First, let me wish everyone a Happy Easter. This will be the first big tourist weekend of 2008 and it will be a bit interesting to see the size of the crowd that arrives at the coast this weekend. Easter is typically a big weekend, but with fuel prices and the timing being a couple of weeks early this year, I have heard mixed impressions from those folks headed down from upstate. Some aren't coming, some are coming but not towing their boats and some are regarding it as the first weekend of the beach and fishing season as usual.
Unfortunately the weather man hasn't given us the best forecast. Friday's forecast is the best overall and then the wind flirts between 10-15 and 15-20 for Saturday and Sunday. Monday it's back at 20-25, so it will be a good day to be back at work or traveling home.
The water temperatures are about 4-6 degrees above normal for this time of year and there are a few fish around we don't usually see until later. Many of the backwater areas are surpassing 60 degrees regularly, especially on afternoon low tides and the surf temperatures are in the mid to high 50's. This is good for fishing and unless we have a freak cold snap, the fishing should continue to get a little better almost every week.
I believe all the N.C. piers will be open by this weekend. It would probably be a good idea to give a call before heading down specifically to fish on a pier, but Easter is the customary opening date and those I have checked are open and waiting for you.
Some big news came from the Tag-A-Giant folks this week. A bluefin tuna that was implanted with an archival tag, on the Calcutta off Cape Lookout in January 2004, has been recaptured in the Gulf of Mexico. The fish was kept and the tag capsule is on its way to the TAG researchers. From the number and series on the tag, they are expecting to receive approximately 1,000 days of information recorded at two minute intervals. Way to go! Keep up the good work. I look forward to hearing more about that fish's exploits.
There are a few fish in the surf for surf and pier fishermen. Red drum, pups and an occasional large drum have been reported from Cape Point at Buxton to Cape Fear at Bald Head Island. They have been feeding in the first slough off the beach. There are also some bluefish and speckled trout in this same slough. A few sea mullet have been caught while feeding on the first bar and some dogfish are wandering from the beach offshore for several miles.
Puppy drum and speckled trout continue to be the lion's share of inshore fishing. There are a few flounder being caught and some fishermen well up the rivers are occasionally boating a few stripers also. Last week several fishermen on the lower Neuse River were rewarded with super slams of a pup, speck, flatfish and rock on the same trip.
Some larger specks were caught this week throughout the central coast. This action was mainly from the mouth of the Neuse River to the creeks behind Figure Eight and Lee Islands between Wrightsville Beach and Surf City. Beginning in January the minimum size for a speckled trout citation increased from 4 to 5 pounds and several of last week's fish made the grade.
The striper bite in the rivers seems to be steady to possibly getting a little better. I didn't get to go fishing, but last Sunday morning crossed the Manns Harbor Bridge and saw a big flock of gulls diving wildly over a school of feeding fish. I'm sure it was stripes as they were just out in the sound from the bridge and the birds were going crazy.
Many fishermen are catching stripers in the Pamlico/Tar River around Washington and in the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern. There has also been a growing striper bite in the Cape Fear River near Lock and Dam Number 1.
I ran into Freddie Dawson of White Owl Motor Company in Kinston and he said the shad run was getting better almost daily. His business is right beside the Neuse River launching ramp on Highway 70. He said the river was up, but receding a little and the fish were there. There are also improving shad reports from the Roanoke River.
The weather windows were short-lived, but some fishermen dodged the windy days and got offshore in the past week. There were some good reports of king mackerel about 30 miles off. 210 Rock and 240 Rock were mentioned several times. The kings there were mostly smaller, running from barely legal to teenagers, but the pods were thick and the kings hungry when you found them. Farther south, kings into the high 20's were being caught east and offshore of Frying Pan Tower.
This week I saw the first of the big hump-headed spawning sea bass. These are the big adults, with most weighing more than three pounds. There were catches from the rocks and wrecks at the ends of both Cape Lookout and Frying Pan Shoals. In just a little deeper water, and often on the same structure that is holding kings, there have been some nice groupers, snappers, triggerfish, grunts and more.
There were some tuna reports this week, but mainly blackfins and bluefins. The blackfins are on many of the first breaks and eddies off the Gulf Stream as you head offshore. Some have been as close as 120 feet, but most are around 150-180 feet deep. The bluefins have been mainly juveniles and small schoolies. They have primarily been from Hatteras to Oregon Inlet. A few scattered wahoo are also being caught offshore.
I attended the Mid-Atlantic Kayak Fishing Symposium at Virginia Beach, Va. last Saturday and in spite of the long distance it was a good trip. There was much good information on the various types of kayaks, various features, safety and lots of information about pursuing various fish. The presenters gave information on catching many species ranging from smallmouth bass to big red drum and stripers. Even better, once you get the kayak launched, it doesn't require any fuel to have a good time and possibly catch dinner.