Daylight Savings Time and Spring arrived earlier this month and this Sunday, March 27, is Easter.  The holiday weekend will bring crowds, so be ready to deal with them.  This is the start of the 2016 beach season and until the late fall, we can expect to see longer lines at stores, restaurants, in left turn lanes and at launching ramps.  

Last weekend and the first few days of spring were a bit of a letdown after the excellent weather we've been having, but the sunshine returned and daytime temps have risen back into the 70s.  We've been spoiled for the past several weeks with our temperatures running 15 to 20 degrees warmer than average and all that sunshine.   

There is a little cloud over this weekend's weather, but the forecast has improved for several days.  Early in the week the weather projection was for rain and showers from Friday through Monday.  That has been downgraded and we may get through Saturday and Sunday with little or no rain.

The sea conditions forecast has improved too.  Saturday now looks pretty fishable and Sunday looks nice.  The wind is forecast to pick back up sometime Monday.   

Unfortunately, the cold of last weekend and early this week stalled the rising water temperatures.  Some areas even cooled as much as 5 to 10 degrees.  This is still a little warmer than this time last year and the water began warming and fish improving by the middle of the week.

Pier fishermen are catching a few fish.  Blowfish were the most prominent catch early in the week, but whiting (sea mullet, Va. mullet) numbers picked up towards the end of the week.  A few drum, both red and black, have been caught in the surf and this should get better as the water continues to warm.

Fishermen around the larger inlets are also catching blowfish and whiting.  Two good examples are Beaufort Inlet into the Morehead City Turning Basin and the Cape Fear River Inlet at Southport.  Speck rigs tipped with pieces of shrimp or Fishbites and jigged slowly just off the bottom have been producing well. 

Last week There were enough accidental flounder catches they stood out.  The flounder were caught by fishermen after specks and pups.  This has been slower with the cooler water this week, but should pick back up as the water warms again.

There was good news from the creeks and marshes this week.  Several fishermen caught specks and pups on topwater lures.  It's always a good sign when the fish are active enough to chase topwaters.  It's also a fun and exciting way to catch fish.

Since I've mentioned catching fish on topwater lures, I'm going to give a little plug to the new Soft Dog from Paul Brown Lures.  Paul Brown Lures are a part of the MirrOlure family that features soft lures in shapes usually thought to be hard lure shapes.  MirrOlure has been crossing several of their popular shapes, such as the MirrOdine Series, into the Paul Brown line with good success. 

The Soft Dog is a topwater lure made in the soft Paul Brown Lures material.  It doesn't quite have the same shape as the MirrOlure Top Dog, but it catches fish.  Because of their erratic action, fish often miss the hooks on topwater lures.  The soft material of the Soft Dog feels natural to the fish and if they miss they usually come right back and strike again.  Soft Dogs are brand new and should be arriving in your favorite tackle shops now. 

The specks and pups were just beginning to get active when the cold snap hit last weekend.  The water cooled and it has affected them in some places.  The places that slowed more were the edges of marshes around open water, but the water deep in marshes and at the back of creeks didn't cool as rapidly or as much and fish are still biting there.  Most fishermen will do better with soft plastic baits, but the fish will also hit hard baits.  Using scented baits or adding scent helps too.

Stripers are still active in most of the coastal rivers.  They should start moving up the river to spawn at any time.  Shad are also running in the coastal rivers.  The favorite lures for shad are shad darts and small spoons. 

The sea conditions this week until Thursday were not conducive to heading very far offshore.  A number of boats headed out Thursday, but I only received a few reports and they included wahoo and blackfin tuna. 

Many fishermen are looking forward to the weekend and hoping the Saturday conditions are nice enough to make the trip.  Others are watching the forecast and looking forward to the better forecast for Sunday.  The last time a number of boats made it to the Gulf Stream they found wahoo and blackfin tuna that were hungry and ready to bite, plus a few scattered dolphin and yellowfin tuna.

Offshore bottom fishing continues to be good.  One of the primary targets is the big hump-head black sea bass.  They have been biting really well.  There have also been black sea bass on the rocks, wrecks and artificial reefs closer in, but they are smaller and you often have to weed through a bunch to find a limit of keepers.

