As we warm over the weekend and approach 70 degrees in the middle of next week, don't think that winter is over.  It sure will be nice to begin February warm, but Tuesday is supposed to be sunny and that darn groundhog will see his shadow and winter will return.  It may even begin again as soon as the end of next week, but hopefully won't be as cold as the past few weeks.

The warming temperatures next week should get some fish fired up.  I checked with Reefcast and the projection is for the winds to fall out on Saturday and then blow up overnight and begin setting out for a few days again Sunday afternoon.  Keep an eye on the weather to be sure, but it looks like we have a few days of good fishing conditions on the horizon.

Speaking of Reefcast - It has moved from FryingPanTower.Com to a new home at Saltwater Central.Com.  For a little while, your link for Frying PanTower.Com will have you redirected to SaltwaterCentral.Com (www.saltwatercentral.com).  I spoke with Capt. Dave Tilley, moderator for both sites, and he said the move was necessary to expand to cover more area.  FryingPanTower.Com will cease to exist and Saltwater Central will offer all the information of Frying Pan Tower, plus even more and cover much more coastline.  If you haven't visited the new site, take a few minutes and take a look. 

There still weren't a lot of fishing reports this week, but most of them were fairly good.  The inshore fish responded a little to the warmer weather and expectations are for fishing to improve into next week. 

There were good reports of speckled trout this week and really good reports of stripers.  When you find a lot of speckled trout, many of them are below or right at the 14 inch minimum size.  Still, some fishermen are finding a few genuinely large trout.  I saw pictures this week of some nice 4 to 6 pound specks. 

The suggestion was to concentrate on 4 to 6 foot depths and fish slowly.  Look for places with oyster bars or something that breaks the current flow and gives trout a place to hold without constantly swimming.  They have been hitting suspending hard lures like the MirrOlure MR 17 and soft plastics like the Betts Perfect Sinker Shrimp.  Several fishermen also recommended adding scent, like Pro-Cure Scent Gel!

Stripers were more aggressive and were biting in most of the coastal rivers.  They have been hitting a wide variety of soft plastics, especially paddletails and fluke shapes.  Stripers like vertical structure and that includes drop-offs, pilings and more.  Some fishermen have also caught them trolling Rat-L-Traps and diving lures along bridges and train trestles. 

Unfortunately, puppy drum fishing hasn't been as good as most winters.  There are some drum around, but the big concentrations are scattered.  A few black drum are also mixed with the red drum and they can be fun to catch too.  Sometimes black drum fight better than their cousins in the colder winter water. 

Drum have excellent noses and you can use their superior sense of smell to catch them.  They respond well to scented lures or natural baits.  There have been days when lures wouldn't produce, but casting a piece of shrimp to the same location resulted in an immediate hookup.  It's wise to carry some shrimp or mullet on any fishing trip for drum and give the bait a try if lures don't produce. 

Surf fishing has generally been slow, but there have been a few bright spots with red and black drum, sea mullet, and even an occasional trout being caught.  The fish are usually in the first slough off the beach.  The best time for surf fishing has been the last few hours of the rising tide and the first couple of hours of the falling tide. 

Conditions haven't been good for much ocean fishing, but maybe there will be a few days this week.  The most reliable winter ocean fishing is offshore bottom fishing.  Black sea bass are on every structure from the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs to depths surpassing 100 feet.  The ones offshore tend to be larger and shorts can be a nuisance closer in.  Grunts and porgys begin to show in the catch at around 60 to 80 feet and triggerfish and beeliners show at around 100 feet.

Commercial fishermen had a couple of days of good king mackerel fishing this week, so the kings must still be around.  The key seems to be finding water temps in the mid 60s and higher over structure with bait.  Winter kings are mostly smaller fish and are usually aggressive.  They will hit spoons, sea witches with strips, and frozen cigar minnows slow trolled on skirted live bait rigs.

Expectations are there should be some wahoo and blackfin tuna along the temperature breaks at the edge of the Gulf Stream, but there hasn't been a report in several weeks.  Maybe someone will try them next week if the wind falls out as forecast.

New White Marlin State Record Approved
The 138 pound white marlin that Neil Manning of Ashburn, Va. caught on November 16 while fishing with Capt. Kenny Koci and mate Derek Nelson on the Fin Again from Hatteras has been approved as the new N.C. State Record.  The fish was 85 inches long (tip of bottom jaw to fork of tail) and 37 inches in girth. 

