We had a really good week going for all fishermen until the afternoon breezes started blowing up. They still weren't enough to slow the larger boats from heading offshore and the catches heralded the spring offshore fishing season as being in full swing. The inshore and nearshore fishing is going pretty well also.
Continuing with the unusual week; it seems like we don't have any springtime weather--it's either winter or summer. Perhaps after the temperature drop this weekend, the weather will moderate to consistent springtime forecasts.
As I am writing this on Thursday, our Easter weekend forecast isn't great, but appears fishable except for a few bumps. There is a freeze/frost warning for tonight for most of the inland counties, except in the far southern corner of the state. By the time many of you read this on Friday that will have happened. Hopefully it doesn't harm any fragile plants. The temperature will moderate upward some for the remainder of the weekend, but isn't forecast to be the summerlike weather we have enjoyed earlier this week.
Unfortunately there is some wind in the weekend forecast and it doesn't look to be too friendly to those of us in smaller boats. Friday is forecast to be a nice, but cool, day on the water from Cape Fear northward. Above Cape Fear the breezes should be around 5-10 knots from the north to northwest. It will be a little gustier to the south.
Saturday looks to be the blowout, with west to northwest winds gusting to around 30 knots and seas averaging 5 feet or more for most of the coast. By Sunday the winds should be from the northwest to north and drop back below 15 knots from S.C. to Cape Lookout and a little stronger above there as a weak front clouds us up and moves through. Monday currently appears to be much like Sunday, but with a chance of showers in the morning and clearing in the afternoon.
Many folks took advantage of the good weather last weekend and early in the week to head offshore and most returned with good catches. The catches were primarily yellowfin tuna and wahoo, but there were a few blackfin and bluefin tuna, dolphin and king mackerel mixed in. Some billfish were seen and a couple rumored to have been caught, but I wasn't able to confirm it. Several fishermen reported the north end of the Big Rock as a genuine hotspot.
The bluefin bite was primarily off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet, but several schools were reported off Topsail and Wrightsville Beaches. They were mostly juveniles, but the National Marine Fisheries has temporarily revised the size and number limits to allow Tar Heel anglers to keep some of these smaller bluefins.
Through April 15, 2007, HMS Angling category and HMS Charter/Headboat permit holders (when fishing recreationally) may retain one school bluefin tuna (measuring 27 inches to less than 47 inches) while fishing in the EEZ off North Carolina or the North Carolina territorial sea. This is in addition to the current limits already in place and can be verified by visiting www.nmfspermits.com.
There are also good king mackerel reports coming from several locations. The hot spot this week was the 240 Rock, 210 Rock, West Rock area off Cape Lookout, while the most consistent area over the past few weeks has been the rocks in the general area of Frying Pan Tower. The number of kings in the Hatteras fishing reports decreased a little this week. As the water continues to warm and more baitfish arrive, the kings should continue working their way closer inshore.
According to many reports, the offshore bottom fishing is excellent almost any day you can get there. There are grouper and beeliners for the taking, but many fishermen are catching daily limits of big spawning black sea bass. Other offshore bottom fish are also biting well and include red snapper, pinkies (red porgy), triggerfish, tilefish and a surprising number of hogfish.
There were a few more good reports of large red drum from the Ocracoke and Hatteras surf again this week, but much of the action was pups. The surf fishermen also caught some sea mullet, a few trout, a few flounder, bluefish, blowfish and sharks.
By the time this hits the newsstands all of the ocean piers should have reopened. The initial reports are they are catching enough sea mullet, puffers and bluefish to make things interesting. There have also been a few reports of red drum, black drum, speckled trout, gray trout and even a couple of early flounder. Earlier in the week, the surf temperature at Bogue Inlet Pier had reached 62 degrees.
Inshore fishermen are reporting a growing number of red drum, speckled trout, gray trout, sea mullet and flounder. Capt. Dave Dietzler reported temperatures in the Newport Marshes were varying between 63 and 68 degrees.
Capt. Noah Lynk called one evening to report several charters catching inshore slams (speckled trout, red drum and flounder) and invited me to Harkers Island to see for myself. I'm trying to get some time to take him up on it. He said several of the flounder were 20 inches and longer.
With the water warming and more bait arriving, the speckled trout are getting more aggressive and feeding heavily. I don't believe the little hiccup in the weather this weekend will throw them off too badly. We had another mild winter and the spring trout bite should be very good.
The sea mullet bite is strong at the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the channel from there out to Beaufort Inlet. Several fishermen reported they were a little smaller this week than last week, but they were still taking fresh fish home for supper.
They were also catching a few gray trout, but most were small. Some sea mullet and gray trout are also scattered along Shackleford Banks from just off the Cape Lookout Jetty to the Dead Tree Hole.
Jigging Stingsilvers and Jig Fish is a great way to catch gray trout, but I would suggest changing the hooks from the standard trebles to a similar size single hook. This aids greatly in easily removing fish that are too small or you otherwise do not wish to keep. One of my favorite ways to catch both gray trout and sea mullet is to drift and jig speck rigs tipped with fresh shrimp. Several fishermen reported substituting Fishbites strips in shrimp and bloodworm flavors with good results.
This is Easter weekend. In spite of the breezy and cooler conditions, the great fishing reports will bring crowds to the beaches, piers, ramps and water, so allow a little extra time as everything will probably take a little longer.