Folks, we haven't escaped the curse of six more weeks of winter yet. It has been almost four weeks since Groundhog Day and, while the weather warmed up Thursday and is to stay warmer through Friday, it is supped to begin slipping back to colder on Saturday and we'll begin next week much like we did this one. I don't know about y'all, but I'm ready for it to be warmer than the mid-40s like the temps will be struggling to on Monday.
Friday and Saturday have the best advance forecast for fishing this weekend. Even those days will have southerly breezes starting at 10-15 knots and possibly gusting up a little during the afternoons. Once the cold front rolls through Saturday night or Sunday morning, the winds will shift to being from the northwest and puff up a little to around 15-20 knots.
This week didn't have the best conditions for heading offshore, but a few boats tried it anyway. The best reports were of blackfin tuna, with those who were jigging, rather than trolling, catching larger blackfins. A few wahoo were also caught.
I didn't get a report on king mackerel this week, but I'll blame that more on the weather than folks fishing and not catching. The kings have been consistent enough all winter that I'm pretty sure they're out near the same places. When weather limits the boats that can make the trip, it usually creates a drop in the catch numbers also. If the weather settles and you head out after kings, the most recent reports were from the Atlas Tanker and 210 Rock off Cape Lookout and offshore but close to Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear.
While there weren't any king reports this week, the bottom bouncers braved the conditions to head offshore. In numerous cases, they went farther than the king fishermen. Those fishermen reported good catches of grouper, beeliners and black sea bass. The sea bass have been closer inshore, sometimes as close as 10-15 miles, and are easier to get to. The negative with those inshore black bass is there are lots of smaller ones. Sometimes the release rate for undersize black bass is over 50 per cent. Grouper are still holding in water generally 100 feet or deeper and that's a 30-40 mile trip from almost any inlet.
With the inshore water temperature yo-yoing a few degrees over the past few weeks, the red drum and speckled trout bites have become rather slim and definitely unpredictable. There were some pups and specks caught again this week. It appears they are biting better on the days when the water temperature is rising, not falling. The most consistent advice for these species was to fish slower and, when all else fails, switch to smaller baits.
A successful fisherman, who regularly fishes the creeks along Highway 24 between Morehead City and Swansboro suggested using smaller baits to temp wary fish. He highly recommended the two-inch Gulp Shrimp in glow and pearl white colors.
There are puppy drum in many places, but with the changing water temperatures it can sometimes be a problem getting them to bite. Sometimes those pups in the creeks, just don't understand what you want them to do. The pups in the surf seem to generally be more active and feeding.
Thursday afternoon I spoke with Capt Bryan Goodwin (Native Guide Service, 252-725-3961) as he was getting ready to set up on a school of red drum along one of the Cape Lookout area beaches. He said a school of porpoises had herded the drum into the first slough off the beach and were patrolling back and forth just beyond the outer bar.
Capt. Jeff Cronk (N.C. Charter Fishing, 336-558-5697) said he found a school of approximately 4,000-5,000 redfish one day this week. He said they were a little sluggish at first, but once a few of them bit, the rest soon were ready to join.
I snuck out a while Wednesday and made a trip south of the border to Georgetown, S.C. and fished with Capt. Fred Rourk (Sweet Tea Charters, 843-241-4767). We headed down Winyah Bay and fished some small creeks near North Inlet. We found fish in several of the creeks, but one really stood out.
The school of drum in this creek numbered about 100 and most were larger fish. It was a small creek and the water was clear and shallow. Fred had to pole his flats skiff into it to get across the bar at the entrance and to keep from spooking the fish. We set up in a shallow run that connected two (slightly) deeper pools and began to have a great time.
I caught three overslot pups with my first three casts and the action continued, just not quite as hectic. All of the fish were longer than 25 inches and several were more than 30. We also caught a few nice black drum. It was a great time. We were casting pearl white and new penny color five-inch jerkbaits on 1/16 and 1/8 ounce weighted worm hooks.
Speaking of black drum--this has been a pretty good year for them. They have been mixed with schools of speckled trout and red drum. Black drum don't usually hit lures and most folks have better success with pieces of shrimp. In addition to following schools of reds and specks, black drum will hold around structure. They like dock and bridge pilings, plus bridge abutments and bulkheads.
The striper bite continues to do well north of Oregon Inlet and in many rivers. The Oregon Inlet fleet is regularly catching limits of 30-40 pounders, but they have to run up the beach towards Duck.
River stripers are biting in the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern, the Tar/Pamlico River around Washington, the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington and in the Albemarle River and Sound around Manns Harbor. The river stripers are smaller and there are some specific regulations that vary by the body of water. The Roanoke Striper Management area season opens on Sunday (March 1). This area has some very specific regulations for possessing stripers. For the current striper regulations, visit the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
The shad run has started in many rivers in the N.C. coastal plain. One of the most prominent striper fisheries is in the Neuse River above New Bern. There are boats scattered at many popular spots along the river and its tributaries, but a good place to check and see if the shad are running is the boat ramp beside U.S. 70 in Kinston. Both boater and bank fishermen use this parking lot and if it is crowded, it's a pretty safe bet the shad are biting!
A pair of fishing schools are scheduled for March. The N.C. Aquarium Fishing School will be held at the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium on March 14 and the North Carolina Sportsman Saltwater Fishing School will be held in Sanford on March 21. For more information visit www.ncaquariums.com and www.northcarolinasportsman.com respectively.