Wow, once again it seems we escaped the "snow of the week" as the winter of 2009-2010 marches along. Several places inland received snow Monday night or Tuesday night and several were expecting enough school was delayed. Hopefully, we've had our dose of the white stuff for the year and the weather will start warming. After all, it's less than three weeks to the official beginning of spring. That may be so, but the daffodils and buttercups will probably be a little later than usual this year.
I like snow as much as anyone, but when it brings everything to a grinding stop, that is enough. We should be thankful we haven't seen snow like many places in the N.C. mountains this year. I have one friend who said he hasn't driven up his driveway in four weeks. Another said his kids hadn't made a full week of school in more than a month. In trying to find a silver lining in this cloud, I hope it has been good for the N.C. skiing resorts.
Our coastal weather has us back to daytime highs in the 50s by the weekend and maybe even into the low 60s by next week. We've been averaging 5 to 10 degrees below normal and it sure will be nice to warm back up. Maybe this will be the time the weather breaks and turns nice and warm. Just like us, even the fish will appreciate it. I checked the surf temperature at Bogue Inlet Pier earlier in the week and they were reporting it at 45 degrees on Tuesday.
Not only is the weather supposed to warm over the weekend and into next week, but the winds are supposed to fall out too. Saturday is forecast to be blowing 10-15, but both Sunday and Monday should be below 10 knots. If it warms and the wind falls out like this forecast, don't bother to call me on Monday.
Several boats headed offshore last weekend and they found a mixture of fish. Off Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, there was a good wahoo bite, with some blackfin tuna mixed in. Off Cape Hatteras and to the north there was an excellent bite of medium size bluefin tuna, with some blackfins and a few yellowfins mixed in. Most of the bluefins were running in the ballpark of 150 pounds, but there were bluefins reported from 100 to more than 200 pounds.
Another bright spot in the current fishing scene is red drum. Even with the cold water that is everywhere, there are schools of feeding drum up and down the N.C. Coast. Captains Dave Dietzler and Noah Lynk reported some nice scattered schools of drum along Cape Lookout Shoals. They said these fish ranged from mid-slot to overslot in size and weren't particularly spooky about allowing a boat within casting range.
Drum are also holding in the surf along parts of the coast, especially between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. Drum were caught in the surf at Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island, Topsail Beach, Lea Island and Figure Eight Island. These schools aren't as massive as they were in January, but many are holding several hundred reds. However, the water is cold and the bite is slow.
There were a few reports of some speckled trout and black drum this week. The key for the specks seemed to be finding a little deeper water that didn't have a lot of current. Several fishermen agreed the hot bait for the specks was mud minnows.
Black drum were mixed with the reds and the specks, but more were in the deeper water with the specks. A few black drum were eating mud minnows, but pieces of shrimp were a little more to their liking. Many folks don't care for black drum as table fare, but in cold water their meat is firm and white, with a sweet subtle flavor.
There is a little good news for the pier fishermen this week. Even though the air and water are still a bit cold, Bogue Inlet pier will be reopening next Friday, March 12. Other piers should be coming on line between then and Easter Weekend, which is less than a month away.
In spite of all the dirty rainwater runoff that has the rivers at or near flood stage, there is some action in the rivers. Stripers have been biting surprisingly well for the conditions and now more reports are coming each week of the beginning of the spring shad run. This should continue improving over the next several weeks. The problem may be finding a ramp that isn't flooded to launch a boat.
The striper reports have been good in the Albemarle, Tar/Pamlico, Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. Stripers are managed regionally and the limits may be different in different rivers and there are some sections that are closed. The regulations are also subject to change on short notice. It would be wise to visit www.ncdmf.net before a striper trip and check the latest regulations for where you plan to fish.
The ocean stripers are still biting along the Outer Banks. Many days they are in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which runs from 3 to 200 miles offshore and it is illegal to possess stripers in these waters. There are also some good bites in state waters, within three miles of the beach, and stripers may be kept in these waters (check regulations for size and number limits). A variety of jigs and Mojo rigs have been working well for the ocean stripers.
Unfortunately the political issues with our fisheries continue. Closest to home, there was a meeting Wednesday, March 3, at the Core Sound Waterfowl on Harkers Island with concerned commercial fishermen and several N.C. government officials. The list of people attending included Senator Jean Preston, Tate Johnson from the eastern office of Gov. Perdue and the NC Division of Marine Fisheries Director, Dr. Louis Daniel. They were to speak with the fishermen and address concerns about the current status and future of commercial fishing in N.C.
I was focused elsewhere and did not attend this meeting, but am certain you will find details of it elsewhere in this issue.
There is word from Washington that N.C. Representative Walter Jones has withdrawn his resolution requesting nothing be done about the turtle and gillnet interactions until a study and aerial survey can be done. The reason given was that the suit requesting all gill nets be removed from N.C. waters to protect sea turtles had been filed by the Duke University Law School on behalf of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
All of the species of sea turtles found in N.C. waters are listed as either endangered or threatened on the current Endangered Species Act. The suit contends that the interactions of the sea turtles with the gill nets are violations of the Endangered Species Act and must be stopped immediately. The suit, filed on February 23, follows a November 20, 2009 letter from the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center to the DMF and MFC that the suit would follow if the nets were not removed voluntarily.
Waves from the "United We Fish" rally that was held in Washington, D.C. on February 24 are still spreading through the fishing community. The good news is many legislators who had no interest in the issues facing coastal fishermen are becoming more aware. There was even a response from Eric Schwaab, NOAA Fisheries Service Assistant Administrator, but most fishermen found the comments of Schwaab, who had been in office only a week at the time, to be another case of the NOAA administrators not listening and continuing full speed ahead on their already chosen path.
One of the items the fishermen didn't like and voiced disapproval of at the meeting was Catch Shares, which are also sometimes called Individual Fishing Quotas. NOAA has drafted a catch share policy for public review and comment, and is seeking broad input on its draft policy from interested commercial and recreational fishermen, communities, state and local governments, tribes, businesses, associations, non-governmental organizations and the general public. The public comment period will end on April 10, 2010. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; by Fax to (301) 713-1940, Attn: Catch Shares; and by mail to the Office of Policy, NOAA Fisheries Service, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The following link should also link to the policy and a window to submit a comment, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/domes_f...hare/comments/.
On another front with serious local importance, the United States Department of the Interior announced the United States will continue its support for a proposal to ban all international commercial trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna at this month's meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES). This was announced by Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland, early this week. The Conference will be held March 13-25, 2010, in Doha, Qatar. Adoption of the proposal requires approval by two-thirds of the CITES party countries that are present and vote on the proposal.
This weekend the Spring 2010 Eastern North Carolina Boat Sale will be held in Greenville. The show is Friday through Sunday and more information, plus a discount admission coupon can be found at www.overtons.com/boatsale.
The Dixie Deer Classic will also be held Friday through Sunday at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. This is the largest hunting show held in N.C. each year and many deer hunters consider the trip to Raleigh an annual pilgrimage. For more information, visit www.dixiedeerclassic.org.