I'm sorry I have missed a few weeks, but contrary to my friend's beliefs, this is a very busy time of year for me.  I'll try to get back with an update at least every other week and then return to weekly in the spring.

I like this week's version of winter a whole lot more than the frigid weather we saw a couple of weeks ago.  I don't expect to see daytime highs approaching 70 during January, but I won't be looking this gift horse in the mouth.  I like it. 

The forecast for the coming week is pretty much more of the same.  The highs aren't forecast to reach 70, but they are in the 60s through next Friday and the overnight lows are only projected to drop into the 40s twice.  There is some rain forecast for the weekend and Monday and it could be hard at times when some wind pushes in Sunday and Monday.  However, the rain is supposed to end Monday and the wind taper off beginning then too, so next week is shaping up to be another good week for fishing.

Division of Marine Fisheries observers were still looking for more trout stuns and kills from the hard freeze of January 7-10 though last weekend.  Thankfully they didn't find any more significant kills, so we aren't looking at any speckled trout closures.  There were a few more small local stun and kill events, but the only kill considered significant was in the North River in Carteret County.  We definitely dodged a bullet with this one.    

The water temps continue to slowly climb back to and maybe slightly above normal for this time of year.  Last week the inshore CORMP Weather stations were only reporting water temps  in the low to mid 40s and that has risen to low 50s across much of the state this week.  This is pretty close to usual and maybe even a few degrees warm for January water temps and that's a good thing.

There is some disagreement with the mid depths reporting stations in Onslow Bay.  The ILM 3 Buoy about 25 miles off Wrightsville Beach was reporting 68.3 degrees Thursday, while the LEJ3 Buoy about 25 miles off New River Inlet was cooler at 61.7 degrees.  Both the NDBC 41025 Buoy, south of Cape Hatteras  and the NDBC 41013 Buoy, near Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear were reporting water temps in the 70s.  Check these reporting stations for wind, swell and temperature conditions at www.cormp.org.   

While the bluefin tuna action has slowed around Cape Lookout, it has picked up around Cape Fear.  Just outside Carolina Beach Inlet and along the East Beach of Bald Head Island has been a hotspot for about a week. 

One of the most impressive catches was a 106 inch fish that cored at 677 pounds.  This fish had an 86 inch girth and using the formula of girth squared, multiplied by the length and divided by 800, it should have weighed 979.9 pounds.  That's a big fish!

One group of fishermen landed an 80 some inch bluefin in a bay boat.  That's a little extreme, don't you think?  I hope no one gets hurt while chasing these big tunas.  Some of them have been known to have nasty dispositions and one dragged a big center console about 10 miles one afternoon.

Both the commercial and recreational bluefin seasons are currently open.  A federal permit is required and there are size and number regulations that are subject to changing quickly.  For more information on the permits and regulations visit www.hmspermits.noaa.gov.   Fishermen should be aware that in addition to the federal and state permits required to land bluefins there are reporting requirements and equipment requirements. 

The Coast Guard has expressed concerns that some fishermen don't have the required equipment, most of which is safety equipment.  The Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Program has posted information online at www.fishsafe.info and the regulations are available at your local library, government bookstore or online at www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/cfr-table-search.html.  There is a “NO Fault – NO Penalty” courtesy dockside boat examination and there is an examiner in Atlantic Beach available by calling 252-247-4526.

There were just a few reports from offshore during the past week and they were really good for January.  Wahoo and blackfin tuna were in pretty good numbers at the Gulf Stream and there is a report of a sailfish that I can't pin down. 

A little closer in, fishermen caught an assortment of bottom fish and king mackerel.  There was a really hot king bite around Frying Pan Tower several days.  Otherwise the kings and bottom fish are in roughly the same depths (90-125 feet) and some bottom fishermen added a king to their catch by drifting light lines behind the boat.  Structure is the key for bottom fish and it could be rocks, ledges, or wrecks.  The kings prefer the same type areas but look for suspended baitfish.

Speckled trout fishing isn't what I would call hot, but it's January, not October.  However, the action continues to improve a little as the water warms back up after the early January freeze.  There don't seem to be big schools of specks, but there are some smaller schools moving through the creeks and marsh systems and they are feeding.  The reports are of catching a couple, then a while later catching another couple and so on.  Many of these specks are shorts to barely legal, but there are some big boys and girls in the mix too. 

