Anglers in the Carolinas are on the spot watch, looking to fill their coolers with the tasty little panfish that inspires thousands of anglers to flock to the ocean piers and beaches each fall. Spot are just a little fish but are the most important species to many fishermen in Carolina saltwater fishing.
Spot are bottom feeders, running south and west down the coast in staggering numbers at times. They are just a pint-sized panfish when considered next to their more respected cousins, the mighty red drum and striking speckled trout, but they are a delicious fish when fried up Calabash-style. Catching them is a long-time Carolina saltwater tradition.
Spot are a feisty little member of the drum and croaker family. They can be found in North and South Carolina waters in all but the coldest months. Fall fishing is different, however, because as the water cools huge schools of spot move down the beaches and along the inlets swarming local fishing spots.
Most of the year spot are silvery and relatively small, but in the fall they tend to be larger and sport yellow fins (these spot are often called yellow-bellied) due to their raging hormones.
Timing is very important in spot fishing. The fish usually stage runs starting in late September, but they don’t hit all the time. People often try to predict when they will show up based on the tide, the wind, and the presence of yellow butterflies (an old superstition). Yet they can be frustratingly hard to predict.
When they are running, however, everyone catches them provide they are fishing on the left side of the pier, which is where the spot will be in the fall. If spot have been recently caught on the pier you are going to, you will have to show up very early to get a place on the correct side. Spot will not run under a pier. No one knows exactly why, but flounder and blue crabs that like to eat spot are often under our piers, so their reticence is understandable.
Traditionally, the best spot bait is a small piece of worm. Bloodworms have always been the spot bait staple. In recent years, artificial bloodworms such as the Fishbites Bag O’ Worms brand have taken off with spot anglers, largely because the cut pieces stay on the hook longer. Live bloodworms are extremely expensive, especially if everyone is buying them up locally. The artificial worms will save you money and work just as well.
Some folks use plain old earthworms and they work fine as well. Also, cut shrimp will catch spot, especially if it fresh. They are rarely caught on other baits and don’t bite lures.
Most spot are caught on standard two-hook bottom rigs sold in all the coastal tackle stores and piers or handmade by anglers. Don’t use big hooks, sizes 4 or 6 are about right. Just put a small piece of worm on the hook and go get them. You don’t have to cast a mile away from the pier. Spot hit enthusiastically for a fish their size. All you have to do is set the hook and reel them up to throw in the cooler.
To the surprise of Carolina anglers, many other Atlantic Coast states don’t treat them as anything special. In places like Florida, spot are usually only used as bait. In the Carolinas (and in some places in Virginia and Georgia) fried spot are considered one of the best table fish of the season.
There is no better way to teach a kid fishing than going after spot form an ocean pier when they are running. A child can be hooked for life on fishing with a fun experience catching frisky spot from a Carolina saltwater pier.
For many more Carolina saltwater fishing tips see my book Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas