Dang this weather! Sure we got a few breaks when the snows that passed inland of us over the Christmas and New Years holidays went inland, but Old Man Winter just kept reloading and shooting. He hasn't hit us with snow yet, but the forecast has the possibility of it today. However, he has managed to score a bull's-eye on us with his freeze gun and it has resulted in a couple of speckled trout kills in area waters--and it's still ongoing, so we don't yet know the full effects.
Many folks didn't do as much fishing over the Christmas and New Year holidays as they had hoped. The weather was cooler than usual and many days were windy. However, more of us would have probably gone had we realized the weather wasn't in a rush to warm up and what was coming.
So far, the worst reports from the trout kill were from the North River, Wards Creek, Jarrett Bay and Smyrna Creek in eastern Carteret County. All of these areas are notoriously shallow with only a few deep holes for fish to escape the cold. The reports are that more than 4,000 pounds of stunned or dead keeper trout were dipped by fishermen and more undersize ones were left floating or to wash up on the banks. Large numbers of small (8 to 10 inches) black drum also fell victim to the cold, as did some croakers, a few red drum and a few menhaden.
Many other shallow or small bodies of water were also frozen, but hopefully many trout found their way to deeper (and warmer) water. It's been a tough week and isn't over yet. The killer freezes began Sunday night and some creeks still haven't thawed.
Our trout fishing had been good until this blast of arctic cold. The kills in the frozen creeks will definitely slow it. The fish in deeper creeks and warmer water closer to the inlets have fared better. There had been some reports that good numbers of trout had moved to the Cape Lookout Jetty around New Years Day, but the extreme cold has kept fishermen away this week and there haven't been many reports. Hopefully they will be there when the weather moderates.
Capt. Jeff Cronk called to tell me the cold water had pushed thousands of red drum out into the surf at Swansboro. He said that several afternoons he found huge schools of drum in the surf along Bear and Browns Islands. Even better, the ocean was so calm he was able to ease in to just beyond the surf and have a heyday catching them. This appears to be more prevalent along beaches without houses and the lights that go with them.
The bluefin tuna bite has been inconsistent and unpredictable. It varies from no bites to a dozen or more fish being landed in a day. Some fishermen feel this cold snap may jumpstart the tuna bite. The hot spots continue to be from the Shad Boat out to Northwest Places and the Knuckle Buoy, but more boats are looking east of Cape Lookout Shoals as the water temperatures drop. Only one bluefin has been landed at Southport, but there are a few reports of several caught off Cape Fear that were landed at Wrightsville Beach.
There have been mixed reports of stripers from along the northern coast. Many of the inland stripers have slowed their feeding in the cold water and reports are their fight is rather sluggish right now. Inland water temperatures in many areas have been reported in the high 30s and low 40s. The ocean striper bite at Oregon Inlet has been reported as good, with some fish being reported as far south as Hatteras and Ocracoke. The ocean water temperatures have been five to ten degrees warmer than in the inland creeks and rivers.
Maybe some stripers will push down the ocean to Cape Lookout? That hasn't happened in a few years and would certainly be nice.
If you head out fishing in this weather, it is cold and can be miserable if not dressed properly. Even worse you can experience frostbite, hypothermia and other health and life threatening situations. Taking the time to dress appropriately is an absolute must.
Old Man Winter's next attempt at bad weather is to be tonight (Thursday) and continue into Friday. I hope you're not seeing snowflakes or, even worse, freezing rain as you are reading this.
Two of my favorite events are taking place this week--and finally in the same city. The Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo and the Henry's Tackle Company Dealer Show are always this weekend. While the Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo is always at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, the Henry's Tackle Dealer Show has seen several locations. It began at the warehouse, just outside Morehead City, then moved to a larger facility in Morehead City, then to the Trade Mart in Charlotte, then to the Greenville, S.C. Exposition Center and now has come back to the new Convention Center in Raleigh.
