Mother Nature and Old Man Winter are dancing this spring, but they can't seem to decide if it's freestyle hip-hop or a slow dance. The good news is we are slowly warming and seeing more sunshine -- again. Just like the air, water temperatures dipped some last week with all the cold and clouds. While we haven't gotten hot yet, we may this weekend, and that's a sign we're headed back in the right direction.
I'm doing this a little early this week and just can't feel comfortable with the weather forecast. However, the weekend looks to be warming, but wind predictions are hovering along that 10-15 or 15-20 edge. When it is calm in the morning, even small boaters can go and return when the wind breezes up to 10-15, but once the wind passes 15, that is bigger boat conditions.
Let's hope the weathermen got the temperatures correct, but guessed over for the winds.
Reports of a few scattered yellowfin tuna around the Big Rock have Morehead City fishermen chomping at the bit to give it a try. The Crystal Coast hasn't enjoyed a good yellowfin run for a few springs, so it's definitely time for a good one. Not many boats have headed offshore recently, but there are consistent reports of wahoo and blackfin tuna. Some scattered schools of dolphin were also found during the past week.
They have been catching some bluefins off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet and this news affects them now and could the rest of the state late. The National Marine Fisheries Service changed the size and number limit on bluefin tuna effective April 2 through December 31, 2011. The biggest change is that recreation fishermen are prohibited from keeping their annual trophy fish of 73 inches or greater. Had this change been effective three weeks earlier, Corey Schultz would have been required to release the fish that is the new state record, rather than boating it.
New regulations allow 1 bluefin 27 to 59 inches CFL (curved fork length) per boat with a HMS Angling Category permit and 1 bluefin 27 to 47 inches CFL and 1 bluefin 47 to 59 inches CFL per day for boats with HMS Charter/Headboat permits. No bluefin tuna larger than 59 inches CFL may be kept by recreational boats.
Offshore bottom fishing seasons are closed for many species, but there are some fish to be caught if you want. Grunts, porgies, hogfish and triggerfish have been legal all winter and on April 1, beeliner (vermilion snapper) season reopened after being closed since November 1. Grouper season will reopen on May 1, with black sea bass following on June 1. Non-stainless steel circle hooks are now required for all bottom fishing from three miles offshore out to 200 miles, so be prepared if you want to combine a king and bottom fishing trip.
The best mixed bottom fishing action has been in water from about 80 to 110 feet deep. The regulations are very specific about different species, but allow for a pretty good limit of mixed fish. Check out the regulations at www.ncdmf.net or www.safmc.net.
There have also been some reports of king mackerel. Occasionally the offshore boats will catch a few, but kings are usually a little closer in during the spring and are often gathered above the same structure that holds offshore bottom fish. One of the keys seems to be finding surface water temperature of 67 degrees or higher.
There have been scattered reports of schools of false albacore from just inshore of the Gulf Stream almost to the beach. While alberts are fun to catch, most folks don't think much of them as table fare. However, Atlantic bonito, another cousin in the tuna family, are welcome to join me any night for dinner and they shouldn't be far behind. Both should arrive this month, so you've got a little time to get a fish ID book and learn to tell the difference.
The wind hasn't been friendly to anyone, but pier fishermen are right out in it. In spite of the wind, they have managed to find a few hungry fish. The catch has included sea mullet, black drum, bluefish and blowfish. As the water warms the fishing should continue to improve.
Fishermen have started drifting and bottom bouncing through the Morehead City Turning Basin. Mostly the catch has been a few sea mullet so far, but at any time it could also begin to include gray trout, flounder, pigfish and more.
Interestingly enough, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, fishermen are catching whiting and they look just like sea mullet. Maybe it's because they are the same fish. Some folks also call them Va. mullet. The Cape Fear fishermen anchor and fish small pieces of fresh shrimp on regular bottom rigs.
For several weeks now, puppy drum have provided the best reports from all along the coast. Several year classes are represented as the reports mention pups from about 12 to 30 inches. The pups are mainly in inside waters, but some are still in the surf and nearshore ocean. One of the hot spots in the ocean has been along the Cape Lookout jetty.
A few flounder have already been caught, but even when reaching legal length they have been thin. A change in the flounder regulations has increased the minimum size to 15 inches TL (tail length) and reduced the possession limit to six per person per day.
Even though some speckled trout are waking up cranky and hungry, the season will remain closed until June 15. When the water temps reached about 55 degrees they began biting and it will get better as the water warms.
Fishermen should note that speckled trout season is only closed in Coastal and Joint Waters. It remains open in Inland Waters, but you must fish and remain in Inland Waters or they become illegal. This will probably change in July as the Wildlife Resources Commission is considering changing the trout, drum and flounder regulations to match the DMF regulations for Coastal and Joint Waters. Similar regulations for these species would provide consistency for managing them and should minimize confusion for anglers fishing in different jurisdictional waters.
The Wildlife Resources Commission held four public meetings during March to solicit input from fishermen on matching the regulations. Fishermen that couldn't attend one of the meetings may comment by mail or e-mail through May 2. Comments should be mailed to the WRC at 1721 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1721 or e-mailed by visiting the Commission's website, www.ncwildlife.org, and clicking on the "Proposed Fishing Rule Changes Submit Comments" link on the right side of the page.
