The weather this week has been a little more seasonable. We were fortunate and the winter storm that passed in mid-week stayed inland and we didn't see any more snow or miss any patches of black ice on area roadways. This weekend is shaping up to be more in line with what we usually expect for late January-early February.
Friday, at least Friday morning, looks fishable in most areas, with Saturday becoming windy and cooler and Sunday having light southerly winds and warming back into the mid-50s. Monday is forecast to be even a little warmer, but with chances for those warm southerly breezes to puff up a little more.
Unless the season reopens by proclamation, this is the last week of commercial bluefin tuna season until June. By federal regulation, the general category (commercial) fishery for bluefin tuna will close at 11:59 PM on Saturday, January 31 and will not reopen until June 1. The angling/headboat category (recreational) bluefin tuna season will remain open with a limit of one bluefin tuna per boat per day with a minimum size of 27 inches to a maximum size of less than 73 inches. Bluefin tuna are measured in a curved fork length. This is measured along the center of the body from the tip of the lower jaw to the middle of the fork in the tail. Boats registered in the angling and/or headboat category are also allowed one bluefin tuna per year longer than 73 inches.
While the bite hasn't been as good as had been hoped this week, the better bluefin activity continues to be across Cape Lookout Shoals to the east. The 30 Minute Rock and 1700 Rock, have been prime locations. I only heard of one bluefin landed off Southport this week.
There are some king mackerel around, but they have moved farther offshore to find forage fish and warmer water. Several were caught by grouper fishermen on their light lines. The general thought for winter kings is finding water that is 67 degrees or warmer and holding bait. One of the most consistent spots is the coral bottom east and southeast of Frying Pan Tower.
One surprise catch this week was a 50 pound cobia caught by Scott Gordy. Gordy and some friends were offshore bottom fishing out of Morehead City when the cobia hit a bait intended for a grouper. Needless to say, it was a welcome surprise.
The grouper, beeliner and black sea bass bite was good this week. Even better, there were several days when the ocean was calm enough to make the trip in relative comfort. Several fishermen said they were looking forward to a really good spring and were already catching big hump-head sea bass.
While I believe there were more, I heard of one pretty bad freeze related trout kill from the extremely cold weather of the snow and freeze last week. The report was there were several hundred stunned, dead and dying specks floating on the surface in Blounts Creek. This is off the Pamlico River near Washington.
On the good side, there were some specks caught this week. Mixed catches came from the Cape Lookout Jetty, with those willing to fish at night doing the best. Some specks were also caught at the small jetty behind Shackleford Banks, the Masonboro Inlet Jetties and other inside waters. If the water doesn't get any colder, maybe some will stay in these coastal creeks.
The water hasn't gotten cold enough to shut down the puppy drum, but they aren't biting as well as they were just a few weeks ago. The pups are feeding in the surf and on inshore flats during the lower stages of the tide. It is important to fish the reds and the specks very slowly. Mud minnows are probably the best baits as they can be left in one spot and they keep moving, but scented grubs work pretty well also.
Don't be disappointed if you are fishing for specks or pups and catch a black drum. They will give you all the fight you want on light tackle and are a good fish to invite home to be the guest of honor at a fresh seafood dinner. Blacks drum will readily hit live or natural baits and will sometimes hit soft plastics.
The ocean stripers moved closer to Oregon Inlet this week, but local fishermen are beginning to think it probably won't get cold enough to push them to Cape Lookout this year. Fishermen on the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern, the Tar/Pamlico River around Washington, the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington and the Albemarle Sound near Manns Harbor are catching enough stripers to consider making the trip to one of these spots.
The Fourth Annual Johnnie Mercer's Pier Dogfish Tournament was held in Wrightsville Beach over last weekend. Forty-nine fishermen showed up for the event that ended with a tie for first place. The rules state a tie is broken by the earliest fish weighed, so Matthew McKinney, of Charlotte, claimed the win with his 9.8 pounder and Jeremy Vines, who also tied for catching the most dogfish with 16, had to settle for second place.
This Saturday, January 31, the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series will be at the Hilton Riverside in Wilmington. There are seats available and more information can be found at www.nationalseminarseries.com.