Welcome to eastern North Carolina, one of the few places in the world that experiences all four seasons Ė in the same week! Can you believe the past week? It began with the snow and ice storm on Friday and gave way to shirtsleeve temperatures in the 70s on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, there was that strong front that moved through Wednesday night and raised heck in several places, before chilling us back to what would be considered normal, to just a little cool, for the first of February.
I sure hope Punxsutawney Phil doesnít see his shadow Saturday morning. My system is as confused as the daffodils that tried to bloom last week and Iím ready for the weather to stabilize. Stabilizing in an early spring, not six more weeks of this craziness, would be nice.
The rapid cooling of the water, plus some yo-yoing of the water temperatures has slowed the fishing, but not stopped it. Of course, we all need to understand it is winter and the metabolism of the fish has slowed, so they arenít feeding every day. A spot that produced on Tuesday may not be a good spot again for several days.
The water had been real cold in places and thankfully there hasnít been a fish stun yet. I drove to Nags Head Sunday afternoon and saw several places where there was still ice in the roadside ditches and the ice and snow mix hadnít totally cleared from the road shoulder after Fridayís front. Capt. Karl Helmkamp of Fistful Charters and Albemarle Outfitters said there was enough snow on Friday he helped his daughter build a snow man.
Much like the weather, the bite has been a little weird in the past week. The main inshore fish have been speckled trout and red drum, but there have been some black drum, sheepshead, and tautog and even a few sea mullet being caught in the surf in places.
Probably the most unusual news of the past week was a snook being caught in Durham Creek off the Pamlico River. The word was it was well back in the creek trying to find some warmer water, but still in N.C. in January. Snook are a fish that prefers water of 70 degrees plus, so it had to be exceptionally cold. I can verify two other snook being caught in N.C. this fall. One was in the Straits at Harkers Island and the other was in Upper Dutchman Creek at Southport. Maybe more will come next year?
The fishermen that found trout said they were biting surprisingly well for water around 40 degrees. Some fishermen said they couldnít get them to bite anything other than scented baits and some said they hit the MR 17 and MR 18 Series MirrOlures well. With the cold, the specks have retreated to holes farther back in the creeks. Fishing slowly is a must!. I will occasionally even stop the bait and let it set for 15 to 20 seconds.
There were reports of puppy drum in the surf again. Shackleford Banks, Bear Island and Lea-Hutaff Islands were all mentioned. The calm days and days with offshore winds have been best. The pups in the surf will hit hard lures at times, but the best success has been when using scented soft baits. A heavier than usual jig head helps make a longer cast. When a wave comes, you can stop your retrieve and let the wave action shake your bait. Sometimes this pause is when the best strikes come.
Puppy drum are also holding well back in the creeks. Unlike the trout, which mostly look for holes, drum will move into the shallows to warm up, especially over a dark bottom.
The tautog, black drum and sheepshead are holding around structure, like the Wall at the State Port and the jetties in the area. They will hit pieces of shrimp on a two-drop bottom rig, but some fishermen say pieces of clam are a little tougher and make sure you feel them trying to get your bait. The sea mullet are feeding on the bottom and like pieces of the freshest shrimp you can find. The same two drop bottom rig works for the sea mullet too.
Stripers are biting at New Bern, Washington and Wilmington. The stripers are holding along drops into deeper water. Soft plastics rigged to fish weedless will catch them and not get snagged much. They also like the Ĺ ounce Rattletraps and lipped diving plugs, but they tend to hang up on the structure.
I did not hear of any bluefin tuna action this week. There is bait around the end of Diamond, Cape Lookout and Frying Pan Shoals and occasionally some whales push through, but the bluefin just havenít arrived yet. With the cooler water, they could put in an appearance at any time.
A few fishermen used the short weather windows early this week to sneak in an offshore trip. Their reports included wahoo, blackfin tuna, a few scattered kings and some amberjacks on the offshore wrecks. The offshore bottom fish are biting, but so many seasons are closed right now that only grunts, porgies and triggerfish can be kept. Unfortunately, the grouper, snapper and black sea bass are hungry too and you have to sort through a lot of them to get a meal of fish with open seasons.
The travels and travails of great white sharks Mary Lee and Genie are a bit subdued this week. Genie hasnít sent a locating ping since January 19 and that was from about 30 mikes offshore of the entrance to Port Royal Sound on the north end of Hilton Head in S.C. Mary Lee is the celebrity of these two and this week has ventured back to off Cape Cod, Mass., where she was tagged in September.
This has been one of the more interesting stories of the late fall and early winter and hopefully it will continue for a while. You can view Mary Leeís and Genieís travels, plus the travels of other tagged sharks in various locations around the world, by using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
The Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet Feb. 4 at 12:30 P.M. at the Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or Tina.firstname.lastname@example.org or Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or email@example.com.
The first meeting of the newly formed Shrimp Fisheries Management Plan Advisory Committee will be Feb. 5 at 6:00 P.M. at the Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Chris Stewart at 910-796-7215 or Chris.Stewart@ncdenr.gov. All MFC Advisory Committee meetings have a time scheduled for public comments.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will hold a Marine Protected Area (MPA) Workgroup meeting February 4 to 6 in North Charleston, S.C. There will also be a SAFMC Joint Information & Education/Law Enforcement Advisory Panel Meeting held February 6 and 7 in North Charleston, S.C. Both meetings will be at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and are open to the public. For more information, including public scoping/hearing documents, meeting agendas, overviews and briefing book materials visit www.safmc.net
Several interesting things are on tap for this weekend and next week. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the Fayetteville Parks and Recreation Department are hosting the third of four Basic Flyfishing Schools at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville on Saturday, February 2. The day includes several classroom sessions and an opportunity to try your new skills for mountain trout in the ponds at the adjacent hatchery. The reviews from the first two schools were good enough I am now registered for the final session on February 16. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will offer a fishing school on February 2 that features Capt. Jimmy Price and me. It will run the entire day and will be at the Oak Island Recreation Center. The topics will be catching inshore and nearshore ocean fish out to king mackerel and ocean bottom fishing. There will also be a session on throwing cast nets. For more information visit the Town of Oak Island Website at www.oakislandnc.com and open the Recreation Department tab or call 910-278-5518.