but Good Eating
CATCHING BOTTOM FISH:
Spot, Croker and Southern Kingfish (also known as the Mullet, Sea Mullet, Roundhead and Whiting) all can be caught using the same rigs, bait and method. They are very plentiful fish, fairy easy to catch and on the tackle described put up an enjoyably decent fight. They are not big fish weighing in the vicinity of a pound and are about a foot in length, and make excellent eating. Citation size fish are regularly caught so ask the charming fellow behind the counter about the size requirements and procedure.
Rig to catch bottom fish by tying the wire leader to your line using an improved clinch knot, attach the hooks and weight to the leader as described above. Bait the hooks with a small piece of Fishbite or fresh bait. Bloodworms and shrimp are effective fresh baits. An underhand cast is the safest and most convenient way to get the rig in the water. Hold the rod over the rail, swing the weight back and forth like a pendulum a few times then let it go with kind of a lob; you want the weight to hit the water 4 or 5 car lengths from the pier. The underhand lob cast is not very powerful so the bait should stay on the hook and since you are not casting over your shoulder you will not hook the person walking behind you. The hook can catch the pier however in which case the rod and reel can go in the water, so keep a tight grip on the rod.
Once the rig is in the water retrieve some line until the slack is removed. You can now lean the rod against the rail and wait for a fish to hook itself or hold the rod with a finger on the line so the bite is felt. Give the fish a second or 2 to get the hook in its mouth then set it with a jerk of the rod. It is not necessary to use a “stump pulling” two handed, rearing back, hollering motion to catch a 1 pound fish. Reel in the fish and enjoy the fight. There may even be 2 on the line. The rag and pliers are then used to remove the critter. If you are keeping the fish ice them down, or give them to the person next to you or return them to the ocean.
Fishbites, Carr specialty
The item shown is the only Fishbite product on Amazon, go to the Carr website and all are available at a good price with reasonable and fast shipping.
A Good Meal and 2 Good Fights
No fish can offer as much catching enjoyment as a Bluefish. 1 to 3 pound fish are regularly caught from the pier; they hit the lure hard, put up a terrific fight and even when out of the water want to take a piece of your hand. Use the Got-Cha to catch Bluefish. Tie a piece of leader to the lure using an improved clinch knot, tie a loop in the other end of the leader and tie the line to the leader using an improved clinch knot. The lure is cast using the underhand cast described in the bottom fishing paragraph but use a snap not a lob, until the fish are located, casting distance can be important. Overhand cast certainly can also be used but be aware of what is behind you.
Jimmy Houston flips and pitches, on the OBX the twitch is the action to use. Twitching is best learned by watching an experienced fisherman then imitating his motions. The objective of the twitch is to move the lure rapidly through the water, stopping the retrieve thus letting the lure sink, then repeating the twitch and rapid movement. The classic twitch is accomplished by holding the rod vertical, pointed downward over the rail. The rod tip is raised to about a 30 degree angle and rapidly pulled back toward the pier; line is retrieved as the tip is fairly slowly returned to the 30 degree position, and then rapidly pulled back. The depth of the lure is regulated by how long the rod is left in the vertical position prior to beginning the retrieve. There are many variations of the twitch including the surface jerk where the rod is above the rail and rapidly moved up an down through a 45 degree arc as line is retrieved, a less energetic variation is the classic motion with the rod held approximately parallel to the pier rail.
The Bluefish will hit the lure very hard and generally hook themselves, but do pull back and set the hook. Keep tension on the line and enjoy the fight, no need to set a speed record on the retrieve. Use the pliers and rag to remove the hook, but be careful the fish has teeth and will bite. He also will continue to fight so keep the lure and hooks away from your fingers and other body parts. Do not lip the fish. Bluefish are eaten and used for bait by the pin rig guys on the end of the pier, so you likely will have a taker for your fish if you do not want it.
Bluefish are a schooling fish so when 1 is caught you will usually catch more. Watch the pier when you see a Bluefish caught go make a new friend. (See etiquette below)
The Must Have Lure
CATCHING SPANISH MACKEREL:
The mackerel is an amazing fish to watch and catch. They are blazing fast swimmers and very strong fighters. You can tell Spanish are in the area by the little baitfish jumping out of the water as the Spanish chase them. They are caught using the same method described for Bluefish and they are frequently caught while fishing for Bluefish. Keeping the lure closer to the surface and perhaps using a pink lure likely will improve your chances when you know Mackerel are nearby.
