Wow, this has been a really cold week and it isn't over.  The forecast includes some warming as we move into next week and that's a good thing.  Unfortunately, right now TV and radio are loaded with constant winter weather warnings and advisories.  Most of our coastal temperatures should have warmed to above freezing by the time you read this.  However, an (over) abundance of rain is in the forecast, plus there is another chance of winter precipitation (right now most of the weathermen are saying snow) overnight Saturday into Sunday morning.

With this warming, my biggest weather concern for this week is the ice that has been on many coastal creeks.  That typically doesn't bode well for the fish, especially speckled trout.  The reports have been worse farther upriver where the salinity is lower.  If there is any good news to this, it is the warming temperatures for next week and that many of the larger creeks weren't frozen all the way across. 

We had a nasty fish kill in the Havelock area last year that was mostly speckled trout and we need those 12 and 13 inchers that have been so prevalent to make it through this winter.  I haven't heard of a kill yet, but I'm concerned and keeping my fingers crossed.

Unfortunately there aren't a lot of fishing reports this week - good or bad.  The cold temps and stinging wind kept a lot of fishermen off the water.  The most stable ocean fishery is offshore bottom fishing.  Grouper season is closed, but they aren't the only fish.  Black sea bass are swarming everywhere from the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs to depths beyond 100 feet.  Many of the nearshore black sea bass are just short of the 13 inch minimum size and must be released.  However, it is possible to work through them and find a limit for dinner. 

One fisherman suggested using jigs for black sea bass rather than natural baits.  He said the scent of the natural bait drives the smaller fish to attack the baits before the larger fish get there.  He said a higher percentage of the catch is larger fish when using jigs. 

He uses a mixture of bucktails and metal jigs of different weights and shapes.  He also said he removes the treble hooks that are standard on many jigs and replaces them with a J-hook.  You may miss a few strikes, but this makes it much easier to remove fish, and that is good for the fish you release.

Grunts and porgys join the catch when you move offshore to around 60 to 80 feet.  At around 100 feet, triggerfish and beeliners start showing in the catch too.  Once offshore to where the water temp reaches the mid 60s or higher, it is wise to drift a light line or two back in the current in case a king mackerel or something else is in the area. 

It has been several weeks since I received a report, but there were kings over structure at roughly 100 feet and deeper then.  At that time the water temp in this depth ranged from 64 to 68 degrees.  I like 67 or 68 degrees for kings, but have caught them at 64 and 65 degrees.  Commercial fishermen use spoons and sea witches with strips and many recreational fishermen catch kings on frozen cigar minnows slow trolled on skirted rigs.

There also were a few wahoo and blackfin tuna offshore when I received those last reports.  Unless you're at Hatteras, it's a long way to run to the edge of the Gulf Stream, but some winter fishermen make it whenever a weather window allows.  Fresh grilled wahoo or blackfin sushi is a treat anytime and especially so during the winter.

Some fishermen have been having a little luck in the surf.  Surf fishing is slow, but there are a few red drum, black drum sea mullet and trout being caught.  Even the smallest structure, like the jetty at Fort Macon helps hold fish.  The best time seems to be from the rising half tide to the falling half tide.  

The Cape Lookout Jetty hasn't been its usual hotspot so far this winter, but fishermen running there are seeing reasonable success.  There are a few specks being caught on lures, but the action falls well short of being hot.  The more successful fishermen are fishing pieces of shrimp on bottom rigs and catching a mixture of black drum, red drum, gray trout, specks, and black sea bass.  I keep expecting to hear of some tautog being caught, but haven't yet.  Maybe this last cold blast will move some togs down the coast. 

The inside action might be better than expected, but not many fishermen went this week.  Maybe more will fish in the warmer weather of the coming week.  A few specks and reds are biting inside, but the dropping water temps have pushed them to the back of the creeks.  If you watch the temperature reading on you fish finder, you can see the water warms farther back in the creeks and this increase is usually just enough to get them to feed.

Trout will typically be in the deeper holes in the creeks.  Puppy drum will be in the holes also, but will move into shallower areas to warm and feed during sunny days.  Lower tides on sunny afternoons is a good time to catch both.  The drum will move shallow and trout will often hold in deeper water nearby and eat what the drum grub up and miss.  Most of the trout are still small, but a few larger ones are in the mix.

