Weather continues to be a big part of the buzz this winter and will cool over the weekend and warm again within a week. Early forecasts have Sunday and Monday cooling with highs only in the low fifties, but the cold should be short-lived. By the end of next week the weather prognosticators have us returning to the high sixties and low seventies.
In its simplest form, fishing isn't bad for mid February. It reality, it's surprisingly good. You can't just go anywhere and catch fish, but with a little knowledge and planning, it's a reasonable expectation to be able to put in a few hours and bring a smile to your face, maybe even returning home with fresh fish for dinner.
Fishermen heading offshore are catching a variety of fish, even with several seasons closed. Most of the closed seasons are with offshore bottom fish, but fishermen report sometimes the species that aren't in season are so prevalent they become a nuisance. It's difficult for me to consider, red snapper, beeliners, grouper and black sea bass as nuisances, but all those seasons are currently closed for at least another six weeks.
Offshore bottom fishermen are reporting some big grunts right now. They aren't grouper but they whack the mess out of not fishing. I like to eat them, but I get some funny looks when I mention I like grilled and blackened grunts. Porgies and triggerfish can also be kept and are found around most structure in 80 to 125 feet of water in good enough numbers to bring home several meals.
King mackerel are also holding around some of the rocks and wrecks in 100 to 125 feet of water from Cape Hatteras to Cape Fear. Not only are they spread from just inside Diamond Shoals Tower to a little northeast of Frying Pan Tower, but they will bite almost any lure or bait presented to them.
A little farther offshore, along the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream in 180 to 600 feet of water, there are meandering packs of wahoo and small schools of blackfin tuna. Last week there were also a few yellowfin tuna caught.
One former charter mate said he was looking at how the winter has progressed and how the Gulf Stream is moving and is predicting we will see a return of yellowfin tuna this spring. While there are some skeptics, no one will argue with him as they are all hoping he is right. Only time will tell and maybe last week's yellowfin catches were a prelude.
The reports vary a little on speckled trout, but many fishermen are finding some and in a variety of places. Some fishermen are talking about smaller trout, or small numbers of trout, while some holes are producing good numbers and larger trout. The most constant trend through the reports has been larger trout in the surf and deeper holes in inside waters.
Soft plastics are working, but the reports of the largest specks say they were caught on 52M, TT and MR 17 MirrOlures. As with the past few weeks, EC is the most popular color throughout the various series.
Puppy drum are also spread from the surf to the backs of coastal creeks and well up some of the rivers. Some puppy drum are attacking MirrOlures thrown for specks, but they are also readily hitting a variety of soft baits. Many pups are released and while I catch them on MirrOlures at times, I sometimes switch to soft plastics when I find a school as they are much easier and quicker to release with a single hook.
I mentioned Capt. Jeff Cronk and catching puppy drum in the surf off Bear Island last week and received several phone calls and e-mails. Numerous guides are catching lots of fish this way and they are biting from Cape Lookout to Cape Fear. Beaches without a bunch of lights are key and the prime places are along the uninhabited islands.
I also received a couple of reports of flounder this week. These weren't catches of numerous flounder, but of one here and there while fishing for pups and specks. I believe everyone will agree that February flounder are pleasant surprises.
Striper fishing continues to be good, especially in the Neuse and Tar/Pamlico Rivers. In the New Bern area, AR 392 has been holding a lot of stripers and an occasional speckled trout. There are also some stripers in the Trent River.
In the Tar/Pamlico River, stripers have been biting from above the new Hwy. 17 By-Pass Bridge to below Blounts Creek. One of the keys for stripers is vertical structure, so bridge supports and old pilings are good places to try.
Farther away, there have been good catches of stripers in the Roanoke River below Plymouth down into Albemarle Sound, especially around the bridges. Stripers are also being caught in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) is soliciting comments on Individual Fish Quotas (IFQs), new regulations on king and Spanish mackerel and cobia, limiting commercial effort for black sea bass, eliminating the 240' foot and out bottom fishing closure and changing the wreckfish ACL. For more information on these issues and how to file a comment electronically, by fax or by mail, visit the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.
A public hearing on gamefish status for red drum, speckled trout and striped bass was held by the Joint Legislative Marine Fisheries Review Committee in Raleigh on Thursday, Feb. 2. This was the second of four scheduled meetings for this committee and the only one where public comment was to be allowed. Speakers from the commercial fishing industry gave their reasons the gamefish legislation shouldn't proceed and recreational fishermen offered reasons the gamefish legislation should be returned to the lawmakers during the upcoming short legislative session.
The crowd at this meeting was definitely pro gamefish. Approximately 125 fishermen attended and more than 100 were supporters of the bill. Two more meetings are scheduled for this committee, on the first Thursdays of March and April. A vote will be taken at the end of the last meeting on whether to refer the gamefish bill back to the House of Representatives. Also on the agenda are suggestions on possible restructuring of the Division of Marine Fisheries, Marine Fisheries Commission and all branches of the N.C. Wildlife Commission. For more information on this committee or the remaining meetings, visit www.ncleg.net and click on the committees link.
At this meeting, Dr. Louis Daniel, Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, gave a short presentation on proposed upcoming changes in regulations governing fishing for menhaden and also informed the committee members that Atlantic sturgeon were being added to the list of endangered species and he was expecting far reaching implications from that, but didn't yet know exactly what to expect.
Some big news is coming soon from the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association. NCKFA founder Mark Patterson said they were polishing up the final details, but NCKFA will hold an eight month tournament season beginning in March 2012 that would include fresh and salt water species. At the end of the season, they will crown an Angler of the Year and this fisherman would receive a new kayak. Patterson said the rules were already on the NCKFA website and details were being added as they were confirmed. He suggested checking www.nckfa.com for the latest information.
Several shows and events are scheduled across the region this weekend. The Mid-Atlantic Boat Show began at the Charlotte Convention Center on Feb. 9 and will continue through Feb. 12. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Grand Strand Boat and Sportsman's Expo is just across the state line in Myrtle Beach, S.C at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. It will begin on Feb. 10 and run through Feb. 12. This show includes free seminars. For more information visit www.GrandStrandBoatandSportsmanExpo.com.
The Flyfishing Show returns to the N.C. State Fairgrounds at Raleigh for the second year. This year the show will run Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 11 and 12. There will be seminars throughout the show and beginning at 6:30 P.M. on Saturday, films from the International Flyfish Film Festival will be shown. For more information visit www.flyfishingshow.com/Raleigh__NC.html.
It's still a week away, but on Saturday, Feb. 18, The Greenville Recreation and Parks Department will host a saltwater fishing school at the River Park North Nature Center. This will be an all-day event focusing on inshore and nearshore fishing, with a session on throwing cast nets at the end of the day. Captains Jimmy Price and Jerry Dilsaver are the featured speakers. For more information call 252-329-4560.