Well we've gotten almost 2 weeks into the new year and so far fall is hanging on. When the daytime high temperatures stay in the 60's and 70's the water doesn't cool much. Several folks have reported water temperatures this past week crept back into the low 60's. In a normal year it is at least 6 degrees colder and on a cold year it could be double that.
For the time when there are typically the least fishing opportunities of the year, there is a surprising variety of fish still biting. It will probably continue until we have a prolonged cold spell. Let's hope that inevitable cold spell comes on gradually. If it comes too quickly, lots of trout and drum will be trapped in water too shallow to survive and we could have a major fish kill.
In last week's column I mentioned the difficulty of writing about winter while the windows were open and a fan was blowing, then Saturday was one of the nicest winter days ever. This weekend doesn't look to be bad either. There may be a little clouding, but no rain is forecast until Monday and the temperatures should be in the high 60's and possibly even the 70's again.
The winds this weekend aren't forecast to be over 15 knots until Monday. The good and bad news is they will be from the south again. That will keep us warm, but muddy up the water along Bogue Banks, Brunswick County and the southern side of Cape Hatteras.
There was a pretty unique fish story that came from Atlantic Beach last Sunday. Rodney and Darleen Poyer were visiting from upstate New York and decided they wanted to go fishing. The Sheraton Pier was the only pier open to the public, so out they go.
After a while, Rodney hooks into something big. Once he sees it, he decides he will have to beach it rather than pull it up. The big fish isn't coming in quite fast enough, so Darleen wades out into the surf to grab it and bring it in. About the time she grabs it, a wave knocks her over and since she won't let go of the fish, she needs rescuing also.
The story has a happy ending with everyone surviving except the fish. It was a 54 pound black drum that earned Rodney an outstanding catch citation from the Division of Marine Fisheries.
Bluefin tuna continue to be big news, but the catch has been scattered. They are hungry fish and move with the baitfish--often many miles overnight. Over the last week, the bite off Cape Fear has been a little more consistent. Most of the bluefins were large up until the last week or so and now we are hearing of a good number of them being below the 73 inch minimum to be sold. Recreational anglers can keep a bluefin over 47 inches for personal use and all have been larger than that.
The commercial bluefin season is scheduled to close at the end of January and many fishermen are wishing for colder weather for the last couple of weeks. The consensus among the seasoned bluefin fishermen is the bite will improve when the water cools back to the mid-50's.
The ocean stripers don't care for the warm water either. After the good run just before Christmas, they moved back up the coast and only a few stragglers are being caught. Even the Oregon Inlet fishermen are concentrating on the waters near the Virginia state line.
The inshore striper bite has been better, but still not as good as it is most years at this time. The best reports are coming from Manns Harbor, with a few being caught in the Pamlico/Tar River around Washington, the Neuse and Trent Rivers at New Bern and the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers at Wilmington.
While the intensity of the bite has slowed some, king mackerel are biting east of Cape Lookout and west of Cape Hatteras. They seem to like the deeper locations right now, with the Atlas Tanker and the Smell Wreck being mentioned often. The hottest king bite in the state is around Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear, but they are mostly smaller fish. The kings are hungry and will bite when you find them.
The incredible speckled trout bite continues all along the coast. I heard of more small trout this week, but no one was complaining about the numbers. The trout are still in many of their favorite haunts from early November and are being caught in inside waters and in the surf.
The red drum bite hasn't slowed much either. I have heard reports of them from as far inland as New Bern to some of the deeper wrecks and artificial reefs in the ocean.
More flounder catches were reported in the last week. They have been in the inland creeks, in the surf and even around some of the ocean structure. Several guides reported catching inshore slams (Speckled trout, red drum and flounder on the same trip) again. This is highly unusual for January.
The large false albacore that arrived around Christmas are still here, but are in scattered pods, not large schools. Their favorite baits are whatever the unsuspecting trout fishermen are using that day. Many of these fish are reported to be in the 20 pound range.
With a combination of marginal weather and minimum desire to head offshore, there haven't been many reports from the central and southern N.C. Coast. The hot yellowfin tuna bite continues to be north of Cape Hatteras.
Sea bass, grunts, beeliners and grouper are ready to bite when you find them. While the sea bass and some grunts may be as close as within 10 miles of the beaches, the key to catching the snappers and groupers is working structure in 80 to 100 feet of water and sometimes even a little deeper.
The Bass and Saltwater Expo will be at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh this Friday through Sunday. Several area fishermen, including myself, will be presenting seminars on fresh and salt water fishing. There will be lots of fishing supplies and boat on display and for sale. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com or call 336-855-0208.