Wow, a week ago today the weather was rainy and cold. Can everyone believe how much nicer our weather is this week? It looks like we might have some rain and a front moving through sometime Friday but the temperatures after the cool down will still be warmer than the highs of only a week ago. We still need to do a little work on getting the winds to calm, but there have been a handful of days the last week the larger boats headed offshore and enjoyed easy fishing and some smaller boats made the trip and caught fish too.
The nearshore forecasts are pretty good for most of the weekend. Offshore, there is a little wind, but some lingering swell in the forecasts. Hopefully the actual conditions will be better than the forecast because a lot of fishermen are making plans to head offshore.
The water temperatures along the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream are still a little cooler than we would like, but are warming. The good news is fishermen are finding fish. The primary catches have been wahoo and blackfin tuna, but there were mentions of some scattered dolphin, including one 20 plus pounder, and even a couple of billfish encounters.
The fish are still a little difficult to find, so many fishermen have been trolling a spread they can pull at faster speeds to cover more ground until they find the fish. Once they have a few strikes in an area or find a rip or temperature break they canít pass up, they switch to a spread using ballyhoo rigged into sea witches and other lures and slow down and really work the area.
Some small kings have been caught over some of the larger rocks and wrecks just inshore of the Gulf Stream. The area around Frying Pan Tower is always a hot spot. The kings have been scattered by the influx of the cooler water over the past several weeks, but should regroup and the numbers increase as some warmer water moves back across those areas. The smaller kings are feeding heavily and arenít usually picky. The usually readily hit Drone Spoons, sea witches rigged with strips and frozen cigar minnows on skirted live bait rigs.
Normally I donít care much for skirts on king mackerel rigs, but it can often be a plus for these spring kings. The skirt also helps stabilize the bait so you can troll a little faster and cover more water. If the cigar minnows start spinning, slow down until they stop.
There are also bottom fish in the same general areas and water depths that hold spring kings. While there are several species that are in closed seasons and must be released, the bottom fish are hungry and biting well. Most fishermen are using natural baits, such as cut bait, squid, cigar minnows, and chunks of menhaden and doing well. The bottom dwellers will also strike jigs bounced off the bottom.
Shallow water grouper season (gags, scamps, reds and a few less frequently caught species) is still closed as are black sea bass and red snapper. Fishermen may keep beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys. For more information on size and number limits, visit www.ncdmf.net and click on the Recreational Size and Creel Limits tab at the upper right.
With the water warming, those schools of false albacore that have been just offshore should be moving closer to the beach. Hopefully there will be some Atlantic bonito mixed with them or not too far behind. My weekly advice while they are here is to buy a fish ID book and learn to tell the difference. Atlantic bonito are good table fare while false albacore are just a little too strong flavored for most people, Both like shiny lures that are trolled or retrieved quickly and put up an excellent fight for their size.
Pier fishermen continue to catch puffers in good numbers and are seeing sea mullet that are growing in size and number. The first bluefish were caught this week and there was a report of some chopper blues at the artificial reefs just off the beach. If the choppers are that close, they may move in by the piers at any time.
The water temperature in the surf has risen up to 8 degrees during the past week. Iíve always heard that 60 is a magic temperature for surf and pier fishing and weíre almost there. With the warmer forecast for the weekend, we could reach that over the weekend.
In Morehead City, there have been excellent reports of sea mullet in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the Beaufort Inlet Channel. Another hotspot is Southport and they are just out the Cape Fear River Inlet, between the inlet and the lighthouse in roughly 14 feet of water.
While there is still a little "hit or miss" to it, there have been increasing reports of fishermen catching speckled trout in creeks from Manteo to Calabash. The water has warmed significantly since last week and a few places have even pushed past 60 degrees. This warming has awakened the speckled trout and they are biting a little better than they have been. I even received a couple of reports of specks hitting topwater lures.
Puppy drum are also responding to the warmer water well, but just not quite as noticeably as the trout. If there isnít a hiccup in the weather, the pups have warmed and are active and feeding. There are even a few flounder waking up and deciding to eat.
