Easter Weekend seems to indeed be the time that spring arrived. In fact, some folks are saying we may have skipped spring entirely and jumped to summer, but I believe we will be brought back to reality as the cold front passes through tonight and lingers, with some cooler, but not cold weather, through this weekend. There will be some northerly winds and the daytime highs will drop back into the 60s for several places along the coast, but the weather is supposed to be sunny and that always helps.
The weather cooperated for folks wanting to fish over Easter Weekend, but some of the fish didn't cooperate particularly well. I talked with quite a few fishermen who made their first fishing trip (or two) for the new year and all were raving about how great the weather was, but were at least slightly disappointed with how slow the fishing was. The good thing is the weather was so good it overshadowed the slow fishing and most were smiling and happy, even if they were in need of a little aloe for their sunburn.
The wind breezed up a bit during this week and the early forecast has it staying with us until Saturday afternoon. The wind will be northerly, which accounts for some of the cool, but it shouldn't be too bad. After the winter we just escaped, I'm pretty happy to be talking about cooling back into the 60s and 70s, rather than the 50s. Heck, we even approached new daytime high records on several days earlier this week.
It sure took a long time for spring to get here, but with the great weather leading up to and through Easter and the great weather the first of this week with it warming again by Monday, I believe spring has finally come to stay. Maybe the wind won't blow as hard as predicted or will drop out quicker.
All that sunshine warmed the water a few more degrees and there are some pockets of really warm water moving around! Earlier in the week, there were reports of pockets of high 69 degree water along Bogue Banks and up to Cape Lookout. By Thursday, that had dropped back below 65 degrees at Bogue Inlet Pier.
I fished with my friend Christopher Minish Wednesday in some shallow tidal creeks behind Bald Head Island and saw the water warm to 71.8 just after the low tide as the rising tide began working back in. That's really impressive for this time of year and especially so with how quickly we have jumped from cold to warm. Several fishermen said they suspected the rapid change was what had slowed the bite.
Unfortunately, with a pair of exceptions, the fishing just wasn't anywhere near as warm as the weather during the past week. One of those exceptions was wahoo at the edge of the Gulf Stream and the other was puppy drum on Cape Lookout Shoals.
Several fishermen reported catches of three to seven wahoo citation size wahoo on each trip offshore and that is a minimum of 40 pounds. The pups on the shoals were mostly upper to really over slot drum. The few keepers were greatly overshadowed by the old drum that well exceeded the release citation size of 40 inches.
For early April there were pretty good reports from the piers during the last week. Sea mullet have been the attractors for most fishermen, but there have also been bluefish, blowfish, lots of dogfish sharks and few puppy drum, gray trout and even a few false albacore. The intensity of the bite varied some with how the warm water was moving, but it certainly showed a lot of early promise.
Schools of false albacore have been reported from just off the beach out to about 15 to 20 miles off the beach all along the coast for a couple of weeks. They are fun to catch, but aren't a popular fish to invite home for dinner. There were also a few isolated reports of bonito, which usually arrive just after the fat Alberts.
I am adamant you should learn to tell the different between bonito and false albacore, which many fishermen mistakenly also call bonito. The difference is in the quality of the meat. Both are inshore cousins in the tuna family, but bonito are tasty enough to use as the meat with sushi and are excellent lightly pan seared or grilled, while false albacore have much redder meat and are far less desirable. .
Many fishermen look for schools of bonito busting bait on the surface and run close to them and cast small jigs and spoons. They will also hit small spoons and small deep diving lures that are trolled.
There are reports of a few scattered flounder being caught around the artificial reefs and with the water temperatures jacking up the way they did this week, more should be waking up and getting active.
I went to the Upstairs at the Pier Restaurant at Oak Island Pier Sunday afternoon to hear one of my favorite musicians, Capt. Chris Bellamy (www.chrisbellamy.com), and it was a good trip for many reasons. Chris, who is an avid fisherman and occasionally invites me to fish with him, entertained everyone with his blend of original coastal stories put to song and a few favorite covers of popular musicians. However, while Chris was playing, the pelicans were gorging themselves on a school of pogies that were holding a few hundred yards off the beach about a quarter mile east of the pier. I enjoyed the music and seeing old friends, but it was really good to see a big school of pogies along the beach this early in the year.
There have been some reports of sea mullet, gray trout and bluefish from around the bridges and in the Morehead City Turning Basin. Little pieces of shrimp on a speck rig or double-drop bottom rig is a good setup for sea mullet. The gray trout will hit this and jigs like Stingsilvers and Jigfish and bluefish are rarely particular and will hit anything that remotely looks like food.
There have also been some mixed reports about puppy drum at various places from Hatteras to Little River. Some folks caught them well, while others had difficulty locating them. Christopher and I worked hard for a few smaller drum. The reports have mentioned various sizes of drum and that is good news as it shows there are several year classes still around after the winter.
