It's no wonder the fish can't decide what to do. The weather is changing so quickly and so radically the plants and animals in my yard can't get it figured out either. Three weeks ago the flowers were budding and for the past several days the squirrels have been chasing around in what I thought was their annual mating ritual. The weatherman can't make up his mind on the temperature, but at least he's letting us get a little rain each week.
Unlike the cold for the past two weekends, this weekend the temperatures are forecast to be mild to warm. It will be windy on Friday to begin the weekend, then falling out for Saturday and Sunday. The highs every day are projected for the mid to high 60's and it could even be warmer. If the wind wasn't going to be generally from the north, it could be hot.
There must have been something happening in the water last week. I reported Capt. Noah Lynk's big black drum, but didn't know about a near-record speckled trout. Capt. Johnny Hauser of Davis caught a big speck that weighed 11 pounds and 5 ounces on the evening of January 22 at Cape Lookout. The big speck missed the state record by less than a pound. Hauser's trout was 32 inches long and had a 17 inch girth. He was using a S7MR BCH MirrOlure. Congratulations!
While there were several caught, this wasn't a banner week for bluefin tuna. The commercial fishermen released several that were a few inches short and kept a few. The commercial bluefin season closed at midnight on January 31 and will open again on June 1.
The regulations for recreational bluefins changed on January 30. Currently, fishermen with a recreational bluefin permit may possess 1 bluefin of 27 to less than 47 inches and 2 bluefins from 47 to less than 72 inches per boat per day. Recreational bluefin fishermen may also keep one tuna of greater than 73 inches per year. Tuna are measured in a curved fork length from the tip of their lower jaw to the middle of the fork of their tail.
Speaking of bluefin tuna--The Tag-A-Giant crew had not made it to their 1,000th tag as of the writing of this column. They were a few fish shy of the 1,000 mark, but will be staying a while to try to reach it. With the commercial season closed, there won't be as many boats fishing each day, but their odds of transferring larger fish increases.
One of the best reports of the week came from Capt. Dave Dietzler who reported several days of good fishing along the Cape Lookout beach from the cape up to Drum Inlet. Dietzler said he found schools of red drum in several locations and a few speckled trout scattered through them.
A similar report came from the Swansboro area from Capt. Jeff Cronk. He reported several very large schools of red drum working the beaches between Bogue and New River Inlets. He also reported some speckled trout in the creeks running the inshore side of the islands in this area.
With the weather forecast to stay reasonably warm through the weekend and the winds generally forecast to be northerly, this could be a good time to give this type of fishing a look-see. The northerly winds will be offshore at the southern facing beaches and the ocean should be almost slick up near the beach. It sounds like a recipe for fun and excitement.
While there have been enough reports to consider making a trip, the ocean striper fishing hasn't moved below the Outer Banks and it isn't really consistent there. While some fish are being caught at Buxton and Hatteras, the best bet has been around Oregon Inlet. Unfortunately the bite has been to the south one day and to the north the next. I have not heard of a striper in the Cape Lookout area yet this year.
There have been some very good catches of smaller stripers in the Trent and Neuse Rivers at New Bern, the Pamlico/Tar at Washington, the Cape Fear at Wilmington and in the Croatan Sound at Manns Harbor. These fish are fairly dependable and haven't been too particular about baits.
If Johnny Hauser's huge speck is any indication, there are some big trout around Cape Lookout. Hauser himself said he was certain one large enough to break the state record was there. There are also some trout catches being reported around Beaufort Inlet, along the Masonboro Inlet Jetties and in the creeks off the Neuse River near New Bern.
While the water has gotten colder during the recent cold weather, some smaller drum are biting well in the marshes. Generally they are holding in areas where sunlight shines on mud bottoms in shallow water. When a lower tide occurs in mid to late afternoon, the drum have time to warm up and develop an appetite.
Perhaps with the commercial bluefin season ending, more bluewater fishermen will concentrate on the offshore breaks again. Typically, beginning in February, they find a few wahoo and tuna on the first break where the water warms to over 70 degrees. It's about time to begin hearing those reports.
While I know it sounds like a broken record, the offshore bottom fishing continues to be exceptionally good. Groupers, snappers and sea bass are the primary targets for most fishermen, but most offshore bottom catches also contain beeliners, porgies, triggerfish, grunts and more. This begins as close as 8-10 miles off the beach for black sea bass.
After being in several boat or fishing shows each weekend for the month of January, this weekend is a welcome relief with no shows. Last weekend I was in Richmond, Va. and was frequently questioned about our Tar Heel fishing.
This Saturday I hope to make it to Fayetteville for one of the annual Beginner's Flyfishing Clinics held at Lake Rim Park and the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the Fayetteville Parks and Recreation Department. There is classroom instruction in the morning and catch and release brook and rainbow trout fishing in the afternoon. A fee is charged. The number to call for more information is 910-424-6134.