Offshore bottom fishermen are also catching beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgys and occasionally other reef fish complex species.  One species that shows up more than occasionally is lionfish.  These fish have long poisonous spines that can hurt badly, but they taste very good.  They are worth learning to handle properly for their excellent fillets.  There is information on cleaning and cooking them at www.reef.org.  

There are some winter/spring king mackerel in deeper water off the end of the shoals art all three N.C. Capes.  Some are being caught by fishermen setting light lines in the current behind their boats while bottom fishing and some are being caught by trolling.  They prefer water temps of the mid 60s and above which are generally found in the 100 to 125 foot depths this time of year.  The winter/spring kings school and can often be seen on fishfinders as they feed on suspended baitfish.  Spoons, sea witches rigged with strips and frozen cigar minnows slow trolled on live bait style rigs will all catch kings.

There have been several reports of schools of false albacore offshore and east of Cape Lookout Shoals.  They should be moving closer to Cape Lookout in the coming weeks. 

I was at a meeting Wednesday night and a fisherman from the Wrightsville Beach area said a few fishermen had caught a couple of Atlantic bonito this week.  They often travel with false albacore, but are much better table fare.  Learn the differences and you'll have some excellent fish that you have probably been releasing because you confused them with false albacore.  Both like small lures, jigs and spoons retrieved quickly. 

Great White Sharks
I usually don't mention great white sharks here, but there have been several nearshore incidents in the past few weeks that people should be aware of.  Capt. Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing in Hilton head Island, S.C. and Troy Bowman of Bulls Gap, Tenn. had a unique experience March 8 off Hilton Head.  Bowman was out with Michalove for an afternoon of bull red fishing, when the conditions got right and Michalove tossed over a shark bait.  About five hours later, four of them spent fighting the fish, they brought a female great white shark, estimated at 2,500 pounds to boatside.  This is the fifth great white hookup Michalove's charters have had over the winter and the third brought to the boat.  It was also the largest. 

This week, a great white shark  estimated at 20 feet long was reported feeding on a whale carcass a few miles off Beaufort Inlet this week.  Neither of these sharks were one of the Ocearch tagged sharks.

Several great white sharks that have been tagged by the Ocearch scientists have visited N.C. waters at times and a few are near the state this week.  You can follow the travels of all the Ocearch tagged sharks around the world, by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker. 

New Cobia Regulations and Season Closure Announced
The cobia recreational allocation of 630,000 pounds was exceeded by approximately 140 percent during 2015 and provisions in the Magnusson-Stevens Act require the 2016 recreational season close early to prevent this from happening again.  The initial estimates were the closure would begin on June 15, but several states, including N.C., reduced their daily limit to a single cobia per person and the season was extended 5 days and will now close at 12:01 A.M. on June 20. 

Some fishermen expected this to be longer, but it's rare to catch a cobia for everyone on the boat, much less two, so there weren't many additional days.  There is a provision that if the 2016 allocation of 620,000 pounds has not been caught by then, the season could reopen.   

 Federal Fishery Managers Approve Protected Spawning Areas
At their March meeting, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) approved the designation of five offshore areas as Spawning Special Management Zones (SMZs) to help protect spawning snapper-grouper species and unique habitat associated with spawning activities in the South Atlantic.  The designation, through Amendment 36 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, would protect important spawning habitat and associated species of fish within the Council’s snapper grouper management complex by limiting specific fishing and anchoring activity within the sites.  If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the five areas ranging in size from three square miles to five square miles, would be the first such Spawning SMZs designated in federal waters off the South Atlantic coast.

“The selection of the Spawning SMZs has been a long and deliberative process, focusing on sites that are most beneficial for spawning snapper grouper species such as speckled hind and Warsaw grouper while balancing impacts to fishermen,” said SAFMC Chair Dr. Michelle Duval of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.  “The Council chose these areas based on scientific recommendations, input from its advisory panels, a great deal of public input, and the results from cooperative research with fishermen familiar with the unique habitat attracting species at selected sites.”

One of the five Spawning SMZs approved by the SAFMC is off North Carolina.  It is a 5.1 square mile area known as the South Cape Lookout site.  Three of the sites are off South Carolina and one is off the east coast of the Florida Keys. 