Spanish mackerel will give their all it trying to keep their freedom. They will be a bloody mess at the end of the fight and quickly die. Fortunately they are a good eating fish so they will be many takers for your fish.
CATCHING SEA TROUT:
Sea trout come in Gray (Weakfish) and Speckled varieties with the Speckled being much more common. They are frequently caught in the 5 pound size but can get bigger and are very common in smaller sizes. The make excellent table fare and are sought for their food value even though they do put up a fair fight when hooked. Trout rigs are used to catch the fish. The bucktail rig described above is very effective but so are the many variations along with some plug type plastic lures.
Use the improved clinch knot to tie the rig to you line. The rig is fished in a similar manner to the Got-Cha but generally much slower and deeper. The fast action used for Bluefish and Mackerel in not necessary for Trout. Fishing right in the surf is the place to find big trout, that is where the locals fish and they certainly know what they are doing.
A Sea Stricker Buck Tail rig
This lure will also catch Bluefish.
A BIG FISH:
When a big fish is caught the line likely will be too light to bring him up over the rail, likely there is a big round net with a long rope attached somewhere on the pier, and hopefully someone experienced in its use. The net is maneuvered under the fish and brought to the deck. Another way to handle a big fish is to “walk” him to the beach. Slowly walk down the pier to beach while leading the tired out fish.
Do the Wings Taste Like Scallops?
THE OTHER 1%:
There are many many other kinds of fish that you will catch, Pigfish, Flounder, Drum, Sheepshead, Spadefish, Puffers to name a few depending on the bait and time of year. One fish does stand out, the Skate. If you fish with squid be prepared to catch Skate and lots of them and they can get big. One real advantage of Fishbites is Skates will not bite on them.
The Got-Cha will also catch different fish, the Little Tunny (False Albacore) comes to mind and when one of these is caught hang on and hope he does not take all your line. Skates also will be caught by snagging.
In the late spring and summer you will find a forest of long rods on the end of the pier with live fish attached to a line. These are pin rigs or king rigs used to catch King Mackerel or Cobia. These fish get very big, 60-70 pounds and its really fun to watch them being fought and brought to the deck. Very heavy tackle is obviously used to fish pin rigs.
The stores on the OBX usually have a laminated folding card which has most of fish of the outer banks pictured. This is an informative document to have.
The Night can be Super
Fishing at night on the pier July and August when the temperature is near 90 as is the humidity can be an enjoyable experience. Usually there will be a light breeze and there will be no bugs, the pier has lights and the bathroom is accessible. Bring your Pringles, beverages and comfortable chair and enjoy the long sacred night, it is very relaxing. Bottom fishing is method of choice.
You need one of these.
You MUST get the camera out of your hands to take night pictures.
Rough Day on the Avalon Pier
Be sure to check the long range forecast prior to your trip, you may need all the clothing you own. The Spring and Fall can be windy, cool and wet but sometimes hot, while Summer time, dry and hot but many times with scattered thunderstorms, you do not want to be caught with shorts and tee shirts when it is raining and 50 degrees. The water temperature can be downright weird. One day the water will be a terrific 80 degrees, but a wind shift to the south west will lower the temperature to the 60s in a matter of hours.
It Can Get Crowded
There is a few common sense “rules” that when observed make fishing more enjoyable for everyone.
If you are just learning the new techniques described here kind of stick by yourself while you practice. Tangling other people’s lines because you don’t know how to cast is bad form.
Try to cast in front of you. Errant cast (due to carelessness) which tangle lines are not enjoyed, but surprisingly tangles (which are rare) during the heat of a Bluefish blitz are generally viewed as normal and expected.
When you are joining a group that is fishing; fish the same way they are fishing. Don’t plop your bottom rig in the middle of a group fishing for Bluefish. And likewise don’t twitch when everyone else is bottom fishing. This in especially true when the mature local ladies are fishing for Puppy drum in the surf.
Certainly stay away from the pin rigs.
There are size and catch limits on most species of fish, be sure to check the rules at the pier house before you keep any fish. The game warden frequently checks the piers. There is also a North Carolina salt water fishing license. The pier has paid a fee so a license is not needed when fishing the pier but if you venture to the sand you better have a license.
Hubs featuring additions to your tackle collection, making or modifying your own lures and maybe one on extreme fishing are planned or in the works.
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