Welcome March. If this is you coming in like a lion, I'll be real happy when you head out as a lamb. The end of February was nice enough I fished on the 28th in shirtsleeves and my friend was in shorts. However, when March rolls in on a day with high seventies all along the coast and several spots at 80, it has to be a good thing. Now if we can just find some respite from the wind.
Water temperatures are above normal too. While that has confused some fish and bumped them into pre-spawn and spawn activities a little early, the good news is there doesn't appear to be weather following that will disturb the juveniles and fry.
Dr. Bogus reported water temperatures in the mid fifties earlier in the week for both the sound and surf. I'm surprised even more fish aren't active and biting. When I fished Tuesday, we saw water temperatures of 57 and 58 degrees all day. If we don't have a push of cold weather for a setback, fishing should start at least a couple of weeks early this spring.
Several ocean fishing piers are already open and more should be opening in the next few weeks. Someone sent me some pictures of Bogue Inlet Pier earlier this week and they were setting the pilings for the tee at the end. Once they get it braced and planked, they will be back to full length again. Opening date there is set for March 17.
The big news this week is probably the big trout news reported from Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach. Capt. Matt had pictures of one 8 1/2 pounder, several 5 to 6 pounders and lots of 2 to 3 pounders. All he would say is that the fishermen caught them in the backwaters and hard lures, like MirrOlures and Yo-Zuris, were catching well. Chalk up several more big ones from Hush Mouth Creek.
Aside from those big trout, the fishing reports from the inside waters list some specks, some reds, some stripers, some black drum and a few confused flounder. The water temps aren't quite to the point yet it is extremely consistent, but there are more days where fishermen catch than those they don't. This should improve too!
Most of the better reports are still coming from places well back in the backwaters that are typically just a little warmer than water in the bays and channels. If the current weather pattern continues, it shouldn't be very long before fish are moving out of the creeks and into larger bodies of water. Once the water temperature reaches 60 degrees, it should be game on!
Trout are still holding in the deeper sloughs back in the creeks, but tend to be near the flats in warmer water and may occasionally dart up on the flats to feed. Dark bottom warms faster and trout usually prefer some grass covering the bottom.
Red drum will move up onto a shallow flat to feed and don't seem to care if there is grass or not. The key with reds is food. If there is food and it is deep enough to swim, they may be feeding there. Most of the reports of flounder have come from shallow flats areas and they were caught while fishing for reds. The bays behind Bald Head Island were mentioned several times.
Reds and specks are both in the ocean and are usually in the first slough off the beach. This seems to be more prevalent on beaches that face east, but occasionally the fish move up on south facing beaches also. They will hit hard baits (MirrOlures and Yo-Zuris) and soft plastics. Sometimes they are so close to the beach it is difficult to believe. When fishing the surf during cold weather, be sure to work your bait all the way to the suds. Sometime they hit in water too shallow to swim freely. You have to experience this for yourself to fully believe it.
Black drum mix back and forth with trout and red drum. They might prefer the deeper water, but will move in the shallows to feed. Black drum will occasionally hit soft plastics, but most are caught on pieces of cut bait or shrimp. Reds and trout will both eat pieces of shrimp and reds will also hit cut bait.
Even with the water beginning to warm, stripers are biting well. There are good reports of stripers at AR 392, which is only about a half mile downriver from the Hwy 17 Bridge between Bridgeton and New Bern, and around the pilings and bulkheads at the bridges. Soft plastics will usually catch them, but sometimes it takes a diving hard bait. Black and blue back Rat-L-Traps are local favorites.
Stripers are biting in most of the other coastal rivers too. Several places mentioned in good reports are 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 Croatan Sound between Manns Harbor and Manteo and in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington.
Striper season in the Roanoke River Management Area opened on March 1. The Roanoke River Management Area includes the Roanoke River and tributaries from Roanoke Rapids Lake Dam downstream to Albemarle Sound, including the Cashie, Middle and Eastmost rivers. The daily creel limit in the Roanoke River Management Area is two striped bass per person. The minimum length limit is 18 inches, with a no-possession slot between 22 and 27 inches, and only one striped bass larger than 27 inches can be kept each day. In addition, a single barbless hook or a lure with a single barbless hook is required in the upper Roanoke River (the main river channel and all tributaries upstream from the U.S. Highway 258 Bridge near Scotland Neck to Roanoke Rapids Lake Dam) from April 1 through June 30.
Stripers are managed by individual waters and not knowing is not an acceptable excuse. It is wise to check the regulations before heading out. This information is available on the Fishing Page at www.ncwildlife.org.
I was invited this week to go on a striper tagging trip in the Cape Fear River at Wilmington. The Cape Fear River is closed and it is illegal to have a striper in the boat. My invitation was from Capt. Jot Owens (www.captainjot.com), who is on the Board of Directors at Cape Fear Riverwatch, and has a special permit to hold stripers long enough to measure and tag them.
We began right after daylight and fished until about noon. The bite had been pretty good the day before, but the barometer rose and the fish went deep and we worked hard to catch them. Our big fish for the morning was 27 1/2 inches long and was really healthy.
All the fish received a microchip in their cheek and a spaghetti tag in their upper abdomen on their left side. The microchips can be read with a scanner very similar to the one used for pets that have microchips. They are a simple failsafe mechanism in the event the spaghetti tag becomes lost or falls out. .