Fishing for species in the snapper grouper fishery management complex and anchoring would be prohibited within the proposed Spawning SMZs.  Anchoring is allowed in the experimental artificial reef areas.  Fishermen would be allowed to troll for pelagic species such as dolphin, tuna, and billfish in all the areas.

Restricting bottom fishing is designed to help protect habitat and fish that gather there to spawn, resulting in the production of more eggs and larvae that could help recruitment of juvenile fish.  The areas would also help reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality for snapper grouper species, including speckled hind and Warsaw grouper, two species that have been candidates for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  A transit provision is also included in the amendment.

In addition to designating the Spawning SMZs, the amendment includes a sunset provision that would require the areas be reauthorized after a period of 10 years, based on their effectiveness.  A System Management Plan for the Spawning SMZs was approved in conjunction with Amendment 36, outlining research/monitoring, law enforcement, and outreach needs.  The amendment would also move the existing Charleston Deep Artificial Reef Marine Protected Area to match the boundary of the currently permitted site.

ASMFC Initiates Socioeconomic Study on Atlantic Menhaden Commercial Fisheries
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has awarded funding to a research team from Appalachian State University and North Carolina Sea Grant to conduct a socioeconomic study of Atlantic menhaden commercial fisheries.  The study is intended to characterize the coastwide commercial fisheries, including bait and reduction sectors and the fishing communities they support.  

The principle objective of the study is to analyze data from participants in the Atlantic menhaden commercial industry. The Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery industry converts menhaden into fishmeal and fish oil, while the bait fishery industry supports other commercial (e.g. American lobster, blue crab) and recreational fisheries (e.g. striped bass, bluefish).  Case studies along the Atlantic coast will link the harvesting, processing, and distribution sectors across the supply chain.  Information on landing trends, industry participation, and social leadership and organizations will also be analyzed.

The proposal can be found on the ASMFC's website at http://www.asmfc.org/files/Science/MenhadenSocioeconomicAnalysisProposal_Addendum_March2016.pdf.  For more information, please contact Shanna Madsen, ASMFC Fisheries Science Coordinator, at smadsen@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

Reef Guide Photo Contest Ends March 30
Time is running out to submit an entry for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Reef Guide Photo Contest.  The division is looking for photos that show the abundant fisheries resources available on North Carolina’s artificial reefs and the different ways people use the reefs.  The deadline for entering the contest is noon March 30.

The grand prize winner will receive a $125 cash prize and the photo will be featured on the front cover of the 2016 Marine Fisheries Reef Guide.  The second place winner will receive a $50 cash prize and the third place winner will receive a $25 cash prize.  All winners will be recognized with a photo on the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program’s webpage.

The photo contest is open to amateur and professional photographers 18 or older and photos should be taken while fishing or diving on a North Carolina artificial reef.  Entries should be high resolution and have a vertical (portrait) orientation. All entries must be submitted electronically with an entry form to ArtificialReefs@ncdenr.gov.  Entrants may submit up to five photos.  Official contest rules and entry forms can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/artificial-reefs-program.  For more information, contact Amy Comer at 252-808-8054 or Amy.Comer@ncdenr.gov.

Wildlife Commission Offers Blue Catfishing Seminar at Pechmann Center
They aren't salt water fish, but when guide Zakk Royce caught blue catfish state records on back-to-back days during December, it brought a new focus to the excellent blue catfish fishing in N.C.  He added another 100 pounder recently to put an exclamation point on the season.  The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will present a free blue catfish seminar on April 6, from 6:30-9:30 p.m., at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville. 

Royce, who operates Blues Brothers Catfish Guide Service on Lake Gaston, will be the instructor for the seminar titled, “Fishing for North Carolina’s Giant Catfish.”  He will discuss equipment selection (rods and reels, line and terminal tackle) plus bait, locating big catfish, fishing structure and various techniques for targeting the big catfish

Space is limited and pre-registration online is strongly encouraged. For more information about the seminar, contact Education Center Director Thomas Carpenter at 910-868-5003.  The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center is located at 7489 Raeford Road in Fayetteville and hosts fishing workshops, events and clinics throughout the year. Most programs are free and open to the public. For more information about the center, or to see a schedule of upcoming events, visit www.ncwildlife.org and click on the “Learning” link.

