Spring may have arrived last week, but winter just wonít let go this year. It was bad enough that the weather held off until March to have a sustained cold spell, but now it needs to give it up and let the temps warm. Monday will be April 1 and with the weather remaining cool, it appears the joke may be on us.
There is some good new though with a weather window shaping up for the weekend. Right now the weather window looks best on Saturday, but we all know that can change Ė and quickly too. This may be the time for folks in center consoles to make the run to the Gulf Stream eddies and see if the wahoo and blackfins are still biting, plus if anything else has joined them.
This is Easter weekend, so be prepared for the first crowds of the year at the ramps, tackle shops, gas stations and restaurants. We need the folks to visit and pump some life back into our coastal communities, so smile as things take a little longer this weekend. While the weather doesnít look calm enough to head offshore all weekend, it does look fishable for inside and protected waters.
The larger boats have been catching some fish when they could get offshore. The reports from those few making the trip to the Gulf Stream have been primarily wahoo and blackfin tuna, with an occasional dolphin, king or something else mixed in. Fishermen from Hatteras to the north have a better chance of catching a yellowfin or bigeye tuna and there has been a run of bluefin tuna off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet for several weeks.
There have been some king mackerel and bottom fish a little inshore of the Gulf Stream and they have been biting. The kings are not large, but have been hungry when a school was located. They have been hitting Drone Spoons and other lures, plus frozen cigar minnows.
One of the tricks for success with kings when fishing frozen cigar minnows for kings is to pull the engines out of gear when passing over a school of fish and letting them sink. Many times when those baits move upward again as the motor is put back in gear any fish nearby is stimulated into striking. This works surprisingly well. Give it a try.
Offshore bottom fishing has been good, but several species are in closed season and must be released. On Monday, April 1, beeliners (vermilion snapper) join the fish whose season is open, so there is one more fish that can be added to your bag limit. A recent stock status survey of beeliners shows the numbers are better than most folks thought. This is good news and the SAFMC is considering altering some of their regulations and limits so more fish can be kept.
Fishermen heading offshore have reported seeing school of false albacore scattered from just out of sight of the beach all the way to the first good temperature break at the edge of the Gulf Stream. False albacore donít offer much dinner table appeal, but are top notch fighters and lots of fun to catch. If you see a school, they like small shiny lures retrieved or trolled very quickly. As the water warms, they should move closer to the beaches.
There is no big news from the piers this week, but the water in the surf zone is still holding right around 50 degrees. The good news is fishermen are catching lots of blowfish, a few sea mullet and some occasional bluefish. If the weather stays sunny and the water warms a little, the sea mullet fishing could get real good. These guys find much of their food with their noses, so use the freshest shrimp possible.
Reports keep coming of puppy drum and speckled trout. While they arenít great, the reports are actually pretty good for late March with the water temps as cool as they are. The pups may be getting out and moving around a little, but the specks are still in winter mode. Most of them have found a spot is a creek or marsh where the water is just a little warmer or there is a little bait and are holding there. The reports seem to be either feast or famine, so Iím guessing a lot of the success depends on finding a school that is warm enough to feed.
With all the wind this week, most of the speck and pup reports have come from sheltered water. Having to hide from the wind may have helped fishermen find these fish as it made them look in places near the backs of creeks where the water was a little warmer. The pups and specks arenít biting real well yet, but there is enough action most fishermen feel it will start getting good once the water warms a few more degrees.
The most consistent lures for catching pups and specks have been soft plastics. The fish are moving slow, so scent is also important. Some days the specks really like hard baits like MirrOlures, but they still have to be fished slowly. The MR17s, which suspend, and the MR 18s, which dive, have been mentioned the most.
I made a trip to Greenville this week and there were people fishing for shad in every river or creek I crossed. I went to Kinston first and they were at the Hwy 70 Bridge over the Neuse River there. The next bridge was the Hwy 11 Bridge over Contentnea Creek near Grifton and there were lots of fishermen there. Once in Greenville I crossed the Tar River and there were so many cars lines up on the sides of Hwy 11 and 13 that it looked like a wreck in the distance while approaching. There was also a big crowd fishing at the town commons area in downtown Greenville.
I think itís pretty obvious the shad are running in most coastal rivers. Small spoons and shad darts are the primary baits. A no-alibi rig made with a dart on a short leader and a spoon on a longer leader is as close to foolproof as you can get. Once you see a preference for one or the other, itís easy to switch.
There are also stripers in the coastal rivers. The striper bite continues around Wilmington, New Bern, Washington and Manns Harbor. The striper run should begin pushing upriver in the Roanoke to Weldon and Roanoke Rapids pretty soon.
Man, those great white sharks get around. Lydia and Mary Lee have been on the move this week and it has to create questions about how their brothers and sisters that arenít tagged are moving. While Genie still hasnít sent a locating ping since January, Mary Lee and Lydia seem to like for us to know where they are.
