Someone complained to me about the weather fluctuating over the past couple of weeks and I may have surprised them with my reply. Sure, I would like the temperatures to be warmer and with less rain and wind, but after what we saw last spring and earlier this fall and winter, I'm actually pretty pleased with the weather. We just eased into March this week and most days you can get by with a flannel shirt or windbreaker in the afternoon. We'll have those warm calm days like Sunday also and those who are prepared to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself will fare the best.
It is March now and the March winds roared in along with the good things. Sunday evening as I was driving in from the Boat and Fishing Expo in Greensboro, I realized there was still enough light to see at about 6:45. That is lengthening every day and on next Sunday, March 13, we will begin Daylight Savings Time for 2011. I would prefer not to lose the early light in the mornings, but it sure is nice in the afternoons and more people can benefit from it then.
Soon it will be daylight until almost 8:00 P.M. and there will be time to work in a couple of hours of fishing after work. While she is still gusting those dang winds, Mother Nature is warming the water and a few fish are taking notice. I've been monitoring the Carolinas Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System (RCOOS) reporting stations and saw the surf and nearshore water temperatures in Onslow Bay and Long Bay had risen to 53 -- 54 degrees. This is up from high thirties and low forties as recently as early February. One fisherman confirmed this as 53.7 at the Sea Buoy, 55.5 in the Intracoastal Waterway and approaching 60 in the backs of several coastal creeks.
With the warming water, we are seeing more fish become active. Good puppy drum reports are expected and they have been coming, even on windy days. The pups are generally holding in less than three feet of water and are usually hungry and biting. They are being caught on pieces of shrimp, cut bait, soft plastics (especially the scented ones) and even hard baits.
Some trout survived the winter cold! I was pleasantly surprised at the number of reports of trout being caught in the past week. You still can't keep them, so take a quick pic and let it go.
Most of the trout reports highlighted fishing very slow. Scented soft baits and mud minnows were working well, with some also being caught on MirrOlures. Over the weekend and early in the week the bite was described as being slow and tentative, but Wednesday and Thursday, several folks said the trout were almost aggressive. Remember that trout are off limits until June 15.
Some black drum have been mixed with the pups and specks. They have similar diets, so most of the same baits will catch the blackies too. I have never caught a black drum on a hard bait, but have been told it happens. I would suggest soft plastics and live baits for the best results with them.
Don't overlook black drum as table fare. I don't eat many of them during the warmer months, but find them tasty when the water is cold. They have a nice, firm white meat and will prepare well in any way you would cook a trout.
Stripers are another inside and nearshore fish that are biting well. The ocean stripers are limited to the northern Outer Banks, but have been biting well and are mostly larger fish. Of course, the minimum size is 28 inches and they can only be kept if caught in state waters, within three miles of the beach.
Fishermen in inland waters have also been catching stripers pretty consistently. The striper season in the Roanoke River Management area opened on March 1 and many fishermen hit the water there on Tuesday. Stripers are one fish that are managed regionally and different areas have different regulations, so check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net before you go. There was a good bite in the Northeast Cape Fear on Wednesday, but that river is closed, so all must be quickly released.
Shad are another inshore fish that are biting well now. Like stripers, they are anadromous and live in salt water, but return to fresh water to spawn. There are shad running up most rivers with a link to the coast and they are loads of fun to catch. Light tackle is all you need and shad will run and jump with abandon. They are often affectionately referred to as "poor man's tarpon."
A boat might be helpful to avoid crowds, but is not needed to catch shad. They can often be caught well from the bank. The boat ramp beside Hwy 70 in Kinston is one place with an excellent reputation for catching shad from the bank and there were several good reports from there in the past week.
Before I forget it, the first NC fishing pier opened this week for the 2011 season. Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island opened on March 1 and Pier Manager Dave Cooper said there were a few whiting (sea mullet), black drum and dogfish around and biting. Tommy Thomes said Oak Island Pier would open on March 10 and Mike Stanley posted on the Bogue Inlet Pier website they would open on March 11. More piers will be following suit in the next several weeks and that's a great sign spring is returning to the Carolina Coast.
