I wonít be foolish enough to proclaim it as the end of winter, but the warm front that began easing into our area at mid-week is forecast to give us a really warm weekend. Several of the early forecasts have the weekend daytime temperatures approaching 70 along the coast and surpassing it inland. Sun is in the forecast too, so it may be a great time to head out fishing instead of visiting one of the boat and fishing shows happening this weekend.
The boat and fishing shows can be fun too. I sure hope so. Iíll be in Raleigh at the Bass and Saltwater expo and will be doing two seminars Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday. All are kayak fishing seminars, with the ones around mid-day covering inshore fishing and the ones later in the day covering launching through the surf for kings, Spanish, sharks and more. The seminar schedule is available at www.ncboatshows.com.
The water temperature has been hovering just above 50 in the surf and a few degrees under in the sounds for a few weeks and some trout and drum have been biting. The water has warmed a little already and with the warm temperatures and sunshine over the weekend it should warm even more. This could fire the specks and pups up. It certainly will be interesting to find out how the fish react.
Unfortunately the big news about bluefin tuna this week wasnít that they have arrived, but that commercial fishermen may be allowed to catch them when they do arrive. In past years, the commercial bluefin season ended on Jan. 31 regardless of whether the January sub-quota had been caught or not. Last year, N.C. Congressman Walter B. Jones (R-NC) secured a NOAA Fisheries ruling that allowed extending the season until March 31 or when the January sub-quota has been caught, whichever comes first. Last year the sub-quota was caught and the season closed, but this year the catches are lagging and the season should still be open when they arrive later this month.
Anticipation is high that the bluefins that moved to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and northern Outer Banks last week will arrive off Cape Lookout soon. There is a really good accumulation of bait from just off Cape Lookout Shoals and Frying Pan Shoals. There are plenty of birds and a few whales already. Maybe I can report the first catch soon.
Fishermen are reporting schools of king mackerel holding around the rocks and shipwrecks in 90 to 120 feet of water. The area around Frying Pan Tower has been particularly productive. These are mostly smaller kings, but the commercial fishermen are catching them on 3-1/2 Drone Spoons and Sea Witches rigged with strips, so they are feeding well. Frozen cigar minnows, slow trolled behind a downrigger, should be a real treat for the kings.
There are also some hungry bottom fish in these same areas. Unfortunately red snapper, grouper, beeliner and black sea bass seasons are closed, so they must be released. Porgys, triggerfish, and grunts can be kept and they taste good too. Most days the kings bite very well once located and limits can be filled quickly, so also bringing in some bottom fish should be a good part of the fishing trip.
For those wanting to head farther offshore, there are still reports of wahoo and blackfin tuna. This is a long trip, so be sure you have a good weather window. The fronts move through pretty quickly this time of year and the ocean can go from flat calm to nasty very quickly.
There is a little action in the surf in several places. Along Shackleford Banks and at Cape Lookout is a hotspot. Our winter winds are typically northeast, which is off the beach at these spots, and makes the surf calm with small breakers. Speckled trout and red drum will often hold between the beach and the first sandbar. If you are fishing this area, work your lure in the water all the way to the sand. Some days the strikes come just a few feet from dry land.
The trout fishing is usually best from late afternoon into the evening. Trout will hit soft plastics, but most fishermen have better luck and catch better fish, using MirrOlures, Rapalas, Bombers, Yo-Zuris and other similar hard baits. Drum will hit either bait also, but usually respond better to soft plastics.
Specks, pups and black drum are biting inside the inlets from Hatteras to Calabash. They may be better some days in different areas, but even in the cool water they are moving about and feeding. Depending on the day, they may prefer hard baits or soft plastics. Both will catch them, but some days one really outshines the other.
There are some schooling reds roaming the surf between Bogue Inlet and New River Inlet and between New Topsail Inlet and Rich Inlet. Capt. Jeff Cronk said the reds off Bogue Inlet usually show a decided preference for soft baits and especially scented soft baits like the Berkley Gulp. Normally I advocate using the lightest jig head possible, but in the surf, there is plenty of turbulence to help work the baits and a heavier jig head will often help increase your casting distance.
Stripers are biting inside at Manns Harbor, Washington, New Bern and Wilmington. Capt. Joe Ward said there were some nice specks and smaller red drum mixed with the stripers around New Bern. He said the stripers were in the rivers and around the mouth of the creeks, while the specks and reds were usually well inside the creeks, but some times they were in the same places. In the cold water, Ward recommends shad or tapered tail soft baits that donít have a lot of tail action.
You regular readers know I am enthralled with tracking the great white sharks that have been moving up and down the southeast coast this winter. Well, they were on national TV on Thursday morning. Twice during their morning show, CNN news people interviewed Chris Fischer of Ocearch and showed tracking charts for Mary Lee. They didnít elaborate on it, but Genie pinged a tracking mark earlier this week for the first time in roughly a month. She was offshore of Fernandina Beach, Fla.
Iíve been saying that Mary Lee is a growing celebrity and this may be my proof. However, she sometimes gets attention the wrong way. Earlier this week, she pinged a tracking mark from less than 200 yards off the beach at Jacksonville Beach, Fla. She moved back offshore pretty quickly, but knowing a 3,400 pound shark was in the surf zone was a little unsettling. Check out Mary Leeís travels, plus other sharks around the world, by using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
The Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet Jan. 14 at 12:30 P.M. at the NCDMF Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or email@example.com or Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
The River Herring Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet Jan. 24 at 6:00 P.M. at the Edenton National Fish Hatchery in Edenton. For more information contact Amy Larimer at email@example.com or 252-264-3911 or Kathy Rawls at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-264-3911 or visit the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
The Mid-Atlantic Rockfish Shootout was held in Virginia Beach, Va. over last weekend. Unfortunately the stripers decided to move into the ocean beyond the three mile limit for keeping them and the pickinís were slim. Actually, only a single fish was brought to the scales. The crew of the Miss Susie II caught a 30.55 pound striper and won more than $175,000. Boat numbers were drawn to award the remaining prizes. For more information visit www.midatlanticrockfishshootout.com.
The Big Rock Sports/Henry's Tackle Show was held last weekend at the Raleigh Convention Center. This is a wholesale show and attracted tackle dealers from all across the eastern U.S. Several companies debuted new products and your favorite tackle dealer should have them in stock by spring.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission hosted a Basic Flyfishing School at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville last Saturday and three more are on the schedule. While these schools are presented as being geared to the beginner to intermediate fly fishermen, I spoke with several experienced fly fishermen who attended on Saturday and all said it was an excellent event and everyone could benefit from attending. After several classroom sessions, the participants get to test their skills in the ponds at the adjacent hatchery in pursuit of mountain trout. The dates of the remaining schools are January 19 and February 2 and 16. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org.
The Bass and Saltwater Expo will be held at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh from January 11 to 13. There will be lots of tackle/accessory booths, boats and interesting bass, freshwater and saltwater fishing seminars. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Grand Strand Boat and Sportsmanís Expo will be held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach on January 11 to 13. This show will feature boats, with tackle/accessory/outdoor sports booths and seminars. For more information visit www.grandstrandboatandsportsmanexpo.com.
The Fifth Annual Cape Fear River Watch Striper Fest and Invitational Striper Tournament will be held January 18 and 19 at the Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington. Striperfest begins with a banquet and auctions Friday night followed by the tournament and seminars on stripers and the health of the Cape Fear River on Saturday. For more information visit www.cfrw.us.