The Henry's Tackle Company Dealer Show is not open to the public, but I manage an entry with my press credentials. I really enjoy seeing the dealer's eyes light up as they examine the latest in rods and reels and tackle. They are checking out the latest innovations and ordering them to amaze us as we visit their stores later in the spring. Next week I hope to have some information on a few of the new goodies to keep your interest piqued until the weather warms again.
The Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo is open to the public and is a show that concentrates more on fishing, but there are also shiny new boats for everyone to scrutinize. In addition to all kinds of new and discounted fishing tackle, boats and motors, there are numerous guides showcasing their trips and conducting seminars to help us all with our fishing. With the cold forecast for the weekend, most folks won't be out fishing, playing golf or working in their yards, so this should be a busy show. For more information on the dealers and guides attending and to see a schedule of the numerous seminars, check out the website at www.ncboatshows.com.
There was much bad news for saltwater fishermen this fall and it continued into the first week of 2010. Shallow water grouper season closed Jan. 1 until May 1. Vermilion snapper (beeliners) closed in November and will reopen on April 1. Black sea bass is closed north of Cape Hatteras and commercially south of Cape Hatteras. Red Snapper closed on Jan. 4 and will remain closed until at least June 2 (180 days). There are closures looming for deep water grouper as they were passed by the SAFMC at their December meeting and forwarded for approval by NMFS and the Secretary of Commerce. A limit reduction for gray trout (weakfish) was also passed by the ASMFC at their November meeting and states had until Jan. 1 to submit a reduction plan and now have until May 1 to implement their approved plans.
There is also a push for bluefin tuna to be listed as an endangered species under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) proposal coming in March 2010. Information and a petition against this are available for review at www.petitiononline.com/tuna09/petition.html.
A mixture of good and bad news comes with the National Saltwater Angler Registry that began on Jan. 1. This requires all recreational fishermen who fish in state or federal salt waters to be registered before fishing in 2010. This has potential to be a good management tool as it should give an accurate number of fishermen who are fishing in salt water in all states. However, there have been many management issues and disagreements during the past year and most fishermen are apprehensive regarding federal management. The good news is that Tar Heel anglers will be among many not required to register as having our Coastal Recreational Fishing License (saltwater license) will be considered sufficient.
A "United We Fish" fishermen's march on Washington D.C. is planned for February 24, 2010. The cause and promotion for the march has been enjoined by the Recreational Fishing Association (RFA, www.joinrfa.com), whose director, Jim Donofrio, has heralded this as an event that will unite recreational and commercial fishermen in a common cause. Details can be found at the RFA website. I have already received calls from fishermen as far away as Florida who are planning to attend. There is some discussion regarding postponing the march until warmer weather and I will post that here if it occurs.
If you received some cash for Christmas, there are several great ways to spend it. One is to attend a fishing school and there will be several opportunities during the next few months. Capt. Jimmy Price and I will be giving some all day fishing schools across N.C. at the end of January and through February. These schools are all on Saturdays and will begin at 8:00 and last until approximately 4:30. They are sponsored by Sea Striker and Star Rods. The dates and locations are: January 30 in Southport; February 20 in Greenville and February 27 in Greensboro. Contact Capt. Jimmy Price at 910-443-1211 or me at 910-279-6760 for more details or to purchase tickets.
Tournaments have all but ended for the year. The Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Tournament began October 1 and will continue run through January 31. This tournament features overall winners and monthly prizes for specific weight fish. The current leader is Tom Holland with a very nice 8.32 pound gator trout. Ricky Hardison was closest to the December special weight of 2.97 pounds at 3.01 pounds and received a new trout rod. The special weight for January is 3.42 pounds. For more information, visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
A special winter tournament is upcoming on January 30 at Johnnie Mercer's Pier in Wrightsville Beach. The 2010 JMP Dogfish Tournament will be held from 2:00 until 8:00 P.M. and will be sponsored by the N.C. Fishing Pier Society. The tournament entry fee is $5 and a pier pass for the day. The 2009 JMP Dogfish Tournament was won by Matt McKinney of Charlotte with a 9 pound, 8 ounce catch. For more information visit www.ncfps.com.