The hot baits for the specks right now are MirrOlures in the MR 17, MR 18 and MR 14 styles.  All these baits resemble small menhaden with the MR 17 and 18 being small and the MR 14 even smaller.  The MR 14 and 17 are suspending lures, while the MR 18 is a sinker.  The best results have come by letting these lures drift with the current and twitching them occasionally.

Some folks are also catching specks on soft plastics.  The keys with soft plastic have been to use scented lures or add scent and to fish them very slow, even occasionally pausing them and letting them sit on the bottom.  Many times the strike comes during the pause or immediately when they move again.

There are red and black drum in many of the marshes and creeks too.  Red drum will hit the same lures as specks, plus pieces of shrimp and cut bait.  Black drum will occasionally, but rarely, hit hard baits, but sometimes hit soft baits and really like pieces of shrimp and cut baits.

Stripers are biting pretty well in most of the coastal rivers and sounds.  They have been hitting a variety of soft baits, and diving hard baits.  More are being caught on MirrOlures and such as they are becoming preferred extra catches while trout fishing, but the long time preferred lure for stripers is Rat-L-Traps.

MFC Advisory Committees Met January 17 to Discuss Inshore Trawling Petition
The five MFC advisory committees met jointly at 12:30 P.M. on January 17 at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center to hear public comments and discuss  the petition for rulemaking submitted Nov. 2 by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.  The petition calls for habitat protections that would impact shrimp trawl fishing in most North Carolina waters.

The petition asks the MFC to designate all coastal fishing waters (including the ocean out to three miles) not otherwise designated as nursery areas as special secondary nursery areas; establish clear criteria for the opening of shrimp season; and define the type of gear and how and when gear may be used in special secondary nursery areas during shrimp season, plus to implement size limits for spot and croakers. 

The Finfish, Shellfish/Crustacean, Habitat and Water Quality, Northern Regional and Southern Regional advisory committees listened to the NCWF presentation and public comments for several hours and then cast votes recommending the MFC not approve the petition.  The MFC is slated to discuss and vote on the petition for rulemaking at its February business meeting.

A copy of the petition is available on the Marine Fisheries Commission website at www.ncdmf.net.  Written comments will be accepted through this afternoon and may be made by sending an e-mail to NCWFPetition@ncdenr.gov or by mail to: NCWF Petition - Marine Fisheries Commission Office - N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries - PO Box 769 - Morehead City, N.C. 28557.

Beat The Winter Cold at Boat and Fishing Expos and Fishing Schools
When fishing slows during the winter, fishermen can enjoy cruising boat and fishing expos and there are also opportunities to learn a few tips on catching more fish.  There is a list of the upcoming events for the next several weeks at the end of this, but they will continue for several months and a few should be mentioned.

The Bass and Saltwater Expo in Raleigh, www.ncboatshows.com, was held last weekend at the state fairgrounds with record attendance.  The Carolina Outdoor Expo, www.carolinaoutdoorexpo.com, is a new show that will be held at the Greenville Convention Center on January 27-29 and bills itself as the largest gathering of fishing and hunting guides ever in N.C.  There are two seminar rooms that will change topics and speakers each hour all weekend.  The Raleigh Convention Center Boat Show, www.raleighconvention.com/boatshow, will be February 3-5 and is the largest display of fishing boats in the state each year. 

There are also a couple of fishing schools of note.  The Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series (www.nationalseminarseries.com), which is often considered the grandfather of these events, was in Wilmington on Jan. 14.  However, there are also several other more local events still to come. 

The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department (http://oakisland.recdesk.com, 910-278-5518) hosts an inshore/nearshore saltwater fishing school each year that has filled for the past few years.  This year it will be offered twice (Feb. 4 and Feb. 18) in hopes of not turning anyone away.  This school features Capt. Jimmy Price and myself and lasts all day, with lunch included.  Several other similar events will be held at various locations in later February and March.

WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host Ongoing Fishing Programs
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across N.C. and offers a variety of fishing and outdoor education programs. The closest of the education centers is the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  Others are at the Centennial Campus Center at NC State University in Raleigh, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla, and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest. 

There will be three Intro to Flyfishing and one Advanced Flyfishing programs offered at the Pechmann Center during January and February.  For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab.  The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page. 

