The extreme cold we had in the middle of last week stayed around long enough to drop the water temperature and make us pull out our snuggies, but it was gone before it did a lot of damage. Sure there were some smaller coastal creeks and plenty of fresh water areas that saw light freezing, but it wasn't enough to bring on any trout kills like in years past. Thankfully it didn't last too long either.
After waking several days to heavy frost and light ice on everything, the warming trend was very nice. We had a couple of days this week on the plus side of 70 degrees and it was nice. However, just as the cold spell before it was short-lived and the warmth will be tapering off by the weekend also. The projected high for Friday is high 60's to about 70, but a change from southerly to northerly winds will drop the high to the mid-50's on Saturday and low 50's sliding into the high 40's for Sunday into next week. The good news is there are several chances for rain in the forecast.
The fish cooperated with the warm-up. There were great reports of speckled trout, red drum, king mackerel, assorted offshore bottom fish, stripers and bluefin tuna. I was on a short schedule due to the beginning of the winter boat and fishing shows and couldn't get out--but it was a really good time to be fishing.
Saturday and Sunday may have been the best back-to-back days of bluefin fishing yet this year. The better bite was off Morehead City, with a pretty good bite between Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet. Several fish over 100 inches were landed. The Tag-A-Giant crew arrived in Morehead City and began tagging on Sunday and had a few large bluefins that received both archival and pop-off tags. They were excited about the action and looking forward to tagging a lot of fish over the next few weeks.
Several experienced bluefin tuna fishermen had said the cold snap would get the bluefins fired up and it did. The weekend stories were of 100 plus boats, with everything from skiffs to the largest sport fishermen hooked up. This is great to hear as the bluefins had been around, but scattered and difficult to find.
The weekend king mackerel bite was touted as "world-class" and that may be an appropriate description. The kings were biting from Cape Fear to Cape Hatteras, but the action around the Atlas Tanker approached incredible. Several kings in the 60's, a few in the 50's and lots of 40's was the description. The bite off Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear didn't feature the monster kings, but it was about as hectic.
The big ocean stripers haven't made it past Ocracoke, but the bite has been consistent and improving from Oregon Inlet to Hatteras Inlet. A few were caught early this week off Ocracoke and the hope is they are moving south. With a little luck, the cooling weather this weekend will push them to Cape Lookout.
The speckled trout reports got good when the wind slacked off and the seas laid down late last week and through the weekend. There were good numbers of specks caught around the Cape Lookout Jetty and many were citation size fish of heavier than five pounds. Some nice trout were also caught in Beaufort Inlet, along the Masonboro Inlet Jetties and even a few from back in the marshes. While the water cooled a little with last week's cold, it has warmed again nicely and the trout should bite well until it begins cooling again late this weekend.
The puppy drum bite was red hot this weekend also. There were some slot fish for those who wanted one for dinner, but many were larger fish. Once the sun came back out and began shining on the water they were moving a little through the backwaters, but they were very active along the ocean beaches. The stretch from Bogue Inlet to New River Inlet was particularly hot this weekend and had numerous schools of drum moving between the beach and the outer bars.
Our focus has shifted closer to shore, but the blue water bite has not ended. With the colder weather, it is wise to wait for a good weather window, but there are some wahoo, tuna and more working the edges of the Gulf Stream eddies. Kings seem to be around almost any time the water temperature moves above 67 degrees. Wahoo are more prevalent along the southern and central coast and a few yellowfin tunas are still being caught from Cape Hatteras to the north. There are some blackfin tuna mixed in at all of these places.
That broken record keeps on spinning, but grouper, snapper and sea bass fishing has been very good for several months and shows no sign of backing off. Either we are catching the very last of them or the federal fish agencies are basing their desire to close and/or severely limit these fisheries on some flawed information. In addition to groupers, snappers and sea bass the offshore bottom catch contains beeliners, porgies, triggerfish, grunts and more. Most fishermen also drift a light line and catch kings and even an occasional tuna while bottom fishing.
The boat and fishing shows have already begun. Last weekend the Bass and Saltwater Expo was at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and this weekend it will be at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday through Sunday. In addition to the boat and tackle booths there will be seminars on all kinds of salt and fresh water fishing. Several local fishermen, myself included, will be hosting some of the seminars.