Even though the weather feels like it, it isn't quite spring yet.  That doesn't come until March 20, but Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday and that's a sure sign spring isn't far behind.  Set your clocks ahead Saturday night and begin enjoying an extra hour of afternoon sunshine for the next eight months.

The weather has been warmer and not so windy for the past week and I'm hearing about a lot more good fishing trips, especially offshore.  I got out on one of those fishing trips and wasn't thinking and didn't dose up with sunscreen, which was a mistake.  I hope you can learn from my mistake and don't have to endure the burn and lobster look.  Thank you lord for aloe plants!

The early weather forecast looks fairly good for this weekend and most of next week too.  Sometime Friday the wind is forecast to drop below 10 knots for a handful of days.  The swell should drop below 4 feet too.  It might be a little bumpy heading offshore in the mornings, but should be a nice ride with a following sea on the way home.  If the fish boxes are full, which looks like a really good possibility, it could be a great ride home.

Fishermen have been taking advantage of the nicer sea conditions and heading offshore.  Even better, the fish are cooperating.  Wahoo have been the big catch, both in numbers and size.  I've heard of lots of 50 pounders and there have been wahoo in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  The first triple digit wahoo of the year could be landed at any time.

There are also blackfin tuna and even a few dolphin already at the Gulf Stream off N.C.  Some fishermen have been heading to known rocks along the break and then looking for upwelling or rips and some have been stopping on color or temperature breaks as soon as they reach 70 degree water.  The good news is that both approaches have been producing fish.

Fishermen not wanting to run all the way to the Gulf Stream are finding some king mackerel and bottom fish a little closer in.  I've seen a lot of pictures of big black sea bass this week.  Some of them were the big hump head spawning bass and had to be approaching 4 pounds.  Those fellows taste really good and have nice fillets.  Black sea bass may be almost anywhere from just off the beach out to 150 feet deep.  They tend to be smaller closer in, but most fishermen say they can weed through the shorts and find limits.  Many of the big ones are in 90 to 110 feet.  Other offshore bottom fish include triggerfish, grunts, porgys and beeliners.

Most of the king reports this week came from rocks and wrecks in roughly 90 to 125 feet of water.  The hot spot for the state has been just offshore of Frying Pan Tower, but there are also kings off Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras.  The kings are feeding on suspended bait and will often mark on a fishfinder at approximately the middle of the water column.  These are mostly smaller kings and haven't been picky about feeding.  Spoons, sea witches with strips and frozen cigar minnows will all catch them.

Many of the N.C. ocean piers are reopening this weekend, with a few already open and others opening during the next week.  There have been good reports this week of lots of fat blowfish.  If you've never eaten blowfish before, they are surprisingly good.  They have two pieces of meat along a cartilage in their back that are about the size of fish sticks and many knowledgeable fishermen call "chicken of the sea."  Give them a try and you'll understand why.

A few fishermen are testing the surf, but it hasn't been especially productive or consistent.  Remember the water is warming and it will improve.  If you want to wet a line in the surf now that days are getting longer and there is time, typically the best spots are around the inlets.   

There have been reports for two weeks of sheepshead and tautog being caught around the Radio Island Bridge and train trestle and long the wall at the Morehead City State Ports.  Most of the fishermen headed there after the togs and found the sheepshead as a bonus.  They said these sheepshead are hitting hard and aren't difficult to hook.  Sometimes getting them in can be an issue though.  Pieces of shrimp and clams have been the hot baits.

Inshore fishing has been sporadic.  Some days they bite and bite well and some days it's hard to find hungry fish.  The warming temperatures and sunny days should help, but the switch hasn't flipped to "on" quite yet. 

Puppy drum fishing has been a little better than speckled trout fishing.  Drum seem to respond better in cooler water and there have been a few days they were biting well.  When the pups are biting, they will hit natural baits, soft plastics, hard plastics and weedless spoons.  It still helps not to fish too quickly and have some scent on the lures.  Several places in the marshes have been clear enough during the past week to sight fish for pups.  It's something special to stalk a school and get within casting range, then catch a few.

Specks have been more hesitant to feed consistently.  They nibble along some days, but no one has reported them as being a hot bite.  Soft plastics on very light jig heads so they sink very slowly and suspending hard baits have been the most consistent lures for specks.  Be sure to fish them slowly and with no quick movements.

The water well back in the creeks and marshes can be a couple of degrees warmer than near the mouths of the creeks and that often helps, especially for specks.  Fishermen are expecting the action to improve as the water temperature approaches 60 and it's getting there in places.

With the coastal action slowly improving, fishermen are less likely to travel inland looking for fish.  However, there are stripers and shad moving up the coastal rivers.  Most of the coastal rivers, except the New have some striper action going.  The shad bite is best a little farther inland, with the best reports this week coming from the Neuse River between New Bern and Kinston.  

