After the bitter cold weather last week and then warming to 70 in places on Saturday and making the 60s several days earlier this week, I donít believe there is much argument that so far this has been really inconsistent weather for winter. It has tried to get cold, but it just doesnít or canít. Looking back, we had a dusting of snow before Thanksgiving and a few flakes in places Wednesday night. We are cold now, with some warming in the forecast for Sunday, then cold, but not frigid, weather for the next week. The silver lining is that the chances for rain (or other precipitation) are pretty low until next Friday.
The best news from the hard freeze of last week is there wasnít a fish stun or kill. Fishermen and biologists searched from the Outer Banks to Calabash and didnít find any floaters. In places the fish were feeding again by the first afternoon the temps reached 40. This was the first good fisheries news of 2014, letís hope there is more.
Unfortunately, much like last the past several weeks, there isnít much to report this week. The weather was a little better at times, but many fishermen who would have been out fishing, were busy working the tackle and fishing shows and some stayed inland for NFL playoff and college basketball games.
I have not yet received a report of a bluefin tuna from Morehead City and to the south. There have been a handful of fishermen trying all along the coast, but it hasnít happened yet. There are still a few stories of missed strikes and pulled hooks making the rounds, but no landings or even releases of undersize fish. The continued hope is that colder weather in the mid-Atlantic region will push some bluefins down our way.
There werenít reports, but expectations are for offshore fishing to be reasonably good when the weather allows making the trip. Offshore bottom fishing should be good and it hasnít really been cold enough yet to push the offshore king mackerel away. The coastal migrating kings are already somewhere between Fort Pierce and Key West, but the ones that move in and out with the food supply are still here. The last reports said they were in pretty good numbers too once you found 67 degree water in 100 feet or deeper.
I was at the Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo in Raleigh last weekend and one fisherman who came by my booth was upset with black sea bass and beeliner seasons, even though they were still open. He said fishermen couldnít get out in the windy weather to catch them and they wouldnít close at all this year. I donít understand his problem unless it is with the weather. I like the idea of those seasons not closing, but I would prefer the reason wasnít weather that is sloppy enough that fishermen arenít chasing them.
The last boats that went all the way to the first temperature change at the edge of the Gulf Stream, with a warm side above 70 degrees, caught wahoo and blackfin tuna. The boats havenít been making the trip with any regularity due to the weather, but the satellite thermal images of seawater movement have the warm spots in similar locations so the fish should still be there and feeding if the wind will lay out long enough to make the trip.
On the inshore side of things, speckled trout have been biting and there was a little run in the past week that wasnít all spikes. There have been some nice catches of 15 to 19 inch specks in the creeks and several afternoons they also bit in the surf at Atlantic Beach.
The have been some puppy drum biting this week too. The inshore action has been spread along the entire coast, with surf fishing pretty good along the northern Outer Banks and the uninhabited islands south of Cape Lookout.
Both the specks and the pups have been hitting soft plastics and hard lures. One lure I have heard mentioned very often is the new Soft-Dine from the Paul Brown group at L&S Lures (MirrOlure). This is a soft version of the MirrOlure MR 17 and the fish gobble it up.
The surprise of the week was a 7.01 pound flounder that was weighed at Chasiní Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach. Maybe even more surprising was the lure it was caught on. The huge flattie came up off the bottom to grab a MR 17 MirrOlure. Iíve caught a few smaller flounder on this lure, but that is exceptional Ė and even more so since it was caught on January 14. I guess this really underscores the fact that there are fish around in the winter and occasionally all of them have to feed. If you cast a lure in the right place at the right time, you could get lucky too.
The striper report from the coastal rivers is good. There are numbers of fish and some of them are closer to 10 pounds than 5 pounds. Much like the specks and pups, the stripers have been hitting a mixture of soft baits and hard lures. Remember that stripers prefer vertical structure, so bridges and stump fields are good places to find them. Those fishermen lucky enough to be near estuarine artificial reefs, like AR 392 just downriver from New Bern, should find stripers around them also.
