Wow, spring swept in here last Saturday in a blaze of glory and some serious sunshine that gave folks their first sunburn of the year. Man it was great! Unfortunately I was tied up in the morning completing some loose ends and didn't get out until the afternoon and didn't get to go fishing. However, I spent several hours outside and woke Sunday with a little glow on my face and ever-increasing forehead. It sure felt good and it wasn't enough to peel.
While spring came in with a flourish, it has been doing a bit of stutter-step since then and the forecast for this weekend paints it as one of the steps backward. There is a front forecast to come through sometime Friday night and switch the winds to the northeast and really drop the temperatures. The high Saturday is only projected to make 54 degrees. Once the front passes the winds should switch back to a southerly flow and begin warming us back into the 60s during the daytime. The wind will probably stay breezy at least through the weekend, but may drop out again next week.
With the changing weather, the water temps aren't rising rapidly, but they have held this week and maybe even gained a degree or two in places. Most spots are 55 or so now and some are seeing low tide temps on sunny days that flirt with 60. With another week of warm sunny days, we might reach 60 by Easter, which is next weekend. That's a push, but with warm sunny days it could happen. Once the water passes 60 degrees and keeps rising the fishing should continually improve.
It wasn't like October, but there were fish caught from the piers this week. Bogue Inlet Pier reported some blowfish, with lots of sharks, a few skates and some small spots. The report from the Sheraton Pier was bluefish on Got-Chas and blowfish on shrimp. That is great news and it should only get better.
The inshore nearshore fishermen reported excellent fishing for puppy drum. The fish in the marshes are getting active and feeding, while some real overslot bruisers are feeding in the surf. Pieces of shrimp and soft plastics caught them in both places.
Inshore drum are scattered from Cape Hatteras to the S.C. line. In the surf they seem to prefer beaches without houses. From North to south, this includes Portsmouth Island, Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island, Lea Island and Masonboro Island. Several guides said the fish could be reached by surf casting, but the best way was to pick a calm day and fish from a boat holding just outside of the breakers.
The trout are just starting to peck, but aren't really active yet. Hopefully the number of specks killed by the cold is only what we saw, but we should begin finding out in a few weeks. They are nibbling along a little right now, but should start biting better once the water temperature passes 60. The best trout stories have come from fishermen using live mud minnows, but some folks are catching them on smaller grubs and MirrOlures. The 17 MR MirrOlure is a small suspending bait that is mentioned often as a top trout lure.
Many fishermen that ventured off the beach during the last week saw schools of false albacore. Some stopped and caught a few and some ran past headed for the Gulf Stream. The fat Alberts were biting well and were lots of fun to catch.
Most folks reported slow fishing along the Gulf Stream but there were a few good reports. Off Cape Fear and Cape Lookout the bite was slow. A few wahoo, some blackfins and some kings were the primary catches. A couple of nice dolphin were caught too. A few folks had good numbers, but most returned with only a few fish. Off Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet the tuna bite is raging on.
The majority of the tuna are bluefins, but more yellowfins are being caught every week. Maybe this will be the year the yellowfins return to the Big Rock and the Steeples.
Offshore bottom fishermen are catching some nice black sea bass from the S.C. state line to Cape Hatteras. The fishery is closed north of Cape Hatteras. In addition to grunts and porgies, offshore bottom fishermen are also catching and releasing some beeliners (vermilion snapper) and grouper. The recreational season for beeliners will open April 1, while all fishermen have to wait until May 1 to keep a grouper. All red snapper fishing is closed.
The reports of shad in area rivers continue to improve. One of the places you can always verify if the shad are biting is to check the ramp and parking area where U.S.70 crosses the Neuse River in Kinston. If the lot is full of vehicles without trailers, the shad are biting well enough they are catching them from the bank. Shad like small spoons and darts, which most folks fish on very light tackle. The shad run hard and jump during the fight, which has earned them the nickname, "poor man's tarpon."
The water in the rivers is muddy and dirty from all the rainwater runoff, but the stripers are working their way upstream through it. Good striper reports are still coming from most coastal rivers. With all the tuna being caught off Oregon Inlet, the striper reports have slowed, but there are still stripers being caught.