Shad are well up the rivers towards their spawning grounds and the stripers are following. Catfish are following the shad in some rivers also. When the shad reach an obstacle, such as a dam, the predators eat from the edges of the school as it bunches up.
According to several of the bill's sponsors, House Bill 353, the bill to give gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass, is in a temporary slowdown to research all of the job ramifications associated with the bill. The bill passed its first reading on March 16 and was referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Business and Labor. On March 22, the bill was withdrawn from that committee and redirected to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development.
HB 353 has four sponsors and 16 co-sponsors from across party lines, which indicates broad support. However, local internet fishing chatboards have been lit up with discussion regarding this bill. The boards indicate this is almost an us-against-them issue dividing mainly along the line of recreational or commercial fishermen.
Fishermen are urged to contact their local legislators and the members of the committee to tell them how they feel about this bill. The language of the bill, which includes a three year buyout provision for commercial fishermen participating in any of these fisheries, is available at www.ncleg.net. A list of state congressmen, their committee assignments and contact information is also available at that website.
The Marine Fisheries Commission/Wildlife Resources Commission Joint Coastal Recreational Fishing License Committee will meet April 14 at 10:30 A.M. at the Division of Marine Fisheries Conference Room in Morehead City and via conference call. For more information contact Nancy Fish at 1-800-682-2632 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.
The NC Marine Fisheries Commission Blue Crab Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet March April 18, at 6:00 P.M. at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information visit the NCDMF website at www.ncdmf.net or contact Sean McKenna at Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-338-7804 or Lynn Henry at Lynn.Henry@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-405-7774.
Several federal fishery meetings are scheduled this week that should be of interest to fishermen that fish in federal waters (more than three miles off the coast). The meetings are open to the public and public comment is being requested. Information, including meeting agendas and briefing book materials, will be posted on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at www.safmc.net. as it becomes available.
The SAFMC will hold seven public hearings this week from New Bern to Key West, FL beginning April 11th regarding Amendment 18 to the Coastal Migratory FMP (king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and cobia) and Amendment 10 to the Spiny Lobster FMP relative to establishing ACLs and AMs to prevent overfishing and other management measures. The New Bern meeting, which is the only one scheduled for N.C., will be at the Hilton New Bern Riverside on April 11, from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. For those who cannot attend, the SAFMC is accepting written comments until April 29.
The SAFMC Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel will meet April 13 and 14 at the Town and Country Inn in Charleston, S.C. to review and provide recommendations on several amendments addressing management measures for the 72 species covered in the Snapper Grouper FMP including: the Comprehensive ACL Amendment as it addresses measures for snapper grouper species; Regulatory Amendment 11 to the Snapper Grouper FMP (options for the current restrictions in place for deepwater species in waters greater than 240 feet deep); Amendment 18A addressing golden tilefish and black sea bass commercial regulations; Amendment 24 addressing rebuilding of the red grouper stock; and regional management approaches.
The Town of Weldon, which boasts the moniker "Rockfish Capital of the World," is hosting the first Annual Big Rock Fishing Tournament this Saturday, April 9. They are already catching a few stripers and are expecting a big showing of fish and fishermen for the tournament. For more information, visit www.historicalweldonnc.com or call 252-536-4836.
The 2011 FryingPanTower.Com Get Together will be held at Beach House Marina -- Topsail Island Yacht Club in Surf City NC on Sunday, April 10. The event is an annual assembly for members of the internet based group. There will be a pig pickin', live music by Chris Bellamy and lots of fishing stories told all around. For more information visit www.fryingpantower.com.
The 2011 Grifton Shad Festival is scheduled for April 12 through 17 and always promises a good time. For more information visit www.griftonshadfestival.com.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will be offering two fishing programs during April. The first is a Kayak Fishing Seminar on the evening of April 20. This seminar will feature Capt. Jerry Dilsaver with information on selecting and rigging a fishing kayak, safety, inshore saltwater fishing and launching through the surf for king and Spanish mackerel. The second will be the annual WAIT (Women Anglers In Training), ladies only fishing school on April 30 and May 1. The ladies will spend a day in the classroom learning knots, and techniques on Saturday, then put those new skills to the test on Sunday while fishing. For more information call 910-278-4747.
I offer information on this tournament with a heavy heart. Eric Powell, who managed New River Marina in Sneads Ferry and is the son of Dale Powell who runs Power Marine Outfitters at the same location, was diagnosed just before Christmas with rapid onset ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease). He recently returned home after a lengthy stay at Duke Medical Center and his friends are organizing a redfish tournament in his honor and to help offset some of his medical expenses. The Eric Powell Redfish Tournament will be held April 30 from New River Marina/Power Marine Outfitters in Sneads Ferry.
Guaranteed prizes will be offered, including Lady and Junior Angler Awards. Unlike many redfish tournaments, participants will not be limited to two fishermen per boat and fishermen are welcome to carry their wives and children. For more information call Capt. Ricky Kellum at 910-330-2745.