The Big Rock Sports Dealer Show was held at the Raleigh Convention Center on January 10-12. This is a wholesale show for tackle dealers from across the eastern United States and is not open to the general public. Dealers get to check out all the current tackle and accessories, plus any new products that have been introduced since ICAST in July and then place their initial stocking orders for the 2014 tackle we will be using.
I was invited to the Big Rock Sports Show, but could only spend a morning there due to seminar obligations at the Bass and Saltwater Expo happening across town at the State Fairgrounds. There is far too much to see in that short of time and seeing many old friends was great, but slowed the process even more. However, I did see a few things that caught my eye.
Sea Striker is constantly expanding their product line and a couple of neat things this year are a new fishing cart for pier and surf fishermen and a new line of hand and shorter gaffs. The pier carts are being made of mild steel and powder coated to help keep the cost down. They are a little heavier than the aluminum carts many fishermen currently use, but are set to sell at approximately half the price.
The other thing from Sea Striker that caught my eye is a line of BlackWatch gaffs and pliers. These appear to be the first wave of a new line of fishing accessories. There are several lengths of gaffs, plus a high quality fishing pliers and they are being billed as ďTactical tools for fishing.Ē The BlackWatch gaffs and pliers are aluminum, with replaceable stainless steel points and cutters.
Engel Coolers was showing a live bait cooler system that caught my attention. While available in several sizes, they were showing one of their smaller coolers. The idea is to be able to insulate live baits in extreme heat or cold and carry them without spillage. This is an aeration system, so it wouldnít work well for pogies, but I see it as a great way to catch some shrimp or minnows at one place and carry them somewhere else to fish or to the bait well on a boat. The aeration unit will run on batteries or plug into a 12-volt power outlet we used to call a cigarette lighter. With a couple of cubes of ice, it should also keep them frisky and ready to go on the hottest summer day.
Iím always intrigued at the Star Rods booth with all the lengths and actions of rods, but this year they had prototypes of a couple of sizes of Star spinning reels. The reels they had were mid size and for surf fishing, but they assured me there were smaller reels designed for trout, flounder and puppy drum that had missed the show due to a shipping error. These reels felt really smooth and functioned well and I immediately volunteered to test some of the smaller reels. They took my name and contact info, so maybe Iíll get lucky.
MirrOlure had a full display of everything in the line, but the new Soft-Dines in the Paul Brown line were getting all the attention. These lures actually became available in limited amounts numbers in the late fall and several local guides and fishermen quickly found out the trout and puppy drum really like them. Soft-Dines are the same size and shape as the MirrOlure MR 17s, but have a soft outer shell. Fish like them, which means fishermen will too.
Cajun Thunder (Precision Tackle) introduced a Magnum Cajun Thunder Rattling Cork. My initial though was this would be perfect for using heavier jigs for the large red drum in the popping cork fishery that developed last year. I was told they were tested to suspend larger live baits for cobia and tarpon and for a rattle to call amberjacks and other reef dwellers up to hit large jigs. If they will stand up to AJs, they should be perfect for big reds. Several guides who participate in the fishery for big reds were around the booth all morning.
Haw River tackle was showing several new small sizes of jigs with a reflector strip down the middle. They didnít have to explain the idea as they flashed in the show lights just like silverside minnows. Iíll bet that come spring, the fat alberts, bonito, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and more will like them just as much as I did.
My time at the show was limited, but I saw some neat things and hope to try them out soon. Most of the tackle manufacturers were optimistic and having new products in the middle of their year (August to July) shows their dedication. Come on springÖ
After I reported last week on my foray to Fayetteville in early January to learn a little about fly fishing, I received an e-mail from Ken Eiler who is president of the Cape Lookout Fly Fishers. Ken told me that the Cape Lookout Fly Fishers offer all of what I had experienced in Morehead City and at no cost. Iím going to take him up on an offer to join them and wanted to pass along the information on several of their upcoming events.