There has been some offshore action on days the wind allows heading out. Along the southern and mid coast, the trolling action has been primarily wahoo, with some blackfin tuna. Amberjacks have been responding well to jigging and are a battle for anyone who has the energy or frustrations to overcome. Fishermen bouncing the bottom are catching a variety of which most must be released. Fishermen should remember that as of March 3, any use of bait in bottom fishing beyond state waters (out to 3 miles) must be on a non stainless steel circle hook. Lures may be used as designed.
The only bottom fish that currently can be caught and kept are grunts, porgys, triggerfish and hogfish (hog snapper). I was sent a picture this week of a huge fire back grouper that hit a jig and had to be released because of the closure. Red snapper season is closed indefinitely, 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. Check the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council website at www.safmc.net for more details on the closures and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net for the current limits.
Fishermen from Hatteras to the north are catching tuna. Bluefins are the primary part of the catch, but they are also catching good numbers of blackfins and even a few yellowfins. The run to the fishing grounds is shorter off Hatteras and they can fish on days the winds would prevent longer runs from other areas.
The recreational black sea bass season south of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse closed on Feb. 12 to reopen on June 1. At that time the limit will be 15 fish with a minimum size of 12 inches. On March 3, I received a notice that the recreational black sea bass season north of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in state waters will close on March 5 to match the season in federal waters and not reopen until July 1. When this season reopens, the limit will be 25 fish, with a minimum size of 13 inches. The 2011 black sea bass season in waters north of Cape Hatteras will be July 1 to Oct. 1 and Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.
Many recreational and commercial Tar Heel Fishermen went to St. Petersburg, Fla. last Friday (Feb. 25) for the Fishermen's Rally in the park across from the National Marine Fisheries Southeast Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Fla. This rally was similar to the one held in Feb. 2010 in Washington, D.C. Fishermen said the Magnusson-Stevens Act must be revamped to allow more flexibility in fishery management and decisions must no longer be made using flawed and outdated data as this had led 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.
House Bill 136 is the bill to allow the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to circumvent SL 2010-13 and approve Amendment 1 to the Spotted Sea Trout (speckled trout) Fisheries Management Plan even though it does not meet the provisions of SL 2010-13 which was passed in June of 2010 at the request of the MFC. The provisions in SL 2010-13 include stopping overfishing within two years, returning the fishery to viable within 10 years and having at least a 50 per cent chance of success.
While the exception to SL 2010-13 was recommended by the Joint Legislative Committee on Seafood and Aquaculture at a special meeting in early December, congress was not in session and it couldn't proceed. This is House Bill 136, which was introduced last week and 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.
While it had not yet happened when I posted this, many fishermen are expecting the bill requesting gamefish status for speckled trout, red drum and striped bass to be introduced this week. Several prominent politicians, including the Senate President Pro Tem and the Senate Majority Leader have expressed support for this bill. 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.
The N.C. MFC Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet March 8, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. at the NCDENR Regional Field Office at Washington Square Mall in Washington. The public is invited and there is a time designated for public comment. For more information visit www.ncdmf.net or contact Sean McKenna at Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or 1-800 338-7804.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is seeking input from the for-hire fishing industry about whether to restructure the current permit and license requirements, and if so, how to proceed. DMF will hold three meetings to accept public comment on this issue at the following times and locations:
* March 21, 6:00 P.M., N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wilmington Regional Office, 127 Cardinal Drive, Wilmington
* March 23, 6:00 P.M., N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office, 5285 Highway 70 West, Morehead City
* March 29, 6:00 P.M., Dare County Administration Building, 954 Marshall C. Collins Drive, Manteo
More information on these meetings may be found at the press releases section of the DMF website at www.ncdmf.net of by calling Don Hesselman, DMF License and Statistics Section Chief, at 252-808-8099. Written comments may be sent to Don Hesselman, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 796, Morehead City, N.C. 28557 or to Don.Hesselman@ncdenr.gov.
The Dixie Deer Classic will be held this weekend (March 4 to 6) at the NC State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. This is the oldest sportsman's show in the southeast and has numerous displays, seminars from some of the top hunters in the U.S. archery competitions and more. For more information and a schedule visit www.dixiedeerclassic.org.