The fish hit a live menhaden bridled to a circle hook.  Manning used a Shimano TLD 25 reel, spooled with 30 pound line and mounted on a Cape Fear Rod to subdue the fish.  Manning's fish replaces the 118 pound, 8 ounce record white marlin that was caught by Ethel B. Cootes out of Oregon Inlet in 1976.  The world record white marlin is a 181 pound and  14 ounce brute from Victoria, Brazil that was caught by Evandro Coser in 1979.  

Expired Tarpon Found in Bogue Sound Creek

An expired tarpon discovered late last week in one of the creeks off Bogue Sound is another thing destined for the "You never know what you might find" files.  The tarpon must have been enjoying the late fall and early winter warm water in the area creek when the temperature started dropping and it didn't make it out.  Sightings like this happen occasionally, but usually during the summer.  I regret the tarpon didn't survive, but its legacy will live on as it joins the files alongside things like the bluefin tuna caught in Archer Creek about 10 years ago.

Fisheries Approves 15 Coastal Recreational Fishing License Grants
The big news for this week is that revenues from the N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License will pay $1,794,208 in grants during the coming year for 15 projects that provide coastal fishing access and fisheries and habitat research.  The grants are funded from the N.C. Marine Resources Fund, which receives revenues from the sale of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses.

The grants are sorted into three focus areas. Grants that fall under the People focus area include public education and public water access projects. Grants that fall under the Fish focus area are fisheries research projects. Grants that fall under the Habitat focus area include projects that enhance, protect or research fisheries habitat.

Six grants, totaling $983,505, were approved in the People focus area, while five grants, totaling $277,967, were approved in the Fish Focus area and the Habitat Focus area received four grants totaling $532,736.  For more information on these grants or the Coastal Recreational Fishing License grant program, contact Wayne Johannessen, Coastal Recreational Fishing License grants coordinator, at 252-808-8004 or Wayne.Johannessen@ncdenr.gov.

Pechmann Center Offers Basic and Intermediate Fly-Fishing ClinicsThe John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville will offer a Basic Fly-Fishing Clinic on January 30 and an Intermediate Fly-Fishing Clinic on February 13.  Both clinics will run from 9:00 A.M. until 3:00 P.M.  The Fly-Fishing Clinics features the Joan Wulff method of fly-casting and the basic clinic is an introduction to fly-fishing, while the intermediate 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.

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 basic clinic is limited to 40 people and the intermediate clinic is limited to 30 people.  There is a registration fee of $5, payable on the day of the event.  For more information on the fly-fishing clinics or other programs offered at the Pechmann Center, 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.

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.

SAFMC Solicits Public Input on Electronic Reporting Requirements and Other Fisheries Issues
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is soliciting public input through a series of public hearings on proposed measures that could affect federally permitted charter vessels along the Atlantic coast.  For-hire vessels (charter and headboats) operating more than three miles offshore in federal waters must have specific federal permits to legally target dolphin and wahoo, Coastal Migratory Pelagics (mackerel and cobia), and snapper grouper species.  The SAFMC is considering alternatives that would require electronic reporting for charter vessels with those federal permits, ranging from weekly reporting to daily reporting, through development of the Atlantic Generic Charterboat/Headboat Reporting Amendment. 

The SAFMC is also soliciting comments on Coastal Migratory Pelagic Amendment 26, which includes several proposed management actions for Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic migratory group king mackerel. Additional information about these actions and public comment opportunities is available at http://safmc.net/meetings/public-hearing-and-scoping-meeting-schedule.

On Tuesday, February 9, at 5:00 PM, SAFMC staff will provide a brief presentation on the Generic Charter/For-Hire Reporting Amendment during the Mid-Atlantic Council's February 2016 meeting in New Bern, North Carolina.  However the public hearing webinar to gather input on these proposed measures will be held the previous day, February 8, at 6:00 p.m.  Those wishing to participate in the webinar may register by visiting https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/294541944674559490.

From January 25 to February 3, public hearing will be held throughout the South Atlantic Region.  The closest meeting will be on January 28 from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries central District Office in Morehead City.  The date, time, and location for other meeting may be found at http://safmc.net/meetings/public-hearing-and-scoping-meeting-schedule#Meeting Schedule.    

Written comments for the amendments will be accepted until 5:00 P.M. on February 10.  Comments may be via:
• E-mail to; mike.collins@safmc.net (Please reference the name of the amendment you are submitting comments about in the subject line of your e-mail);
• Fax to; 843-769-4520; or
• Mail to; Gregg Waugh - Executive Director SAFMC - 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201 - N. Charleston, SC  29405.

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 MeetingsFebruary 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 10:  NOAA Fisheries Monitor Marine Sanctuary Expansion Meeting, 6:00 to 9:00 P.M., North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort, 252-728-7317, meetings at other locations noted above, 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 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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