The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head.  The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is local and others are at Fort Fisher and Manteo.  For more information on the Aquariums and their programs, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select your preferred location.

SAFMC Seeks Applicants for Federal Fishery Advisory Panels
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently soliciting applicants for open advisory panel seats.  Working at the grass roots level, advisory panel members provide information and guidance in the development and implementation of federal fishery management plans.  The Council has twelve advisory panels composed of individuals who are engaged in the harvest of managed species, or are knowledgeable and interested in the conservation and management of the fishery or managed species.  Members include recreational and commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and processors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, and concerned citizens.

Advisory panel members are appointed by the Council and serve for a three-year period, based on the frequency of meetings.  As those appointments expire, members currently serving on the AP may reapply for their positions.  These seats also become open to new applicants.  Members may serve for three consecutive terms before reaching their term limit.  AP members generally meet no more than once or twice each year and are compensated for travel and per diem expenses for all meetings.  

Applications are now being solicited for the following positions:
* Habitat Advisory Panel - 1 North Carolina Recreational Seat and 1 At-Large Research Seat;
* Information & Education Advisory Panel - 3 open seats;
* Mackerel - Cobia Advisory Panel - 2 Open Seats, 1 NGO Seat, and 1 Florida Seat for the Cobia Sub-panel;
*Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel - 2 North Carolina Open Seats, 4 Florida Open Seats, and 1 Consumer Representative Seat;
* SEDAR Advisory Panel (Pool)* - *Applicants appointed to the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) Pool are eligible to serve on species-specific panels for future stock assessments.

Fishermen interested in serving as a member on the SAFMC advisory panels, should contact Kim Iverson, SAFMC Public Information Officer, at Kim.Iverson@safmc.net or 866-SAFMC-10).  Application forms are available from the Council office and may also be downloaded from the Advisory Panel page of the Council’s website at www.safmc.net.  Applications should be mailed to Kim Iverson, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, North Charleston, SC 29405 or submitted via email to the above address by February 10.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact area Council representatives to discuss their interest in serving.  Contact information for all Council members is available from the “About Us” section of the Council’s website at www.safmc.net or through the Council office.  Advisory panel members will be selected during the Council’s March 6 -10, 2017 meeting in Jekyll Island, GA.

SAFMC to conduct Webinars and Public Meetings in January and February
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council hosted two webinars and  will host a series of public meetings during January and February.  The notice on this was late getting out and the webinars (January 12 and 17) have already been held.  For amendment materials and other information, see the public hearing and scoping meeting page at http://safmc.net/safmc-meetings/public-hearing-and-scoping-meeting-schedule.   

The SAFMC will also conduct a series of public meetings regarding Snapper Grouper Amendment 43 (red snapper and recreational reporting) and 44 (yellowtail snapper allocation).  Three North Carolina meetings are scheduled and all will begin at 6:00 P.M.
* February 6, Hilton Wilmington Riverside, Wilmington;
* February 7, Hatteras Community Center, Hatteras;
* February 8, Doubletree by Hilton, Atlantic Beach.
For more information on these meetings visit www.safmc.net/safmc-meetings.

Those unable to attend can send written comments by mail or fax to Gregg Waugh, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405; 843-769-4520.

Wildlife Commission to Conduct Public Hearings in January
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will conduct nine public hearings in January 2017 on 39 proposed changes to WRC regulations related to wildlife management, fisheries and game lands for the 2017-18 seasons.

Three proposed regulations would redefine youth as anyone under 18 years old and allow them to participate during the youth either-sex deer hunts, Youth Deer Hunting Day, and Spring Youth-only Wild Turkey Season (H2); Youth-only Delayed Harvest Trout Water Season (F9), and any youth hunts on game lands (G2).  These proposal would not change any license requirements.

Proposed regulation (D1) would establish guidelines and set standards for the Commission to carry out the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (WVC).  The North Carolina General Assembly adopted the WVC in 2008, which creates a way for member states to: (1) Promote compliance of hunting, fishing, and trapping regulations in their respective states; and (2) Provide for the fair and impartial treatment of persons committing wildlife violations in member states.  The WVC requires the Wildlife Resources Commission and Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt rules necessary to carry out its purpose.