Two things will help your winter trout and drum fishing.  The fish aren't active in the cold water so fish slow and slower.  If you're fishing a bait with scent, you can even pause your retrieve occasionally and let it sit for a few seconds.  Scent is the other thing that helps.  If your bait smells good, the fish will usually make the effort to catch and eat it.   

Red and black drum will readily pick up a piece of fresh shrimp or cut bait lying on the bottom.  They have the best noses in the marsh and will find bait given the chance.  Trout will occasionally pick up a piece of shrimp or cut bait, but it is the exception rather than anything they do consistently. 

Stripers like the cooling water and have been active in many of the coastal rivers.  They usually respond well to soft plastics and diving hard lures.  Sometimes stripers will feed in the shallows along the bank, but they are drawn to vertical structure.  Look for rows of pilings, longer docks and don't forget to check the bridges.

Cape Lookout Flyfishers to Host Fly Tying Clinic
The Cape Lookout Flyfishers will host a free fly tying clinic on January 23 from 10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. at the Morehead City Recreation Center.  There will be numerous fly-tyers to demonstrate fly tying and techniques and hands-on participation is encouraged, especially for new tyers.  For more information visit www.capelookoutflyfishers.com or call Lee Dixon at 252-241-1868.

Pechmann Center Offers Basic and Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinics
The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville will offer it final Basic Fly-Fishing Clinic for 2016 on January 30 and an Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinic on February 13.  The Basic Clinic, which was designed for anglers with little to no fly-fishing experience, will begin at 9:00 A.M. and run through 3:00 P.M.  The clinic will provide instruction on the Joan Wulff method of fly-casting, as well as instruction on fly-fishing equipment and knot tying.  There will be an on-the-water segment of the course where participants will learn how to land a fish using a fly-rod. 

The Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinic, which also features the Joan Wulff method of fly-casting, will be on February 13 and runs from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.  This clinic will take participants beyond the basics and introduce them to using the line-hand, false casting, casting on all planes and shooting line.  Participants will also learn how to develop power application and cast accurately.

The Basic Fly-Fishing Clinic is suitable for participants 13 years and older; however, students 15 years and younger must be accompanied by an adult.  The clinic is limited to 40 participants on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Participants are urged to register in advance and the clinics are popular and fill early.  There is a registration fee of $5, payable on the day of the event. 

Participants in the Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinic must have completed a Basic Fly-Fishing Clinic or Discovery Course offered in 2015, or the Basic Fly-fishing clinic in 2016.  The Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinic is suitable for participants 13 years and older; however, students 15 years and younger must be accompanied by an adult.  This clinic is limited to the first 30 people. There is a registration fee of $5, payable on the day of the event.  For more information on either clinic, visit www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab.

Cape Lookout Off-Road Vehicle Plan Under Review
The National Park Service released a proposed rule that will establish a permit system for the use of off-road vehicles at Cape Lookout National Seashore.  The proposed rule was posted in the National Register on December 18 and a 60-day public comment period is underway on a proposed rule.  The public comment period is open through February 16.

The proposed rule would require that ORV users complete a short educational program and purchase a permit at a fee to be determined by the superintendent.  Permits have not been previously required.  Fishermen and others who use ORVs at Cape Lookout were critical of the proposal during the first public hearings after a draft of the proposed rule was released last year.  The plans for a permit system have not been dropped, but the National Park System said a number of changes were made to reflect public input during the planning process.  A permit will allow driving ORVs along designated routes during designated times.

The initial plan was to cap the number of permits issued each year at around 3,000, but the new proposal raises that number to 5,500 permits initially issued.  ORV use will be monitored for the first five years and then be based on a five-year average rather than a three-year average as was initially proposed. Any year during which there is a significant ORV closure of 14 or more days will not be counted in the average.  The new rule would also change seven miles of existing pedestrian-only areas from all year closures to seasonal closures from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The rule would create a designated route for ORVs in front of the Long Point and Great Island cabin camps and there would be an additional four ramps on North Core Banks and five ramps on South Core Banks to allow for crossing between the beach route and the back route.  Restrictions on night driving were lessened from the draft plan.  Under the new plan, beach ORV routes would be closed from 9:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. during sea turtle nesting season, which is May 1 to September 14.  Driving on the back of the island routes will be allowed from 5:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. and around the clock in the Great Island and Long Point Cabin Camps.

