Weather has been part of this fishing forecast for so many weeks lately, but not because of cold. For the most part, we have been warmer than usual and the cold snaps didnít last very long. The issue has been how fast the weather changes and going from near 70 last Friday to snow on Saturday was just another example.
Once again, the weather was windy and rainy this week, with more forecast for the weekend. There are fronts rolling across the country and up from the Gulf of Mexico that keep the weather changing. The good news is next week is the last week of February and the long range forecast has a couple of nice days early in the week for heading offshore. Next Friday is the first of March and we should be easing out of winter.
Fishermen headed offshore should expect to catch some wahoo and blackfins while trolling. There have been some scattered winter dolphin so one or two shouldnít be a big surprise. There were also some yellowfins caught off Hatteras and to the north.
Just when it looked like the bluefin tuna action was going to pick up, the general category (commercial) season closed. The closing came suddenly and was effective at 11:30 P.M. last Friday, Feb. 15. That season will reopen on June 1, but the bluefin should have moved back up north by then.
The recreational season for bluefin tuna is still open. Boats with an angling category permit or boats operating with charter/headboat permits and fishing recreationally can still boat bluefin. The current regulations allow keeping one bluefin tuna per day per boat that measures 27 to less than 73 inches. Recreational boats may also keep one trophy bluefin per year that exceeds 73 inches. These regulations are subject to change and it would be wise to check them before heading out after bluefins. For more information on bluefin tuna seasons, limits and permits, visit www.nmfspermits.com.
There also havenít been a lot of boats out this week for king mackerel and bottom fish, but there should be good numbers of both around. One of the primary spots for winter kings off N.C. is the area around Frying Pan Tower. The tower is in shallow water at the end of Frying Pan Shoals, but a variety of rocks and ledges fall to more than 100 feet deep within just a few miles.
There are usually lots of bottom fish on these rocks and ledges too. Grunts, porgys and triggerfish are the bottom fish you can keep. There will be other fish too, but the seasons are closed for black sea bass, beeliners, red snapper and grouper and they must be released.
Closer to shore, fishermen are catching tautogs on the nearshore artificial reefs and occasionally along the ocean jetties from Morehead City to the north. Togs like pieces of shrimp and clams and can bite as subtle as sheepshead. Donít be surprised if you catch a sheepshead too. There have been some good catches of them scattered along all winter, especially along the jetties.
The Cape Lookout Jetty has been holding fish all winter. In addition to the occasional tog or sheepshead, there have been puppy drum around the base of the jetty and intermittent runs of specks too. Several fishermen have reported good catches of specks in the surf beside the jetty from late afternoon into the evening. Shrimp or scented soft plastics are the bait of choice while fishing on the jetty and MirrOlures have done well for the surf fishermen beside it.
Speckled trout and puppy drum have been biting all winter. The bite may fall off for a day or two as a front passes, but so far the action has resumed pretty quickly. The water temperature hasnít gotten as cold as in some winters and that helps a lot. Still, the specks are gathering in the holes well back in the creeks that are usually a degree or two warmer than the water around them.
Specks have been hitting mud minnows pretty consistently and will also hit artificial baits that are fished slowly. The scented soft baits, like Berkley Gulp, have been favorites all winter, but some fishermen are also catching well using MirrOlures and X-Raps.
While the specks prefer the deeper holes in the marsh creeks, puppy drum are in the creeks too, but usually move onto shallow mud flats to feed. The pups like structure and will hold around docks and along oyster rocks that are exposed to the sun at low tide.
There has been some good striper action around Manns Harbor, Washington, New Bern and Wilmington. With the ever-changing weather, there are puppy drum and specks mixed with the stripers in some places, so donít be surprised. Lots of specks are mixed with the stripers around New Bern and lots of pups are mixed with them at Wilmington.
Shad are moving up the rivers too. There had been some scattered reports from the Neuse River above New Bern and this week they have been reported all the way to Goldsboro. Shad are lots of fun to catch on light tackle as they run and jump during the fight. More than once they have been referred to as "poor manís tarpon." Shad usually show a preference for small spoons and darts, but sometimes hit small curltails too.
There was a spike in recorded great white shark activity off the N.C. Coast last Friday (Feb. 15) when several fishermen recorded video of a great white shark circling their boat less than 10 miles off Holden Beach in southern N.C. This great white was estimated to be around 14 feet long and immediate speculation was could it be Genie, the tagged great white shark that hasnít sent a locating ping since Jan. 19 and was last recorded just north of Hilton Head Island, S.C.?
A review of the video showed it wasnít Genie as no transmitter could be seen on the sharkís dorsal fin. However, this shark never broke the surface with its fin, which has been a characteristic of Genie. This is obviously another indicator there are more great white sharks off the southern coast than anyone anticipated.
The celebrity shark, Mary Lee, was last recorded in the open ocean a little northeast of Bermuda. She has been on the surface a lot lately and the speculation is she has been feeding on whales. Genie hasnít pinged since January 19 and that was approximately 30 mikes offshore of the entrance to Port Royal Sound on the north end of Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Following the tagged sharks has been interesting. Add in the other verified encounters like this recent one off Holden Beach and one off Wrightsville Beach in the fall of 2011, plus a report by divers off Ocean Isle Beach in the fall of 2011 and it should make you think. I continue to be amazed how many times someone asks me about these sharks when I am at boat shows or fishing club meetings. Check out the travels of Mary Lee and Genie, or lots of other sharks from around the world, by using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org and Iíll try to pass on the encounters I hear about with their untagged cousins.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is soliciting comments regarding Amendment 18 of the Snapper Grouper Fishery Complex. Stock assessment updates were recently completed for vermilion snapper and red porgy and show that overfishing for vermilion snapper ended and that while red porgy is not undergoing overfishing, the assessment update concluded the stock is still overfished and reductions in the ACL are necessary. A full copy of Amendment 18 and the assessment updates are available at the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.
Amendment 18 includes the following five actions:
* Revisions to the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for vermilion snapper that could result in an increase in the ACL for both the commercial and recreational fishery.
* Revisions to the ACL (including sector ACLs) for red porgy that could result in a decrease in the ACL for both the commercial and recreational fishery.
* Modifications to the commercial trip limit for vermilion snapper to allow for the fishery to remain open longer.
* Modifications of the commercial fishing seasons for vermilion snapper.
* Removal of the current seasonal recreational closure for vermilion snapper.
Comments may be submitted until March 4 by e-mail at SGRegAm18Comments@safmc.net, by fax at 843/769-4520 or by mail to SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC, 29405.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will meet February 27 through March 1 at the Clam Digger Inn in Pine Knoll Shores. There will be time allocated for public comments at 6:00 P.M. on Feb. 27 and 9:00 A.M. on Feb. 28. An agenda and issue papers for the meeting can be found at www.ncdmf.net.
This weekend there is a trio of boating, fishing and outdoors shows across the Piedmont. The Central Carolina Boat and Fishing Expo will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center in Greensboro on February 22 to 24. In addition to boats and tackle/accessory booths, there will be fresh and salt water fishing seminars all three days. I will give several seminars on kayak fishing. For more information and a seminar schedule visit www.ncboatshows.com.
Aspiring and accomplished rod builders should consider a trip to the International Custom Rod Building Exposition on February 23 and 24. This event, which features everything for rod building, plus seminars, will be at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem. For more information visit www.icrbe.com.
If you appreciate the higher altitudes, the Hickory Outdoor Show on February 22 to 24 may be for you. It will be at the Hickory Metro Convention Center in Hickory and features hunting, fishing and outdoor displays, sales and seminars. For more information visit www.growinbucks.com.