The weather forecast has us warming and staying sunny this weekend. Unless we have an extended and extreme cold snap, we should have made it through another winter in reasonable conditions and with no freeze kills of fish. Milder winter weather not only allows us some fishing during the cold months, but allows a lot of fish to survive and spawn the next summer.
While they aren’t everywhere, there are pretty good numbers of speckled trout, red drum and black drum in inshore waters across most of the N.C. Coast. The cold of the past week has slowed them and some areas had lots of rain too, but they have been showing a little on the sunny afternoons. If the good weather forecast holds true, there may be some fish biting in a lot of places by the end of the weekend. Sometimes they will feed on the first day of good weather after a front, but often it takes the second and sometimes even the third day of stable weather for the fish to get really active.
There are puppy drum in the surf in places. This seems to be mostly along the uninhabited islands like Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island, Lea-Hutaff Island, Masonboro Island, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and Bird Island. They are also feeding on the flats in many of the creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway and the coastal rivers. The pups have been fairly active, even during the latest run of cold weather and come out to play most days.
A few trout have been caught in the surf, but most are in the creeks. Trout may be in the same creeks as the pups, but will usually be farther towards the back and in holes that are a degree or two warmer than the water at the mouth of the creek and in the rivers or Intracoastal Waterway. Fishing slower may help entice the specks to bite.
There have been mixed bag catches reported in the Neuse, Pamlico, New and Cape Fear Rivers. Pups and an occasional lost flounder are in all of them and all except the New have been holding stripers. Stripers are holding in deep water and will sometimes be mixed with trout. The will also hit many of the same lures. Soft plastics, scented soft plastics, MirrOlures MR17 and MR 18 and X-Raps are the lures mentioned most often.
If you move inland farther than the stripers, there are good reports from many locations about shad. On the Neuse River, shad are thick from Pitchkettle Creek to Kinston and some have been caught passing Goldsboro. If this run keeps up at this pace, they may make it all the way to Raleigh by the first of April. I haven’t received a report of shad on the Cape Fear River, but it is time for the first ones to be arriving at the base of Lock and Dam Number 1, just above Riegelwood. I feel certain they are in the Tar-Pamlico and Roanoke Rivers also, but haven’t received reports.
The most consistent lures for shad are shad darts and small spoons. Shad fishermen in the Cape Fear River also catch a lot of shad on 1 and 2 inch chartreuse curltail grubs on tandem rigs. It the bite slows wherever you are, this might be worth trying.
I don’t have any reports from the ocean piers, but the time is fast approaching. Several of the N.C. piers stayed open all winter and the others will be opening over the next few weeks. It would be wise to call your favorite pier before heading there to be certain they are open.
Ocean fishing has been a matter of getting out to them and the weather has not cooperated in a while. This doesn’t appear to be a good weekend either. There is a small weather window on Sunday, but the long-range forecast is keeping it small. Maybe it will improve by the weekend or save your money to go later.
There has been a pretty good bluefin bite off Hatteras. The bluefins were closer, but have been to the north the past several days. Some days are better than others, but there have been citation bluefins caught most days.
Last Saturday there was a small weather window and several fishermen squeezed through it to get offshore. The catches included wahoo, blackfin tuna, false albacore, Atlantic bonito, a couple of yellowfin tuna, a few dolphin, some king mackerel and a lot of bottom fish, especially those endangered black sea bass.
Capt. Mike King took the Streamweaver from Carolina Beach to the Steeples and had a great day. They caught 8 nice wahoo, 6 blackfins and some assorted other fish. Six of the wahoo were 50 pounds or heavier, with the big dog tugging the scales to 87 pounds. In their excitement, they didn’t weigh the blackfins, but in the picture it appeared several were citation size (20 pound minimum) fish. King said the ocean began getting rough by noon and they headed in early.
