Our March weather continues to be exceptionally good. I donít want to seem negative, which is really hard to do when the weather seems like early summer in mid-March, but there is a balance of things in nature and I sure hope this doesnít get anything off kilter.
The forecast is for the weather to stay warm through the weekend. It must be warm enough for sea breezes to develop as the southerly winds are forecast to breeze up to 15-20 knots Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Meanwhile, many fishermen have been taking full advantage of the exceptionally nice weather of the past week.
For the past week fishing has been good from the backwaters to the Gulf Stream. Ocean water temperatures have risen into the mid seventies inshore of the Gulf Stream and one Swansboro inshore guide said he saw 70 degrees at low tide in the back of one creek with a dark mud bottom. The water temps in the surf have been reported in the sixties from Hatteras to Sunset Beach. This is unseasonably warm.
Offshore fishing is very good for early in the year. For the past week the winds have been calm and the wahoo are chewing. There is already a report of one being caught at the 90 Foot Drop.
Blackfin tuna are chewing too. These smaller tuna have been around all winter and havenít left yet. If there is an issue with them, it is having small mouths and sometimes mangling a bait without getting the hook. Fishermen from Hatteras and Oregon Inlet are also still catching a few bluefin tuna.
Some yellowfin tuna are being caught too and that is especially good news. For about five years the yellowfins have been following the offshore edge of the Gulf Stream past southern and central NC, but coming back in at Hatteras and Oregon Inlet. This seems to be shifting and that is good news. Even the reports from the longliners say the yellowfins are moving back into the main body and nearshore side of the Gulf Stream. Letís hope this continues.
Dolphin have joined the offshore party a little early also. Everyone likes a plate of fresh grilled mahi and they are making an early appearance. Most of them are gaffers too.
Lots of offshore bottom fish are being caught on rocks, reefs and wrecks approximately 25 to 35 miles offshore. Currently only grunts, porgies, triggerfish and hog snapper can be kept. The closed seasons begin slowly opening beginning with beeliner season on April 1.
Kings, cobia and amberjack are often holding around the bottom fish. Some are being caught light lining and some when they try to steal a fish that is being reeled up.
King mackerel are getting aggressive in the warming water and the numbers of them are growing. Kings are moving a little closer in as the water warms.
More schools of false albacore are being sighted each week. Many are still well offshore, but they are moving closer to the beach. False albacore are lots of fun to catch, especially on light tackle, and are a favorite of fly fishermen. Unfortunately they have a strong flavor and arenít regarded highly for the dinner table.
Atlantic bonito are usually only a couple of weeks behind the false albacore and could be arriving at any time. These fish are cousins in the tuna family and are the best tasting of the nearshore tunas. They very closely resemble false albacore and both are often called bonito. Learn to tell the difference and you will be impressed. Atlantic bonito are always welcome on my table.
The ocean piers are open and the fish are biting. I received good reports of sea mullet, puffers and black drum this week.
Red drum, black drum, sea mullet and a few specks are also being caught in the surf. Soft plastics and MirrOlures are the lures mentioned most often for the specks and reds. A double drop bottom rig with pieces of the freshest shrimp possible is the hot ticket for the sea mullet and will also catch black drum and an occasional red.
Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasiní Tales Outdoors said his customers were reporting good catches of sea mullet, croakers and hogfish in the Turning Basin. With the gusty winds forecast for the weekend, the Turning Basin and the channel from the No Wake Zone out to Beaufort Inlet might get crowded. Lamb said most of the fishermen were drifting and slowly bouncing speck rigs tipped with small pieces of shrimp. He said a key to catching sea mullet is using the freshest shrimp possible and that last fall Chasiní Tails froze some in water to keep them as fresh as possible for the early bite.
Another good spot to catch sea mullet is in the lower Cape Fear River near Southport. Some are at the mouth of the river and on the mud bars just around the corner at Ft. Caswell and some are along the Southport-Fort Fisher Ferry Channel on the Fort Fisher side of the river.
The spring trout bite is on, but some fishermen are concerned the water is warming too quickly. Live mud minnows have accounted for some large trout and they are also hitting a variety of soft plastics. Some fishermen have reported their best luck with the MR 17 size suspending MirrOlures.
