Well, the March weather is back to being nice, and I mean really nice, again this week. I know those winds are just waiting for a chance to blow, but there were a couple of decent days in mid-week and after puffing some on Friday, the winds are supposed to ease back to 10 knots or below for the weekend through Monday. With the temperature forecast to be around 70 on the coast and approaching 80 inland, this might be a good weekend to head out fishing and knock off some of the winter rust.
Not only is the weather shaping up, but there are growing numbers of good fishing reports too. The good reports are coming from the backwaters out to the Gulf Stream. Whatever your passion for fishing, there have been some good reports this week. This is the first week of Daylight Savings Time and the extended afternoon light it brings and many fishermen were very happy to take advantage of it.
The water is warming too. I was out Wednesday and saw water temperatures up to 65 degrees in one backwater creek. The fish were enjoying it too, as we caught some pups, a flounder and a few trout there.
Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tales Outdoors said his customers were reporting catching some sea mullet, croakers and hogfish while drifting through the Morehead City Turning Basin. I can remember some warm winters in the past when the sea mullet made a showing by mid-March and it was a good thing. With the warm weather and excellent conditions forecast for the weekend, it could be a good time to bounce some speck rigs tipped with shrimp through the No Wake Zone and out towards Beaufort Inlet. Anytime is a good time for fresh sea mullet.
Several guides from the Swansboro area said the puppy drum bite was on. They are reporting mid to upper slot reds in many of the creeks and marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway. Everyone was having good success using a variety of soft plastics. The universal suggestion was to use a light jig head or fish under a float to keep the bait off the bottom as there was lots of bottom moss after the warm winter.
I'm going to say the trout are biting too, even though some days their bite feels more like pecking. The intensity of this bite varies from day to day and with the stage of the tide, but speckled trout survived the winter well and there appears to be a good spring trout bite developing. The trout are reported to be a little more aggressive when stalking live baits, but are biting soft plastics, hard baits and bucktails. If someone could find several dozen live shrimp, I bet the shyness would disappear and it would be an instant game on!
There are also some reports of specks and reds around the Cape Lookout Jetty and in the surf along Core and Shackleford Banks. Surf fishermen are also catching some sea mullet and puffers.
Many of the piers are open and more are opening this weekend. They are reporting good catches of puffers, a surprising number of sea mullet and some dogfish are biting around dark.
Stripers are still biting in most of the coastal rivers. Now they have been joined by a good surge of shad. The Neuse River around New Bern has held good numbers of stripers all winter and now the shad have pressed by them and are being caught in the river and many of the creeks off it from just above New Bern to Kinston.
Fishermen headed through Kinston on their way to the coast can get a glance at what the shad fishing is like by paying attention as they drive through Kinston. There is a boat ramp right beside Highway 70 where the Neuse River crosses it at Kinston and the banks around this ramp are a favorite place for fishermen without boats or who are killing a lunch hour or killing a little time before heading home after work. If there are lots of vehicles in the ramp parking lot without trailers, the shad bite is probably pretty good.
There are also good reports of shad at the Roanoke River in Weldon. The river is down, so they are concentrated in the middle and easy to find.
I haven't gotten a shad report from Lock and Dam Number 1 in the Cape Fear River, but shad should be reaching it by now. The ramp at the lock may not be open. It would be wise to call ahead or check it on the Corps of Engineers website to be sure.
Shad darts and small spoons are favorite lures for shad. This is fresh water and requires a different license than the CRFL. Check www.ncwildlife.org for regulations and limits.
There have been several marginal to fair weather windows to head offshore this week and a good number of fishermen have seized the opportunities. Many more heard some of the same good reports I received and are out fishing while I am writing this.
There have been good wahoo and blackfin catches along the entire N.C. Coast. Over the past week or so a few yellowfin tuna have joined the blackfins and that has gotten many fishermen excited. For the past several years, yellowfin tuna catches have been scarce along the southern and central N.C. Coast and their return is being welcomed with open arms and open fish boxes. The hope is this continues and improves.
Gulf Stream fishermen are also adding dolphin to their catches. It isn't like it will be in May, but many boats have reported a pair to ten dolphin in their catches for the past couple of weeks. Fresh grilled mahi-mahi spikes fishermen's interest about as much as fresh sashimi and grilled tuna. Fishermen from Hatteras to the north are also catching some bluefin tuna.
King mackerel and offshore bottom fish are being caught approximately 25 to 35 miles offshore. The depth at this distance ranges from about 90 to 125 feet. The two keys for kings are finding water temps of 65 degrees and warmer and locating structure that is holding bait. Commercial fishermen are catching kings by trolling Drone Spoons and sea witches with strips, and by drifting light lines behind the boat while bottom fishing. Recreational fishermen have reported their best success by slow trolling frozen cigar minnows.
Many fishermen report bottom fish on almost every piece of structure at these depths. Currently only grunts, porgies, triggerfish and hog snapper can be kept. Beeliner season is getting closer and opens on April 1. Non stainless steel circle hooks are required for catching bottom fish once three miles or more from the beach. Bottom fishermen are also catching a few amberjack and cobia on their bottom lines and light lines.
Fishermen heading offshore say they are seeing schools of Fat Alberts (Little tunny or false albacore) moving closer to the beach. These smaller members of the extended tuna family are lots of fun to catch, especially on light tackle or flyfishing gear, but are rather strong flavored and most are released. Seeing Fat Alberts is a sign Atlantic bonito are not far behind and they are excellent table fare. Do yourself a favor and learn to tell the difference!
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) are the regulating bodies in federal waters (3-200 miles offshore). There are two new items from them this week and both have far reaching implications.
First, Atlantic sturgeon will join the other fish, birds and animals classified as Endangered Species on April 6. Atlantic sturgeon are found in most Tar Heel river systems and their joining the endangered listing is sure to affect fishing, especially trawling and gill netting, in North Carolina waters. Also the Council, in conjunction with the Gulf Council, decided to move forward in examining Marine Protected Areas to protect endangered corals and establish protected areas for hinds and Warsaw grouper.
These are but two of the variety of issues and proposed regulations these agencies examine, create and oversee. 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.
Fishermen and other users of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are requesting our support of HR 4094. This bill, which was filed by Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr., (R-NC), seeks 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 is in the Committee on Natural Resources for examination before moving to the House floor for a vote or not. Please call or email your local Congressman and the members of the Natural Resources Committee 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.
This weekend's shows begin with the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo, which is scheduled for March 16-18 at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington. This show includes fishing, hunting and more. There will be seminars on Friday and Sunday covering a variety of topics. For more information visit www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com.
Two fishing schools are on tap for this weekend also. The North and South Carolina Sportsman Saltwater Fishing School will be held Saturday, March 17, in conjunction with the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo at the Convention Center in Wilmington. This school features eight classrooms with charter captains from both states, plus manufacturers and knowledgeable fishermen. Seating for this school is limited and has been sold out for several weeks. For more information visit www.northcarolinasportsman.com.
The Get Hooked Fishing School will be held Saturday, March 17, at the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. This school features area charter captains discussing fishing and adds sessions on knots and rigging. For more information visit www.ncaquariums.com/pine-knoll-shores.
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.