Comments may be submitted through the federal eRulemaking Portal at Http://www.regulations.gov.  Enter the Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 1024-AE24 when commenting on the proposed rule.  Comments or copies of electronic comments may also be mailed to the Cape Lookout Park Superintendent at: Superintendent - Cape Lookout National Seashore - 131 Charles St. - Harkers Island, NC 28531.

Unexploded Ordnance Found in New River at Camp Lejeune
The Marine Corps has identified an area that contains unexploded ordnance and poses a serious safety risk in the waters adjacent to the K-2 Range at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.  This area begins at Mill Creek in Stones Bay and continues up the western bank of the New River by Hines, Hickory and Gray Points to Rhodes Point.  The range supports infantry weapons training that includes mortars, field artillery, and infantry rocket training.

During routine activities to clear unexploded ordnance from the range, unexploded ordnance was discovered along the beach and below the high water line.  An aerial survey using ground penetrating radar was performed and identified more than 7,000 anomalies.  Not all of the anomalies were ordnance and also included debris, old crab pots, and propellers.  An underwater survey determined many of the anomalies to be historical unexploded ordnance.  Present day activities at the range do not result in ordnance in the river.

After reviewing the findings of the investigation, the Marine Corps determined the risk to public health as serious.  The Marine Corps is strongly advising the public to avoid access within Whitehurst Creek given its location within the impact area of the range, and to avoid all bottom-disturbing activity within the designated area of the New River.  The Marines have scheduled a meeting with the public for 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. on January 27 at the Sneads Ferry Community Center.  More information and a map of the area is available at http://www.k2rangeproject.com.

DMF to Hold Public Meeting on Dare County Artificial Reefs
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) Artificial Reef Program will hold a public meeting on February 8 at 6:00 P.M. in Room 168 of the Dare County Administrative Building in Manteo.  The meeting is to inform the public of enhancement plans for four artificial reefs near Oregon Inlet and to answer questions on the proposed project.  DMF is working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to receive the demolition materials from the Bonner Bridge replacement project.  Bridge demolition is expected to begin in the fall of 2018 and the materials will be distributed to artificial reefs AR-130, AR-140, AR-145 and AR-160.  

For more information, contact Jason Peters with the DMF Artificial Reef Program at 252-808-8063 or Jason.Peters@ncdenr.gov.

MFC Seeking Advisors
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is looking for commercial and recreational fishermen and scientists to serve on the Northern Regional Advisory Committee.  The committee advises the commission on various fisheries issue referred to it by the MFC and recommends management strategies.  The committee may also bring issues pertaining to the region or subject matter to the commission's attention.

Individuals interested in serving as an adviser should be willing to attend meetings at least once every two months and actively participate in the committee process.  Applicants may not have had a significant fisheries violation within the past three years.  Advisers are reimbursed for travel and other expenses incurred in relation to their official duties.  Adviser terms are three years and are appointed by the Marine Fisheries Commission chairman

Adviser applications are available online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/mfc-advisory-committees, at Division of Marine Fisheries' offices or by calling 252-808-8022 or 800-682-2632. Applications must be returned by closing today, Jan. 22, to the Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557, Attention: Nancy Fish.

SAFMC Seeking Advisors
Fishermen and others interested in participating in federal fisheries management are encouraged to apply for open seats on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's advisory panels.  Advisory panel members provide information and guidance in the development and implementation of federal fishery management plans.  The Council has eleven 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, chefs, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, and concerned citizens.

Advisory panel members are appointed by the Council and serve for a three-year period.  Members may serve for three consecutive terms before reaching their term limit.  Advisory panel 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 positions on the Golden Crab Advisory Panel, Habitat Advisory Panel, Information & Education Advisory Panel, Mackerel Advisory Panel, Law Enforcement Advisory Panel, Shrimp Advisory Panel, Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, and SEDAR Advisory Panel.  Applicants appointed to the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) Pool are eligible to serve on species-specific panels for future stock assessments.

