Weather is always a factor with offshore trips, and such was the case with my annual offshore bottom fishing trip scheduled with Capt. Ryan Jordan of Fugitive Charters out of Southport/Oak Island. This was to be a trip where I got Owen, age 15 and my oldest, out on the water with a couple of his soccer teammates and their dads to target the wide variety of species that Ryan always puts us on, everything from grouper, cobia, sea bass, American reds, grunts, pinkies, and beeliners, to mahi, kings, and African pompano.
Like I said, this was to be the trip, but then weather decided otherwise.
Matt Travaglia and his dad Mike were already at South Harbour Marina, and Owen and I were riding with Will Rehrey and his dad Kenny about 10 minutes away from Fish Factory Road when Ryan called with the bad news.
While radar had looked good the night before and the seas had been predicted to be only 2’ every 9 seconds out at Frying Pan Tower, everyone planning on going offshore awoke to a different radar forecast.
Something big was now coming up from the Charleston area, Ryan explained. It was expansive, had lots of red in it, and was predicted to be south of the Tower, our destination, around 11:30 am. He wasn’t comfortable taking us far out into the deep water with such a high probability of strong lightning.
We can reschedule, Ryan offered, because he knew our crowd was excited to bottom fish, or if we wanted to try and make something happen, then we could go out around 10 miles or so and try to find keeper sea bass (but he made it clear that the majority of the bass, by far, would be under-sized).
Tough call. We are already in Southport. I have three boys that have been looking forward to this trip for some time, as had the dads and me. The two options on the table were far short of the trip that we had all imagined just a couple of minutes prior: (1) turning around and simply driving back to Wilmington or (2) spending the day with small sea bass and not being in any water deep enough for a reasonable chance at quality fish.
As a group we chose Option 2, and while it wasn’t anything like a typical south of the Tower bottom fishing trip, Ryan and Deontae (his mate) went to work to try and make the most of our limited new plan.
Deontae had the bait cut, the rods tied on with new two-hook rigs, the appropriate amount of sinker weight loaded on to each loop knot, and had us ready to drop immediately when we slowed down at about the nine mile mark so that Ryan could start scouting the bottom for activity.
Everyone dropped at Ryan’s command, and everyone immediately started catching sea bass.
I wish this was the part of the article where I talked about the surprising number of keeper sea bass we found, but it isn’t. As predicted, the vast majority of fish were anywhere from a 1/4 of an inch short to more than 6 inches short of the minimum 13 inches. Still, the boys had fun because when you’re 15-years-old then it’s easy to have a good time.
There was talk of who was catching more fish, who was catching the bigger fish, who was outfishing their dad, and so on. Soccer teammates tend to be competitive about everything, and their competitive nature showed, even when the contest includes who can double hook 12” sea bass.
The bite continued, the chatter continued, but eventually it became obvious that we were due for something new. Ryan and Deontae touched base and then announced that we were going back closer to shore to target sharks off of some of the offshore buoys, and then we would head just inside the Cape Fear River to target even bigger sharks.
Most boys like sharks, so the plan was quickly approved.
Normally Ryan and Deontae will drift two lines when shark fishing, one high and one low. I asked, since we had three boys, if we couldn’t drift three lines and that way each one had their own rod and they could continue creating competitions.
Two lines went out with beefed up Carolina rigs hooked with hefty chunks of spanish mackerel, and the third line was our light line. Mere minutes after setting up our drift, Will “won.” His light line rod was the first to double over. The drag was set light to let the shark pick up the bait without resistance, and after a short run we cranked down the drag and set the hook.
This routine played out a number of times, enough for each kid to record a handful of shark releases, and then we headed inside to an area behind Fort Caswell. Sure enough, the same three-line strategy produced sharks, and as predicted by Ryan, they were bigger sharks.
My goal with Tidelines is to reflect the day on the water and to get you at least thinking about booking the captain to create your own experiences and memories. I’m guessing that this article isn’t getting you hot to go out for under-sized sea bass, and likely not even sharks, but what I am hoping to communicate is that Ryan and Deontae were honest, gave us the option to reschedule, and then when we decided to still go fishing, they got creative and worked hard.
I suggest you don’t ask for small sea bass and sharks, but rather book the offshore trip on the Fugitive that we were hoping to go on—head south of the Tower and fill a fish box with all kinds of tasty bottom fish and assorted light line catches. You can reach Capt. Ryan Jordan at (910) 933-4242 or visit him online at www.fugitivecharters.com.
To help you tell the difference at the dock, Ryan is the older one, and Deontae, so he tells me, looks like John B. on the show “Outer Banks.” Please don’t joke Deontae about how proud he is that he looks like John B, because I think he still hasn’t forgiven me about getting joked after last year’s article when I told everyone that he threw up overboard during our fishing trip together.