While we are experiencing a bit of ups and downs in the daily temperatures right now, the downs are so much better than the highs at the beginning of the month and this time last year that no one is complaining. Last week was the warmest of the year so far with a couple of days topping out in the seventies and, while it may be slow, the fish are responding. The best indicators are the reports of the surf temperature reaching into the fifties in most places. That was the low forties only a few weeks ago.
March will begin on Tuesday and the March winds have roared off to a head start. There are fronts racing across the country and the winds associated with them are making it difficult to head offshore, especially comfortably. This weekend is another example of this. We have coastwide wind warnings on Friday that are tied to a front that also has some rain. This is forecast to moderate Saturday morning into Sunday, before another front approaches and brings showers again on Monday
Currently, Sunday looks to be the best day for heading out on the water this weekend. The winds will be light in the morning, but puff up a little as the front approaches Sunday afternoon. I hope to have some good offshore reports for next week.
Not many boats south of Hatteras have been offshore in a couple of weeks. The last time there were reports, they caught wahoo and blackfin tuna. With the shorter runs from Hatteras, they can fish on days many others can't and they are reporting good catches of mixed tuna.
The big player, no pun intended, in the northern Outer Banks tuna fishing is bluefin tuna. It seems the big fish everyone hoped for during December and January are there now. The commercial season is closed and the reports of commercial size bluefins are coming several times each week. It's a bit ironic, but I feel for those charter mates who have to explain to customers who just caught the biggest fish of their life that they have to release it because it's too big. They are also catching blackfin tuna and a few yellowfins.
Puppy drum are the only fish active over a large area. They are being caught inside and in the surf from Frisco to Calabash. One of the hotspots for them is at the Cape Lookout Jetty and in the shallows around Shark Island, just off Cape Lookout.
Capt. Matt Lamb of Chasin' Tails Outdoors on the Atlantic Beach Causeway said his customers were catching a lot of pups as they moved up and down the jetty. Lamb said mud minnows have been the best bait for a couple of weeks and Chasin' Tails has them in stock. He said a few pups were also being caught on bio-baits like Berkley Gulp, but not as well as with the mud minnows. Lamb said fishermen using pieces of shrimp were also catching black drum along the jetty.
Fishermen are reporting seeing a few schools of speckled trout and occasionally hooking one. They say that even with the water temperatures in the high forties and low fifties, the trout are moving slowly and really aren't biting yet. Some old-times say that once the water warms to about 56 to 58, the trout will start biting again. Fishermen should remember the season is closed until June 15 and be prepared to quickly release a trout should they catch one.
This week the striper bite fired back up off the northern Outer Banks. There were some large stripers caught off Duck and Corolla over last weekend and early in the week. A few are being caught closer to Oregon Inlet and that is expected to improve into this weekend. The ocean stripers are showing a preference for mojo rigs, umbrella rigs, diving plugs and jigs.
The trawl season for stripers opens again for one day beginning at 12:01 P.M. on Thursday, Feb. 24. 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. If there is sufficient allocation remaining after noon on Friday, there will probably be an additional day in the near future.
The weather has been good for striper fishermen in the rivers and they have been catching stripers pretty consistently. However, stripers seem to have a preference for inclement weather and with the good weather, the better fishing has been in the mornings, afternoons and on cloudy days. Striper catches have been reported in the Albemarle Sound and in the Tar/Pamlico, Neuse/Trent and Cape Fear/Northeast Cape Fear Rivers. Stripers are managed regionally rather than statewide and there are different regulations in different areas. It would be wise to check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net before heading out.
The striper season in the Roanoke River Management area will open on March 1 and many fishermen are eagerly awaiting that day. This area includes some special regulations, such as barbless hooks at times, so check the regulations before you go.
After mentioning shad in last week's column, I have received a few reports. The report from the Maple-Cypress area on the Neuse River was very good. Several people reported consistent action. The report from the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers was mixed but promising. The fishing was slow in the Northeast Cape Fear, but was good enough below Lock and Dam Number 1 in the Cape Fear that fishermen were launching at Riegelwood and running upriver to it. There is a ramp at Lock and Dam Number 1, but it is currently being rebuilt. This ramp is a Corps of Engineers ramp and a spokesman said it should be completed soon. I would suggest checking before towing a boat there.
If you have never been shad fishing, I would suggest giving it a try while the saltwater fishing is slow. It is fresh water and requires that license, but that is a wise investment and can be used again later. The tackle shops in New Bern, Kinston and Wilmington should be able to suggest some tackle and locations. This is fun fishing that is easy to do and doesn't require expensive tackle or a large boat. In many locations, such as at the boat ramp beside Hwy 70 in Kinston and at Lock and Dam Number 1 on the Cape Fear River, it can be done well from the bank.
