The last couple of days of 2010 warmed to temperatures more like we are used to and some lucky fishermen got out to take advantage. Not only was the weather nice, the fish were feeding too. Unfortunately this respite from the cold that has overwhelmed us since Thanksgiving was short lived and we have already returned to cold weather.
In addition to the returning cold, strong winds are returning for the weekend also. There is a cold front forecast to move across the coast sometime Friday or Friday night and just how it moves will determine how strong the winds are in what areas, but the general forecast is for gusty to strong winds, which combined with the cold temperatures won't be very conducive to making a fishing trip.
Speckled trout made a nice reappearance during the warm weather last week. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tales Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said he weighed five trout that were heavier than six pounds for customers. He said the hot bait for the large trout was mud minnows and some were floated under popping corks and some were fished on bare jig heads or Carolina rigs on the bottom.
There have been a few small incidents of cold stunned trout during the recent run of unseasonably cold weather, but so far the incidents have not been excessive. There was a report of some less-than-scrupulous fishermen snagging cold stunned trout and taking them in to be weighed for citations. This is not a sporting way to catch fish and the citation program regulations say that fish that are snagged are not eligible for outstanding catch citations. Don't do this. If you find some stunned fish, catch a limit and take them home for dinner, but don't act like you outsmarted them.
Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah's Ark Fishing Charters said the several days of bright sunlight and warmer temperatures also got the puppy drum stirring and feeding. He said there was an extremely good pup bite along the Cape Lookout Jetty. Lynk said the pups ranged from about 15 inches up to longer than 30 inches. He said they hit a wide variety of lures -- as long as they were moving slowly -- and quite a few of the mud minnows that were being offered to attract trout.
There had been a surprisingly good low tide puppy drum bite in the lower reaches of Brunswick County. They are gathering in the deeper holes of the shallow creeks. If you go to this area, be careful about crossing the S.C. line. The fish don't know the boundary, but the game wardens do and N.C and S.C. licenses are not reciprocal.
Capt. Lynk also said he knew of at least one striper that had been caught on Cape Lookout Shoals, but it wasn't feeding and was accidentally snagged. There were several other reports of stripers being spotted along the shoals, but only a few even checked out the baits thrown to them. It may have been different if someone had had some live eels, but finding the stripers was unexpected.
The striper bite has turned on big time off Oregon Inlet. The feeling is the cold water in the Chesapeake Bay has pushed them down the beach following bait. Many boats are catching limits and releasing more. The stripers are ranging from around 20 pounds into the 40s. Trolling and jigging are both productive methods for catching them.
In inshore waters, the striper bite has slowed in the New Bern area. Fishermen are still finding some fish, but not in the numbers of a couple of weeks ago. Farther south, the stripers in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers at Wilmington are biting well.
Offshore bottom fishermen had another season closed on New Year's Day when grouper season closed. It will remain closed through the end of April. The good news is there were a few nice days at the end of December and many folks got in a couple of days of excellent grouper fishing.
It is still a while away, but on March 3, 2011 all offshore bottom fishing will require using non stainless steel circle hooks. Fishermen will need the time to train themselves not to jerk when they feel a bite. Circle hooks function best when fishermen have the patience to allow fish to eat the bait and turn to swim away and hook themselves. Trust me -- it is a complete reeducation process for longtime bottom fishermen.
Fishermen are still picking at a few bluefin tuna, but it is slow going. There have been a few fish scattered from Cape Hatteras to Cape Lookout and it keeps fishermen going.
On January 1, the size and number limits for bluefin tuna changed. The current recreational limit is one bluefin tuna of 27 to 72 inches curved fork length per boat per day and one bluefin tuna of 73 inches or greater curved fork length per boat per year. The commercial limit is now two bluefin tuna per boat per day and they must have a minimum fork length of 73 inches.
A few fishermen took advantage of the nice weather and sea conditions late last week to head offshore. They caught mainly wahoo and blackfin tuna, but several boats off Hatteras also caught some gaffer dolphin. I guess they thought spring had arrived and were headed back north.
I hate to start the new year this way, but the federal fisheries managers were busy over the holidays and there are some issues that need our attention. The first is a Listening Session regarding listing bluefin tuna as an endangered species. A meeting will be held in Beaufort at the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Lab at 10 A.M. on Monday, January 11. An Endangered Species Act (ESA) status review is now underway and this meeting is for area bluefin fishermen to have an opportunity to present information to be considered. A summary of information provided at these meetings will be reflected in the final status review report.
Initially there was a requirement to register in advance to attend the meeting. I was told just before deadline that this requirement has been suspended, but was unable to confirm it. If you would like to attend or have questions, please contact Kim Damon-Randall of NOAA Fisheries at Kimberly.Damon-Randall@noaa.gov or 978-282-8485, Ext 6535. If you go to the meeting without registering in advance, it would be wise to carry proper identification in the event security is screening participants.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is holding a series of public hearings and scoping meetings regarding fisheries management measures proposed for several federally managed species, including those within the snapper grouper management complex, dolphin (fish), wahoo, golden crab, and octocorals within the South Atlantic region. The measures will impact both commercial and recreational fishermen who fish in federal waters between 3 and 200 miles offshore from the North Carolina/Virginia state line southward to the Florida Keys.
