If you don't think that winter is upon us, then step outside and check the thermometer. The frozen water in your dog's water bowl should also be a serious clue. There will be some good fishing over the next few months, but it won't necessarily be consistent. Weather, especially if it stays this cold and windy, will become a major factor. During the spring, summer, and fall, you can occasionally take a fishing trip on a marginal day. During the winter, everything needs to be close to perfect or the trip can rapidly wind up as miserably unforgettable rather than fantastically unforgettable.
With the reduced amount of boats that are out fishing, it becomes even more important that someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return. The odds of someone happening by and helping you out of a jam is seriously reduced. The Coast Guard refers to this as filing a Float Plan. It is a good idea at all times and can be a life saver----especially in the winter.
Bluefin tuna are the biggest thing going right now. The concentration is south of Beaufort Inlet and west of Cape Lookout. Northwest Places and Big Ten/Little Ten are being mentioned regularly. There are also some bluefins between Cape lookout and Drum Inlet. They have been around the rocks and wrecks in 100 or so feet of water.
Some large menhaden are still in the Beaufort Inlet to Bogue Inlet and Cape Lookout to Drum Inlet areas. These are excellent baits for the bluefins. These are also very strong baits and you can troll them up to several miles an hour. Diving Gannets usually mark these baits and may also denote the presence of bluefin tuna. Chunking butterfish and menhaden has been effective too, once you locate a school. Rigged horse ballyhoo has also been drawing strikes well. Blue and white Islanders have been the lure of preference.
The 2000-2001 Tag-A-Giant program ran from December 2 to December 22 off Morehead City. Their success was not as good as predicted due to the fact that the commercial quota had not yet been filled and properly permitted fishermen were selling their catch rather than passing it to the surgery/tagging boat to be tagged and released. The TAG scientists will be returning in early January for a concentrated effort to tag at least 75 large bluefins. If you hook one of these giants, call the tagging boat on VHF channel 5, 8, or 80. They may want to put a pop-off satellite tag on your fish.
Yellowfin tuna have shown lightly around the Steeples and a little heavier around the Big Rock. Off Hatteras has been fairly good, but The Point has been the most consistent spot. There are also some bigeye tunas at The Point. Trolling and chunking have both been producing well.
The steady and strong winter winds have been a major problem in fishing and locating these fish consistently.
There are some king mackerel around still, but it will require a long run to warmer water to find them. You should start finding them when the surface temperature passes 66 to 68 degrees. Live bait, dead natural bait, frozen bait, and lures have all been producing. Off Hatteras, the Smell Wreck is a good starting spot. At Morehead City, the Atlas Tanker is the place to begin. Off Southport, the cold has pushed them out to around Frying Pan Tower.
From Corolla to Ocracoke, there are stripers in the surf and inlets. Some good catches of 15 to 35 pound fish have also been coming from Diamond Shoals. The stripers haven't yet started gathering around Cape Lookout, but they should show up at any time. Stripers will hit bucktails, bucktails with trailers, most larger swimming plugs, and an assortment of other lures. Last year, some really large ones were caught on horse ballyhoo that were rigged for bluefin tuna. Much like with bluefin tuna, diving gannets are a good sign of striper activity.
The smaller stripers, in the 2 to 7 pound range, have been hitting extremely well along the Manns Harbor Bridge. This is the Highway 64 and 264 bridge between the mainland and Manteo. Several fishermen have referred to this action as "world class", with numerous catches of 100 to 200 fish daily. The "Keeper" season is currently closed. Usually it opens on January 1, but that will not happen this year. North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries managers have said that the season will open by proclamation, probably in mid-January. They will post the proclamation, with the dates, size limits, number limits, and any other pertinent information, on their Web Site at www.ncdmf.net.
Speckled trout fishing has not been as strong as last year, but there are specks around to be caught. The most consistent spot in the state appears to be around Southport and Oak Island. Knowledgeable fishermen and guides in the lower Cape Fear River have been continuing to catch them surprisingly well. They are using an assortment of soft plastics and plugs in both casting and slow trolling applications. Wildlife Creek, Walden Creek, and Davis Canal have all been producing slowly but steadily. The real question has been the human factor-----How long can you stand the cold?