Weather, weather, weatherÖ Iím ready for a change in this weather. After being in the deep freeze for three days last week, the sun came out on Friday and by Saturday there wasnít much sign to be found of the sheet of ice that had blanketed the entire coast for the previous few days. The only reminders of the freeze were pockets of frozen floating fish.
The temperature soared over the weekend and the first part of this week and the coast seemed entirely different. Now we have another weather change, which is more back to a near normal scenario, with a lot of opportunity for rain in the coming week. At least the temperatures arenít forecast to bottom out as they have in the past several weeks.
One of the lingering effects of last weekís deep freeze is a cold stun and kill of a lot of fish, most of which were speckled trout. The stun and kill reports have been confirmed from below Wilmington to the northeast coast, with the area of the Pungo River, Intracoastal Waterway and adjoining creeks around Belhaven taking the hardest hit.
The other big news this week isnít good either. If for some reason you donít already know, speckled trout season closed at 12:01 P.M. Wednesday and is not scheduled to reopen until 12:01 A.M. on June 15. This was done in a proclamation by Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries.
As the closure was issued by the Division of Marine Fisheries, there are fishermen questioning if this is also for inland waters. The short answer is yes. Several years ago, the Wildlife Resources Commission adopted a regulation stating size and number limits for specked trout, red drum and flounder in inland waters would mirror the regulations in coastal waters. Gill netting is not allowed in inland waters.
I spoke with Dr. Daniel as the proclamation was being finalized and he gave me some background for it. The current Fishery Management Plan for speckled trout requires a statewide closure until June 15 if there is a catastrophic kill event that occurs in four or more counties. While the worst from this freeze was in Beaufort and Hyde Counties, there were also stuns and kills that were confirmed by Marine Fisheries or Wildlife Resources officers and staff in Dare, Terrell, Washington, Craven, Carteret, Onslow, New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. Daniel said the stuns and kills hadnít reached the threshold to shut down the fishery on Friday and they were hopeful it wouldnít, but that hope ran out early Saturday as more kills were discovered and confirmed.
June 15 as the date for trout fishing reopening is also in the Speckled Trout Fishery Management Plan. It is to be sure all surviving trout have time to spawn at least once before being removed from the population. Depending on how quickly the water warms, speckled trout begin spawning sometime in April, often around the April full moon, and the spawn peaks in late May or early June. Speckled trout have been managed statewide, rather than regionally, as tagging studies have shown trout move into other areas along the coast and sometimes as far as neighboring states.
There is a possibility the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) could overrule or modify Danielís proclamation at their next meeting or in a specially called meeting. This happened after the last cold stun/kill in 2011. At that time the season remained closed for recreational fishermen, but was reopened for commercial catches.
The MFC is scheduled to meet February 19 to 21 and the Spotted Seatrout, Fishery Management Plan was already on the agenda for a number limit change. I think switching to regional management is another issue and would require another public comment period, but stranger things have happened with the MFC and fishery regulations. There will be public comment periods at the MFC meeting on the evening of February 19 and on the morning of February 20. For more information and an agenda for the meeting visit www.ncdmf.net and click on the ďPublic MeetingsĒ header.
Many people have questioned why the trout didnít take warning from the two severe cold snaps before this one and we all wish they had. Iím not a biologist, but I believe the fronts were cold enough to trigger the fish to move Ė if the weather hadnít warmed so much and so quickly at their end. I believe the rapidly warming weather after the previous two cold snaps is the culprit. It warmed so fast and so quickly, the fish thought the same would happen again and didnít feel the need to move to deeper water.
Surprisingly enough, there were reports of drum, and even a few trout, biting as early as last Friday afternoon. It certainly was a warm day that invited fishermen to get out on the water. More fishermen were out Saturday and the numbers of red and black drum picked up, with speck numbers staying steady, but not growing. It seems the drum were spread pretty well over a lot of area, while most of the speck catches were in marshes with deeper channels that get a lot of sunlight.
There were some specks and red drum caught in the ocean surf at Atlantic Beach in the sunny and warm weather over the weekend. Trout were also biting in the creeks off the New River and in the creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway in Brunswick County as the season closed on Wednesday.
Scented baits fished slowly were catching best this week and should as long as the water stays cold. By moving the bait slowly it allows the scent to spread and makes the bait look easy to catch. Those are two key ingredients for convincing cold fish to bite and regardless of how sunny the day may be, the water is still cold.
Speckled trout action has rebounded in some areas and should show some improvement overall during the next few weeks unless the temperatures take another nosedive. Those areas with kills will need more time to recover. When you lose the numbers that were lost up the Pamlico, it will affect fishing for a while. Until June 15, fishermen can catch all the speckled trout they can convince to bite, but remember the current proclamation prohibits keeping any.
The cold weather didnít faze the striper action in the coastal rivers. The stripers have been biting well most mornings and late afternoons and on the rainy days this week they bit all day. Stripers have been hitting a variety of soft plastic jerkbaits and paddletails and a few hard baits. Rat-L-Traps have a reputation for catching stripers and they do. Several fishermen have reported the MirrOlure MR 17 and MR 27 suspending lures and the MR 18 sinking lure have also been catching stripers well. These lures closely resemble small menhaden which are a major part of the forage base in coastal rivers.
For the first time in a while I received an offshore report this week. The weather was so nice Friday through Sunday, heading offshore was the logical cure for a bad dose of cabin fever. The reports I received were for bottom fishing and said the triggerfish were biting well, plus enough black sea bass to fill that limit and a mixture of grunts, porgys and a few beeliners.