While this is usually a time many fishermen supplement an offshore trip with some bottom fish, that isn't happening much this year. Red snapper, Warsaw grouper and speckled hind seasons are closed indefinitely and all 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. Vermilion snapper season is closed until April 1, shallow water grouper season is closed until May 1 and black sea bass season is closed until June 1.
The only bottom fish that currently can be caught and kept are grunts, porgys, triggerfish and hogfish (hog snapper). Check the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net for more details on the closures and the NC Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net for the current limits.
The new senators and representatives have been seated and our legislature is in action. It will be interesting to see how they respond to fisheries issues.
You may remember the uproar late last year when the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) was not able to approve Amendment 1 to the Spotted Sea Trout (Speckled Trout) Fisheries Management Plan because the proposed amendment did not meet the requirements of SL 2010-13 to end overfishing within 2 years, return the species to viable within 10 years and have at least a 50 per cent chance of success. The MFC had requested and supported this law and then asked to circumvent it the first time it came into play.
At that time the MFC asked the Joint Legislative Committee on Seafood and Aquaculture (JLSCA) to approve an exemption from following SL 2010-13. The JLSCA called a special meeting in December and recommended approving the exemption. House Bill 136 is the bill to allow the exemption and not require the MFC to follow SL 2010-13 and it has been assigned to the House Agriculture Committee. Fishermen are urged to contact the members of the House Agriculture Committee and their legislators and express how they feel about this. A list of state congressmen and their contact information is available at www.ncleg.net.
One of the oldest sayings about politics is that it breeds the strangest bedfellows and one of the movements to keep NOAA Fisheries in check has shown just that. Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr (R-NC) recently presented Amendment 548 to House Resolution 1 to prevent any spending to further the cause of any limited entry fishing program (Catch Shares) in Atlantic or Gulf waters. In one of the best shows of bipartisanship in many years, this amendment was co-sponsored by Representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass) and Frank Pallone D-NJ). Not only is Jones from the republican side of the isle, but his politics are well to the right side of the scale while Pallone and especially Frank lean far to the political left.
Jones, who represents North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, which includes Beaufort, Camden, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Onslow, Pamlico, Pitt, Terrell, Wayne and Wilson Counties, has been at the forefront of a push to protect fisheries and coastal access. Jones' amendment passed the House early in the morning of Saturday, Feb. 19, by a strong vote of 259 to 159. In the recorded vote, 51 democrats joined 208 republicans for the majority.
Fishermen are urged to contact their senators and let them know their feeling on this amendment and the issue of Catch Shares. The addresses, e-mails and phone numbers for all federal congressmen and their contact information are available at www.usagov.gov.
CCA-NC and CFRG sponsored a "Legislative Day" in Raleigh on Thursday, Feb. 17. This gathering was to let the incoming senators and representatives know how fishermen felt about regulations imposed by the MFC and legislation that is forthcoming. One of the highlights of the day was discussing gamefish status for red drum, speckled trout and striped bass.
Those attending reported the senators and representatives welcomed the fishermen and listened to their concerns. This week, Dean Phillips of the CFRG reported he had received a letter from a staffer in the office of Senator Phil Berger, President Pro Tem of the Senate, stating that while no bill has yet been entered, Senator Berger supports gamefish status for speckled trout, red drum and striped bass.
Fishermen are urged to contact their legislators and express how they feel about this. A list of state congressmen and their contact information is available at www.ncleg.net.
Three Cultch Planning Meetings are scheduled for next week in the southern part of the state. They are:
March 1, Varnamtown Town Hall, Varnamtown, 6:00 P.M.
March 2, North Topsail Beach Town Hall, North Topsail Beach, 6:00 P.M.
March 3, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, Wilmington, 6:00 P.M.
This isn't saltwater fishing, bit I want to congratulate Kevin Van Dam for winning the Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans over the weekend. This was Van Dam's fourth classic win, which ties him with Rick Clunn for most Classic wins, and he achieved it in fine style, setting a new Classic record of 69 pounds, 11 ounces for the three day tournament. It was also the first back-to-back classic wins since Clunn did it in 1976-1977. The $500,000 first place prize pushed Van Dam over the $5 million mark in tournament winnings and farther in front as the leading all time money winner on the BASS Circuit.
Many Tar Heel headed down to Florida earlier this week for the Fishermen's Rally that is scheduled for Friday, 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.
The Central Carolina Boat and Fishing Expo will be held this weekend (Feb. 25 to 27) at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center in Greensboro. This is a combination of a boat show and a fishing expo. I will be joining many other fresh and salt water fishermen in giving seminars throughout the weekend. For a seminar schedule or more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Fishermans Post Saltwater Fishing School will be held Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. This school will feature multiple instructors and cover many facets of saltwater fishing. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.