The next Cape Lookout Fly Fishers event is an Introduction to Fly Tying seminar that will be held on Saturday, January 25, from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. at the Morehead City Recreation Center, which is located at 1600 Fisher Street. This is free to the public and no experience or equipment is necessary.
On February 22, the Cape Lookout Fly Fishers will offer a Fly Casting seminar that will also be held at the Morehead City Recreation Center. The hours are 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. and the event is free with no experience or equipment required.
Fishermen interested in joining the Cape Lookout Fly Fishers can find information at their website (www.CapeLookoutFlyFishers.com) or by attending one of the monthly meetings that will begin for 2014 on March 21. The monthly meetings are held on the third Friday of each month at Coxís Restaurant on Arendell Street. A Dutch dinner begins at 6:00 P.M. and is followed by the meeting at 7:00 P.M.
In checking on the tagged great white sharks known to be in our general area, I found April has developed a liking for the Delmarva Peninsula and last pinged her location on January 16 just inshore of the Continental Shelf off the Maryland and Virginia state line. Mary Lee has moved north and last pinged a new location at the Continental Shelf off Cape Fear on January 12. Genie hasnít pinged a new location since January 6 and then she was a little inshore of the Continental Shelf just north of Charleston, S.C. Katharine is the southern girl and is still enjoying the warmer weather and water a handful of miles off the beach at Cape Canaveral.
You can follow the travels of April, Genie, Katharine and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks around the world, by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
Comments on possible changes to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan (FMP) must be received at the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) by Saturday. Before you comment, you might want to think about how anxious you were about the recent cold snap as it was approaching. Comments can be made electronically or by mail until January 18.
A provision in the current Spotted Seatrout FMP requires implementing a recreational limit of 3 trout, with a 14 inch minimum size, plus a December 15 to January 31 closure and a commercial trip limit of 25 trout in February. This is not new. It has been in the current Spotted Seatrout FMP since it was adopted.
However, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) does not want to implement the stricter regulations and voted to continue the current recreational limit of 4 speckled trout with a minimum size of 14 inches and the 75 fish trip limit for commercial fishing at their August meeting. However, bylaws of the MFC do not allow them to make this change that easily. They must review and amend the Spotted Seatrout FMP.
Once this was realized, the MFC directed the DMF to prepare a draft supplement to amend the Spotted Seatrout FMP. The draft supplement prepared by DMF lists two alternatives to implementing the stricter fishing regulations required by the current FMP. One of the alternatives is to continue the current speckled trout regulations. This is the one it appears the MFC prefers as they voted to do this at their August meeting.
The other option would implement less restrictive regulations. These would retain the 14-inch minimum size limit but increase the recreational bag limit to six-fish (with no more than two of the six fish greater than 24 inches) and eliminate the commercial trip limit, but not allow commercial possession or sale on weekends except for licensed finfish dealers.
The draft supplement examines the reasons for not implementing the stricter management measures as required by the current Spotted Seatrout FMP and provides the options for amending the FMP. A copy of Draft Supplement A to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan can be found online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/fmps-under-development. For more information, contact Chip Collier at 910-796-7291 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov. Comments should be sent to Chip Collier, 127 Cardinal Drive, Wilmington, N.C. 28405 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov.
The Snapper Grouper Committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is seeking interested fishermen to host Port Meetings in their communities as part of the SAFMC Visioning Project. The SAFMC Visioning Project is the latest project to develop long-term management for the Snapper Grouper fishery off the South Atlantic states. For more information on the Visioning Project and hosting a Port Meeting, visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
A handful of N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Advisory Committee meetings are scheduled during January. A few were this past week, but more remain. They include:
* Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, January 21 at 12:30 P.M., DMF Central District Office, Morehead City. For more information contact Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov.
* Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, January 22 at 6:00 P.M., DMF Central District Office, Morehead City. For more information contact Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov.
* River Herring Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, January 23 at 6:00 P.M., Chowan County Agricultural Extension Office, Edenton. For more information contact Amy Larimer at 252-264-3911 or Amy.Larimer@ncdenr.gov.
