Last week when I was putting this report together, they were only talking cold for the first of the week, not snow. At that time, the dominant feature of the fronts moving out of the Gulf States was the thunderstorms that spawned the tornadoes in the Deep South. Then, as the front started moving to the east, the jet stream dropped down and brought enough cold weather to have ice and snow from Memphis to Maine.
Fortunately, we missed the brunt of it along the N.C. coast. However, many of our inland counties received enough snow to close schools, lose power and generally bring them to a standstill for a few days.
Now, the forecast for this weekend is as opposite as is possible. We may have a little extra breeze at times, but the temperatures are rising. Many places are forecast to see lots of sun and temperatures reaching the low 80s by Sunday. Maybe this is the push that shoves the jet stream back to the north and brings our spring.
The wind forecast for the weekend varies from reasonable to tolerable depending on exactly where you are and how quickly the warm weather moves. The good news is the winds are all generally from the southwest. The consistent wind forecast is for 10-15 knots from the southwest, with it breezing to 15-20 knots Friday and Sunday afternoons. With seas ranging from 2-4 feet to 3-5 feet, it could be a little much for smaller boats but not too bad in larger craft.
With the offshore tuna reports from last weekend and Monday, many folks are chomping at the bit to get out and see for themselves. There were yellowfin tuna caught last weekend and early this week from Winyah Scarp off northern S.C, to off Oregon Inlet. Blackfin and bluefin tuna also put in appearances as did a few wahoo. I won't suggest pushing the seaworthiness of your boat, but the possibilities sure sound intriguing.
Several fishermen also found the kings again and the first N.C. Spanish mackerel of the year was caught off Ocracoke. Yes, I know it's early, but Bert Clark was fishing on the Drum Stick on February 26, when he caught a 6.5 pound Spanish mackerel. A dated picture is available in the reports at www.northcarolinasportsman.com.
If the boat, Drum Stick, sounds familiar to some of you, it should. This is the boat that with Capt. David Nagel and James Winch caught the current N.C. state record king mackerel. That fish weighed 82.25 pounds and was caught in April 1999. They also had a good catch of kings on this trip.
Several locations suggested as good spots to find kings this weekend were the wrecks around the Smell Wreck off Cape Hatteras, the Atlas Tanker and 210 Rock off Cape Lookout and on the bait pods offshore and east of Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear.
There were some mixed reports from the bottom bouncers this week. Several said they had to run farther than usual to find fish and some said they found good concentrations a little closer inshore. Generally you should expect to begin finding some keeper black sea bass in about 50 feet of water. There will also be a lot of shorts, but you should be able to catch a few limits if you have the patience.
Beeliners and assorted grunts will begin mixing in with larger black sea bass at about 90 feet of water. Grouper still like it a little deeper and will probably require running to 100-115 feet deep. All of the offshore bottom fish have been biting well on natural bait and an assortment of jigs.
There are speckled trout, red drum and some black drum in the coastal creeks and bays and in the surf. The water temperature has been hovering just below the 50 degree mark and the bite has not been consistent. A general feeling is that with several sunny warm days in a row this weekend, the water should warm just a little and put the fish in more of a feeding mood.
It is generally accepted that when trying to coax cold fish into biting, it is important the bait stay in front of them for a while and have some scent. The new scented grubs are excellent ways to do this. They don't have to be refrigerated. Just open a pack, take one out to use and re-seal the pack. Smaller baits are also sometimes a plus for fish in cold water. Some folks say they perceive them as easier to catch. I don't know, but will agree that many times it appears to make a difference.
The ocean striper bite continued north of Oregon Inlet. With the weather (and water) warming, the stripers probably won't move any farther south this year. There were some big once caught this week, including a few in the 50s that were weighed at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. The best action continues to be up the beach toward Duck and Corolla.
The striper bite continues in most of the coastal rivers. Several places to consider are 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 aren't as large as the ocean stripers, but can be fished on many days when it's too rough to go into the ocean and in smaller boats. With river stripers, the regulations vary by the body of water. The current striper regulations can be found on the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
The shad runs are going strong in many rivers in the N.C. coastal plain. Several knowledgeable shad fishermen said there will be a few slow days as the dirty runoff water from last weekend's rain and the early week snows works it way down the rivers, but as soon as the water level begins receding and the water clears the shad bite should take off again. The Neuse River between New Bern and Raleigh, the Roanoke River, between Jamesville and Roanoke Rapids and the Cape Fear River above Wilmington all have good shad runs.
Spring is coming quickly and not a moment too soon. Daylight saving time begins this Sunday. I heard one fisherman talking about how happy he will be to have the extra hour of sunlight warming the water. I wish it did work that way, but all we do is shift the clock forward. The amount of sunlight is the same; we just gain an hour in the afternoon that we lose in the morning. It does make it easier to get in a quick fishing trip after work though.
For you pier fishermen, the piers will begin opening this month and all should have reopened by the end of the month. Bogue Inlet Pier has posted a notice they will open for the season on March 14. Several more will probably follow suit--especially if the weather warms.
Several weeks ago, I included some information about the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG) and their petition to the Marine Fisheries Commission for several changes in the speckled trout regulations. At that time, I identified one of the founders, Dean Phillips of Surf City, as a charter fisherman. That was incorrect and I apologize. I was given that information by someone at the meeting and didn't check it further, which was my mistake. Dean Phillips is from Surf City, but is a realtor and concerned recreational fisherman, not a guide.
In a study recently released by NOAA Fisheries, North Carolina recreational fishermen ranked fifth in spending among recreational anglers in the 23 U.S. coastal states during 2006, which is the latest year complete data is available. According to Scott Steinback, co-author of the study, North Carolina saltwater fishermen generated $2.5 billion in sales to North Carolina businesses, supported 23,782 jobs in the state, and created over $780 million in salaries and wages to North Carolina workers. Needless to say, that's quite a shot in the arm to out struggling coastal economies.
While it was heavily contested for a while, North Carolina's saltwater fishing license was a step in the right direction and this was shown again recently. The National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), a division of NOAA, recently announced a mandated nationwide recreational saltwater fishing license for all coastal states by the year 2010. By implementing its own saltwater fishing license in 2006, North Carolina has already conformed to the mandate and Tarheel fishermen will not be required to purchase the federal license, plus the funds generated from the license sales, will stay in N.C., to be used only on N.C. fisheries projects.
In 2008, there were over 400,000 saltwater licenses issued in North Carolina to saltwater fishermen. Every county in the state was represented by anglers making the trek to our coastal waters and purchasing a saltwater license. For more information on this and the CFRG speckled trout petition to the Marine Fisheries Commission, visit www.cfrgnc.blogspot.com.
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.