There were a few cooler days earlier this week, but the forecast has the daytime high temperatures warming back into the mid to upper 60s beginning Saturday and staying there through the end of the week. The good forecast also shows most of these days will be sunny, with only a couple diminishing to partly cloudy.
However, the best part of the coming week may be there isn't a bunch of wind in the forecast. OK, I know it can change, but the early forecast keeps the winds in the 10 knot range, with several days projected to be below that. This is shaping up to be a good time to go fishing. Let's hope the forecast holds.
The inshore water temps stayed the same in some areas and warmed a degree or two in others this week. Unfortunately, the ocean cooled a couple of degrees at all the Carolinas Offshore Research and Monitoring Program (CORMP, www.cormp.org) reporting stations off N.C. It's still plenty warm at the Gulf Stream, but has cooled around Frying Pan and Diamond Shoals Towers. I would suggest bookmarking the CORMP website as it allows you to quickly check the water temps without leaving the house. It doesn't cover everywhere, but gives a good report in the places it covers.
The majority of fishing reports are coming from inshore right now. Most are specks, puppy drum, and black drum but occasionally someone catches a flounder or some sea mullet show up around Beaufort Inlet.
Even though it isn't as cold as most winters at this time, the water is cold and fish are moving slowly. The water is warmer near the backs of creeks, so check them out if the bite is slow near the mouths. A good looking bait with good action will produce, but must be fished slowly. A stationary natural or live bait or a slowly moving live bait will usually get eaten more often.
The most readily available live bait is mud minnows and red and black drum will readily hit them, pieces of cut bait, pieces of shrimp, and Fishbite chunks. They will also hit lures retrieved slowly, just not as reliably. Specks will occasionally pick up a dead bait, but they will hit live mud minnows and lures retrieved slowly, also not as reliably as with live baits. One key to increasing strikes with lures is to use lures with scent or add scent.
Puppy drum will move into shallow water to warm up and feed. Several fishermen have reported catching pups in water so shallow it barely covered their backs. This water is a little warmer and the pups get a little more active.
Trout will occasionally move into the shallows to feed, but usually like to prowl the edge of the first deeper water near a warm flat to take advantage of the warmer water and bait that gathers there. Fishing the edges of shallower areas will often produce specks. Black drum will move wherever there is food and are often caught as extras when fishing for pups or specks.
They aren't consistent, but every few days someone will hit a school of sea mullet/Va mullet/whiting around Beaufort Inlet or in the lower Cape Fear River near Southport. They shouldn't be there yet, but I don't hear any complaints. The warm weather is nice and some occasional fresh sea mullet for dinner are even better. A double drop bottom rig or speck rig tipped with small pieces or shrimp or Fishbites artificial bloodworms will catch them if they're there.
Stripers are biting in most coastal rivers. Often there are also some specks and pups mixed with them or in the bays and creeks near where the water changes from Coastal to Inland. All are hitting a variety of soft plastics and hard lures.
Shad are beginning to arrive and there have been both hickories and American shad in the mix. Hickories are smaller and jump a lot, while Americans can run to 5 or more pounds. Shad usually prefer small bucktail shad darts and spoons, but will also often hit small curltail grubs.
Moving off the beach there is an occasional report of a bluefin encounter, but all but a few stragglers appear to have moved on. There haven't been many fishermen headed offshore, so there haven't been many reports. Expectations are there should be some scattered wahoo and blackfins at the edge of the Gulf Stream. A rip, color change or temperature break where the water temp is in the low 70s would be a good starting point. High speed trolling allows for covering more water and increasing the chances of finding wahoo, but limits the appeal to blackfins.
A little inshore of the break there should be bottom fish and king mackerel. Bottom fish actually start at the nearshore artificial reefs and hard bottoms with black sea bass and add grunts, porgys, beeliners and more as you get deeper. Water around 100-150 feet deep should hold a good mix. Baited rigs and jigging should both produce. Remember that grouper season is closed until May 1.
Kings should be in some of the same water as bottom fish. They like water just a little warmer, but may be found any time the surface temp is above 65 and there are baitfish, especially if the baitfish are suspended higher in the water column. These will be mostly school kings of 5-10 pounds, but they are usually very willing biters when found. These kings will hit trolled spoons, sea witches, and swimming plugs, plus slow trolled cigar minnows. Kings can also sometimes be caught while drifting a light line off a boat while bottom fishing.
