Weíve reached the end of February and are facing the coldest and nastiest week of weather since early December. There has been wind and some rain and now the weathermen are talking about the possibility of some mixed snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain again over the weekend and at mid-week. There wasnít much for fishing reports this week and it doesnít look like there will be a lot in the coming week either.
The plus side is we are almost through with winter. Spring officially arrives in three weeks. With a little luck, the stretch of colder weather forecast for the next week is the last hurrah this winter for Old Man Winter and Jack Frost. Hopefully it isnít enough to cool the water more than a few degrees and things will fire back up when it passes.
I spoke with fishermen from Hatteras to Calabash and some headed offshore on Sunday. Blackfin tuna were the primary catch along the whole state. There were also a few wahoo and a couple of yellowfin tuna north of Hatteras. Several fishermen found schools of false albacore. Alberts are usually fun for a few, but quickly become a nuisance when they are eating rigged ballyhoo. If you find a school and want to have some fun, try casting to them with small jigs on trout and drum outfits. They are a real workout on the lighter tackle.
The recreational season for bluefin tuna remains open, but they are not being pursued heavily. Even with a limit of a single fish per day, the legal size of 27 to less than 73 inches produces a lot of sashimi. Recreational boats may also keep a single bluefin that surpasses 73 inched each year. The regulations for bluefin tuna are subject to change and it would be wise to check them before heading out. For more information on bluefin tuna seasons, limits and permits, visit www.nmfspermits.com.
King mackerel and bottom fish are being caught in 100 to 125 feet of water. There werenít any reports this week, but they should still be there when the weather settles out enough to make the trip. Kings have been hitting spoons and sea witches rigged with strips, plus frozen cigar minnows. The water is warmer near the bottom and most of the kings have been in the lower half of the water column.
There have been all kinds of bottom fish, but several seasons are closed and many must be released. The season is closed for black sea bass, beeliners, red snapper and grouper, but fishermen may keep porgys, triggerfish and grunts.
Most of the winter kings are smaller fish. Sometimes getting the fish stirred up by bottom fishing is a plus for the kings. The activity gets the fish excited and sometimes the big dog gets caught up in the activity and decides to feed too. Things can get real exciting when a 40 pound king hits after dealing with 10 pounders all day.
Fishermen had been catching some tautog on the nearshore artificial reefs and ocean jetties from Atlantic Beach to the north, but there werenít any reports this week. This week there were red and black drum, plus some sheepshead, caught along the jetties at Cape Lookout and Fort Macon. The bait of choice was pieces of shrimp fished on Carolina rigs or double-drop bottom rigs right at the base of the jetties.
There are speckled trout, red drum and black drum in the inshore waters from Calabash to Swan Quarter. Black drum have been mixing with red drum in shallower areas and speckled trout in deeper areas. The best baits for all have been live mullet minnows, bait shrimp and pieces of mullet minnows. Even though the water isnít as cold as many winters, the fish are feeding slowly and the scent of the natural baits is what seals the deal. Some fishermen are also doing well with scented soft baits. Specks and pups will hit diving hard baits, but only when they are fished slowly.
On the second or third day of warm sunny weather, pups may come out on flats in open water, but in the colder weather they are often well back in the creeks, much like the specks. Specks look for the deeper areas in the creeks while pups look for places that will warm with any sunlight.
Specks and pups are also holding towards the back of the creeks off the rivers and Intracoastal Waterway along most of the state. Once upriver a ways in the Cape Fear, Neuse, Tar/Pamlico and Roanoke Rivers, there may be some stripers mixed with the specks and pups. Stripers like many of the same lures as specks and reds, but hold in deeper water. There have been some good striper catches and some excellent mixed bag catches.
There are good reports of shad moving up the rivers, with the reports from the Neuse River between New Bern and Goldsboro standing out. Hickory shad are game little fish that are lots of fun to catch on light tackle. American shad are larger and in far lower numbers, but are always ready to test a fishermanís patience and the strength of the hook on a lure or shad dart.
Shad usually show a preference for small spoons and darts, but sometimes hit small curltails too. If the shad are running, the launching ramp on the Neuse River beside Highway 70 passing through Kinston will be full of cars and only a few will have trailers. Many area fishermen take advantage of their lunch breaks and a few hours of light after work to catch some shad from the bank under the Highway 70 Bridge at Kinston.
Mary Lee, the celebrity great white shark that spent time off the N.C. Coast during November, December and January, is currently in the open ocean a little southwest of Bermuda. This is approximately 600 miles offshore of southern N.C. and roughly east of Jacksonville, Fla. Mary Lee hasnít been moving quickly and speculation is she is following a school of whales and feeding.
Genie, Mary Leeís counterpart that rarely surfaces to record her position, hasnít pinged since January 19 and that was approximately 30 miles offshore of the entrance to Port Royal Sound on the north end of Hilton Head Island, S.C. It will be interesting to see where Genie records her next ping. You can follow the travels of Mary Lee and Genie, plus lots of other sharks from around the world, by using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is soliciting comments regarding Amendment 18 of the Snapper Grouper Fishery Complex. Interested persons have until 5:00 P.M. on Monday, March 4 to respond 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. These comments on Amendment 18 will be discussed during the SAFMC meeting next week in Georgia.
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 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.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is holding their winter meeting at the Clam Digger Inn in Pine Knoll Shores. The meeting began on February 27 with a public comment session and will continue through March 1. An agenda and issue papers for the meeting can be found at www.ncdmf.net.
The Dixie Deer Classic is the heaviest attended outdoor show in N.C. Hunters and outdoorsmen travel from across N.C., plus the neighboring states, to see the many displays, shop for bargains and listen to outdoor experts give tips about becoming better outdoorsmen and hunters. This yearís Dixie Deer Classic will be held March 1-3 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. For more information or a seminar schedule, visit www.wakecountywildlifeclub.com.
Itís down the coast a ways, but the Coastal Saltwater Anglers Fishing Club at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. will be presenting an all day saltwater fishing seminar on Saturday, March 2. The seminars will be at the Coastal Science Center of Coastal Carolina University. For more information call 443-370-7549.
The SAFMC will hold a quarterly meeting March 4 to 8 at the Sea Palms Resort at St. Simons Island, Ga. An agenda for the meeting and information packets is available at www.safmc.net.
The Eastern NC Boat Show will be March 8 to 10 at the Greenville Convention Center in Greenville. In addition to the boats, there will be tackle and accessory booths. For more information visit www.visitgreenvillenc.com.
The Greenville edition of the Fishermanís Post Saltwater Fishing School will be held Saturday, March 9, at Overtonís Sporting Goods in Greenville. This is an all-day event. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
The Get Hooked Fishing School will be held Saturday, March 9, at the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. This is an all-day event. For more info visit www.ncaquariums.com.
Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday March 10. Youíve got a week to get used to the idea, so donít forget to set your clocks ahead. This begins eight months when the daylight should last long enough to get in a fishing trip after work. Itís up to you to make it happen.