This may be the weekend that spring arrives to stay. I've been questioning the two days of good weather, then a day of cooler weather, we've had for the past few weeks, but the weather has been great since those storms cleared out on Monday and is forecast to stay that way well into next week.
This is Easter Weekend, which is always the first big tourist weekend of the year at most beaches and I expect this one to continue the trend. In fact, I believe the excellent weather forecast is prompting some folks who hadn't planned on coming into making last-minute plans. I've had several calls from folks who weren't coming, who have changed their minds in the past few days and will be arriving later today and tonight. They are bringing their boats too, so be prepared to see a crowd on the water and stay alert for folks who haven't been on the water in a while and aren't paying close attention.
This is probably a good time to remind everyone that N.C. has some new requirements for operating a boat that will become effective May 1. The main premise of this law is that anyone younger than 26 operating a vessel powered by a motor of 10 horsepower or greater on a public waterway must meet the requirements for boating safety education, as set by General Statute 75A-16.2. There are numerous ways a person can meet these requirements, but the purpose is to have younger, inexperienced operators take and pass a boating safety course or demonstrate their knowledge by passing the exam for the course. Specific information for General Statute 75A-16.2 can be found in the Boating and Waterways section of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org.
The weather forecast for this weekend is excellent with most coastal areas expecting sunny or mostly sunny conditions with temperatures around 80 degrees and winds primarily less than 10 knots. There are a few places where the forecast grows to 10 to 15 knots of wind in the afternoons, but it looks to be excellent overall. I should have all kinds of good fishing reports for next week.
I believe most of the piers along the N.C. coast are open and the remaining few should open Friday (April 2). There is already good news from many of the piers. Sea mullet have been caught this week at many piers. There have also been blowfish, a few bluefish and lots of dogfish sharks. All of them will bite shrimp on bottom rigs and the bluefish and dogfish will also bite cut bait. The bluefish will also chase Got-Cha jigs that are cast and retrieved.
Fishermen in the inshore and nearshore waters are reporting good catches of puppy drum. They say the pups have awakened after the winter cold and they woke up hungry. The pups range from lower slot to over slot size and have warmed enough to fight hard. There are also pups along the beaches in some areas. The best reports of drum along the ocean beaches begin at Drum (Ophelia) Inlet, across from Atlantic, and extend down the coast to Lea Island, between Wrightsville Beach and Topsail. There are also some pups along Cape Lookout Shoals, especially around Shark Island.
Every degree the water warms brings us closer to seeing just how much damage was done to the speckled trout populations during the freezes last winter. We know there were some kills in North River, Wards Creek, Jarrett Bay, Little Alligator River and some of the smaller creeks off the Pungo River and feel we have some knowledge of the extent, but don't know for sure. Hopefully we won't see a severe lack of trout in other areas as the water warms.
A few specks are already being caught and they should get more active almost daily in this weather. When the water pushes above 60 degrees and stays there, the trout should start readily moving about and feeding. The surf is at about 55 degrees now, with some inland waters a few degrees higher, so if the weather stays warm and sunny, we should find out soon.
There were a few reports of flounder this week too. It really is too early and too cool for much of a flounder bite, but there were reports of some being caught in the shallow sounds around Swansboro and Topsail and around the nearshore artificial reefs. This is a big plus to the early fishing.
Once again there weren't many fishermen that headed offshore last weekend and earlier this week, so I don't have much for reports from there. Some good news from offshore is the warm waters of the Gulf Stream are moving back inshore. There were reports that many of the popular spring offshore areas like the Steeples, Swansboro Hole, and Big Rock have seen eddies that push them above 70 degrees this week. If this warmer water stays on the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream, the fishing should be good this weekend.
False albacore have moved to within 10 miles of the beach in some places. Fishermen headed farther offshore should see schools of them between 10 and 20 miles off. Some kings have moved inshore of the Gulf Stream too. The kings have been in 100 to 120 feet of water. Most folks prefer to look for at least 68 degree water to find kings, but there have been some caught in water around 65 degrees in the past two weeks. That means they are moving around looking for food and are aggressive when they find it.
The Gulf Stream fishing from Cape Lookout to the south has been a little slow, but there are some pods of fish around and if you find one, you could have a really good catch. Wahoo and blackfin tuna have been the main offshore fish, but a few yellowfin tuna and dolphin have been caught too. There is a hot bite of tuna off Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet. The bulk is 100 to 200 pound bluefins, but there are some yellowfins and bigeyes mixed in too.
We've made it to April, so the beeliner (vermilion snapper) season has reopened for recreational fishermen. There should be lots of hungry beeliners waiting for the offshore bottom fishermen. There have also been reports of big black sea bass, grunts and pinkies (red porgy). Red snapper and grouper remain closed.
I didn't hear much about shad fishing this week, but I can't believe the run has ended this quickly. The stripers are usually right behind the shad working up the rivers, so they should be moving up the rivers too.
There is still time to comment on a couple of proposed regulations from the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC). Amendment 17A is for managing red snapper after the emergency closure expires. The current option preferred by the SAFMC closes the ocean to all bottom fishing in a zone that runs from just south of Melbourne, Florida to the Ga./S.C. border and includes waters from 98 to 240 feet deep. While red snapper will be closed everywhere in the Atlantic, this area of bottom will be closed to all bottom fishing.
Many N.C. 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 through April 19. 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.
Catch Shares, which are also sometimes called Individual Fishing Quotas, are another current NOAA Fisheries plan that is meeting disfavor with commercial and recreational fishermen. NOAA Fisheries drafted a catch share policy for public review and comment, and is seeking input on its draft policy from interested commercial and recreational fishermen, communities, state and local governments, tribes, businesses, associations, non-governmental organizations and the general public. The public comment period will end on April 10, 2010. NOAA Fisheries is planning to implement a Catch Share plan in the Northeast beginning in May.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.
Amendment 17B to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan was passed by the SAFMC and is currently under review by the office of the Secretary of Commerce. This amendment 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 to 200 miles. 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. 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. Even in areas where all these fish are found, tilefish prefer mud bottom, while hinds and grouper prefer rock 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.
A pair of really neat events will be held in Jocelyn Hall at Carteret Community College in Morehead City Friday and Saturday nights (April 2 and 3) beginning at 7:30. The Coastal Cohorts will celebrate 25 years with their musical rendition of King Mackerel and Wild Ponies. If you have never seen the Coastal Cohorts, you owe it to yourself to go. Their music is about everyday life on the Carolina Coast, with much realism, yet the occasional pokes of humor. It is very entertaining and fun for all in the family. For more information call 252-728-1500.
The Spring Festival will be held in Franklin Square Park in Southport Friday and Saturday. There are crafts, displays and a chili cook-off. Similar events will be held in many coastal communities.
Many churches will offer sunrise services Easter morning. There is something special about a sunrise service when it is held where the sun rises across the ocean. Check the listings in your local paper for specific times and places.
Next Friday (April 9), from 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. there will be a Learn to Kayak class at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort. There is a fee and more information is available by contacting the museum at email@example.com.
Happy Easter and Good Fishing