The weather certainly hasnít gotten off to a good start for 2014. Last weekend and early this week was actually a little better than expected, but that changed sometime Wednesday depending on exactly where you were. Thursday has been a rainout so far and I guess we should be glad we are getting the rain instead of the ice and snow forecast for our northern neighbors.
The wind is supposed to fall out some for Saturday and most of Sunday, but the big swell wonít. The wind will be from the south on Sunday, so it will be the warmest day. Several days next week will be downright cold, so if you want to go fishing before late next week, Saturday and Sunday morning look to be the best options.
The next several months will be the harshest weather and see the fewest anglers on the water. Please let someone know where you are going (file a float plan with someone!) and be careful when you head out. Mistakes get amplified and there is no margin for error when fishing during the winter.
I had hoped to have some really good news, like the arrival of a horde of hungry bluefins to begin the new year, but unfortunately it hasnít happened. I have heard of a couple of pulled hooks and a massive school that went around Diamond Shoals Tower late last week, but that is all off N.C. Bluefin fishing above the Chesapeake Bay has been good and maybe this nasty cold weather will push them down our way.
Several boats fished offshore a couple of days this week and for some it was a final trip before the annual four month closure of grouper season began on January 1. Those grouper fishermen reported limits all around and excellent catches of other bottom fish also. Black sea bass and beeliner season are open now for the first time in a few years and they are biting well in addition to triggerfish, grunts and porgys.
Fishermen who found bait on the rocks at approximately 100-125 feet of water, with surface temperatures of 65 and higher found some king mackerel also. Some wahoo and blackfin tuna were caught on the first temperature break that passed 70 degrees at the edge of the Gulf Stream. One report even included a single lost dolphin.
Several surf fishermen reported good action. The best reports were with puppy drum from Oregon Inlet down to Cape Lookout. Red drum prefer dark beaches and are thicker at them. Several examples would be the Outer Banks, Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island, Lea/Hutaff Island, Masonboro Island and Fort Fisher to Bald Head Island. They arenít thick at all these places, but they are the best places to look.
There were some reports of speckled trout and red drum in the marshes and creeks over the past week. Many of the trout are spikes, but it is still possible to work through them and find a legal limit to take home. There are still some large specks in places too.
There are also some red drum in the marshes and creeks. Some days it seems like the drum are grouping into schools as they often do during the winter and on other days they seem to be very spread out.
When looking for trout and red drum in the creeks and marshes, keep in mind that trout like current, but it isnít important to reds. They like places that donít have strong currents and tidal flow as the water is often warmer. This is the time of year to find schools, especially of red drum, in places you wouldnít expect to find them. On sunny days, it can be fun to go looking, especially when you find them.
One tip I have heard often when fishing cold water is to slow the retrieve. Some fishermen even advocate a technique called dead sticking, when an artificial bait, usually a scented bait or one with scent added, is allowed to lay motionless on the bottom for 30 seconds to a minute at a time. The theory is that this makes it appear to be injured and easy prey, while the scent permeates the water around it and helps convince fish to bite.
I would also like to suggest switching to smaller baits to help stimulate strikes. Smaller baits look easier to catch and cold fish arenít into expending a lot of energy. Think about how easy that upper slot red is to land during January as opposed to July. I fish a lot of 3 inch soft plastics and smaller hard baits like the MirrOLure MR 17 and MR 14. These MirrOlures suspend in the water, so they wonít sink to the bottom, but will hold in the water being pushed by the current.
Some very nice stripers are being caught in many of the coastal rivers. I have received good reports from the Albemarle, Tar/Pamlico, Neuse, Trent and Cape Fear Rivers. There are lots of the typical 3 to 7 pound fish, but there are also enough 10 to 15 pounders to have a reasonable expectation of catching one or several.
The tagged southern great white sharks must have had full dinners at Christmas as all but Katharine have been a while since coming to the surface and pinging their locations. Katharine appears to be waiting at the box office for early tickets to the Daytona 500. She has been there since late last week and is currently about 5-10 miles offshore a little north of Daytona.
Mary Lee hasnít pinged since Christmas Eve, but she had returned to the general area of the Savannah Ship Channel off Tybee Island, Ga., after moving to the south for a few days the previous week. Genie has returned to the south and last pinged her location on December 29, at the Continental Shelf off Charleston, S.C. You can follow the travels of Genie, Katharine and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks around the world by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
There are only a couple of weeks remaining to comment on possible changes to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Comments can be made electronically or by mail until January 18.