The red drum bite has been a little spotty over the past few weeks. Sometimes it has seemed like feast or famine. Many of the reds seem to be either right at the bottom of the slot or 25 inches and longer. That indicates that a year class may be missing. The recommendation for catching pups was a light jig head and soft plastic and to fish just quickly enough to keep the bait off the bottom. A popping or rattling cork rig may also work well.
Many inshore fishermen are also reporting catching a few flounder. The mix is mainly 14 to 17 inchers, but with the mild winter they havenít been as thin as they usually are early in the year. I caught a 17 incher last week and invited it home for dinner and it was good. Your first fresh flounder of the year may come earlier than usual.
Stripers are still biting in the rivers, but the reports have slowed. I donít know if the bite has slowed with the warming weather and water or if the effort has switched to other species. Iím hearing more shad reports and also of inland speckled trout, so I suspect the effort has shifted.
Shad are biting at Lock and Dam Number 1 on the Cape Fear River, in the Neuse River and many of the creeks that join it between New Bern and Goldsboro and in the Roanoke River at Weldon. Shad darts and small spoons are favorite lures for shad.
A couple of N.C. Marine Fisheries Advisory Committees will be meeting next week. They are:
* The Coastal Habitat Protection Plan Steering Committee will meet March 29 at 10:00 A.M. at the Craven County Cooperative Extension Office in New Bern. For more information contact Jimmy Johnson at 252-948-3952 or email@example.com or Anne Deaton at 910-796-7315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The Sea Turtle Advisory Committee will meet March 29 at 6:00 P.M. at the DMF Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Jacob Boyd at 1-800-682-2632 or Jacob.Boyd@ncdenr.gov.
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 were two new items from them last 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 SAFMC, in conjunction with the Gulf Fisheries Council, decided to move forward in examining Marine Protected Areas as a means to protect endangered corals and establish protected areas for hinds and Warsaw grouper. There is already one of these off the southern N.C. Coast and no bottom fishing is allowed.
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.
Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr., (R-NC), has filed HR 4094, which 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 doesnít 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, with hopes it is referred to the House floor for a vote. Fishermen and other users of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are requesting everyone to 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.
As I am writing this, recreational and commercial fishermen from across the East and Gulf Coasts are in Washington, DC attending the Fishermenís Rally, sponsored by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). This rally began at noon on March 21 and is a gathering of fishermen from across the United States to convince the U.S. Congress to reform the Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Act and NOAA Fisheries. Many N.C. legislators support this change. I hope to have a report from the rally next week.
This weekend is one of the rare ones so far this year without a show, seminars or a fishing school in North Carolina. If you need an outdoor show fix, the Palmetto Sportsman Classic will be at the S.C. State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C. from Friday through Sunday, March 23-25. This show is similar to the Dixie Deer Classic, with an emphasis on hunting, but also features some fishing. For more information visit www.dnr.sc.gov.
Tournaments are beginning for the year and many area fishermen will be in Savannah, Ga. this weekend for the first 2012 Atlantic Division tournaments of the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) Redfish Tour and Kayak Fishing Tour. For the past five years the IFA Redfish Tour Atlantic Division has included at least one tournament in N.C., but none are scheduled in N.C. for 2012. The IFA Kayak Fishing Tour is only in its third year, but had also held tournaments in N.C. the previous two years.
IFA management said the reason for discontinuing the N.C. tournaments was low attendance. Several tour competitors went a step farther and said the low attendance was because they often returned to bays and creeks where they had located fish earlier in the week only to find gill nets blocking their paths on tournament days. They said they wouldnít return to N.C. as long as this was allowed. It follows closely that a tournament canít be held without fishermen participating.
At last report, HB 353, the bill to declare red drum, speckled trout and striped bass as gamefish, will be a topic of discussion when the N.C. Legislature convenes for the short session later this spring. If these fish are designated as gamefish, they will be subject to strict regulations and will not be allowed to be sold. This would eliminate the use of gill nets in many coastal creeks and bays and maybe the tournament trail will return to N.C. For more information on HB 353, visit www.northcarolinasportsman.com/communities/gamefish_bill/index.php.