After a loop around the South Atlantic, Mary Lee is now back off N.C. She is offshore of the Continental Shelf at roughly the western wall of the Gulf Stream, off Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras. Lydia has also moved to deep water just off the Continental Shelf, but went south and is now just a little northeast of Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It is generous of Ocearch to make their shark tracking website available to the public on-line. You can access the tracks of Genie, Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other sharks from around the world, by using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
Senate Bill 58 (Increase Funding for Dredging), which was introduced by Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow) on February 5, 2013 is still alive although it is being questioned from many sides. At last report, it is in the Senate Finance Committee. This bill seeks to raise boat registration fees to help pay for dredging the shallow N.C. inlets, but exempts most of the commercial boats using the inlets and requires participation from recreational boats across the entire state.
Tow weeks ago BoatUS (www.boatus.com) joined in the efforts opposing SB 58 and this week several anglers groups representing inland fishermen, who would never use the inlets, have spoken out opposing the legislation. Boaters realize something must be done to keep the shallow inlets open and passable, but most feel this bill isnít financially responsible. Several other concerns with SB 58 include the questions of who prioritizes and schedules dredging? One group also pointed out that the cost for maintaining Oregon Inlet alone is roughly equal to the cost for all the other inlets combined.
The fee for all size N.C. registered boats is currently $15 annually or $40 for 3 years. The registration fees proposed in SB 58 are:
Up to 14 feet: $15 annual or $45 for 3 years;
14 to 20 feet: $25 annual or $75 for 3 years;
20 to 26 feet: $50 annual or $150 for 3 years;
26 to 40 feet: $100 annual or $300 for 3 years;
40 feet plus: $150 annual or $450 for 3 years.
There is no argument this will be a substantial increase for owners of all but the smallest boats.
Take the time to read SB 58 and decide for yourself. It can be found on the "Find A Bill" segment of the N.C. Legislature website at www.ncleg.net. While at the website, you can find the ways to contact your Representative and Senator and let them know how you feel. BoatUS also has a link to SB 58 and a way to express yourself. To use this, simply go to www.BoatUS.com/SB58 and click on "Take Action."
N.C. Sea Grant has begun a new funding cycle for the 2014-2016 grants and invites pre-proposals for projects and research through April 5, 2013. Those with questions should contact Steve Rebach, N.C. Sea Grant, at email@example.com or Susan White, Executive Director, N.C. Sea Grant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-513-1145.
The Coastal Recreational Fishing License Advisory Committee will meet April 9 at 1:30 P.M. at the Division of Marine Fishery Headquarters in Morehead City. For more information contact Randy Gregory at 252-808-8078 or Randy.Gregory@ncdenr.gov. An agenda for the meeting is available at www.ncdmf.net
NOAA Fisheries is requesting public comments on Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Shrimp Fishery of the South Atlantic Region and Amendment 28 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region. Electronic copies and information for making a comment on Amendment 9 may be found at the NOAA Fisheries Office web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SAShrimpHomepage.htm, while electronic copies and information for making a comment on Amendment 28 may be found online at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm.
Comments on Amendment 9 must be received by May 3 and comments on Amendment 28 must be received by May 13. All comments received are part of the public record and will be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change.
At their March 6-8 meeting, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) approved public hearings for the VMS amendment (Snapper Grouper Amendment 30). The two closest meetings will be at the Hilton Garden Inn in North Charleston, S.C. on Tuesday, April 23 and at the Doubletree Inn in New Bern on Thursday, April 25. For more information on these meetings call 843-308-9330 (N. Charleston) or 252-638-3585 (New Bern) or visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net. There is information on meetings in other locations on the SAFMC website also.
The SAFMC has scheduled a webinar explaining VMS as it relates to Snapper Grouper Amendment 30 for Thursday, April 4 at 6:00 P.M. There is not a fee, but participants are required to register. For more information on what points will be covered in the webinar and to register, visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
In what should be a bit of good news in the snapper-grouper fishery, the black sea bass stock assessment update will be reviewed by the SAFMC Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) in April, and the SAFMC plans to have a one-day meeting in May via webinar to discuss any action based on the stock update. Having this meeting in May, rather than waiting for the scheduled June SAFMC meeting will allow any changes to happen 30 days earlier and expectations are to loosen some of the current regulations for black sea bass. More information, including a detailed press release is available at www.safmc.net.
Iíve got a busy week next week. On Wednesday night, April 3, I will be giving a program on launching kayaks through the surf to fish for king mackerel and more at the Wilmington Great Outdoor Provision Company Store. The meeting begins at 6:30 P.M. and more information is available at the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association website (www.nckfa.com) and the Great Outdoor Provision Company website (www.greatoutdoorprovision.com).
On Saturday, April 6, I will be at the West Marine store in Murrells Inlet, SC to give a program on selecting and rigging electronics for kayaks. While dates are not yet scheduled, this should soon be coming to the coastal West Marine stores across North Carolina. For more information call your local West Marine store.
With the weather warming, there are some tournaments beginning. The Chasiní Tails Outdoors Cobia Tournament begins on April 1 and runs through June 10. Be sure to go by the store on the Atlantic Beach Causeway and sign up before heading offshore. It would be a shame to catch a potential winning fish and not be registered. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
Happy Easter and Good Fishing