A provision in the current Spotted Seatrout FMP requires implementing a recreational limit of 3 trout, with a 14 inch minimum size, plus a December 15 to January 31 closure and a commercial trip limit of 25 trout in February. This is not new. It has been in the current Spotted Seatrout FMP since it was adopted.
However, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) does not want to implement these regulations and voted to continue the current recreational limit of 4 speckled trout with a minimum size of 14 inches and the 75 fish trip limit for commercial fishing at their August meeting. Bylaws of the MFC do not allow them to make this change that easily. They must review and amending the Spotted Seatrout FMP.
Once this was realized, the MFC directed the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to prepare a draft supplement to amend the Spotted Seatrout FMP. The draft supplement prepared by DMF lists two alternatives to implementing the stricter fishing regulations required by the current FMP. One of the alternatives is to continue the current speckled trout regulations. This is the one it appears the MFC prefers as they voted to do this at its August meeting.
The other option would implement less stringent regulations. These would retain the 14-inch minimum size limit but increase the recreational bag limit to six-fish (with no more than two of the six fish greater than 24 inches) and eliminate the commercial trip limit. This option retains the provision for no commercial possession or sale on weekends (except licensed finfish dealers).
The draft supplement examines the reasons for not implementing the stricter management measures as required by the current Spotted Seatrout FMP and provides the options for amending the FMP. A copy of Draft Supplement A to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan can be found online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/fmps-under-development. For more information, contact Chip Collier at 910-796-7291 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov. Comments should be sent to Chip Collier, 127 Cardinal Drive, Wilmington, N.C. 28405 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov.
The SAFMC Snapper Grouper Committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is seeking interested fishermen to host Port Meetings in their communities as part of the SAFMC Visioning Project. The SAFMC Visioning Project is the latest project to develop long-term management for the Snapper Grouper fishery off the South Atlantic states. For more information on the Visioning Project and hosting a Port Meeting, visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
As we enter winter, the number of fishing tournaments declines greatly for a few months, but they are replaced by boat, fishing, hunting and outdoor shows and fishing schools and seminars. The first of these events will be this weekend at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville and then there are several for the following weekend.
The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center holds programs administered by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The first program of the year is an introduction to basic fly fishing and is one of the favorites. There will be four sessions of this program on January 4 and 18 and February 1 and 15. The seminar is free, with a $5 charge for supplies. At this point, none of the dates are full. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org/fishing.
Dr. Mitch Roffer of Rofferís Ocean Forecasting Service (ROFFS) will give a free seminar on Thursday, January 9 at West Marine in Wrightsville Beach. The seminar will highlight how to use oceanographic information to catch more tuna, billfish, kingfish and mahi. For more information call 910-256-7878.
The Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Expo will be held January 10-12 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. This show features a lot of tackle and accessory booths, plus boats. There will also be an abundance of fresh and salt water fishing seminars. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Big Rock Sports Dealer Show will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center on January 10-12. This is a wholesale show for tackle dealers from across the eastern United States and is not open to the general public. Dealers will see all the current tackle and accessories, plus any new products that have been introduced since ICAST in July. This is where they will place their initial stocking orders for the 2014 tackle we will be using. It would be wise to carry the cell phone number of your favorite tackle dealer so you can call him from the Bass and Saltwater Expo and the Saltwater Sportsman Fishing Seminar to be sure he orders the hot new lures and tackle you see there.
The Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series will hold their N.C. stop at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern on January 11. In addition to host George Poveromo, several local anglers will be presenting. For more information visit www.nationalseminarseries.com.
The Oak Island Recreation Department is hosting a saltwater fishing school on February 1, that features inshore and nearshore fishing with Capt. Jimmy Price and myself. This is one Capt. Jimmy and I look forward to each year as we can get down and dirty talking about catching flounder, speckled trout, red drum, black drum, whiting, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and ocean bottom fish. We finish the day with hands-on, take-your-turn instructions on throwing large and small cast nets. The school runs from 9:00 until about 4:30 and includes samples, door prizes and lunch. For more details visit www.captjerry.com or call 910-278-4747 or 910-279-6760.