The warm water holding the wahoo and blackfins started at about 150 feet. Other boats caught some kings and assorted bottom fish several miles closer inshore in approximately 100 to 125 feet of water. The bottom fish usually bite better when the water temperature passes 62 degrees and is getting warmer. Some fishermen say they start king fishing at 65 degrees. I have caught them in water that cool, but usually have better luck moving offshore to the next rock and water that is 67 or 68 degrees.
The Seafarer out of Scranton in Hyde County was working off Assateague, Va. on Wednesday when it rolled. One of the three crew members, Patrick Small, made it to the life raft and was found. Unfortunately the other crew members, Walter Tate and Steve Tate, have not been found. As fishermen, we may bicker amongst ourselves, but when something like this happens, we come together like family. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Tate families and my best wishes for a full recovery to Small.
I’ve got more great white shark news and while it isn’t local, they probably swam by the Carolina Coast a time or three as Mary Lee, the celebrity great white shark, has demonstrated this winter. The crew of the Ocearch tagged and released Lydia, an approximately 2,000 pound, 14.5 foot female great white shark off Jacksonville, Fla. on Sunday, March 3.
The Ocearch crew is in Jacksonville because Mary Lee and her counterpart Genie have shown a fondness for the bend in the southeast coast off Georgia and Northern Florida. They said they have seen several other great whites this week, but have not gotten them to bite. Lydia pinged the first time Thursday morning a ways off the Florida/Georgia state line for the first time since she was tagged in 25 feet of water just beyond a favorite surfing spot called the Mayport Poles. Genie, who is more in Lydia’s size has not pinged her location since January 19 and was last in the area off the Georgia/South Carolina border.
Meanwhile, May Lee, who is a mature female at approximately 3,400 pounds, spends a lot of time on the surface and pings her location regularly. She is currently southwest of Bermuda, and due east of Melbourne, Fla. Follow the travels of Mary Lee, Genie and Lydia, plus lots of other sharks from around the world, by using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
Several things are happening in legislation and fishery management we should all know about. Senate Bill 58 (Increase Funding for Dredging), introduced by Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow), seeks to raise boat registration fees to help pay for dredging the shallow N.C. inlets. While boaters realize something must be done to keep the shallow inlets open and passable, the bill has met with a lot of initial resistance.
One of the problems with SB 58 is there are too many exemptions to N.C. boat registration. Boats federally documented (most large boats) are exempt from N.C. registration and most commercial boats receive free registration. Another issue that arises is that this legislation taxes all boats registered in N.C., whether they ever pass through an inlet or not.
The fee for all size N.C. registered boats is currently $15 annually or $40 for 3 years. The registration fees proposed in SB 58 are:
Up to 14 feet: $15 annual or $45 3 years;
14 to 20 feet: $25 annual or $75 3 years;
20 to 26 feet: $50 annual or $150 3 years;
26 to 40 feet: $100 annual or $300 3 years;
40 feet plus: $150 annual or $450 3 years.
There is no argument this will be a substantial increase.
SB 58 designates half of the collected fees to go into a fun earmarked for shallow inlet dredging. This fund would only pay for half of the dredging costs. The remainder must be funded by the local communities and/or county. My questions are who is controlling this, who decides priority and what will be done with the half of the money staying with Wildlife Resources as it will be far more than they are receiving now?
I won’t say this bill won’t eventually pass, but there are a lot of questions to be answered first. For more information visit www.ncleg.net and look up SB 58 in the "Find A Bill" segment near the top right of the page. You might want to let your representative and senator know how you feel. You can find their contact information at www.ncleg.net.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) held their winter meeting at the Clam Digger Inn in Pine Knoll Shores February 27 through March 1. At this meeting the MFC voted to restrict gill nets and seines in portions of Deer Creek and Schoolhouse Creek (Rocky Run Creek) in Cape Carteret at night between October and April. The restrictions will:
•Prohibit gillnets and seines from 8:30 p.m. to sunrise from Oct. 1 to March 31;
•Require fishermen to place reflectors on every 50 yards of net;
•Require that the nets to be set down middle of creek;
•Limit net lengths to 200 yards; and
•Require fishermen to attend their nets at all times and move them as necessary to allow reasonable navigation.