While drum will usually readily hit artificial baits, they have been showing a definite preference for bait with some smell and taste. Mud minnows are the main live bait at this time, but drum will also usually pick up fresh cut bait.
Speckled trout have not gotten active yet this spring. There are a few good catches being reported, but they are scattered and inconsistent. The water is warm enough for them to begin feeding, even though it is occasionally shifting rapidly. Perhaps that is the reason the trout bite is slower than expected, or it could be the January trout kills were more widespread than indicated.
With the water warming as rapidly as this, the reports of some inside flounder from last week don't seem quite so out of place. Expectations are the flounder bite may improve if the warm water holds in place.
Wahoo were caught in good numbers from a little above the Big Rock into waters off South Carolina. Some warm water had moved in and the wahoo were holding in eddies with temperature breaks on the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream. However, the distribution of the wahoo was a little like feast or famine. Some boats caught them and caught them well, while others just didn't. Everyone reported the water stayed cool until right before the break and then climbed into the lower 70s.
There were a couple of really good reports of yellowfin tuna that were encouraging. The tuna were offshore and a little north of the Big Rock in roughly 750 to 800 feet of water. Yellowfins have been scarce off our area for the past several years, but would be welcomed back with open arms. Hopefully this was a sign of things yet to come. With a little luck, the wind will remain calm enough for fishermen to keep making the long trip offshore and locating the fish.
I did not receive any good reports of king mackerel during the last week. Several boats had one or two or several, but no one reported finding a hot bite. They said the water cooled into the 50s once they got off the beach and didn't rise into the high 60s until almost at the Gulf Stream.
Offshore bottom fishing was slow too. Several boats reported good catches of black sea bass, but said they had to pick through a bunch of shorts, maybes, and barely legals to get a good catch. Other boats reported not finding enough keepers to fill limits.
One of the good things since last Thursday has been to see some red color in the fish boxes of boats returning from offshore. Beeliner (vermilion snapper) season opened for recreational fishermen on April 1 and several boats were grinning about them. The new regulations for beeliners set the limit at five per fishermen, with a minimum size of 12 inches. You can check all size and limit information at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
A few fishermen who were jigging rather than soaking bait chunks on the bottom also caught a few cobia. This is great news and very early for cobia. The cobia were caught well offshore in water deeper than 100 feet.
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.
This will be the last week to record an opinion regarding Catch Shares as the public comment period expires tomorrow, April 10. Catch Shares, which are also sometimes called Individual Fishing Quotas, are another current NOAA Fisheries plan that is meeting disfavor with fishermen, both recreational and commercial. The concern is that the Catch Shares will be bought up by brokers and put many smaller commercial fishermen out of business, plus it will also eventually regulate recreational fishing allocations. A hybrid pilot program is scheduled to be implemented in the Northeast beginning May 1, even against all outcries from the 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 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.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) has changed their preferred option for managing red snapper after the current emergency closure expires and is asking for comments from commercial and recreational fishermen. Their previous preferred option for Amendment 17A closed the ocean to all bottom fishing in a zone that ran from northern Florida to the N.C./S.C. border and included waters from 98 to 240 feet deep. The new proposal continues the idea of ocean zones that are closed to all bottom fishing, but places the northern end of that zone farther south, at roughly the Ga./S.C. border.
Fishermen have expressed concerns that these area closures, which they believe are not needed, would force commercial fishermen to move farther north and create a situation of local depletion for grouper and other species in the area that remains open. This is a valid point that merits serious consideration.
Comments may be sent to the SAFMC by internet, mail or fax. 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. Comments may also be faxed to 727-824-5308 and sent attention of Kate Michie.
In an unusual stand, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC, www.ncdmf.net) has decided to go against the changes to the gray trout (weakfish) fishery mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC, www.asmfc.org). At their fall 2009 meeting, the ASMFC voted to reduce the recreational limit for gray trout to one per person effective by May 1, 2010 and severely restrict the commercial harvest of gray trout (100 pounds per day in most operations). At their meeting in late March, the MFC decided not to comply. The consequences could involve the feds stepping in and closing the N.C. gray trout fishery completely.
Frying Pan Tower dot com is a large group of fishermen united through the website www.fryingpantower.com. Every year this group plans a spring get-together so the members can meet each other and socialize. This spring the get--together will be this Sunday, April 11, at Katherine Davis Park in Morehead City from noon until. There will be food, plus displays and more. Live musical entertainment will be provided by Capt. Chris Bellamy. For more information, visit the website.
Events in the upcoming weeks include the Get Outdoors Expo at Palmetto Creek, near Southport, on April 17. The day will consist of displays and exhibits, plus seminars on saltwater fishing, scuba diving, surfing, wind surfing, kayaking and more. The best news is the Get Outdoors Expo is free. More information and directions are available at the event's website, www.getoutdoorsexpo.com.