In a proclamation issued at approximately noon Wednesday (1-12-11) N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Director, Dr. Louis Daniel closed all coastal N.C. speckled trout fishing indefinitely beginning at noon on Friday (1-14-11). The proclamation said this was in response to the prolonged cold and several serious cold stun events. Many speckled trout are in a stunned state from prolonged exposure to the cold water. Biologists say they would recover in warming water if left alone, but many are being snagged and gigged in their near-dormant state.
The proclamation only covers speckled trout in Coastal and Joint Waters. Those speckled trout in Inland Waters are classified as gamefish and may still be fished recreationally. The limit in Inland Waters is 10 fish per day, with a minimum size of 12 inches. Perhaps the Wildlife Resources will follow suit and shut down speckled trout fishing in Inland Waters also. For fishing in Inland Waters and keeping trout during this closure, you would have to launch and fish exclusively in Inland Waters.
Once again an event caused by the unusually cold weather is the lead for this week's fishing report. Even including the speckled trout closure, the weather since last week has been the primary reason there isn't a lot else to talk about. It started out just cold and then added snow and ice and very few folks have been fishing.
I was at the Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo in Raleigh over the weekend and had many fishermen tell me tales of cold stunned trout that were being gigged or snagged. Several fishery biologists said we should leave them alone as long as the trout were right side up. They said while they are still right side up, there is a good chance they will recover, even if they are laying on the bottom and not moving. Hopefully the sunshine and warming weather at the end of this week will get them moving again.
Prior to this bout of cold, snow and ice, speckled trout were biting in several places and many fishermen believe they might again after three or four days of warming sunshine. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tales Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said the hot bait for the large trout during the New Years Eve and Day warm up was mud minnows and he expected the trout to feed some as soon as they warm a little. Mud minnows can be floated under popping corks, on Carolina rigs and even fished on bare jig heads on the bottom. Now they cannot be kept and the closure is indefinite.
There is some good news on the horizon though. The early forecast has us warming and the weather getting sunny through the weekend. Heck, by Sunday and Monday, we should see a regular heat wave, with daytime highs in the mid fifties. Many folks won't even know how to act.
The wind is supposed to be lighter also and the wind switching to the west and southwest is probably what is bringing the warmer temperatures. I've got cabin fever bad and look forward to spending a day on the water over the weekend.
Not many fishermen have tried this week, but there were a few reports of puppy drum biting in the surf along the beaches. The bite was scattered and one fisherman said the pups weren't interested until he dropped a Gulp shrimp to them. He said the water was so clear you could see them refuse other baits before jumping on the Gulp. There must be something to that bio bait stuff.
Capt. Joe Shute was also at the show in Raleigh and said several fishermen reported seeing stripers, some of them really big stripers, in the clear water on Lookout Shoals around Shark Island. Shute said the fishermen told him the stripers weren't eating, but they felt they would have to before long. If someone could find some live eels to use for bait, we might get a striper bite going along Lookout Shoals.
The striper bite has been going wild just out of Oregon Inlet and last week the state record was broken twice. As of my deadline, the paperwork hadn't arrived at the Division of Marine Fisheries Office, but Sportfishing Specialist, Carole Willis, said she had spoken with the anglers and the weigh stations and wasn't expecting any issues with having the records certified.
On January 5, 12 year old Case Furlough and his dad, Stephen, of Roper, were duck hunting in Pamlico Sound with Capt. Charles Haywood of the Rigged Up. About mid-morning the wind dropped out completely and the ducks quit flying, so they picked up the decoys and headed to Oregon Inlet Marina to salvage the rest of the day striper fishing. They did a little more than salvage the day as young Case caught a 63 pound striper that was heralded for a few days as the new N.C. record.
Only two days later on January 7, Keith Angel, Sandy Ridge, and some family and friends were fishing with Capt. Devin Cage on the Poacher when lightning struck again. At approximately 1:00 P.M., which just happened to be the same time as young Furlough's fish hit, Angel's rod bent a lot more than usual and something was fighting back hard. While catching two rockfish at a time is difficult, it is especially so when one of them weighs 64 pounds and Angel had his hands full for a while. That afternoon at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, the big fish was certified as 64 pounds and would be in line to become the next N.C. record.
Most of the boats at Oregon Inlet are catching their limits and then spending several hours catching and releasing more. The stripers are averaging around 15 to 25 pounds, but, as two records easily shows, there are some larger ones around. Trolling and jigging are both productive methods for catching them.
With the cold weather, the striper bite around AR 392 in the Neuse River at New Bern has slowed. Capt. Gary Dubiel said he was finding fish, but had to work out of the center of the river and into more protected waters to do it.
On the southern end of the state, the stripers in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers at Wilmington have been biting well. The Cape Fear River and all its tributaries are closed to possessing stripers, but there are good signs the population is growing in both size and numbers.
While it has been a while since there was a hot day of fishing for them, fishermen are still picking at a few bluefin tuna, but it is slow going. Whenever fishermen get together, like at the fishing show over the weekend, there is a lot of talk and problem solving. One morning at breakfast in the motel lobby, someone said they thought the cold weather had pushed the bluefins offshore of where they usually are. This made sense, as they prefer water from about 52 to 60 degrees and that water temperature is out on the edge of the continental shelf right now instead of 15 miles off the beach. Maybe the calmer winds this weekend will allow someone to head offshore and find them.
Remember that we entered a new fishing year on January 1 and 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.
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 was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. on January 11 at the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Lab in Beaufort, but even it was postponed by the winter weather. As of my deadline, a new date and time had not been announced, but it could be as early as next week.
An Endangered Species Act (ESA) status review is now underway for bluefin tuna and this meeting is for area bluefin fishermen to have an opportunity to present information to be considered. A summary of information provided at all the meetings held along the Atlantic coast will be reflected in the final status review report. For more information, please contact Kim Damon-Randall of NOAA Fisheries at Kimberly.Damon-Randall@noaa.gov or 978-282-8485, Ext 6535.
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 meeting for North Carolina will be Monday, January 24, at the Hilton New Bern Riverfront in New Bern. 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.
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. :
The Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge is ongoing through January 31 in Atlantic Beach. The current leader weighs 8.69 pounds and was caught by Douglas Gorchess of Swansboro. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The Henry's Tackle Company Dealer Show has come a long way since the annual dealer show could be held in the warehouse off NC 24 in Morehead City by pushing the shelves into a corner and out on the loading dock. This week, tackle retailers from across the southeast will head to Raleigh for the Big Rock Sports -- Henry's Tackle Company Annual Dealer Show at the Convention Center. This show is for dealers only and they have the opportunity to see and order the latest and greatest tackle and lures we will be buying and using to catch fish later this year.
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.
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.