I havenít received an offshore trolling report or looked at a thermal imaging chart since boat shows began in January. However, Iím pretty sure there would be some blackfin tuna and a few wahoo on an offshore temperature break that the warm side made 70 degrees or warmer. Those fish are usually out there during February.
In the great white shark report that follows, it appears unique to me that a couple of tagged great whites are holding in deep water just offshore of the Continental Shelf off Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout. Fish that big require a lot of food and I wonder what they are eating out there. Iím wondering if some of the bluefin tuna we heard about earlier this winter have moved that far offshore? It could be whales migrating too, but Iíd really like to have a bluefin report.
The tagged great white sharks that have passed through or are known to be in our general area have moved a little since last week. While she is still well offshore of the Continental Shelf, April has moved from off the Va./Md. state line to down off Cape Hatteras. Genie has moved inshore of the Continental Shelf and a little farther south, off Brunswick, Ga. Katharine is obviously enjoying the warmer weather and water of Florida. She is still just a handful of miles off the beach in the Daytona Beach area.
Lydia is the opposite of Katharine and likes the cold water of the North Atlantic. She most recently pinged in the open ocean east of Prince Edward Island and south of Greenland. Mary Lee is still offshore of the Big Rock, but has moved farther offshore and out into the deep water of the open ocean. You can follow the travels of April, Genie, Katharine, Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks around the world, by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
There are several Cultch Planting Public Meetings scheduled before the Marine Fisheries Commission meets on February 19. One will be on February 11 at 6:00 P.M. at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Wilmington Field Office in Wilmington. The other will be February 12 at the North Topsail Town Hall in North Topsail Beach. For more information contact Craig Hardy at 252-808-8046 or Craig.Hardy@ncdenr.gov.
The Marine Fisheries Commission will meet at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City on February 19 to 21. This should prove to be a very busy meeting with the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan and the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan on the agenda. Public comment will be accepted Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. For more information and an agenda, visit www.ncdmf.net and open the Public Meetings header.
The Snapper Grouper Committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is seeking interested fishermen to host Port Meetings in their communities as part of the SAFMC Visioning Project. The SAFMC Visioning Project is the latest project to develop long-term management for the Snapper Grouper fishery off the South Atlantic states. Port Meetings are being targeted for N.C. either the week of March 10-14 or March 17-21. Plans include meetings in Oak Island, Ocean Isle, Raleigh, Morehead City, Sneads Ferry, Hatteras and Wanchese, but no locations or exact date and times have been set. For more information on the Visioning Project and Port Meetings, visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council hosted a webinar on February 3 to review the Generic Accountability Measure and Dolphin Allocation Amendment. This amendment considers, (1) changes in accountability measures for snapper grouper species to determine when ACL overages need to be paid back and to bring consistency to accountability measures, and (2) changes in how dolphin is allocated between commercial and recreational sectors. The webinar will serve as a scoping meeting for the Generic Accountability Measure and Dolphin Allocation Amendment
Those who were unable to attend the webinar may submit written comments until February 14. Comments may be submitted by:
* Mail Ė ATTN: Robert Mahood, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place-Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405;
* Fax Ė 843-769-4520; or
* E-mail Ė AMDolphinAllocAmendC@safmc.net.
During the colder months of the year there isnít an overabundance of active fish, so the number of fishing tournaments declines for a while. While there arenít many winter fishing tournaments, they are replaced by boat, fishing, hunting and outdoor shows, fishing schools and seminars and the next two weekends will be very busy with lots of options.
The Raleigh Convention Center Boat Show at the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh began on February 6 and will continue through February 9. This show has a large display of boats, with tackle and accessory booths. For more information visit www.raleighconvention.com.
The Mid-Atlantic Boat Show at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte also began on February 6 and continues through February 9. This show has a large display of boats, with tackle and accessory booths. In the past few years this show has added fishing seminars for fresh and salt water fishing. I will be there Friday and Saturday presenting kayak and salt water fishing sessions. For more information and a schedule, visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Flyfishing Show at Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem begins February 7 and continues through February 8. The show will feature flyfishing tackle and accessory booths, plus seminars. For more information visit www.flyfishingshow.com.
The East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and N.C. Decoy Carving Championships at the Washington Civic Center in Washington begins February 7 and continues through February 9. The show features wildlife arts, decoy carving and demonstrations. For more information visit www.ecwguild.com.
The Fishermanís Post Wilmington Saltwater Fishing School will be held February 8 at the Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The next session of the Fishing the Inner Banks Seminar Series, will be held at Eastside Bait and Tackle in Washington on February 12. This session will be on ďAdvanced Speckled Trout FishingĒ and will be presented by Capt. Richard Andrews of Tar-Pam Guide Service in Washington. For more information visit www.tarpamguide.com.
The Southeast Wildlife Expo will be held February 14 to 16 in Charleston, S.C. This is a very large event that draws displays, exhibits and attendees from across the U.S. It is large enough it requires multiple buildings in downtown Charleston. There are also related activities and exhibitions, such as retriever demonstrations. For more information visit www.sewe.com.
On February 15, the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville will offer the final of four Basic Fly fishing Seminars for 2014. There will be classroom instruction, hands on stations to learn the different aspects of casting and fishing for mountain trout. The seminar is free, but there is a $5 fee for materials. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org/learning and click on the Education Center tab.