Earlier this week I was watching the weather and the weatherman was explaining how the warming weather of spring created a cycle where fronts roll through every few days and while the weather is generally warming, there are lots of cool fronts and wet lows that make it seem like winter doesn't want to let go. Well, that must be where we are right now and this week has been a good example. We had some cool mornings with nice afternoons early in the week, then the rain and scattered thunderstorms on Thursday and now the weather is supposed to be sunny and nice, but a bit windy, through the weekend and into next week.
Get ready for some more sunshine. That's a little misleading, but it got your attention, right? How about more useable sunshine? The days are getting longer, but we'll get a little shock Sunday morning when we wake up and hour earlier and it's the same time. Then we'll get some stimulus when it's still light well after 7:00 Sunday night. Yep, Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday, so don't forget to set your clocks forward Saturday night. With that hour of sunlight shifted to the afternoon it will seem like there is more and we all should have some time to be a little more active after work.
The water continues to warm a little too. I use the Carolinas Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System (RCOOS) to monitor inshore and nearshore water quality and temperatures across N.C. The website is www.carolinasrcoos.org and this brings up the home page with a map and links to reporting stations across N.C. and S.C.
Even with the cooler mornings earlier this week, the surf and nearshore water temperatures in Onslow Bay and Long Bay have risen to 54 -- 55 degrees. There are no monitoring stations in the back of tidal creeks, but several fishermen have said they are now regularly seeing 59 and 60 degrees on the flats well back in the creeks.
Everything feels better and becomes more active as they warm up and fish are no exception. I'm hearing good puppy drum reports from just about everywhere from Hatteras to Calabash. Fishermen say the pups are feeding well and aren't very picky. They are usually in shallow water. But some are also holding in marinas and under docks in basins. There are also schools of red drum in the ocean, with the area from Shark Island, off Cape Lookout, to the jetty at Cape Lookout and in the surf at Shackleford Banks being an excellent example.
Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah's Ark Fishing Charters in Harkers Island said he was finding a good scattering of puppy drum in the marshes around the area this week. He said he saw plenty of places with water temps in the high fifties and the drum were active and feeding. He said he caught them on a variety of soft baits and natural and live baits.
While they are off limits until June 15, there are also some speckled trout biting. The trout aren't as active and aggressive as the red drum, but they are feeding. Most of the trout reports said they were caught fishing scented soft baits or mud minnows and moving them
There are also some black drum mixed with the pups and specks. They hit similar baits and are fun to catch. Some folks call black drum "uglies" and it is easy to see why. However, don't let their looks turn you off. They taste very good, especially when caught in cooler water.
I received a call this week from a fisherman who was fishing on one of the piers on Oak Island. He said he was catching small ling cod. Unfortunately he didn't have a picture, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't ling cod as they are a Pacific Ocean species. However, there are some members of the Atlantic cod family that occasionally get this far south and, while I haven't caught them off Oak Island, I have had a couple of good catches in the Morehead City Turning Basin and at Wallace Channel at Ocracoke.
We called these fish scrod, which we knew wasn't correct as it is actually a term used to describe several members of the cod and Atlantic halibut family when broiled. I believe he caught some small cod and maybe some hake, which is what I have caught in the past. The good news is that if the northern waters were cold enough to drive them that far south, there may be a good spring run across the rest of the N.C. coast as they work their way back north.
Welcome back to the piers. More are opening this weekend and the number will grow over the next few weeks. I believe there just might be some surprise catches from the surf out to the end over the next few weeks.
While the water might be warming, more stripers were caught in the ocean around Oregon Inlet this week. They will be moving back north before too long, but so far it has been the best striper year in a while.
Stripers are also biting in many rivers. Good reports have come from the Roanoke, Albemarle, Tar/Pamlico, Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. Stripers will hit chunks of bait fished on the bottom and lures. Stripers are managed regionally and the regulations vary, so check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net before you go.
The shad run is going well in many rivers too. Some of the best shad reports have come from the Neuse River, specifically between Pitchkettle Creek up to Kinston. Shad darts and small spoons on ultra light tackle make the runs and jumps of shad lots of fun. In some areas, tandem rigs of one and two inch curltail grubs are local favorite rigs for shad.
There has been some offshore action on days the wind allows heading out. Along the southern and mid Carolina coast, the trolling action has been primarily wahoo, with some blackfin tuna. Fishermen from Hatteras to the north are catching three species of tuna. Bluefins are the staple of the tuna catch, but they are also catching good numbers of blackfins and have been mixing in a few more yellowfins almost every week. 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.
Amberjacks have been responding well to jigging and are a battle for anyone who has the energy and desire. There is also an occasional African pompano caught jigging and blackfin tuna will sometimes hit jigs. While many seasons are closed, offshore bottom fishermen are catching a variety of fish. Fishermen should remember that beginning on 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 and purchased.