The SAFMC will hold a series of Public and Scoping Meetings in January and February regarding proposed amendments to several fisheries. While meetings will be held in other south Atlantic states also, the meetings will begin on Tuesday, January 21, at the Bay Watch Resort & Conference Center (843-272-4600) in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. and the second meeting will be Wednesday, January 22, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Atlantic Beach Oceanfront (252-240-1155) in Atlantic Beach, N.C.
The Amendments in the scoping process include:
* Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 16 - This amendment includes one action to address the prohibition on the use of black sea bass pots that was implemented through Regulatory Amendment 19 and became effective on October 23, 2013. The action includes alternatives to remove the closure, shorten the timeframe, confine spatially to apply only within designated critical right whale habitat, and confine it spatially based on a depth contour.
* Coastal Migratory Pelagics Amendment 24 - This amendment will include actions to consider changes in the recreational/commercial allocations for CMP stocks with sector allocations.
* Coastal Migratory Pelagics Amendment 26 - This amendment will include actions to separate the commercial permits for king and Spanish mackerel into designated permits for each region. Currently, there is one commercial king mackerel permit and one Spanish mackerel that allows harvest in the Gulf and South Atlantic regions.
The amendments in the public hearing process include:
* Snapper Grouper Amendment 29 - This amendment proposes actions to adjust ABC values for ďOnly Reliable Catch SpeciesĒ (ORCS), and includes actions to implement management measures for gray triggerfish.
* Coastal Migratory Pelagics (Mackerel) Framework Amendment 1 - The complete name of this amendment is Framework Amendment 1 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. This amendment contains actions that will update the Annual Catch Limits for Atlantic group and Gulf group Spanish mackerel based on the recent stock assessment (SEDAR 28).
Those who cannot attend the meetings may submit comments by e-mail, fax or mail. All comments are due by 5:00 P.M. on February 3, 2014. The contact information for submitting comments is below:
During the colder months of the year there isnít an overabundance of active fish, so the number of fishing tournaments declines for a while. January is the busiest month of the winter and there are two tournaments, both in the greater Wilmington area.
The Cape Fear Riverwatch Striper Tournament (www.cfrw.us) will be held in Wilmington this Saturday. This tournament is part of the Striperfest Weekend held by Cape Fear Riverwatch at the Coastline Convention Center in downtown Wilmington. A fundraising banquet, with raffles, silent auctions, live auctions and more will be held Friday, January 17, with the tournament, displays, seminars and more following on Saturday, January 18. The N.C Fishing Pier Society Dogfish Tournament (www.ncfps.com) will be held from Johnnie Mercerís Pier in Wrightsville Beach on January 25.
While there arenít many winter fishing tournaments, they are replaced by boat, fishing, hunting and outdoor shows and fishing schools and seminars and there are a lot of them. On January 18, the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville will offer the second of four Basic Fly fishing Seminars for 2014. There will be classroom instruction, hands on stations to learn the different aspects of casting and fishing for mountain trout. The Seminar is free, but there is a $5 fee for materials. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org/learning and click on the Education Center tab.
The Central Carolina Boat and Fishing Expo will be held January 24 to 26 at the Special Events Building at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro. As its name implies, this show features boats, plus a lot of tackle and accessory booths. There will also be an abundance of fresh and salt water fishing seminars. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Cape Lookout Fly Fishers will host an Introduction to Fly Tying seminar on Saturday, January 25, from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. at the Morehead City Recreation Center at 1600 Fisher Street. This is free to the public and no experience or equipment is necessary.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will hold their Fourth Annual Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School on February 1. The school will begin at 9:00 A.M. and run until approximately 4:30 P.M. The topics will include techniques, tactics and tips on equipment and locations to catch most inshore and nearshore ocean fish, plus learning to throw cast nets. The instructors for the school will be Capt. Jimmy Price and myself. There is a fee and lunch is included. For more information call 910-278-4747 or 910-279-6760.