MFC Makes Shrimping and Cobia Changes
The MFC also made some changes in cobia regulation in lieu of the 2017 season being closed in federal waters (3-200 miles offshore). The 2017 N.C. cobia season will open May 1 and run through August 31. The minimum size will be 36 inches (fork length) and fishermen may keep one per day up to a maximum of four per boat.
Beat The Winter Cold at Boat and Fishing Expos and Fishing Schools
The Cape Lookout Flyfishers will host a Fly Casting Clinic from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. this Saturday, February 18 at the Morehead City Recreation Center at 1600 Fisher Street. The clinic is free and fly rods will be provided for those who are interested but don't have one. For more information visit the Cape Lookout Flyfishers website at www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department (http://oakisland.recdesk.com, 910-278-5518) hosts an inshore/nearshore saltwater fishing school each year that has filled for the past few years. This year it was scheduled twice and the second school is this Saturday, February 18. This school features Capt. Jimmy Price and myself and lasts all day, with lunch included.
Folks who missed the swordfishing seminar at EJW Outdoors a few weeks ago, or who would like some more information, might consider heading to Tex's Tackle (www.texstackle.com) in Wilmington on February 23 to hear Jackie Dufour from Harkers Island give a swordfish seminar there. Jackie caught a bunch of them this year and should have some good local tips and information.
The Central Carolina Boat and Fishing Expo will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex February 24 to 26. This event combines a boat show and a fishing expo with numerous fresh and salt water fishing seminars, including kayak fishing seminars. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host Ongoing Fishing Programs
There will be one flyfishing program, plus rod building, plastic lure making and fly tying programs offered at the Pechmann Center during February. For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab. The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page.
The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head. The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is local and will host the Get Hooked Fishing School on March 18. The other aquariums are at Fort Fisher and Manteo. For more information on the Aquariums and their programs, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select your preferred location.
WRC To Offer "Ladies-Only" Flyfishing Workshop
Participants will learn the basics of fly-fishing from experienced instructors. Among the topics covered during the morning session are casting, tying knots, assembling rods and tying flies. After learning the basics, participants will spend the afternoon fishing in the center’s ponds.
The registration fee is $20 and pre-registration is required by visiting www.ncwildlife.org/BOW. This covers rods, reels, all equipment and lunch. Participants should bring sunscreen, insect repellant, comfortable clothing and footwear. Sign in begins at 8 a.m.
“This workshop is a great way for women to learn how to fly fish in a fun, stress-free environment with instructors who are knowledgeable and patient,” said BB Gillen, BOW coordinator with the Commission. “The Wildlife Commission offers a variety of BOW programs throughout the year to help women develop hunting, target shooting, fishing, archery, canoeing and other outdoor-related skills.”
March 6-10: South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, Jekyll Island, GA., www.safmc.net.
March 16: Commercial Fishing License Eligibility Board, N.C. DEQ Wilmington
Regional Office, Wilmington, Contact Ann Bordeaux-Nixon at 910-796-7261 or
February 18: Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, N.C., http://oakisland.recdesk.com, www.captjerry.com.
February 18: Advanced Flyfishing Seminar, Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.
February 18: Eastern Carolina Winter Trout Series Tournament Two, Casper's Marina, Swansboro, www.facebook.com/Eastern-Carolina-Winter-Trout-Series-388293288189463/?fref=ts.
February 18-19: International Custom Rod Building Expo, M.C. Benton Convention Center, Winston-Salem, N.C., www.icrbe.com.
February 23: Fly Tying Forum, Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.
February 23: Swordfishing Seminar, Tex's Tackle and Bait, Wilmington, www.texstackle.com.
February 24-26: Central Carolina Boat & Fishing Expo, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C., www.ncboatshows.com.
February 24-26: Eastern NC Boat Sale, Greenville Convention Center, Greenville, N.C., www.encboatsale.com.
February 25: Team Mack Attack Dogfish Tournament, Seaview Pier, North Topsail Beach, https://www.facebook.com/TeamMackAttack88.
February 25: Fisherman’s Post Fishing School, Crystal Coast Civic Center, Morehead City, N.C., www.fishermanspost.com.
March 3-5: Dixie Deer Classic, N.C. State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C., www.dixiedeerclassic.com.
March 3-5: Marabou Madness Fly Tying Program, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, N.C., www.projecthealingwaters.org.
March 4: CCA Fishing School and State of Our Fisheries Discussion, Flame Catering and Banquet Center, New Bern, www.ccanc.org.
March 11: Fisherman’s Post Fishing School, Overton’s Sporting Goods, Greenville, N.C., www.fishermanspost.com.
March 12: Daylight Savings Time Begins!