This week there were a couple of cold nights and chilly days and one push of strong storms, but overall our nice mid-winter weather is continuing. I hope no one had any damage from the thunderstorms that came through Tuesday night and Wednesday, but we needed that rain badly. We need some more too, so even when it makes me change my plans I'll try not to complain.
Some folks may be changing their plans for this weekend. It is forecast to start nicely enough on Friday with a high in the 60's, afternoon clouds and southwest winds at 10-15 knots. Unfortunately the wind will begin pumping up during the night on Friday and isn't scheduled to fall back out through Monday. The forecast is a little better the farther south you go, but this might be a good weekend to clear a few tasks out of the job jar, visit a boat show, attend a fishing school or watch the Daytona 500.
I have heard mixed fishing reports since last week's column. Some folks took advantage of the nice weather and found fish, while others spent the time fishing (without catching much) and exploring.
Hey, exploring isn't a bad thing. I've been doing this a while and it's rare for me to spend a day on the water and not learn something--even when I'm not catching. It could be a where, or a when, or how, why or any of the other possibilities, but I'd rather be outside than staring at a computer.
Last Friday morning Capt. Tommy Rickman gave me a call and asked what I had planned for that afternoon. My reply was, "Not too much," so he invited me to go exploring with him. He said we might even do a little fishing, so after asking where and when to meet him, I finished up what I was working on, watched the clock's hands crawl to noon, then grabbed a rod and reel and headed over to meet him.
Rickman works out of Southport and his plan was to scout the ocean beaches from the tip of Bald Head Island (Cape Fear) to Carolina Beach Inlet.
Out near the point at the cape, the water was a little murkier than Rickman had thought it would be and we couldn't see fish in the water, but we were very pleasantly surprised at the amount of bait we saw. It was absolutely incredible. The schools were thicker in places, but we saw 5-inch pogies covering roughly 10 miles of the beach, just outside the surf line. I know it was pogies because I threw a cast net on them to be sure.
The water temperature in that 10 mile stretch of surf varied from 53 to 54.5 degrees. We went back inside at Carolina Beach Inlet and followed the Intracoastal Waterway to the Cape Fear River and the river to Southport and registered 56 to 57.5 degrees in the inside waters. Those temperatures are a few degrees on the warm side for early February.
I was speaking with Capt. Dave Dietzler on Wednesday and he said he was seeing similar water temperatures along Shackleford Banks and the east beach at Cape Lookout, plus back in the creeks. He said the fishing depended a little on getting out and scouting where the fish were to catch them consistently, but it had been pretty good for early February.
After mentioning the 61 pound striper from Oregon Inlet last week, I received several calls about a 58 pounder that was caught in the Neuse River near New Bern on February 3. There is some talk this fish was caught in a net, not by hook and line, but I'm happy just to hear there are stripers that large trying to spawn in the Neuse River.
Once again I didn't get many local reports of bluefin tuna. They seem to have moved well east of Cape Lookout and most likely are looking for cooler water. There were several really good catches at Hatteras. I also did a quick check and the Tag-A-Giant crew has not yet reported implanting their 1,000th tag in an Atlantic bluefin. They are within just a couple of fish so maybe it will happen this week?
Red drum continue to be one of our more dependable fish this winter and the warmer temperatures (water and air) are helping the cause. They are scattered along the ocean beaches and sound side creeks and marshes from Hatteras to the S.C. Line. One of the most consistent surf spots is from New River Inlet to Bardens Inlet, with Bear and Browns Inlets being at the top of the list. The drum usually prefer soft plastic baits, but will hit MirrOlures and other similar hard baits.
The drum are also in the creeks and marshes inside the inlets and are often joined by speckled trout in inside waters. The trout may be present in the surf all along the coast also, but two locations can boast of the most reports. Around the jetty at Cape Lookout is the premiere ocean (and maybe total mid-winter) spot for specks and many are learning the evening bite is usually the best. The jetties at Masonboro Inlet are the second spot.
Stripers are the other nearshore winter fish, but with the warmer weather they haven't ventured much south of Cape Hatteras. The best stripers catches to date have been around Oregon Inlet. Unfortunately the fish are moving around and the bite changes with their moves.
The smaller stripers continue to bite pretty well in most of the N.C. rivers. The Albemarle and Croatan Sound areas near Manns Harbor have been producing consistently, with the Pamlico/Tar River at Washington and the Trent and Neuse Rivers at New Bern improving. The inland stripers are usually hungry and tend to bite when you locate them.
Once again there were some really good catches of offshore bottom fish. The bite started at about 10 miles offshore with lots of black sea bass, but having to work through a lot of fish to have a limit of keepers. There was also a good grouper bite reported by those who ventured off to waters deeper than 100 feet. Other offshore bottom fish in the catches included beeliners, porgies, triggerfish, grunts and more.
Charter Lakes Marine Insurance is offering a free charter liability seminar in Wilmington on Wednesday, February 20. All full and part-time charter operators are invited. Call Adam or Liz at 910-256-4148 for more details.
The Carolina Power and Sail Boat Show is this weekend at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. I got this next one wrong last weekend and I apologize, but it is an event I would highly recommend attending at least once. The Southeast Wildlife Expo is in Charleston this weekend and it is large enough to cover many buildings in downtown Charleston.
If you are looking for a reason to visit Charleston, the 2008 South Carolina Sportsman Saltwater Fishing School will be there on Saturday, February 23. This is the sister event of the North Carolina Sportsman Fishing School, which will be in Raleigh on March 8. You can take the missus to do some shopping, enjoy a romantic weekend getaway in the historic city and learn a little about catching your favorite saltwater fish. For more information call 1-800-538-4355 or visit www.southcarolinasportsman.com or www.northcarolinasportsman.com.