This week we had a few nice days and now the weatherman is backing off the super cold forecast for the weekend from earlier in the week. This might actually be a decent weekend to get out and do some winter fishing -- if you have some protected water. I've led this report with weather again, but at least this time it isn't too bad. Don't put those snuggies away just yet though, I've got a feeling we'll need them a few more times.

I wish I could tell you the wind will be light also, but that isn't in the forecast. Friday, looks to be really windy, with Saturday pretty windy and then the wind falling out Sunday and Monday. Rain enters the picture again Monday, so it might not be all that great. The good thing to remember is that we are getting closer to spring every day.

Stripers were in the news last week for two records being set the previous week and now stripers are in the news again -- but this time it isn't good news. The trawl fishery for stripers in N.C. ocean waters (from the beaches out to three miles offshore) opened last Saturday and the carnage has been rampant. It has been shown on TV and extensively on the internet. This has happened previously, but didn't get this attention and this episode should bring about some new laws.

The striper trawlers are allowed to keep and sell 50 fish per trip. They pull their nets through the school and then sort to keep the largest 50. They have a minimum size of 28 inches, but that is rarely an issue. The issue comes from a practice called "high grading," which allows them to replace smaller fish with larger fish, even if the smaller fish are dead. The shock is that under the current laws this isn't illegal. While I can't agree with the ethics of replacing dead fish with larger ones, it isn't illegal.

The only recourse to continue to allow commercial trawling is to change the law to one that is based on poundage like in all other fisheries except red drum. With red drum, the fishery is considered a "bycatch fishery," and only seven fish are allowed. Because of the upper slot limit on drum, "high grading isn't considered an issue, but it does happen to a smaller degree. Marine Fisheries Chair Rob Bizzell has said this would be reviewed and he thought a change was forthcoming, but we'll have to wait and see.

Speckled trout season was closed last Friday in all N.C waters designated as Coastal and Joint Waters, but not in Inland Waters. The trout were in a stunned state from the cold water and biologists thought they might survive if left alone. There were also television and internet videos of stunned trout in several creeks. Because N.C. manages coastal and joint water through the Division of Marine Fisheries and inland water through the Wildlife Resources Commission, one proclamation could not close all waters. There are rumors the Wildlife Resources Commission is considering extending the closure to inland waters, but no notice has been received as of yet.

Capt. Noah Lynk said he had a couple more days of excellent puppy drum fishing at the Cape Lookout Jetty last weekend and this week. He said if the water warms a little it should get even better. There were scattered similar reports from Cape Lookout to the N.C. / S.C. line. Capt. Mark Dickson is catching them in shallow pockets in the marsh in the creeks behind Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach.

The fishermen with Capt. Stu Caulder even saw a small school of red drum in the Northeast Cape Fear River above Wilmington while fishing the Cape Fear River Watch Invitational Striper Tournament last Saturday. Caulder said they hooked one, but broke it off on some underwater structure.

The striper bite isn't as strong out from Oregon Inlet this week, but it is still the hottest saltwater striper bite in the state. There were rumors early of another record striper being caught last weekend, but apparently the weight on the boat and at certified scales was a few pounds apart. Tournament fishermen have a term for this; they call it fish box shrinkage. The stripers are averaging around 20 to 35 pounds, but, as the two records and a near miss shows, there are some larger ones around. Trolling and jigging are both productive methods for catching them.

Capt. Gary Dubiel had Capt. Mark Nichols and Jerry McBride of DOA Lures in New Bern this week for some striper fishing before they headed back to Florida after the Henry's Tackle Show. They didn't catch a huge fish and had to dodge rain, but they caught a dozen or more and had fun.

The stripers in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers at Wilmington had been biting well, but took a couple of days off around the tournament to benefit them last Saturday. 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. A report on the tournament is later in this report

There were a few bluefin tuna caught at Hatteras this week, but the action is luke-cool at best. The commercial season is fast drawing to a close, so those fishermen need a good week next week. The size and number limits for bluefin tuna changed on January 1. The 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 two bluefin tuna per boat per day and they must have a minimum fork length of 73 inches.

Several fishermen headed offshore during the nice weather of the week and reported the fish were still there. Most caught wahoo and blackfin tuna, but one boat found a tree that was loaded with dolphin and caught a bunch. They said there was also a huge blue marlin circling the tree that was obviously intent on having a dolphin dinner.

The Listening Session regarding listing bluefin tuna as an endangered species that was originally scheduled for January 11 was held Wednesday night. I haven't received any reviews of the meeting yet. Maybe I'll have some information next week. A summary of information provided at all the meetings held along the Atlantic coast is to be included 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. :

It was good to visit the Henry's Tackle Company Dealer Show in Raleigh last week. Several tackle manufacturers had brand new products and others had improved versions of older proven things and some had lures and equipment that had stood the test of time. Products ordered by your favorite dealers will begin arriving soon and by spring we can all have access to the new and improved items. Check with your favorite tackle shop to see what impressed them and what they have coming.

The Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge was scheduled to run through January 31, but with speckled trout season being closed by emergency proclamation in all coastal waters they have decided to end the tournament early. The winner is Douglas Gorchess of Swansboro who caught a very impressive 8.69 pound speck in late November and has fended off all challengers since then. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

The Third Annual Cape Fear River Invitational Striper Tournament was held over the weekend 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, while we didn't win any of the tournaments divisions, I had a great time. I fished with Capt. Robert Schoonmaker of Carolina Explorer Charters and Gary Hurley of Fisherman's Post Magazine. Fishermen reported water temperatures ranging from 35 to 39 and the bite was extremely slow. Only 18 stripers were caught by the 11 boats in the tournament.

The tournament is presented by Cape Fear River Watch with sponsorships from many local businesses, organizations, and individuals. All the fish were measured and tagged before being released. While the stripers, shad, herring, shortnose sturgeon and other anadromous fish in the Cape Fear River are the big winners in this tournament, the Intracoastal Angler team of Frank Spencer, Stephen Lancaster and Capt. John Huff were the top anglers. They won the Overall Division by tagging five stripers and added the Longest Two-Fish Aggregate at 55 inches. This included fish of 30.5 and 24.5 inches.

Junior angler Austin Lord received his entry by winning an essay contest on the Cape Fear River. He proved he could also fish and landed a 31 inch striper while fishing with Mark Johnson and Capt. Danny Wrenn to allow them to edge out the Intracoastal Angler Team and claim the Longest Striper Award in addition to the Junior Angler award. Lord's striper also set a new tournament record.

Of the 18 stripers recorded by tourney anglers, two had been tagged previously, including one that had been tagged by Capt. Jamie Rushing during last year's tournament. What makes this recapture really interesting is that it was one of the fishermen with Capt. Rushing that caught the same fish again this year -- and in the same creek. It had grown too. Last year it was 22.5 inches and this year it was 25 inches. For more information on the Cape Fear River Watch program or the Invitational Striped Bass Tournament, visit www.cfrw.us or call 910-762-5606.

This weekend the Richmond Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo will be held at the Virginia State Fairgrounds and several notable Tar Heel fishermen will be presenting seminars. The Expo runs from Friday through Sunday, with a single admission being good for the whole weekend. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.

Good fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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