The only bottom fish that currently can be kept are grunts, porgys, triggerfish and hogfish (hog snapper). While red snapper season is closed indefinitely, vermilion snapper (beeliner) season will reopen on April 1. This will be followed by shallow water grouper season reopening on May 1 and black sea bass season south of Cape Hatteras reopening on June 1 and July 1 north of Cape Hatteras. Check the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council website at www.safmc.net and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission website at www.asmfc.org for more details on the closures and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net for the current limits.
A report from the SAFMC meeting this week in St. Simons Island, Ga. is that they are examining ways to prevent having to close the recreational black sea bass season in future years. It was on the agenda for the meeting and my reports say the debate has been positive. This year the quota has been caught, but hopefully when the season reopens on June 1, there will be new regulations in place to keep the season open all year. The option receiving the most debate is reducing the daily limit.
There was good news this week when the U.S. Senate's Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard held an oversight hearing regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service's (NOAA Fisheries) management of the nation's federal marine fisheries. Members of the committee expressed concerns with the quality and accuracy of the data being used to make fishery decisions and how those decisions affect fishermen and coastal communities. The committee said they would investigate the issue in depth.
House Bill 136, which would grant the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) authority to 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 is still in the Agriculture Committee and as of Thursday morning a hearing had not been scheduled. As the law was explained to me, if this bill is not passed, Amendment 1 to the Spotted Sea Trout Fisheries Management Plan would have to be modified to meet the provision of SL 2010-13. 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.
Fishermen are urged to contact the members of the House Agriculture Committee and their local legislators and express how they feel about this. A list of state congressmen and their contact information is available at www.ncleg.net.
It didn't come last week as I was told it might, but I have been assured the bill requesting gamefish status for speckled trout, red drum and striped bass is in drafting and will be introduced soon. There appears to be support for this bill that wasn't there on the first attempt two years ago. 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. Division of Marine Fisheries will conduct a meeting seeking public input on the Bayview Artificial Reef on March 16 at 6:00 P.M. The meeting will be held at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Washington Regional Office at Washington Square Mall in Washington. For more information visit www.ncdmf.net or contact Jim Francesconi or Craig Hardy at Jim.Francesconi@ncdenr.gov or Craig.Hardy@ncdenr.gov or call 1-800-682-2632.
The N.C. MFC Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet March 22, 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 or by calling Don Hesselman, DMF License and Statistics Section Chief, at 252-808-8099. For those wishing to comment and unable to attend a meeting, 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 N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) sets and enforces the regulations on all fish in inland waters, even when those fish are salt water fish. Several differences have been noted in the regulations, specifically that red drum and speckled trout are classified as gamefish and this winter many people realized the minimum size and creel limit were different for speckled trout and speckled trout season remains open in inland waters even while closed in coastal and joint waters.
In seeking to eliminate the differences, the WRC has scheduled four public hearings in late March to gather input on a proposed rule that would standardize regulations for sea trout (spotted or speckled), flounder, gray trout (weakfish) and red drum taken in inland, joint or coastal fishing waters. The proposed rule would establish the same seasons and size and creel limits for these four saltwater fish species when caught in inland waters by referencing those regulations set by the Marine Fisheries Commission. Adopting this rule would provide consistency for managing these four saltwater fish species and should minimize confusion for anglers fishing in different jurisdictional waters.
The meetings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:
* March 28, 2011, Bladen County Courthouse, Elizabethtown;
* March 29, 2011, Craven County Courthouse, New Bern;
* March 30, 2011, Chowan County Agricultural Center, Edenton;
* March 31, 2011, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Headquarters, Raleigh.
All meetings begin at 7:00 P.M.
In addition to the four hearings, the public can provide input by mailing comments to the WRC at 1721 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1721 or visiting the Commission's website, www.ncwildlife.org, and clicking on the "Proposed Fishing Rule Changes Submit Comments" link on the right side of the page. The public comment period for this proposed rule ends May 2, 2011.
For more information on fishing in public, inland waters, visit the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org/fishing. For more information on fishing in coastal and joint waters, visit the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries' website at www.ncdmf.net.
The Get Hooked Fishing School will be held this Saturday March 12) at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. This is a saltwater fishing school that features prominent fishermen from Across N.C. In addition to the many other speakers, I will be giving a presentation on kayak fishing for puppy drum, speckled trout and flounder, plus launching through the surf for king and Spanish mackerel. For more information and a schedule, visit www.ncaquariums.com/pine-knoll-shores.
Dr. Mitchell Roffer of Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service will be in North Carolina for two days of seminars next week. Roffer was the pioneer in using seawater thermal imaging, along with numerous other factors, to predict where pelagic gamefish would be found in concentrations and has an abundance of tournament successes to validate the science. On Friday, March 18, he will be at West Marine in Morehead City at 4:00 P.M. and on Saturday he will be at the North Carolina Sportsman Fishing School in Wilmington throughout the day. For more information call 252-240-2909 (West Marine) or 1-800-538-4355 (NC Sportsman Fishing School).