Isn't this weather great? I'm happy to report we are currently enjoying the warmest and sunniest week so far this year and the forecast is for the good weather to hold into next week. It may have a little hiccup early next week, but the long range forecast is for the sun and warmer temperatures to return. I hope this isn't a false security, but so far Puxtawatney Phil was right and spring is coming early. That's really good as this winter has been brutal and we need some relief.
While we are warm and sunny, there are still some winds to be reckoned with. Depending on exactly where you are, there is a small craft advisory for Friday that should expire sometime Friday evening or Saturday morning. Rapid-fire fronts are still rolling out of the Gulf and Midwest, but, while this one carries some wind, it is only supposed to be a few degrees cooler.
The beach water temperature continued its warming trend this week and gained another degree. While still hovering at a cool 48 degrees, this is a vast improvement from the low 40s just a few weeks ago. Hopefully this warming trend continues. The air temperatures help the fishermen and the water temperatures help the fish.
Puppy drum and stripers, with an occasional black drum, continue to be the primary fish being caught in nearshore and inshore coastal waters. In addition to moving back to the shallows around Shark Island at Cape Lookout, puppy drum are scattered through the surf, primarily off beaches that aren't inhabited, and in the coastal creeks and bays. The jetties at Cape Lookout and in Beaufort Inlet at Fort Macon are holding some pups, as are the bays and creeks in the southern end of the state.
Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah's Ark Fishing Charters in Harkers Island said he caught more upper slot and over slot drum this week than he had since mid fall. He said they were biting pretty well too and would take soft plastics and pieces of shrimp or cut bait. He said he had a little more action at the Cape Lookout Jetty, but the larger fish were on the shoals around Shark Island.
While fishermen have reported seeing schools of speckled trout, the recreational fishermen don't need to get excited about catching them just yet. The trout are not biting well in the cold water, but the water will warm and that will change. However, at last week's meeting at Atlantic Beach, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) voted to continue the recreational closure until June 15 to allow the trout to get through the peak of their spawning season. This was welcomed by the recreational fishermen attending until the next move by the MFC.
In a move that was not supported by biologists from the Division of Marine Fisheries, the MFC also voted to allow commercial fishermen to sell bycatch amounts of speckled trout up to 50 pounds or 10 per cent of their catch, whichever is less. This met with a major disapproval from recreational fishermen. A provision for allowing recreational fishermen to keep a trout or two as bycatch was discussed, but was not adopted.
While the ocean striper bite has picked back up off Oregon Inlet, the fish have moved off the beaches and many are beyond the three mile limit for keeping them. The ocean stripers are hitting Mojo rigs, umbrella rigs, diving plugs and jigs. Currently, the average size is roughly 15-20 pounds, but there are some 35 to 45 pound fish mixed in the schools.
After the second incident of commercial trawlers dumping excess fish of which some are dead, it was expected the commercial trawl season would remain closed. However, there is approximately 60,000 pounds of allocation remaining and the MFC voted to open the season for a day at a time until this allocation had been caught. This brought forth an outcry from the recreational fishermen, who say the amount of dead discards is significantly higher than the official number and believe the season should be closed to prevent another incident.
Fishermen in the rivers have been catching stripers well, but the current sunny, warm weather has slowed the action. While striper catches have been reported in the Albemarle Sound and in the Tar/Pamlico, Neuse/Trent and Cape Fear/Northeast Cape Fear Rivers some of these areas are closed. The striper season in the Roanoke River Management area will open on March 1 and many fishermen are eagerly awaiting that day. There are some special regulations, such as barbless hooks, and checking them at www.ncdmf.net is advised.
It is time for the shad to begin running in the coastal Carolina Rivers, but I have not yet received a good report. This is a fun and exciting fishery that doesn't require expensive tackle.
The fishermen off Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet had another good weekend catching tuna. This week the catches were primarily blackfins and bluefins, but a few yellowfins were also caught.
On Saturday, Feb. 12, the waters south of Hatteras Light closed to catching black sea bass until June 1. This season is still open north of Hatteras Light, but fishermen must leave and return from an inlet that is also above Hatteras Light. Oregon Inlet is the only N.C. inlet north of Hatteras Light. The latitude line being used by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Commission (SAFMC) for the boundary is 35.15.19N. Check the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net for more details.
