The forecast for this weekend is a little gusty until Monday and there is some rain forecast for then. A little more warming is expected next week, but not a huge change. If we could get the winds to lay out for a while, the weather would be as good as it gets during the winter.
The big news of the past week or so has come from offshore, even thought the wind limited the days fishermen could head out. Wahoo and blackfin tuna have been around all winter, but recently a few yellowfin tuna and dolphin have joined the mix. Dolphin during the winter is always a pleasant surprise, but having a few yellowfin tuna in the catch is great news.
Off Hatteras, several boats landed bluefin tuna and quite a few more released them over the last week or so. The commercial season is closed, so only recreationally caught tuna can be boated. The recreational limit is a single bluefin per boat per day in the slot size of 27 to not more than 73 inches. Each boat can also land a single trophy bluefin larger than 73 inches each year. For more information on all tunas and their limits and required permits, visit www.nmfspermits.com.
Bottom fish are biting in 100 to 125 feet of water, but quite a few of the species are currently not allowed to be kept. Porgies, triggerfish and grunts can be kept, while red snapper, beeliners, grouper and black sea bass must be released. The water has stayed warm enough this winter that cobia and amberjack are hanging around the rocks filled with bottom fish and are a special treat to catch.
Everyone likes to fight an amberjack, even though many do not care to eat them. Cobia are a good fighting fish that usually goes straight into the fish box. Cobia and amberjack will try to steal a small fish that is being reeled up, so if you feel a hard jerk on the way up, hope that circle hook does its job. Don't jerk or you will pull it right out of his mouth.
There are scattered schools of king mackerel roaming the same depths as the bottom fish. The key with kings is finding 65 degree or warmer water on the surface and a rock or other structure that is holding baitfish underneath. Kings are hungry and are hitting spoons, sea witches rigged with strips, swimming plugs and frozen cigar minnows. Most of the kings are small, but there are a few smokers in the mix.
There have been quite a few reports of big schools of false albacore from about 20 or so miles offshore and out. While they are fun to catch, fat Alberts leave a lot to be desired as table fare, so most are released and some are cut into bait chunks and strips. Don't get too wrapped up in the fun of catching fat Alberts as a big school can quickly eat all the ballyhoo you intended for tuna, dolphin and wahoo.
Fishing reports from the inside waters are mixed. Most of the reports are for red drum, black drum and speckled trout. However, some tautog are being caught along the State Port Wall at Morehead City and at the Fort Macon and Cape Lookout Jetties. Puffers and dogfish sharks are in the inlets and surf zone and either will readily hit pieces of shrimp. Hungry pups, black drum and occasionally even specks will hit pieces of shrimp too, especially when the water is cold.
After the past two winters, we don't think of water temps in the fifties as being cold. Compared to the high thirties it is warm, but compared to the seventies it is cold. Sure, a few trout and drum are being caught out in the open, but many are still all the way back in the headwaters of the creeks, where the water is a few degrees warmer. You'll need to pick your way back there to score consistently.
MirrOlures and soft plastics will usually catch trout and drum in the backs of the creeks, but Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach said it is foolish to leave the dock this time of year without carrying some "fresh" shrimp and cut mullet. He said there are days the fish insist a bait have the right smell before they pick it up and it is painful to watch a big school of redfish refuse every lure you throw at them.
Puppy drum are more likely to wander out to the surf this time of year. Many fishermen agree the surf deserves a good look after several nice sunny days and the surf from on any island without houses is a good place to look. When the wind is calm or blowing offshore, you can often see schools of pups swimming through the waves just beyond the breakers. Sometimes they can be reached from the beach and sometimes it requires going out in a boat and casting toward the beach.
Stripers are biting well around the bridges in the Neuse and Trent Rivers at New Bern. Another hot spot in that area is AR 392, which is only about a half mile downriver from the Hwy 17 Bridge between Bridgeton and New Bern. Black and blue back Rat-L-Traps have been the best lures, but they are also hitting soft plastics and bait.