New Cobia Regulations and Season Closure Announced
The cobia recreational allocation of 630,000 pounds was exceeded by approximately 140 percent during 2015 and we have known for a while the 2016 recreational season would close early.  The initial estimates were the closure would begin on June 15, but several states, including N.C., reduced their daily limit to a single cobia per person and the season was extended 5 days.  On March 9 NOAA Fisheries sent a fisheries bulletin announcing the season would close at 12:01 A.M. on June 20.  There is a provision that if the 2016 allocation of 620,000 pounds has not been caught by then, the season could reopen.  This is a federal closure that was done to comply with provisions in the Magnusson-Stevens Act. 

Wildlife Commission Offers Blue Catfishing Seminar at Pechmann Center
They aren't salt water fish, but when guide Zakk Royce caught blue catfish state records on back-to-back days during December, it brought a new focus to the excellent blue catfish fishing in N.C.  The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will present a free blue catfish seminar on April 6, from 6:30-9:30 p.m., at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  Royce, who recently boated another 100 pound plus blue catfish, will be the instructor for the seminar titled, “Fishing for North Carolina’s Giant Catfish.”

Royce, who operates Blues Brothers Catfish Guide Service on Lake Gaston, will discuss equipment selection (rods and reels, line and terminal tackle) plus bait, locating big catfish, fishing structure and various techniques for targeting the big catfish

Space is limited and pre-registration online is strongly encouraged. For more information about the seminar, contact Education Center Director Thomas Carpenter at 910-868-5003.  The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center is located at 7489 Raeford Road in Fayetteville and hosts fishing workshops, events and clinics throughout the year. Most programs are free and open to the public. For more information about the center, or to see a schedule of upcoming events, visit www.ncwildlife.org and click on the “Learning” link.

Fresh Water Red Drum
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is considering stocking Hyco Lake, near Roxboro, with red drum.  They will hold a public input meeting at the Hyco Lake Campground Community Center in Leasburg at 3:00 P.M. on March 12, to discuss the potential for establishing a red drum fishery at the Person County lake.

The idea to stock red drum, which are a saltwater fish, in Hyco Lake comes from a similar effort by Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists who are stocking red drum in two of their power plant cooling reservoirs.  According to Wildlife Commission Fisheries Biologist Jessica Baumann, the success of a red drum fishery in a freshwater lake is mainly dependent upon three things: a tilapia population that would provide a sufficient prey base; minimum water temperatures; and minimum calcium levels.

“Hyco Lake covers all of these requirements given that it has a robust tilapia fishery, which would be a great food source for stocked red drum, and the lake meets the minimum water temperatures and calcium levels,” Baumann said.  “We believe that stocking red drum has the potential for creating a very unique fishery.  We want to have this public forum to seek out the opinions of local anglers and answer any questions they may have regarding this stocking.”

At the meeting WRC biologists will present an overview of the lake’s current fisheries and provide reasons why the freshwater lake would make a suitable location for stocking red drum. An open discussion will follow the overview, with attendees encouraged to ask questions and provide comments.  

Groundbreaking on New Oregon Inlet Bridge
It seems like it took forever but ground was finally broken for the sorely needed replacement bridge for the aging Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet.  it will take a couple of years to complete, but this will make the trip to the Outer Banks south of Oregon Inlet much more safe and reliable.  After years of fighting with environmentalists, an agreement was reached several months ago and the first shovels of sand were turned on March 8.  Issues with the shifting channel below the bridge were addressed during the design and hopefully will be eliminated. 

WRC and NWTF Offer Free Turkey Hunting Seminars
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation have scheduled 24 free turkey hunting seminars across North Carolina during March and April.  The seminars will be held at 12 locations, with an introductory seminar on one night, followed by an advanced seminar the next night.  The seminars will run from 6:30 to 9:30 P.M. and will be on a first-come, first-serve basis to all ages.  A list of remaining dates and locations is available on the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org.  Participants 16 years and younger will need parental permission to register.

The introductory seminars are designed for novice turkey hunters or those who have never hunted turkey and topics will include biology, hunting methods, calls and decoys, firearms and ammo selection, camouflage clothing, and turkey cleaning and cooking techniques.  The advanced seminars are for experienced turkey hunters and will focus on advanced biology, more complex hunting tactics, calls and decoys. Advanced seminars will include tips and strategies for dealing with stubborn, hard-to-hunt gobblers and will include cleaning and cooking techniques.

Pre-registration for the turkey hunting seminars is required and participants must register online at www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/SkillsBasedSeminars.aspx.  For additional information contact Walter “Deet” James, WRC Hunting Heritage Biologist at 919-707-0059, 984-202-1387, or hunting.heritage@ncwildlife.org.