WRC and NWTF Offer Free Turkey Hunting Seminars
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation have scheduled 24 free turkey hunting seminars across North Carolina during March and April.  The seminars will be held at 12 locations, with an introductory seminar on one night, followed by an advanced seminar the next night.  The seminars will run from 6:30 to 9:30 P.M. and will be on a first-come, first-serve basis to all ages.  Participants 16 years and younger will need parental permission to register.

The introductory seminars are designed for novice turkey hunters or those who have never hunted turkey and topics will include biology, hunting methods, calls and decoys, firearms and ammo selection, camouflage clothing, and turkey cleaning and cooking techniques.  The advanced seminars are for experienced turkey hunters and will focus on advanced biology, more complex hunting tactics, calls and decoys.  Advanced seminars will include tips and strategies for dealing with stubborn, hard-to-hunt gobblers and will include cleaning and cooking techniques.

Some seminars have already been held, but there are several still on tap.  A list of remaining dates and locations is available on the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org.

Pre-registration for the turkey hunting seminars is required and participants must register online at www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/SkillsBasedSeminars.aspx.  For additional information contact Walter “Deet” James, WRC Hunting Heritage Biologist at 919-707-0059, 984-202-1387, or hunting.heritage@ncwildlife.org.

Five Public Hearings Set for Temporary Black Bear Hunting Proposals
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission voted in early February to begin the temporary rulemaking process for black bear hunting and scheduled five public hearings to take comments on a set of proposed temporary rules.  These public hearings will focus on potentially extending the time that bears can be taken with the aid of unprocessed food as bait to the entire open season.

The coastal public hearings have already been held, but the following three remain:
* April 5: Clyde, Haywood Community College, 185 Freedlander Dr., Auditorium;
* April 6: Morganton, Western Piedmont Community College, 1001 Burkemont Ave., Leviton Auditorium, Moore Hall;
* April 8: Williamston, Martin Community College, 1161 Kehukee Park Rd., Auditorium #1.
The public hears begin at 7:00 P.M.

Those unable to attend one of the meetings may submit comments through April 12.  Comments may be submitted online at www.ncwildlife.org, e-mailed to regulations@ncwildlife.org, or mailed to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission - 1701 Mail Service Center - Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1701.

WRC Seeks Members for Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is seeking nominations for three seats on its Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee — a board of North Carolina citizens that provides advice to the Commission on nongame wildlife conservation issues across the state.

The first seat is an expert affiliate seat.  Nominees for this seat should have extensive biological, regional, academic, scientific and/or habitat expertise and experience in matters dealing with nongame wildlife conservation in North Carolina.

Two additional seats are at-large affiliate seats.  Nominees for these seats should be qualified individuals from land trusts serving North Carolina, federal natural resource agencies other than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, non-governmental conservation organizations, industries with operations and/or management that have landscape-scale effects on wildlife, or other organizations that provide a stakeholder voice in wildlife resource conservation. Individuals should have a comprehensive knowledge of nongame wildlife conservation in North Carolina.

The committee meets four times a year, usually at the Commission’s headquarters in Raleigh.  Nominations will be accepted through May 16.  The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will appoint the committee members at its July meeting.  Nomination forms and information on supporting documents can be downloaded at www.ncwildlife.org.  Electronic submissions are preferred, but hard copies may be mailed to the Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee - Attn: Shauna Glover, Habitat Conservation Division - MSC 1721 - Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1700.  Electronic nominations should be emailed to shauna.glover@ncwildlife.org.  For more information, e-mail Glover or call (919) 707-0064.

SAFMC Seeks Scientific Advisors
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is soliciting scientists interested in serving on its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC).  This is open to any qualified scientist, regardless of affiliation or geographic location. The Council will review applications at its June meeting.  Applications received by April 20, 2016 will be submitted to the Council for consideration.