Even on the good weather days, not many folks are heading offshore to bottom fish. Red snapper season is closed indefinitely. As of January 31, Warsaw grouper and speckled hind seasons were closed in all federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore) and waters from 240 feet deep out to 200 miles offshore are closed for snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper, and silk snapper. The only bottom fish that currently can be caught and kept are grunts, porgys, triggerfish and hogfish (hog snapper).
Congressional staffers said members of the Environmental Defense Fund were in Washington, D.C. this week lobbying for catch shares. Fishermen should let their federal legislators know how they feel about this and other fishery issues. The addresses, e-mails and phone numbers for all federal congressmen and their contact information are available at www.usagov.gov.
Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-NC) has filed an amendment (Amendment 548) to HR 1 which would prohibit NOAA Fisheries from spending any money for development or approval of catch shares in any East Coast or Gulf Coast U.S. fishery. Everyone should contact Congressman Jones office and make him aware of your feelings on this.
Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-NC) led a bipartisan group of lawmakers urging the Department of Commerce to consider alternatives to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Catch Share Program. In a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Hagan, along with Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Scott Brown (R-MA), plus Representatives Jones, Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Barney Frank (D-MA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said the policy endangers the fishing industry and asked him to consider alternative fishery management techniques.
Congressman Jones has also joined with N.C. Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan in a joint letter to the Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar that claims new restrictions will hurt families and businesses along the Outer Banks. Their bipartisan appeal requests more driving and beach access on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore than new National Park Service (NPS) regulations allow.
"Because Hatteras Island has an average width of only 1,500 feet," the legislators wrote, "restrictions proposed by the NPS effectively close many areas in which there are no environmental concerns."
As I noted earlier, two actions by the MFC at their meeting last Friday were with speckled trout and stripers. Another action passed virtually unnoticed. The minimum size for recreationally caught flounder increased to 15 inches for the whole state and the possession limit decreased to six fish. As per the proclamation issued on Valentines Day, this will become effective on February 21.
CCA-NC and the CFRG sponsored "Legislative Day" in Raleigh on Thursday, Feb. 17. This gathering was of fishermen was to let the incoming senators and representatives know how fishermen fell about regulations imposed by the MFC and legislation that is forthcoming. One of the things to be discussed was gamefish status for red drum, speckled trout and striped bass. I had hoped to have a report, but maybe I will next week. For those who couldn't or didn't attend, but would like to have their voices heard, a list of state congressmen and their contact information is available at www.ncleg.net.
The Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet on February 22, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. at the NCDENR Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information contact Sean McKenna at Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or 1-800 338-7804 or visit www.ncdmf.net.
The Albemarle/Roanoke and Central/Southern Advisory Committees will have a joint meeting on February 24 at 5:30 P.M to discuss the N.C. Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan. The Albemarle/Roanoke Committee will meet at the Chowan County Agricultural Extension Center in Edenton and the Central/Southern Committee will meet at the NCDENR Regional Field Office in Washington. The meetings will be connected by conference call. For more information contact Charlton Godwin (Charlton.Godwin@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-338-7805) or Katy West (Katy.West@ncdenr.gov or 1-800 338-7805) or visit www.ncdmf.net.
A Fishermen's Rally is scheduled for February 25 at the National Marine Fisheries Southeast Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Fla. This rally will be similar to the one held in Feb. 2010 in Washington, D.C. with the purpose of protesting the use of flawed and outdated data for fishery stock assessment and management decisions, which lead to closing the seasons when fish stocks are actually healthy. For more information on this event, visit www.thefra.org/fishing_matters_to_me.htm.
An announcement came Thursday morning from the Carolina Kingfish Anglers Association (CKAA) announcing a new king mackerel tournament trail for the Carolinas. The CKAA plans are for two competition divisions in N.C. for 2011, then expanding into S.C. in 2012.
These are to be lower cost tournaments, designed with the local angler in mind. The divisions will be divided north and south of Topsail, with four or five tournaments in each division. A championship event is planned for the year end. For more information visit www.carolinakingfishtrail.com.
There are two boat shows in N.C. this weekend. The Mid-Atlantic Boat Show is at the Convention Center in Charlotte and runs from Thursday through Sunday (Feb. 17-20). The Carolina Powerboat Show and Sale is at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh and runs from Friday through Sunday (Feb.18-20). For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
Captain Jimmy Price and I will be the speakers for a fishing school to be held at River Park North in Greenville on Saturday, Feb. 19. This event is presented by the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department. For more information call 910-279-6760 or visit www.captjerry.com.