Five Public Hearings Set for Temporary Black Bear Hunting Proposals
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission voted in early February to begin the temporary rulemaking process for black bear hunting and has scheduled five public hearings to take comments on a set of proposed temporary rules.  These public hearings will focus on potentially extending the time that bears can be taken with the aid of unprocessed food as bait to the entire open season.

Public hearings beginning at 7:00 P.M. will be held at:

* March 21: Whiteville, Southeastern Community College, 4564 Chadbourn Hwy., Auditorium D-100;
* March 22: New Bern, Craven County Courthouse Annex, 302 Broad St., District Courtroom #4;
* April 5: Clyde, Haywood Community College, 185 Freedlander Dr., Auditorium;
* April 6: Morganton, Western Piedmont Community College, 1001 Burkemont Ave., Leviton Auditorium, Moore Hall;
* April 8: Williamston, Martin Community College, 1161 Kehukee Park Rd., Auditorium #1.

Those unable to attend one of the meetings may submit comments through April 12.  Comments may be submitted online at www.ncwildlife.org, e-mailed to regulations@ncwildlife.org, or mailed to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission - 1701 Mail Service Center - Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1701.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Seeking Input on Beach Driving Rules
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is seeking public comment on possible changes to beach driving rules that would allow more access.  Three primary changes include opening some beaches that are closed at night, extending seasonal off-road routes in the fall and spring and shrinking the size of buffer zones around turtle and shorebird nests.  Nearly 35,000 permits were sold last year to people wanting to drive on the 67 miles of Cape Hatteras Seashore beaches. 

Five public meetings have already been held, but comments may be made on-line or by mail until March 18.  To comment on-line, go to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=59571 and select the “Open for Comment” link.  Comments can be mailed to: Superintendent, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, N.C. 27954.  For more information, including the dates and locations of the other meetings, see the park website at www.nps.gov/caha.  

Great White Tagged off Hilton Head
Capt. Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing in Hilton Head Island, S.C. often helps the Ocearch team when they are in town.  He also fishes for sharks in the Hilton Head area and is probably the most knowledgeable person in the area about sharks, especially great white sharks.  Michalove tagged a great white estimated at approximately 2,500 pounds off Hilton Head on March 8.  He said it was the fifth great white hookup his charters had over the winter and the third brought to the boat.  It was also the largest to date. 

Troy Bowman of Bulls Gap, Tennessee was the lucky angler who spent approximately 4 hours strapped to the big fish before leading her boatside.  The big shark was released just a little tired for the experience with a sonic tag attached to its dorsal fin and a DNA sample collected from its pectoral fin.   

Fisheries Meetings
March 7-11:  South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Spring Quarterly Meeting, Westin Jekyll Island, Jekyll Island, GA., www.safmc.net.

March 17:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, Sea Turtle Advisory Committee Meeting, 4:00 P.M., Department of Environmental Quality Regional Office, Washington, Contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov.

March 23:  N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Standard Commercial Fishing License Eligibility Board, 10:30 A.M., N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Wilmington Regional Office, Wilmington, Contact Ann Bordeaux-Nixon at 910-796-7261 or Ann.Bordeaux-Nixon@ncdenr.gov

April 6:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Southern Regional Advisory Committee Meeting, 5:30 P.M., Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov or Chris Stewart at 910-796-7370 or Chris.Stewart@ncdenr.gov.

April 7:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Northern Regional Advisory Committee Meeting, 5:30 P.M. Department of Environmental Quality Regional Office, Washington, Contact Katy West at 252-946-6481 or Katy.West@ncdenr.gov or  Holly White 252-473-5734 or Holly.White@ncdenr.gov.

April 14:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Shellfish / Crustacean Advisory Committee Meeting, 6:00 P.M., Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov or Anne Deaton at 252-808-8063 or Anne.Deaton@ncdenr.gov.   

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
March 12:  Fisherman's Post Fishing School, Overton's Warehouse, Greenville, www.fishermanspost.com.

March 13:  Daylight Savings Time Begins.

March 18 to 20:  Cape Fear Wildlife Expo, Wilmington Convention Center, Wilmington, www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com.

March 19:  Get Hooked on Fishing School, N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, Pine Knoll Shores, www.ncaquariums.com.

March 19:  Marabou Madness Fly Tying Event, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.    

March 19:  Triad Saltwater Anglers Fishing School, Village Inn Event Center, Clemmons, www.triadsaltwateranglers.com.  

March 20:  Spring Begins.

March 27:  Easter.  

April 6:  Blue Catfish Seminar, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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