Stripers are active over much of the rest of the state including the Tar-Pamlico River at Washington, the Belhaven Breakwater at the mouth of Pungo Creek at Belhaven, the Roanoke River at Plymouth, around the bridges in the Croatan Sound between Manns Harbor and Manteo and a few are also biting in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington.
Stripers are managed by individual waters, so it is wise to check the regulations for where you are headed. Several examples are the Cape Fear River and all its tributaries are closed indefinitely and the Roanoke River Management Area will open March 1 through April 30. Some areas the limit is three fish, while it is two in some areas and the minimum and/or slot size may vary. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org and open the Fishing Page.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) is soliciting comments on a variety of proposed regulations for fishing in federal waters 3 to 200 miles offshore. There are new issues arising frequently and all fishermen would be wise to check the SAFMC listings occasionally. The current issues include Individual Fish Quotas (IFQs), new regulations on king and Spanish mackerel and cobia, limiting commercial effort for black sea bass, eliminating the 240' foot and out bottom fishing closure and changing the wreckfish ACL. For more information on these issues and how to file a comment electronically, by fax or by mail, visit the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) is meeting at the Crystal Coast Convention Center in Morehead City this week. The meeting was scheduled to open with public comment sessions on Wednesday evening, Feb. 22, at 6:00 P.M. and Thursday morning, Feb. 23, at 9:00 A.M., before going into the business meeting and continuing through Friday afternoon, Feb. 24.
Items on the agenda include a report and recommendations from the committee formed to define the parameters that constitute a commercial fisherman, selecting a preferred management action for Amendment 2 to the N.C. Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan, and to hearing an update on the National Marine Fisheries Service decision to list Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species and the possible impacts that could have on North Carolina fishermen.
While not currently on the schedule, there are rumblings the MFC meeting agenda will be modified to hear discussion of the coastal gill net ban proposed by the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG). In a press release dated Feb. 11, the CFRG called for a ban on all inshore gill netting in N.C water and served notice they would be aligning with numerous other fish and wildlife conservation agencies to achieve that goal. The release stated the CFRG came to this course of action after trying first through the MFC and then through the N.C. Legislature for lesser actions. CFRG stated this would be pursued as a conservation measure to protect the marine fisheries and the other aquatic life in N.C. sounds and estuaries.
This comes shortly after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) added Atlantic Sturgeon to the fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act. At a recent meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee to Study Marine Fisheries, Dr. Louis Daniel, Director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, said he anticipated the listing would have a significant effect on N.C. fisheries, especially the gill net and trawl fisheries. He is scheduled to update the MFC during the meeting.
The briefing book for this meeting can be found on the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/mfc-agendas-briefingbooks-presentations. For more information, contact Marine Fisheries Commission Liaison Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.
Several shows and events are scheduled across the region this weekend. The Central Carolina Boat and Fishing Expo will begin at 10:00 A.M. on Friday, and continue through Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro. This show combines boats, fishing gear and fishing seminars. It will be the first boat or fishing show in North Carolina to have a seminar room just for kayak fishing. There are also numerous fresh water and salt water fishing seminars. For more information and a seminar schedule, visit www.ncboatshows.com.
Also on February 24-26, the Western Carolina Quality Deer Management Program Deer and Habitat Management Expo will be held at the Hickory Metro Convention Center in Hickory. There will be sales booths, displays and seminars on managing whitetail deer. For more information visit www.growingbucks.com.
Anyone who heads to Greensboro for the Boat and Fishing Expo may also like to visit the International Custom Rod Building Exposition a few miles away at the Showplace Center in High Point. The Rod Building Expo will be Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25 and 26. For more information visit www.icrbe.com.
Fisherman's Post Magazine will hold a saltwater fishing school at the Crystal Coast Convention Center in Morehead City, on Saturday, February 25. The school will last all day and offer many aspects of saltwater fishing presented by charter captains and guides from the area. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The 2012 Carolina Fishers of Men Inshore Trail begins on Saturday, Feb. 25, with the New Bern Open Fishing Tournament. This is a rock and speckled trout tournament that will be held from the ramp at Lawson Creek Park. Registration opens at 6:00 A.M. with fishing beginning at 7:00 A.M. For more information call 252-883-9393, 252-230-0359 or 252-236-1592.