Specks, pups and even a few scattered flounder have all been biting on soft plastics. It might not be quite as important as a few weeks ago when the water was colder, but scented lures or adding scent seems to help. Specks have also been hitting suspending lures and the MirrOlure MR17s are favorites. The topwater catches were on MirrOlure She Dogs and She Pups and Bomber Badonk-A-Donks. After the rain last Thursday and Friday, brighter colors have worked well this week.
The shad run is in full swing in all the coastal rivers. With the warming weather, the first thought is that is should be slowing at any time, but that may not be the case in every river. The reports from the Roanoke River in Weldon note the flow from the dam has been increased and it cooled the water, so the shad are there, but arenít finishing the spawn.
One of the hopes is the abundance of shad will hold the stripers there once they arrive. It appears the late cold weather during March and early April has delayed the shad and striper spawn. Shad are still biting well and the stripers really havenít arrived yet. The keeper striper season on the Roanoke ends on May 1, so if they donít show soon the population will grow both from the spawn and from not removing some of the spawning fish.
In some of the other rivers the shad run is slowing and the stripers pushing through. The five days of sunshine have warmed the water and if there arenít any other issues, the spawns should begin, theyíll just be a few weeks late.
You regular readers know Iím fascinated with the travels of the great white sharks that were tagged with location transmitters off Cape Cod last fall and the one that was tagged off Jacksonville, Fla. in early March. I have to mention where they are each week and find it interesting that another great white shark was caught (and released but not tagged) about a half mile or so off Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. this week.
Genie still hasnít pinged a location since January 19, but Mary Lee and Lydia have moved to open water for the past few weeks. Mary Lee is offshore of the continental shelf east of New Jersey and has been generally headed towards Cape Cod, while Lydia is in deep water in the open ocean east of the Bahamas. To keep an eye on the travels of Genie, Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other sharks from around the world, open the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
There was a lot of commenting on the internet and heated phone calls this week regarding the introduction or re-introduction of a bill to classify red drum, speckled trout and striped bass as gamefish and prohibit their sale. As of Thursday, the N.C. Legislative website (www.ncleg.net) wasnít acknowledging a gamefish bill and the former bill number had been reassigned for this session. I donít have a confirmation this bill will be introduced, but the rumblings are strong. One thing for sure is the dialog between the pro and con forces has certainly escalated during the past week or so.
Iíve mentioned Senate Bill 58 (Increase Funding for Dredging) for the past several weeks and Iíll do it at least once more because I think it is important. This bill, which was introduced by Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow) on February 5, 2013, is still alive although much public opinion says it is inappropriate and unfair. This bill, which is still in the Finance Committee, seeks to raise boat registration fees to help pay for dredging the shallow N.C. inlets, but exempts most of the commercial boats using the inlets and raises registration fees for recreational boats across the entire state. There are numerous other concerns with SB 58 also.
My suggestion is to read SB 58 and decide for yourself. It is a short bill and can be found on the "Find A Bill" segment of the N.C. Legislature website at www.ncleg.net. While at the website, you can find the ways to contact your Representative and Senator and let them know how you feel. BoatUS opposes SB 58 and has a link to SB 58, plus a way to express your support or opposition on their website. It is as simple as visiting www.BoatUS.com/SB58 and then clicking on the "Take Action" tab.
There are a lot of fishery meetings scheduled during April. The Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet April 15 at 12:30 P.M. at the Division of Marine Fishery Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Tina Moore or Trish Murphey at 252-808-8082 or 252-808-8091 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov. More information and an agenda for the meeting are available at www.ncdmf.net.
The Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet April 16 at 6:00 P.M. at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information contact Trish Murphey or Chris Stewart at 252-808-8091 or 910-796-7215 or Trish.Murphey@ncdenr.gov or Chris.Stewart@ncdenr.gov. More information and an agenda for the meeting are available at www.ncdmf.net.
The Southern Regional Advisory Committee will meet April 17 at 6:00 P.M. at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Field Office in Wilmington. For more information contact Chip Collier or Mike Marshall at 910-796-7215 or 252-808-8077 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov or Mike.Marshall@ncdenr.gov. More information and an agenda for the meeting are available at www.ncdmf.net.