Several weeks prior to our trip, Capt. Jot assisted NCDMF biologists catch the last of 20 spawning size Cape Fear River stripers that received sonic tags. These fish can be monitored with transponders mounted at the top of the dam at Lock and Dam Number 1, so it can be recorded whenever they cross the dam. There are several projects underway in the Cape Fear River to restore stripers to the river and these tags are part of monitoring the fish.
While the weather, specifically the wind, hasn't been inviting to head offshore, there is some good news from there. The first is that the wahoo and blackfin are still there and biting. The next is that some dolphin are already showing on the warm side of the temperature breaks and there have also been a few yellowfin caught.
Bluefins are being caught around Cape Hatteras. The bluefin range from small to giant, but only recreational fish can currently be retained. Bluefin regulations can change quickly, so it is always wise to check before heading out on a trip. The current recreational limit is one bluefin per boat per day in the slot size of 27 to not more than 73 inches. A single bluefin tuna larger than 73 inches is allowed per boat each year. For more information on all tunas and their limits and required permits, visit www.nmfspermits.com.
The offshore bottom fish bite is going well in approximately 100 to 125 feet of water. Unfortunately grouper, red snapper, vermilion snapper and black sea bass seasons are closed. Porgies, triggerfish and grunts can be kept, but you often have to release quite a few of the others to reach a limit.
With the water already much warmer than usual, amberjack and cobia are hanging around the rocks filled with bottom fish and occasionally try to steal one that is struggling while being reeled in. Amberjack are fun to catch, but most folks don't care for them as table fare. On the other hand, cobia are considered a treat and highly regarded for the dinner table.
Scattered schools of king mackerel are also roaming and feeding around the rocks and wrecks in 100 to 125 feet of water. At Frying Pan Tower, they are often close to the tower and in water as shallow as 65 feet. These kings are mostly smaller fish, usually less than 10 pounds, but a few large ones are sometimes in the school. Kings usually start feeding when the water reaches 65 or so degrees and most places are reaching that in these depths. Commercial fishermen are catching the kings on 3 1/2 size Drone spoons and sea witches rigged with ballyhoo. Recreational fishermen are having good success with frozen cigar minnows.
Fishermen just wanting something to pull back should appreciate the schools of false albacore ranging from roughly 100 feet deep out to the edge of the Gulf Stream eddies. Fat Alberts have a rather strong flavor for most peoples' tastes, but are fun to catch and usually are willing biters, which makes them favorites of flycasters.
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.
Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr., (R-NC) has introduced a bill (HR 4094) to override the restrictive off-rod access policy at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and replace it with regulations that are not as restrictive. HR 4094 would replace the Final ORV rule and the hated Consent Decree with a plan that doesn't treat Cape Hatteras with stricter biological measures than other National Seashores and requires the National Park Service to consider public access and recreation a priority in Cape Hatteras National Seashore once again. A copy of HR 4094 is available at http://www.islandfreepress.org/2012Archives/02.28.2012-JONENC_053.pdf.
HR 4094 has been sent to the Committee on Natural Resources and will be considered by them to move to the House floor for a vote or not. The Natural Resources Committee oversees the National Park Service issues.
Please call or email your local Congressman and tell them if you support HR 4094 and why you care about public access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The list of Committee members is at http://naturalresources.house.gov/About/Members.htm
I have not yet received a report from the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting held last week in Morehead City. Items on the agenda included 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.
The Joint Legislative Committee to Study Marine Fisheries had its third of four scheduled meetings on Thursday, March 1, in Raleigh. The report from that meeting is that the Gamefish Bill (HB 353) will go back to the House for committee review and possibly referral to the House floor for a vote. If it passes in the house, which is expected, it will be referred to the Senate.
Another report from this committee meeting is there are serious considerations underway suggesting the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and NC Division of Marine Fisheries should be merged. There certainly is some redundancy of services and it seems to make sense. It will be interesting to see how this proceeds.
The only show scheduled for this weekend is the Dixie Deer Classic. It will be held at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh and opens at noon on Friday (March 2) and continues through Sunday (March 4). This event features booths with a wide variety of hunting products and opportunities, plus hunting seminars from regional and national experts. For more information visit www.wakecountywildlifeclub.com.
The 2012 Carolina Fishers of Men Inshore Trail began on Saturday, Feb. 25, with the New Bern Open Fishing Tournament, from Lawson Creek Park in New Bern. This was a rock and speckled trout tournament that is based on the aggregate weight of up to two rockfish and three trout. There is also a "Big Fish" prize for the heaviest fish.
Unfortunately the weather forecast was not good and the forecast winds arrived a few hours into the tournament. Several fishermen made last minute decisions not to participate. The field of fishermen that set out Saturday morning caught plenty of rockfish, but no trout were brought to the scales.
The winners were Bobby Peele and John Flemer with 8.405 pounds. Just behind in second place, Joe Balaszi and Scott Thomas totaled 8.340 pounds that included the Big Fish of the tournament at 5.140 pounds. David Tedder and Jay Langston finished third with 7.100 pounds. The Top Youth Angler was Barry Radford, whose fish weighed 2.825 pounds. For more information on this tournament or the Carolina Fishers of Men Inshore Trail, call 252-883-9393, 252-230-0359 or 252-236-1592.
A Fishermen's Rally, sponsored by the Recreational Fishing Association (RFA) is scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, in Washington D.C. The purpose of this rally is to convince the U.S. Congress to reform the Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Act and NOAA Fisheries. Chartered busses are available at minimal and no cost from many areas. Locations and times for the busses are posted on area fishing chatboards and forums.