Among the wildlife management-related proposed changes is one that would eliminate the use of paper Big Game Harvest Record sheets (H7).  Hunters would report their big game harvest either by phone or Internet.  This proposal would complete the conversion of big game harvest reporting from paper to an electronic registration system, which began with turkey harvest reporting in 2003.

Four game land proposals would add nearly 7,300 acres to the Commission’s Game Lands Program.  If passed:
* 156 acres would be established as the new Hill Farm Game Land, which borders the Dan River in northwestern Stokes County and would be designated a permit-only area (G7).
* 2,400 acres of the 3,170-acre Rendezvous Mountain State Forest in Wilkes County would be enrolled in the Game Lands Program as a three-day-per-week game land with bear hunting prohibited, as requested by the N.C. Forest Service, which owns the tract (G9).
* 2,818 acres of the newly acquired Voice of America tract in Beaufort County would become a permit-only area (G13).
*1,925 acres would be established as the new William H. Silver Game Land in Haywood County, which would be a six-day-per week game land with an introductory either-sex deer season (G14).

More information on all of the proposed regulations to the agency’s wildlife management, game lands, fishing and other agency regulations for the 2017-18 seasons can be found online at www.ncwildlife.org.  Comments on the proposed regulations and changes will be accepted through February 1, 2017.  Comments may be submitted at the public hearings during January, online, emailed to regulations@ncwildlife.org,  or mailed to: Rules Coordinator - N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission - 1701 Mail Service Center - Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1701.

The WRC will meet on February 7 to review the public comments and vote on the proposals.  Approved proposals will become effective August 1, 2017.

Public hearings were held the past two weeks in Dublin, Graham, Albemarle, Clyde, Morganton, and Elkin.  The remaining hearing will begin at 7:00 P.M. at:
* January 24:  Chowan County Public Safety Center, Edenton;
* January 25:  Craven Community College, Orringer Auditorium, New Bern;
* January 26:  Nash Community College, Brown Auditorium, Rocky Mount.

Fisheries Meetings
January 24:  MFC Coastal Recreational Fishing License Committee meeting, 1:30 P.M., NCDMF Central District Office, Morehead City, www.ncdmf.net.

January 25:  Wildlife Resources Commission Public Hearing, 7:00 P.M., Craven Community College, Orringer Auditorium, New Bern, www.ncwildlife.org.

January 30-February 2:  Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Winter Meeting,  Westin Alexandria, Alexandria, VA, www.asmfc.org.  

February 17-19:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Quarterly Business Meeting, Wilmington Hilton Riverside, Wilmington, www.ncdmf.net.                                                               

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events

September 1 to January 31:  Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

October 16-January 31:  Intracoastal Angler Speckled Trout Tournament, Intracoastal Angler, Wilmington, www.intracoastalangler.com.  

January 21: Cape Lookout Flyfishers Free Fly Tying Clinic, Morehead City Parks and Recreation Building, Morehead City, www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.

January 21:  Intro to Flyfishing Seminar, Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.

January 21:  Winter Speckled Trout Tournament, New River Marina, Sneads Ferry, 910-548-3474. 

January 27-29:  Carolina Outdoor Expo, Greenville Convention Center, Greenville, N.C., www.carolinaoutdoorexpo.com.

January 28:  N.C. Fishing Pier Society Dogfish Tournament, Johnny Mercer's Pier, Wrightsville Beach, www.ncfps.com.     

February 3-5:  The Raleigh Convention Center Boat Show, Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, N.C., www.raleighconvention.com/boatshow.   

February 4:  Intro to Flyfishing Seminar, Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.    

February 4:  Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, N.C., http://oakisland.recdesk.com, www.captjerry.com.  

February 9-12:  Mid-Atlantic Boat Show, Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte, N.C., www.ncboatshows.com.  

February 11- 12:  Fisherman’s Post Fishing Schools, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, N.C., www.fishermanspost.com.  

February 18:  Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, N.C., http://oakisland.recdesk.com, www.captjerry.com.  

February 18:  Advanced Flyfishing Seminar, Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.   

February 18:  Cape Lookout Flyfishers Fly Casting Clinic, Morehead City Recreation Center, Morehead City, N.C., www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.  

February 18-19:  International Custom Rod Building Expo, M.C. Benton Convention Center, Winston-Salem, N.C., www.icrbe.com.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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