The Northern Regional Advisory Committee will meet April 18 at 6:00 P.M. at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information contact Kathy Rawls or Katy West at 252-264-3911 or 252-946-6481 or Kathy.Rawls@ncdenr.gov or Katy.West@ncdenr.gov. More information and an agenda for the meeting are available at www.ncdmf.net.
NOAA Fisheries is requesting public comments on Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Shrimp Fishery of the South Atlantic Region and Amendment 28 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region. Electronic copies and information for making a comment on Amendment 9 may be found at the NOAA Fisheries Office web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SAShrimpHomepage.htm, while electronic copies and information for making a comment on Amendment 28 may be found online at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm.
Comments on Amendment 9 must be received by May 3 and comments on Amendment 28 must be received by May 13. All comments received are part of the public record and will be posted to http://www.regulations.gov.
At their March meeting, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) approved public hearings for the VMS amendment (Snapper Grouper Amendment 30). The closest meeting will be at the Doubletree Inn in New Bern on Thursday, April 25. For those who canít make that one, the next closes meeting is a couple of days earlier on April 23 at the Hilton Garden Inn in North Charleston, S.C. For more information on these meetings call 843-308-9330 (N. Charleston) or 252-638-3585 (New Bern) or visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
The SAFMC Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) met April 8-11 in North Charleston, S.C., but the meeting hadnít ended by my deadline and I donít have a report. The SSC was to review black sea bass, cobia, and Spanish mackerel stock assessments and the benchmark assessments for cobia and Spanish mackerel and provide fishing level recommendations for the Council to consider. The SSC was also to review several proposed amendments to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, plus provide input on measures proposed by the SAFMC to provide additional protection to deepwater coral and transit provisions for rock shrimp vessels contained in Amendment 8 to the Coral Fishery Management Plan.
The date has not yet been announced, but the SAFMC plans to have a one-day meeting via webinar after the SSC meeting to discuss any action based on the stock update reviewed by the SSC. Having this meeting in May, rather than waiting for the scheduled June SAFMC meeting will allow any changes to happen roughly 30 days earlier. Expectations are the black sea bass numbers are significantly higher than expected and the SAFMC will seek to loosen some of the current regulations. For more information on either of these meetings visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
There are a handful of events scheduled for this weekend and all should be fun, just in different ways. On Saturday, April 13, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will present the second annual Kayak Fishing Seminar and Paddle Day at their John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center and Lake Rim in Fayetteville. The kayak fishing seminars will feature Mark Patterson, founder and president of the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association (www.nckfa.com), and me. The seminars will cover safety, rigging, fresh water fishing and salt water fishing.
In addition to the seminars in the classroom, Great Outdoor Provision Company will be bringing their kayak demo fleet to put in at Lake Rim for everyone to paddle during the extended lunch break. If you have ever wanted to learn a little about kayak fishing and try out a bunch of kayaks in the same day, then this might be the event for you. Even better, there isnít any charge. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org/learning.aspx or call 910-868-5003, Ext. 15.
If there are any kayak racers among the readers, the annual Ride the Tide Kayak Race and Paddle will be held at Oak Island on Saturday, April 13. This is a 5.1 mile course that begins behind the Oak Island Recreation Center. As the name indicates, this is done on a falling tide so the tide helps carry the casual participants to the finish line. For more information visit www.oakislandnc.com and click on the Recreation Department.
I received a call from Matt Zook, who is the new owner of Capt. Joeís Bait and Tackle on the Atlantic Beach Causeway. He wanted to invite all fishermen to their grand re-opening and customer appreciation day this Saturday, April 13. Zook said there would be free barbecue and all the fixinís cooked by Michael Hall, who is a two-time winner of the Newport Pig Cooking Championship, plus door prizes, discounts and more. More information is available at www.saltwaterbaitandtackle.com.
Kayakers, SUP enthusiasts and those who enjoy other outdoor sports might want to plan a trip to Charleston, S.C. next weekend, April 19 to 21, for the East Coast Paddle Sports and Outdoor Festival that will be held at the James Island County Park. The festival will have demonstrations and seminars for paddlesports and outdoor sports enthusiasts, plus opportunities to try the various sports and numerous booths to purchase equipment and accessories. Iíll be there with Hobie Kayaks and weíll have a large demo fleet of kayaks and SUPs for folks to try. For more information visit www.ccprc.com.