Stripers are managed regionally and the limits may be different in different rivers. There are even some rivers, like the Cape Fear, where the season is closed. Striper regulations are subject to change on short notice and it would be wise to visit www.ncdmf.net and check the latest regulations while planning a fishing trip.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) met in early March and modified their preferred option for Amendment 17A for managing red snapper after the emergency closure expires and is asking for comments from commercial and recreational fishermen. Their previous preferred option closed the ocean to all bottom fishing in a zone that ran from northern Florida to the N.C./S.C. border and included waters from 98 to 240 feet deep. The new proposal places the northern end of that zone farther south, at roughly the Ga./S.C. border.
Several fishermen have expressed concerns that all this would do is move commercial fishermen farther north and create a situation of local depletion in the area that remains open. This is a point that merits consideration.
Comments may be sent to the SAFMC by internet, mail or fax. Electronic Submissions must go through the: Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. The docket ID for this proposal is NOAA-NMFS-2010-0035 and it must be entered in the search box. Comments may also be submitted by mail to: Kate Michie--NOAA Fisheries Service--Southeast Regional Office--Sustainable Fisheries Division--263 13th Avenue South--St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505. The fax number is 727-824-5308 and comments should be sent attention of Kate Michie.
Amendment 17B to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan is currently under review, and needs to be stopped--at least off N.C. It is a deepwater closure for bottom fishing that begins at 240 feet and continues offshore. It was designed to protect speckled hinds and Warsaw grouper, but won't help in the waters off N.C., plus it will create unnecessary burdens on fishermen and put many out of business. Speckled hinds are in shallower water than this off N.C and it won't protect them, while Warsaw grouper are virtually non-existent off N.C., so it can't protect them. What it will do is stop the tilefish fishery that is strong off the N.C. Coast, especially off the Outer Banks, and tilefish are on totally different kinds of bottom so the possibility of overlap is virtually nil.
Stopping Amendment 17B will require calling, e-mailing or writing to your congressmen and congresswomen and making them aware of why this is not a good amendment. You can find the contact information for your congressmen at www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.
Since there was all the reaction to the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force proceeding to a new management strategy for the U.S. Oceans and Great Lakes without representation from the recreational fishing industry, on March 23rd, Eric Schwaab, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, announced the appointment of Russell Dunn to a newly created position of National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries. Dunn is to be joined by 22 members of the recreational fishing community from around the nation to form a Recreational Fisheries Working Group to provide expertise on saltwater recreational fishing to NOAA's Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC).
At a passing glance this sounds good, but, after a closer look, many
fishermen will question Dunn's qualifications for the job. Dunn has been the
branch chief of NOAA Fisheries Highly Migratory Species Management Division,
served as a policy advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the International
Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, and worked as director of
government relations at the National Audubon Society on its Living Oceans
Campaign. He also worked for then- Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Dunn,
who will be based in St. Petersburg, Fla., will serve as the national point of
contact for the saltwater fishing community, and coordinate closely with NOAA
Fisheries national and regional staff.
The catch shares proposal may be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/domes_fish/catchshare/index.htm. Comments may be registered from the link; submitted by e-mail to email@example.com; submitted by fax to (301) 713-1940, Attn: Catch Shares; and by mail to the Office of Policy, NOAA Fisheries Service, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) Terminal Groin Study Steering Committee met in New Bern last week and decided to recommend against allowing terminal groins as a means of erosion control devices in coastal North Carolina. This is another situation where people need to ask questions and let their voices be heard. More information can be found at http://dcm2.enr.state.nc.us/CRC/crc.htm.
I visited the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo last Saturday at the Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington and saw some interesting booths, talked to lots of people and generally had a great time. This event should move to the new Wilmington Convention Center next year, which brings more room for additional exhibitors and breakout rooms for fishing and hunting seminars. Planning is already underway, but if you have suggestions or would like more information, visit them at www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com.
This weekend the Hadnot Point Annex of the Marine Corps Exchange at Camp Lejeune will be offering saltwater fishing seminars on Friday and Saturday. Capt. Phil Leonard will be presenting on Friday from 11:00 to 3:00 and on Saturday, I will be there from 10:00 until 3:00. If you have a base sticker or a friend who fishes and has one, come on out and sit in on the seminars.