It was just barely enough to scare the school officials, but Wednesday morning we had our second snow of 2009 along the southeast N.C. coast. Thankfully, this was even less snow and even less disruptive than the first one a few weeks ago. Following the snow, there was some serious cold Wednesday night, low 20s to high teens in places, but so far I haven't heard of a fish kill in one of the brackish creeks off any of the rivers. I sure hope I don't.
The weather for the upcoming weekend is another example of why plants and animals in eastern N.C. are often confused about the seasons. After the snow and cold snap, we are entering a warming trend and early forecasts say some areas may see 70 degrees on Sunday. Heck, we can't tell which clothes to store and which to keep in the closet. No wonder the fish and plants are confused.
Even with this forecast for the weekend, the groundhog saw his shadow on Monday, so we are supposed to have six more weeks of winter. Maybe this is merely a break in the weather, but I would suggest getting out and enjoying it. I know I'll be dropping a line somewhere.
Friday and Saturday appear to be the more fishable days from a wind standpoint. Both should start out light and only increase to about 10-15 knots in the afternoon. Sunday is forecast to be a bit breezy, with Monday being better farther to the south.
Some nice specks were caught early this week. There were some 2-4 pounders from several coastal creeks and some larger fish from ocean jetties. Broad and Gales creeks were mentioned several times this week and one fellow said he had found a few nice specks in Spooners Creek. I'm sure there are also some in the creeks off the Newport and North Rivers.
One report really highlighted night fishing at the Cape Lookout Jetty. The trout aren't there all the time, but there are some real bruisers when they are.
While the coastal water temperature is hovering around the 50 degree mark, that isn't cold enough to shut down the puppy drum. They may be moving slow and sometimes need to get a few feeding to get the others excited, but there are pups in many of the coastal creeks and in the surf in some areas. There is a bit of a debate about exactly why the pups are in the surf in some areas and not others, but the general pattern is they have been holding off the unpopulated barrier islands.
Some black drum are also mixed in with the pups and specks in many places. In others the catch is mostly black drum. Black drum are a good winter fish. They fight hard and taste pretty good too. Sometimes blacks will hit grubs and such like the reds and specks, but they prefer live mud minnows or pieces of shrimp.
I ran into some friends from the New Bern area this week and they said the stripers, a few specks, a few reds and even an occasional flounder were being caught up their way. The general thought was to get out of the main body of the river and into a section of creek that had a lot of sun for all but the stripers. They are catching some stripers in these areas too, but usually do better on cloudy days or early and late in the day.
I received another good report of Oregon Inlet stripers this week. One was there were good numbers of stripers in the federal no possession waters within 10 miles of the inlet, but in the keeper zone they were scattered until you reached the general area off the Wright Brothers Monument. Possession of stripers is allowed in state waters (within 3 miles of the beach), but not in federal waters (3 to 200 miles from the beach).
There are also stripers being caught in 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 in the Albemarle River and Sound around Manns Harbor.
The last minute spike in commercial bluefin tuna catches many had hoped for didn't materialize. The general category (commercial) fishery for bluefin tuna closed 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.
The bluefin bite hasn't been particularly good and with the commercial season closed the number of boats fishing for them will decline. The better bluefin activity has been across Cape Lookout Shoals to the east, with 30 Minute Rock and 1700 Rock being mentioned most frequently.
I had some folks tell me they really nailed the king mackerel on Monday. I received reports from East of Cape Lookout, off Cape Hatteras and around Frying Pan Tower. All the reports involved finding 67 or 68 degree water and good pods of suspended bait. The kings hit spoons, lures and dead natural baits.
Another good report from Monday was blackfin tuna. The blackfins are holding out in roughly 50 fathoms (300 feet) of water between the Big Rock and the 230 Rocks off Cape Hatteras. Fishermen are having the best luck jigging butterfly jigs for them.
Grouper bit good again this week and some folks also caught beeliners and black sea bass. The key seems to be finding a day with calm sea conditions. The sea bass have been as close as 15 miles off the beach, while the grouper require a 30-40 mile trip to deeper water.
Crocker's Marine in Wrightsville Beach will be hosting their annual fishing school on February 14. Visit www.crockersmarine.com for more details.
Other fishing schools scheduled for N.C. this spring include the N.C. Aquarium Fishing School in Pine Knoll Shore on March 14 and the North Carolina Sportsman Saltwater Fishing School in Sanford on March 21. For more information visit www.ncaquariums.com and www.northcarolinasportsman.com respectively.