Last weekend wasn't quite a rainout, but it was threatening so badly, most folks were afraid to head out for any serious fishing. Then, on Monday the wind blew while everyone was watching the offshore conditions and waiting in anticipation. The forecast was for the wind to fall out late Monday afternoon and be exceptionally nice on Tuesday and this was one the weathermen got right! Tuesday dawned on an ocean with only a light wind and slight sea and an armada of boats headed offshore.
The forecast for this weekend has some good and bad. In a reversal of sorts from the past several weekends, this weekend begins on Friday at mostly cloudy, then becomes sunny to partly cloudy on Saturday and Sunday, before the wind gusts back up with accompanying thunderstorms on Monday. Depending on exactly where you are along the coast, Saturday could have anywhere from 5-15 knots of wind, with Sunday beginning at 10-15 and increasing a little around dark. These are not blowouts for bigger boats, but are a bit challenging for smaller boats heading offshore. Maybe the forecasters will error on the strong side and the wind will be calmer than predicted?
The water temperature continues to rise. I was one of the lucky ones who headed offshore on Tuesday. I had been invited to make a trip to Frying Pan Tower by Capt. Tommy Rickman of Southport. We left Southport Marina at 5:00 A.M. and the water temperature in the marina was 61 degrees. By the time we reached Frying Pan Tower, the water had warmed to 70.3 degrees and continued rising through the day to 71 degrees. Bogue Inlet Pier reported 58 degrees in the surf Thursday morning.
The kings obviously like the water temperature and all the baitfish that were in it and they were on a feeding rampage. We were catching them pretty steadily, including several sets of doubles and one triple hook-up. When we looked around, almost every boat had at least one bent rod. They weren't big fish, with most ranging from 6 to 12 pounds, but they were hungry and feeding--and it was fun. One boat reported a king they said would weigh in the high 30s and several said they had fish in the 20s. Our largest was probably around 15 pounds.
Our odd catch of the day was a three pound Spanish mackerel. It had to be lost.
Occasionally the radio skip would be just right and we could listen to the boats fishing the Gulf Stream eddies, about 15 miles farther offshore. They were catching blackfin tuna, wahoo, lots of dolphin and an occasional yellowfin tuna.
Among a bunch of other fish, a pending state record amberjack was caught during the good weather of Tuesday. Mike Krantz, of Cape Carteret and Wilmington, was deep jigging offshore of Bogue Inlet when the big bruiser hit. After a 30 minute battle, Krantz led a 126 pound, 7 ounce amberjack to the boat. This topped the old record of 125 pounds by almost a pound and a half. That record fish, landed by Paul Bailey, Jr. off Cape Lookout in 1973, has stood for 36 years. Congratulations are in order for Mike Krantz!
With the warming water, the inshore fish are getting more active and biting better. The best feeding activity for specks is in slow moving tidal creeks and creeks with little tidal fluctuation. The water stays warm and they feed. Some scattered flounder and red drum are also being caught in these areas. Drum and flounder are also biting in the surf. Drum are very active in the surf, but there are only a few flounder and most are shorts.
A bill to classify speckled trout and red drum as gamefish and remove them from the species that can be fished commercially was filed in the NC House of Representatives on March 31. The bill, H 918, also has a provision to use some of the recreational saltwater fishing license money to mitigate any documented losses from commercial fishermen participating in these fisheries. The bill and a list of which legislators represent which areas may be found at the N.C. Legislative website, www.ncleg.net. I would suggest reading it and contacting your legislators to let them know how you feel.
The bill has bipartisan support, from primary sponsors Representatives Carolyn Justice, (R. New Hanover and Pender) and Paul Luebke (D. Durham) and a growing host of co-sponsors from both political parties. More information on this bill and how it came to be may be found at www.cfrgnc.blogspot.com and www.ncgamefishact.blogspot.com.
There were more reports this week of fish in the turning basin. The numbers aren't high yet, but sea mullet are the headliners, with some black drum and bluefish also being caught. The hot ticket was vertically jigging speck rigs tipped with small pieces of "fresh as possible" shrimp.
Bogue Inlet Pier reported some good catches this week, especially for this early in the season. Several pier fishermen had good catches of sea mullet, with some black drum and blowfish. Bluefish should arrive at any time.
Once again the weather didn't give us many days to head offshore in smaller boats. However, there are some fish to be caught when the trip is possible. Offshore there are wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin and a few yellowfin tuna. The area from Hatteras up to Oregon Inlet is loaded with juvenile bluefin tuna. Sure, it's hard to think of 115-175 pound fish as juveniles, but they are.
The baitfish are showing up and so are the king mackerel. The kings are still far enough off that many of the folks headed that far run by them to the edge of the Gulf Stream. The Atlas Tanker and Chicken Rock have been good spots east of Cape Lookout, with 210 and 240 Rocks holding kings west of the cape and Frying Pan Tower being a major hotspot off Cape Fear.
Good bottom fish catches continued, with nice sea bass as close as Northwest Places. Grouper and beeliners have been holding around structure in 80-110 feet of water.
Those reports of stripers in the Neuse and Trent Rivers and many of the creeks off these rivers around New Bern keep on coming. The rainwater runoff is flooding the rivers and making them dirty, which has scattered the fish for a while, but striper reports are also coming from the Pamlico/Tar River around Washington and in the Roanoke, Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear.
For those of you headed to the Roanoke River, there are special regulations in the upper Roanoke from April 1 to June 30. The upper Roanoke begins at the Highway 258 Bridge at Scotland Neck and runs upriver to the Roanoke Rapids Lake Dam. Only single hooks with no barb or the barb mashed flat may be used during this time. In a partnership with Eagle Claw Hooks, the Wildlife Resources Commission is handing out free circle hooks in this area to all who will use them.
The season to keep stripers caught on the Roanoke River began on March 1 and will close on April 30. During this time, fishermen may keep two stripers, with a minimum of 18 inches in length, no fish between 22 and 27 inches and only one may be longer than 27 inches.
Catch and release fishing is heavily promoted on the Roanoke River and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has guidelines and tips posted on their website at www.ncwildlife.org.