The SAFMC is one of eight U.S. regional fishery management councils.  Each council has an SSC responsible for reviewing the scientific basis of council management plans and actions, and developing fishing level recommendations in accordance with national fisheries management guidelines.  The SAFMC SSC meets at least twice a year to address a broad range of topics, including stock assessments, management action evaluations, social and economic analyses, habitat evaluations and ecosystem management issues.  SSC members also play a key role in developing and reviewing stock assessments through participation in SEDAR, the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review program.  SAFMC SSC members serve 3-year terms and may be appointed to multiple terms.

Anyone with expertise and experience in the areas of fisheries biology, population dynamics, fisheries research and monitoring, and social and economic analyses of natural resources, especially as applied to fish species in the South Atlantic, is encouraged to apply.   Application materials including the required financial disclosure form and SAFMC SSC job description, and details on the application process, may be obtained by contacting John Carmichael at john.carmichael@safmc.net or (843) 302-8435.

NOAA Fisheries to Host April Public Meetings Regarding Skimmer Trawl Regulations
NOAA Fisheries is considering new regulations in the shrimp fishery of the southeastern United States based on information indicating sea turtles are vulnerable to capture by skimmer trawls and reduced tow times may not be as effective in reducing bycatch-related mortality as turtle excluder devices.  The agency will host five public meetings in the Southeast U.S. and Gulf of Mexico States to discuss and receive input from fishermen and other constituents on alternatives to reduce sea turtle bycatch and mortality.

These public meetings are the first stage in a multi-step process required by the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure that Federal agencies evaluate the environmental impacts of major Federal actions.  The public will be provided with opportunities to assist in determining the scope of issues that require analysis.  The analysis of issues and the environmental impacts of the proposed actions will be presented in a draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will then be made available for public comment.  The notice of intent to prepare the draft statement was published in the Federal Register on March 15, 2016.

There is a scoping document and a list of frequently asked questions available on the NOAA Fisheries website at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/index.html.  The scoping document describes the major issues, current management and legal requirements, and identifies potential management measures to reduce interactions, and in particular, lethal interactions, between sea turtles and trawl fisheries.

Four of the public meetings will be held in Gulf of Mexico states.  The fifth meeting will be April 13 at 2:00 P.M. at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City.  Comments may also be submitted during a concurrent 45-day comment period that will be published with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Fisheries Meetings
April 6:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Southern Regional Advisory Committee Meeting, 5:30 P.M., Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov or Chris Stewart at 910-796-7370 or Chris.Stewart@ncdenr.gov.

April 7:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Northern Regional Advisory Committee Meeting, 5:30 P.M. Department of Environmental Quality Regional Office, Washington, Contact Katy West at 252-946-6481 or Katy.West@ncdenr.gov or  Holly White 252-473-5734 or Holly.White@ncdenr.gov.

April 11:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee Meeting, 6:00 P.M., N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact: Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or  Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov.

April 11-14:  Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meeting, Montauk Yacht Club, Montauk, NY, www.mafmc.org.

April 14:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Shellfish / Crustacean Advisory Committee Meeting, 6:00 P.M., Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Trish Murphey at 252-808-8091 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov or Anne Deaton at 252-808-8063 or Anne.Deaton@ncdenr.gov.   

May 2-5:  Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Spring Meeting; Westin; Alexandria, VA, www.asmfc.org.  

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
March 26:  Carolina Fishers of Men Inshore Trail Tournament, Lawson Creek Park Ramp Number 2, New Bern, 252-230-0359.

March 27:  Easter.  

March 30:  N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission “Outdoors Day," Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, Corolla, www.ncwildlife.org.

April 2:  Redfish Shootout Series Spring Redfish Shootout, Soundside Park, Surf City, www.redfishshootoutseries.com.  This was rescheduled from March 26.

April 2:  N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission/Jordan Lake State Park Family Fishing Fiesta, White Oak Recreation Area, Jordan lake, Apex, www.ncwildlife.org/fiesta.

April 6:  Blue Catfish Seminar, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.

April 9:  Annual Kayak Fish and Float Day, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.

April 25:  North Carolina General Assembly convenes for the 2016 Short Session.

April 30 and May 1:  Women Anglers In Training (WAIT) Ladies only fishing school, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com, 910-278-5518.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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