While it certainly doesn't seem so as I am writing this, there are a few hints we may soon be breaking out of the grips of winter. Today is cold, even though the sun is shining, and the highs aren't forecast to reach the 50's again until next week.
However, there have been a couple of really nice days since last week and they are getting us pumped up to leave winter behind and surge into spring. I was traveling some on Monday and Tuesday and noticed temperatures of 70 and above on my windshield thermometer. Monday was indeed a nice day and while Tuesday had some clouds and got windy and rainy after dark, we made it through the day well.
While most coastal locations continue to report water temperatures in the high 40's, a couple of the smaller creeks and shallow bays have seen afternoon temperatures in the low 50's. It's right at that point where the fish may stop feeding, but so far they haven't shut down completely. The warm sunny afternoons are keeping the bit going.
In addition to the cold, this looks to be another windy weekend. Today's (Friday) winds are forecast to hold around 15-20 knots and then back off a little by morning. However, the wind is forecast to build through the day on Saturday, stay really blustery on Sunday and then moderate to around 15-20 for Monday.
With the sky staying mostly cloudy, this might be a good weekend to start the 2007 NASCAR season. Grab a couple of pizzas or a bucket of wings and strap yourself in for the Daytona 500.
There were just enough god fishing reports during the last week to keep us hopeful and watching the weather. You can bundle up for cold, but windy is a recipe for problems. It's always a good idea to leave a float plan of where you are going to fish during a day on the water, but especially so when you fish during the winter. It could be the difference between telling a tale of being rescued or being the subject of a search that didn't succeed.
The bluefin tuna haven't gathered into huge schools off Cape Lookout, but they do seem to be holding closer to shore. Apparently they know the commercial season has ended and they aren't in quite the demand. This is the second week they have been within sight of the beaches. Several hookups and a few less catches and releases were reported from the general area of the Beaufort Inlet Sea Buoy. These are big fish also. Most are more than 80 inches long and several approached 100 inches.
The other cold water fish we were hoping for is striped bass. There were a few good days along Cape Lookout Shoals back in December. But the ocean stripers haven't made an appearance south of Ocracoke since then.
Fishermen around Oregon Inlet have been finding a few schools of stripers and the catches sound real good. The stripers are large, but the schools are small and really spread out. Fishermen are returning most days with limits of stripers and several big fish per boat, but they are working to find them and most have been north of Oregon Inlet. The good news is there has been at least a couple of 45 to 50 pound stripers caught almost every day.
Fishermen have been taking advantage of the days of good weather and continue to find good action with inshore stripers. Good reports are coming from Manns Harbor, Washington, New Bern and Wilmington.
With three days of nice weather this week, a few more fishermen headed out and there were good reports of red drum. Several fishermen reported seeing schools of drum with more than 100 fish. Capt. Dave Dietzler told of seeing a school of more than 300 fish early in the week.
Some scattered catches of speckled trout were also reported. While some of the trout were up on the flats and feeding with the drum, most were holding in deeper water nearby. The key to catching both was moving your bait slow enough to get them interested. Several fishermen said once the first few drum in a school hit, it became a free-for-all and the bite was on.
During those same warmer days, the wind took a break also. Several boats took advantage and headed for the eddies along the Gulf Stream. I didn't hear of anyone slaying the bluewater fish, but most boats returned with at least a few. The hot bite was off Oregon inlet and was mainly yellowfin tuna. Several boats worked between the Big Rock and Swansboro Hole and caught wahoo, yellowfin tuna and blackfin tuna. One boat even caught a pair of dolphin. The reports farther south were of mostly wahoo, with a few kings.
One unusual fish tale came from a boat that was bottom fishing for grouper and snapper. They had a decent catch of grouper, with a few beeliners, grunts and such, but also caught a cobia. If there is food around and the water isn't too extremely cold, you might run into almost anything bottom fishing offshore during the winter. It is as close to going catching as it is possible to go.
Several interesting things are happening this weekend. The Carolina Power and Sail Boat Show (www.ncboatshows.com or 336-855-0208) is at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh this weekend and the word is there will be three buildings full of boats, plus more outside. The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (www.sewe.com or 843-723-1748) is in Charleston, S.C. and offers exhibits and art on all kinds of wildlife. This could be an interesting Valentine's weekend outing and might get those of you who forgot out of the doghouse. Morehead Marine (www.moreheadmarine.com or 252-247-6667) in Morehead City will be holding their annual fishing school on Saturday, beginning at 8:30. Knowledgeable area fishermen will be speaking on a variety of topics.