X Marks the Spot

BY Jules Norwood

Sure you gotta get em to bite but first you gotta find em.

Theres plenty of advice available about baits and lures just pay a visit to your nearest tackle shop but favorite fishing holes tend to be closely guarded secrets.

Wrightsville Beach makes an ideal fishing ground because it offers a wide range of places to fish and types of fish to catch. Inshore fishermen look for flounder and drum in the creeks inlets and waterways while others cast their lines from the beach or the pier. Marinas private docks and lifts along the shoreline are home to hundreds of boats for venturing offshore in search of everything from grouper to dolphin and marlin. Spearfishermen combine the sports of fishing and diving hunting the fish from within their own watery habitat rather than from the surface.

Part of what makes Wrightsville Beachs fishing grounds special is the size and range of fish habitat thats accessible without trekking too far offshore. Within a few miles of Masonboro Inlet there are a variety of natural and artificial reefs and ledges where baitfish congregate along with bigger fish looking for a meal.

“What makes Wrightsville unique is its close to these terraces; its got some excellent offshore habitat ” says local Capt. Chip Berry an avid offshore fisherman and former charter boat captain who founded Maps Unique in 1988 but began gathering information on prime offshore habitats and bottom contours along the Southeastern coast in 1983. “There are a lot of artificial reefs and wrecks within a close distance. I dont think that anybody has any better fishing than we do right here.”

Through Maps Unique Berry who makes his living as a real estate broker publishes a series of detailed bathymetric/hardbottom fishing maps including all the best spots on the Azalea Coast for anyone looking to find fish. He says it took 15 years to compile enough data to really feel that he had a comprehensive chart of the offshore wrecks and reefs in the areas covered by his maps.

“I started compiling a lot of information for myself and it just grew and grew ” Berry says. The charts provide bottom contours that reveal ledges and shelves as well as coordinates for everything from natural reefs to sunken ships and submarines.

One of the artificial reefs closest to Masonboro Inlet contains a World War II Liberty ship three barges and a tugboat. Just a little farther out are natural reef areas known as the 10-mile rocks and 12-mile rocks.

“Right from the buoy to 60 feet of water youre only looking at about 12 miles. Off Murrells Inlet or Charleston its significantly farther ” Berry says. “Small boats can hit that 60-foot terrace without much problem. Its not much out of sight of land really. And the 90-foot terrace is right in behind it. You can catch sailfish wahoo dolphin. About the only thing you cant catch inshore when the conditions are right is blue marlin.”

Different fishermen have their own favorite spots and mostly keep them to themselves. But there are a few that are more widely known.

“I like the 23-mile rock area ” says Tim Barefoot co-founder of Fish For Tomorrow a local organization that supports fisheries stock enhancement and conservation through aquaculture creative reef placement and public education. “Its large and spread out and there are a lot of smaller ledges around it. It holds bait and if it holds bait it holds fish. Anywhere you have rock it grows weeds and gives everything a place to live.”

Capt. Freddy Simpson of Mad Fish Charters says he relies on experience. “Youve got the 10-mile rocks the 14-mile rock 30-30 the Schoolhouse the ledges beyond the Schoolhouse. Theres all kinds of bottom out around WR4 ” he says referring to the wreck of the fuel tanker John D. Gill. “I use the GPS but a lot of it is general knowledge of fishing areas from growing up here. When youre trolling from spot to spot you run across an area and mark it so you can go back to it again.”

Not only is the Gill a popular fishing hole and dive site its also a fascinating piece of history. More than 500 feet long the tanker was torpedoed by a German U-boat in March 1942. The ship did not ignite until a crewmember threw a life ring with a self-igniting carbide lamp overboard. With oil coating the surface of the water the ship was immediately engulfed in flames. Of the ships complement of 42 crewmembers and seven armed guards 23 were killed. (To learn more about the wreck of the John D. Gill read Gary Gentiles Shipwrecks of North Carolina: From Hatteras Inlet South.)

Also marked on Berrys map though much farther from Masonboro Inlet is a German submarine that was sunk south of Cape Lookout.

There are plenty of natural reefs what Berry calls live bottom areas. “One good place would be right around the Frying Pan Tower ” he says. “Theres a lot of bottom in that area and its a good reference point. All of the area north of the tower up to the 23-mile rock is really popular.”

The important thing is structure on the bottom. You can take a cinder block and throw it in the water Berry says and give it a little time itll have fish around it.

As a fishing tool bathymetry charts (the topography of the sea floor) with the coordinates of natural and artificial bottom features are most useful when combined with satellite data showing the temperature gradients on the oceans surface. The temperature changes show where the Gulf Stream is flowing as well as eddies that spin off from the main current.

“You want to find where the western edge of the stream is. Sometimes it can be 30 miles off this break out here but sometimes its up on the break or even inshore ” Berry says. “Sometimes these eddies will spin off of the western side and drift to the north and inland. Along those edges it pushes that Sargassum weed and you have the color change and the temperature change and thats what congregates the baitfish and the gamefish.”

Wrightsville Beach offers a protected port a navigable inlet with protective jetties and good fishing habitat close to shore.

With knowledge of whats on the bottom and where the temperature changes are anglers can pick fishing holes near the edge of the Gulf Stream or one of its eddies increasing the chances of finding activity below the surface often indicated by gulls and other seabirds seaweed and even fleeing baitfish.

So youve finally found your perfect spot now all you have to do is get that giant grouper majestic dolphin or powerful marlin to hit your lure so you can return to shore and report “It was THIS BIG “