March snuck in on us last week and began unleashing the March winds on Monday. If you don't believe March winds can be strong, you didn't step outside Monday. The gusts were well above gale force for most of the day and one fisherman I spoke with insisted he saw an anchor blow by with one of the stronger gusts. What a difference a few days can make, Last week I was welcoming March and this week I'm ready for it to be gone.
More changes were sprung on us too. On Sunday afternoon, several fishermen reported water temperatures in and along the Intracoastal Waterway as high as 57 and 58 degrees. It was so warm that Capt. Allen Jernigan of Breadman Ventures in Sneads Ferry called me to go fishing with him on Tuesday. We should have known better after the wind and rain of Sunday night and Monday, but we went anyway and the water had cooled to 47 degrees in the first bay we tried.
While it may seem early, Daylight Savings Time begins Sunday morning (March 11). Don't forget to set your clocks ahead before going to bed Saturday night or you may wake up an hour in arrears. Daylight Savings Time does not make the day longer; it just shifts the time so there is more daylight in the afternoon. Now it is up to us to get out and take advantage of it.
With March winds gusting up, the best reports again came from inside waters. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tales Outdoors in Atlantic Beach reported a few more large trout and said the smaller ones were biting well. He wouldn't be specific with a location, but said his customers were really happy with the inside bite.
Capt. Noah Lynk at Noah's Ark Charters in Harkers Island said there were some trout and drum around and even some out around the Cape Lookout Jetty, but the wind and weather weren't always good for getting there.
Other reports from inside waters noted red drum and black drum in the creeks and red drum in the first slough in the surf. The water temperatures should improve as the air warms and more sunshine reaches the water and this action is expected to improve. One suggestion was to remember that drum will move onto shallow flats as the tide falls to feed and warm up. Flats in the marsh, especially those near creeks with lots of bait, are good places to try. A few flounder are also being caught by drum fishermen.
I was out Tuesday fishing some of the creeks around Sneads Ferry and was surprised to find some alligators that were already out and sunning on the bank. One of the ones we saw was around 9-10 feet and wasn't the least bit concerned about us. It followed us with its eyes, but never moved its body. Gators often become territorial when mating or after a nest is built and my suggestion is to give them a wide berth whenever you see them first.
Stripers bit well again this week and several fishermen reported drum and trout mixed with the stripers. Striper fishing in the Neuse and Trent Rivers near New Bern has been good all winter and they are still biting well. There are numerous bridges around New Bern and reports have been good from most of them. There has also been a good bite at AR 392, which is approximately a half mile downriver from the Highway 17 Bridge across the Neuse River. This reef is well marked and not difficult to find.
Stripers are also biting in the Tar-Pamlico River at Washington, Pungo River and 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. Be sure you know the regulations for striper where you are fishing before keeping one. The Roanoke River Management Area even has specific hook requirements.
If you head inland to do some striper fishing, be aware that the fish don't know the boundaries between Coastal and Inland Waters and different licenses are required. Inland Waters require a fresh water license, while Coastal Waters require a Coastal Recreational Fishing License (CFRG). Another water designation is Joint Coastal/Inland Waters and my understanding is that either license is valid there. Stripers are managed by individual waters and not knowing the limits or other rules is not an acceptable excuse. It is wise to check the regulations before heading out. This information and more on the required licenses is available on the Fishing Page at www.ncwildlife.org.
The weather windows to head offshore have been slim lately except for those with larger boats. Even then, it's not always fun fishing in winds of 15 knots or more. The good news is there are fish being caught when fishermen make the trip.
At the edge of the Gulf Stream trollers have been catching wahoo and blackfin tuna very consistently. A few yellowfin tuna have also been caught from off Cape Hatteras to the north. Some bluefin tuna are also being caught from Hatteras to the north, but are closer in than the wahoo, blackfins and yellowfins.
Speaking of fishing a little closer in than the Gulf Stream, there are king mackerel and bottom fish being caught over structure in approximately 100 feet of water. The key, especially for the kings seems to be water temps that are 65 degrees or warmer. This seems to roughly be along a line from Diamond Shoals Light Tower off Cape Hatteras to Frying Pan Light Tower off Cape Fear. The kings are biting lures, and frozen cigar minnows.
Beeliner, red snapper, grouper and black sea bass seasons are still closed, but the fish are hungry. Several fishermen reported them, especially black sea bass, as being so thick they were a nuisance and got in the way of catching the grunts, porgies and triggerfish that are currently in open season. These seasons will slowly begin opening starting with beeliners on April 1.
Fishermen are finding amberjack and cobia holding around structure that is holding bottom fish. These are pleasant surprises if you are ready. The AJs and cobia have been occasionally trying to steal a hooked fish that is being reeled in and they like a variety of jigs.
False albacore, also known as little tunny and Fat Alberts, are in schools roaming just out of sight of the beach and are slowing moving towards the beach. Fat Alberts are considered fun to catch, but not much good on the table. Sometimes Atlantic bonito mix with schools of Fat Alberts and their general appearance and body shape is very similar. It would be wise to learn to tell the difference. Atlantic bonito are excellent table fare. Both Fat Alberts and bonito like small flashy lures and jigs that are trolled or retrieved quickly.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) is soliciting comments on a variety of proposed regulations in the waters from North Carolina to Florida. New issues arise frequently and all fishermen would be wise to check the SAFMC listings occasionally. The SAFMC website is www.safmc.net. Press releases there link to current issues and have instructions on how to file a comment electronically, by fax or by mail.
Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr., (R-NC) 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 Consent Decree with a plan that doesn't treat Cape Hatteras with stricter biological measures than other National Seashores. It also 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.
At their most recent meeting, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) adopted a ruling on Amendment 2 to the N.C. Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan, but did not take action on the parameters to define a commercial fisherman and recommendations from the committee they commissioned to define what constitutes a commercial fisherman.
A press release sent earlier this week from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) said the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had published their final rule establishing Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species and it would become effective on April 6. There is concern with the possible impacts this could have on North Carolina fishermen, especially those using trawl and gill nets, but the NCDMF release stated they had not received details from the federal agency.
The Joint Legislative Committee to Study Marine Fisheries met for the third of four scheduled meetings on Thursday, March 1, in Raleigh. North Carolina Sportsman Magazine reported that the Gamefish Bill, HB 353, was not discussed but Committee Co- Chair Harry Brown (R-Onslow) said it would be returned to the House of Representatives for debate. Issues discussed at this meeting included possible changes to the state's menhaden regulations now that menhaden have been classified as overfished by the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission and the possibility of combining the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries into a single entity with a single board overseeing it.
The only show on tap for this weekend is the East Carolina Boat Show and Sale at the Greenville Convention Center in Greenville. The show will open on Friday and run through Sunday.
A Fishermen's Rally, sponsored by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (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 cost from many areas. Information on the rally and locations and times for the busses are posted on the RFA website at www.joinrfa.org and on area fishing chatboards and forums.