A meeting was scheduled for March 7 to allow Cape Carteret residents and fishermen to discuss these measures, but it was announced too late for last week’s report and will be held before this is posted.
The MFC also agreed to allow N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Director Louis Daniel to transfer some of the state’s summer flounder quota reserved for fall fishing to the current fishing season. The move will add a portion of about 600,000 pounds of quota reserved for the fall to the approximately 250,000 pounds remaining of the winter fishing season allocation. N.C. fishermen have not landed the full flounder quota since 2007.
"This will provide more flexibility to ensure the summer flounder quota is harvested," Daniel said. "Last year, North Carolina left about half a million pounds of summer flounder quota unharvested."
Other measures approved at the meeting included;
•A rule change that replaces the harvest limit of 100 shrimp per person per day for shrimp taken with a cast net from a closed area with a volume harvest limit of two quarts of shrimp per person per day. The rule could go into effect as early as May 1.
•A rule to require electronic reporting of landings from all fish dealers that report an annual average of greater than 50,000 pounds of finfish for the previous three calendar years. The rule could go into effect as early as May 1.
•Approved an amendment to the Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan and accompanying rules that will:
Remove the prohibition on the sale and purchase of striped bass taken by hook-and-line gear.
2. Shift the existing joint/coastal boundary line between the Albemarle Sound Management Area and the Roanoke River Management Area for easier public identification and adherence to striped bass regulations.
3. Re-establish a coordinate point on land for Roanoke Marshes Point, which is the western point of the southern boundary for the Albemarle Sound Management Area.
4. Clarify that it will remain unlawful for a commercial fishing operation to possess striped bass taken from waters of the Roanoke River Management Area, which are under the jurisdiction of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
The rules could go into effect as early as May 1. More information on the meeting can be found at www.ncdmf.net.
The Dixie Deer Classic attracts hunters and outdoorsmen from across N.C., plus S.C. and VA. In addition to the displays, seminars and booths of hunting equipment for sale, there is judging for deer that were harvested this year in categories divided by age, sex and weapon, plus one for non weapon finds. There were some very impressive mounts and racks on display. The best in show and best typical rack belonged to Jeremy McSwain of Norwood, who took a huge Anson County buck that scored 168 6/8. For a list of the winners with pictures, visit the North Carolina Sportsman website at www.northcarolinasportsman.com.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is holding their quarterly meeting this week at the Sea Palms Resort at St. Simons Island, Ga. An agenda for the meeting and information packets are available at www.safmc.net.
Lots of shows and schools are happening this weekend and next. The Eastern NC Boat Show will be held 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 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.
The Greenville edition of the Fisherman’s Post Saltwater Fishing School will be held Saturday, March 9, at Overton’s Sporting Goods in Greenville. This is an all-day event. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday March 10. Don’t 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. It’s up to you to make it happen.
The Cape Fear Wildlife Expo will be held March 15 to 17 at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington. There will be boats, outdoor/wildlife booths, tackle accessory booths, seminars and more. For more information visit www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com.
The N.C. Sportsman Saltwater Fishing School will be held in conjunction with the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington on March 16. Admission to the fishing school includes weekend admission to the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo. For more information visit www.northcarolinasportsman.com.
The Ocean Isle Fishing Center will hold their Spring Classic Sale and Fishing Seminars at Ocean Isle Beach on March 16. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
I will be doing an evening saltwater fishing school for the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department at River Park North on Wednesday, March 20. The school will cover inshore fishing for puppy drum, trout and flounder, plus ocean fishing for king mackerel and throwing cast nets. The school will begin at 6:30 and run to approximately 9:30. For more information or to register, call River Park North at 252-329-4560.