Persons interested in serving as a member on the SAFMC advisory panels should contact Kim Iverson, Public Information Officer, at Kim.Iverson@safmc.net or call the Council office at 843/571-4366 (Toll Free 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. 

Advisory panel applications must be received by February 10.  Advisory panel members will be selected during the Council's March 7-11, 2016 meeting in Jekyll Island, Georgia. 

NOAA Fisheries Proposes Expansion to Monitor Marine Sanctuary
After several years of scientific and archaeological assessment, NOAA is proposing to expand Monitor National Marine Sanctuary off North Carolina's Outer Banks to include additional maritime heritage resources. The proposed expansion would protect a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks that currently have little or no legal protection, including one of America's only World War II battlefields.  This expansion could have significant impacts on fishermen off the Outer Banks.  For more details and maps see http://monitor.noaa.gov/management/expansion.html.  

Several public meetings will be held across N.C. to support the expansion.  The meeting times and places include:
* Feb. 9, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, 919-807-7900;
* Feb 10, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort, 252-728-7317:
* Feb. 11, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Hatteras, 252-986-2995;
* Feb. 16, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., US Navy Memorial - Main Auditorium, Washington, D.C., 202-380-0710;
* Feb. 17, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., Jennette's Pier - Oceanview Hall, Nags Head, 252-255-1501.

Fisheries Meetings
Jan. 25:  NC Division of Marine Fisheries  Shrimp Bycatch Reduction Industry Work Group meeting, 10:00 A.M., New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, New Bern, Contact Kevin Brown at 252-808-8089 or Kevin.H.Brown@ncdenr.gov.

January 27:  US Marine Corps Camp Lejeune K2 Range Meeting, 5:00 to 7:00 P.M., Sneads Ferry Community Center, Sneads Ferry, www.k2rangeproject.com.

February 8: Marine Fisheries Artificial Reef Program Public Meeting, 6:00 P.M., Dare County Administrative Building, Manteo, Contact Jason Peters at 252-808-8063 or Jason.Peters@ncdenr.gov.

February 9 to 11:  Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council Winter Meeting, Doubletree by Hilton, New Bern, www.mafmc.org.

February 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 :  NOAA Fisheries Monitor Marine Sanctuary Expansion Meetings, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., locations noted above and on website, http://monitor.noaa.gov/management/expansion.html.

February 17-19:  Marine Fisheries Commission Business Meeting, Blockade Runner, Wrightsville Beach, Contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
January 23:  Cape Lookout Flyfishers Fly Tying Clinic, Morehead City Recreation Center, Morehead City, www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.

January 30:  N.C. Fishing Pier Society Dogfish Tournament, Johnnie Mercer's Fishing Pier, Wrightsville Beach, www.ncfps.com.

January 30:  Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com.

January 30:  Basic Fly-Fishing Clinic, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning

February 5 and 6:  The Flyfishing Show, Benton Convention Center, Winston-Salem, www.flyfishingshow.com/winston-salem

February 5 to 7:  Raleigh Convention Center Boat Show, Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, www.raleighconvention.com/boatshow

February 6:  Fisherman's Post Fishing School, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.fishermanspost.com.

February 7:  Fisherman's Post Fishing School, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.fishermanspost.com.

February 11 to 14:  Mid-Atlantic Boat Show, Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte, www.ncboatshows.com

February 13:  Dogfish Pier Fishing Tournament, Carolina Beach Fishing Pier-Northern Extension, Carolina Beach, 910-458-5518.

February 13:  Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinic, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning

February 20:  Fisherman's Post Fishing School, Crystal Coast Convention Center, Morehead City, www.fishermanspost.com.

February 20 and 21:  International Custom Rod Building Exposition, Benton Convention Center, Winston-Salem, www.icrbe.com.    

February 26 to 28:  Central Carolina Boat and Fishing Expo, Greensboro Coliseum Complex, Greensboro, www.ncboatshows.com.

February 27:  Team Mack Attack Dogfish Tournament, Seaview Fishing Pier, North Topsail Beach, www.seaviewfishingpier.com.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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