It's that time of year, when spring wants to take over, but winter is holding on with claws and trying not to let go. This week has been an example of just about every weather condition except snow and promises to continue to be perplexing through this weekend as well.
The forecast for this weekend has rain every day and includes a small craft advisory for some time, depending on exactly where you live. In the center of the coast, the small craft advisory should lift sometime Saturday and the ocean might just calm pretty quickly. If you don't mind a little rain, it could be possible to run offshore on Sunday (and maybe Monday too) to see if those wahoo and blackfins are still there.
We had wonderful weather last weekend and I got in a kayak trip on Saturday. There were a few small trout in the creek I chose and one something (most likely an upper or slightly over slot red drum) that hit hard enough to jerk my kayak around and buzz the little spinner quite seriously before mysteriously shedding the hook as so many good fishing tales dictate.
Sunday found me changing a hot water heater, while mumbling about missing the best weather of the spring so far. Oh well, at least I had a hot shower that night.
Monday afternoon I headed across the state, with an invite to chase some big catfish near Richmond on Tuesday and Wednesday. The shad bite was on in Kinston as the parking lot at the Neuse River Ramp beside U.S. 70 was nearly full. Boaters were coming and going and bank fishermen were staying busy also.
A couple of hours later, I saw a somewhat smaller crowd fishing a slightly slower bite at Weldon. That is definitely a little farther inland and up the Roanoke River and the main body of fish hadn't arrived yet.
Thursday morning I received a call that the shad bite was beginning near Lock and Dam Number 1 on the Cape Fear River at Riegelwood, but haven't yet been by to check it out. I really like shad fishing. With a good ultra light outfit, it's a poor man's version of tarpon fishing in miniature. If you've never been, it's a lot of fun and well worth making the trip. Shad, especially hickories, run and jump and are loads of fun to catch.
The offshore reports from last weekend included wahoo and blackfin tuna and even a few yellowfin tuna and dolphin. The action is spread all along the Carolina Coast, with Swansboro Hole, the Big Rock, the Steeples, Blackjack Hole, 230 Rocks and the Point all being mentioned.
Those fishermen who headed offshore, but not as far as the edge of the Gulf Stream, found good action too. Some caught kings and others had a nice mixture of bottom fish. Black sea bass are the closest ocean bottom fish to the beach and may be caught within 10 miles of land. However, the percentage of shorts at this range is high and it takes running farther to catch mostly keepers.
I spoke to one fisherman Saturday afternoon who said he caught a bunch of five and six pound sea bass that morning. I started to ask him where he caught them, but didn't want to make him have to lie to me, so I didn't. I expect he was a ways offshore, but just inshore of the groupers and beeliners. They have been biting at about 90-115 feet deep, so the big sea bass should be a little shallower than that.
If the weather would settle and let the water warm, the specks and drum bite would fire off. It isn't bad now when it's on, but it can be very hit or miss.
However, what can we expect? We had the really warm weekend, then the cold front on Monday night/Tuesday morning, then the temperatures climbed to hot on Wednesday and now we'll be following that with a cool rainy weekend. Heck, I can't make up my mind what to do--why should the fish be able to? The inshore water temperatures are in the mid-50s in many places and slowly creeping toward 60. When the inshore water stabilizes at 60 degrees or a little higher, the fishing should get really good.
With the shad moving up the rivers, the stripers can't be far behind. There are some closer to the ocean end of several coastal rivers. The places most often mentioned 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 Sound around Manns Harbor. 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.
There is good news for pier fishermen. Several have already opened for the spring and more will open this weekend. Bogue Inlet Pier is one of the piers that will open for the season on Saturday (March 14).
In other fishing pier news, the Town Council of Oak Island voted Tuesday to secure a loan and complete the purchase of Yaupon Pier. The town had already secured $800,000 of the $1,500,000 price of the pier in grants. The Council also approved a lease for Tommy Thomes, former owner of Long Beach Pier, to operate the pier. The Oak Island Town Manager is working with the bank that holds the foreclosed mortgage on the pier to speed things up and allow Thomes to be open by early April. The pier is to be re-named Oak Island Fishing Pier.
Earlier, I mentioned I had headed up to Richmond to fish for blue catfish on the James River for a couple of days earlier this week. I got caught in one of those wild weather swings and that was near freezing on Tuesday and warmed with sunny conditions to the point I was sunburned and down to a T-shirt on Wednesday afternoon.
My guides, Capt. Joe Hecht, Fat Cat Guide Service (www.FatCatGuide.com, 804-221-1951), and Capt. Chris Eberwien, Eberwien's Catfishin' (www.catfishingva.com. 804-449-6134), worked through it all and had us on fish the whole time. I really didn't know what to expect, but I caught four citation size blue catfish at 47, 45, 44 and 31 pounds, plus a good handful of smaller fish. I thought this was pretty good, but my guides were disappointed.
Captains Hecht and Eberwien thought I should have caught at least one in the 60s and, as most good fishing stories go, the one they thought might have been that big got away. This fish picked up a bait and run across the spread, slightly at us, and the 10/0 circle hook never got a chance to work its magic. On all the fish that picked up baits and turned away from us, the big circle hooks spun around their lower jaws in the corner of their mouths and hooked them up solid.
I was very impressed with the numbers of game and fowl along the James River from Richmond downriver to Hopewell. I saw numerous deer any time I was driving and daggone near had to bump one bossy deer off the road to get by. Canada geese were everywhere and there was also one big flock of several hundred snow geese that passed us late Tuesday, plus a good assortment of ducks. There were turkeys gobbling on the banks and islands as we caught bait Tuesday morning. Probably most impressive was the sheer number of eagles! They were everywhere and are definitely breeding in the area as we also saw several juveniles.
Oh well, it was a lot of fun and going back to get that big one is a good reason to go back again.
The N.C. Aquarium Fishing School will be held at the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium on Saturday. For more information visit www.ncaquariums.com.
The North Carolina Sportsman Saltwater Fishing School will be held in Sanford on Saturday, March 21. The first 100 registrants for this school will receive Star Rods Spinning Rods valued at approximately $50 and some of these first 100 registrations still remain. For more information visit www.northcarolinasportsman.com and to verify you could be in the 100 participants that receive the Star Rod, call 1-800-538-4355.