Public Hearings will be held on three separate amendments:
* Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit Amendment to establish Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures for species not currently listed as undergoing overfishing as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Annual Catch Limits (pounds or number of fish) will be set for species in the snapper grouper management complex as well as dolphin, wahoo, and golden crab.
* Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 9 includes commercial trip limit options for greater amberjack, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, and gag grouper.
* Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 2 includes actions relative to the management of octocorals and non-regulatory actions that update existing Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) information. Also, modifications to the management of Special Management Zones in South Carolina, sea turtle release gear requirements for the commercial snapper grouper fishery, designation of new EFH areas and EFH-Habitat Areas of Particular Concern are being considered.
Informal Public Scoping comments will be taken on four amendments currently being considered by the Council:
* A Comprehensive Catch Shares Amendment (Amendment 21) is being considered to look at options for catch share programs for species currently under management through quotas (except snowy grouper), effort and participation reduction, and endorsement actions.
* Snapper Grouper Amendment 22 explores options for long-term management of red snapper as the stock begins to rebuild.
* Amendment 24 addresses the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing and rebuild the red grouper stock.
* Golden Crab Amendment 5 contains plans to implement a catch share program for the commercial golden crab fishery.
The hearings/meetings will be open from 3:00 PM through 7:00 PM. Council staff will provide periodic presentations and be on hand to answer questions. Local Council representatives will take formal comments on the public hearing documents any time between those hours. Public testimony will be video-streamed live via a link from the Council's website at www.safmc.net as they occur.
The Council is also accepting written and email comments from January 12, 2011 until 5:00 p.m. on February 14, 2011. Copies of the public hearing and scoping documents with details on how to submit written comments will be posted on the Council's web site at www.safmc.net and will be available by contacting the Council office at 843/571-4366 or 866/SAFMC-10.
The meeting for North Carolina will be Monday, January 24, at the Hilton New Bern Riverfront in New Bern.
NOAA Fisheries Service published a final rule implementing Amendment 17B to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region on December 30, 2010. This final rule, establishes annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for nine snapper-grouper species (golden tilefish, snowy grouper, speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, gag, red grouper, black grouper, black sea bass, and vermilion snapper) as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. ACLs are set at levels that prevent overfishing (when the rate of removals is too high). AMs are management controls established to ensure that ACLs are not exceeded, or they may correct for overages if ACLs are exceeded during a fishing season.
In addition to specifying ACLs and AMs for nine snapper-grouper species, Amendment 17B allocates 97 percent of the golden tilefish ACL to the commercial sector and 3 percent of the ACL to the recreational sector, and specifies management measures intended to address overfishing, including:
* A prohibition on harvest and retention of speckled hind and Warsaw grouper in federal waters of the South Atlantic.
* A prohibition on harvest and retention of snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper, and silk snapper, beyond 240 feet (73 m) in federal waters of the South Atlantic. This species prohibition is intended to reduce incidental catch of speckled hind and Warsaw grouper.
* A bag limit reduction for snowy grouper from one fish per person per day, to one fish per vessel per day.
All measures in Amendment 17B will be effective January 31, 2011. Electronic copies of the final rule may be obtained from the e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at www.safmc.net. :
If you are going to stay home and not go fishing, it is a good time to do some cleaning and maintenance on your equipment rather than turning into a couch potato. For most of us, that service is past due, so let's get to it while the weather is keeping us off the water.
The Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge is ongoing through January 31 in Atlantic Beach. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors said there were some nice trout caught in the past week, but none were large enough to upset the current leader, which is the 8.69 pound speck caught in late November by Douglas Gorchess of Swansboro. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The first boat or fishing show of 2011 is the Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Expo at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on January 7 to 9. This is a large event that features one building of primarily salt water equipment and a second building that is primarily fresh water equipment. This event will include seminars and I will be one of the many presenters. For more information on this event, visit www.ncboatshows.com.
Tackle retailers across the southeast will have the opportunity to see and order the latest and greatest tackle and lures next week at the Big Rock Sports Henry's Tackle Annual Dealer Show at the Convention Center in Raleigh. This show is for dealers only and they will be ordering the new tackle we will find so attractive in the spring.
The Third Annual Cape Fear River Invitational Striper Tournament will be held January 14 and 15 in Wilmington. This is a catch and release striped bass tournament to help support Cape Fear River Watch in their efforts to restore the Cape Fear River Striped Bass Fishery. I received an invitation this year and am looking forward to participating in all aspects of the tournament. There are a few openings for participants if anyone is interested.
The tournament is sponsored by Cape Fear River Watch in partnership with local businesses, organizations, and individuals and will provide valuable census data to N.C. Wildlife Resources and Marine Fisheries biologists, while preserving the excitement of a traditional weigh-at-the-dock tournament. All fish will be tagged before being released.
For questions on the Cape Fear River Watch program or the Invitational Striped Bass Tournament, visit www.cfrw.us or call 910-762-5606.