We're gradually warming except for some occasional hiccups like Wednesday night, but those will happen occasionally for about another month.  We can't quite seem to shake the rain and thunderstorms, but thankfully the last few have been manageable instead of frog stranglers.  The next week is looking pretty good except for wind and there are a few days the long range forecast doesn't show a lot of wind.  Maybe they'll be better than the forecast.

Maybe the surf temperature will stabilize this week.  After rising to almost 70 last week, it dropped back to the low sixties over the weekend.  It rose a little during the mid week and then had dropped back to 63 Friday morning.  Some fish are moving inshore and up the beach, but this needs to stabilize before the kings and cobia will move up the beach

People are paying attention to the reports and are antsy to head to the coast fishing.  I was in Fayetteville Saturday for a kayak fishing program at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center and had people from all over the state asking if the fishing really was as good as the reports and if it was time for them to head to the coast for some fishing?  I stopped for a snack and drink on the way home and one guy saw my kayak on my truck and came over to tell me he had just returned from Southport and had caught a bunch of whiting in the river.   

 Bluefish showed up all the way to Cape Lookout last week.  There were Spanish mackerel caught at Oak Island and Topsail and the first pier cobia of the year was caught from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island on Monday.  It was small, but it was a cobia and it has people thinking about when the kings and cobia will move up the beach.  In years past, they have arrived this early at Oak Island.  In 2002 Chuck Hutchmacher caught a 50 pound king off Yaupon beach Pier on April 15.

Pier fishermen are catching a mixture of Va. mullet, pompano, croakers, puffers, black drum, red drum and a few spots on bait.  Bluefish have arrived and are hitting Got-Cha plugs, plus taking a lot of bottom baits.

There are also some red drum, black drum, bluefish, Va. mullet, puffers and an occasional flounder being caught in the surf for most of the state.  Citation red drum (40 inch minimum and release only) are being caught along the Outer Banks, with a few farther south.  Flounder are still few and far between and most are shorts, but they are beginning to show.  

I mentioned whiting in the Cape Fear River at Southport earlier and they are there in good numbers.  They are also catching sea mullet in the Turning Basin off the Morehead City State Ports at Morehead City.  If you don't catch my humor here, the Va. mullet from the piers and surf, the whiting from Southport and the sea mullet from Morehead City are all different names for the same fish  Even better, they taste great wherever you catch them.  Speck rigs or double drop bottom rigs, tipped with pieces of the freshest shrimp possible, are the best all around bait and rig.  The fish will often also hit bloodworms and Fishbites synthetic bloodworms.

Fishermen are finding speckled trout, puppy drum, black drum and even a few flounder in the bays and creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway and coastal rivers.  The water has warmed enough they are moving towards the front of the creeks and even out in to the marshes and flats.  Many times these fish are feeding pretty hard and have been hitting live, natural and artificial baits. 

The only live baits readily available are mud minnows and they are being gobbled up by all of these fish.  Flounder prefer them fished on the bottom, on Carolina rigs and the drum will readily grab them off the bottom too.  Trout seem to prefer their live baits be suspended a foot or so off the bottom under a float.  Flounder don't always get off the bottom for these baits, but drum will slam them suspended also.  Drum will also grab pieces of fresh shrimp or cut bait fished on the bottom.

Some fishermen prefer lures for specks and reds and they are feeding well and hitting them aggressively.  Soft plastics fished on a light jig head are usually productive.  I prefer shrimp shapes, but they are also hitting grub and minnow shapes.  Baits that contain scent or adding scent to baits definitely helps. 

Hard baits are producing well too for pups and specks.  Two of the most popular hard bait lines are MirrOlure and Rapala.  I like the MirrOdine Series from MirrOlure.  These lures suspend about 12 to 24 inches deep and will move naturally with the current.  An occasional twitch, makes them look very real.  They come in several shapes and sizes.  Rapala X-Raps are the counterpart and there is a wide variety there also. 

Each week I hear a few more fishermen saying they are getting topwater strikes from specks and pups.  Some fishermen say the first topwater lures were Zara Spooks and they are now joined by Top Dog and She Dog Series from MirrOlure and Skitterwalks from Rapala.  Z-Man lures has introduced a topwater soft bait called the Pop ShadZ that many fishermen are beginning to mention more and more.  Catching pups and specks on topwaters is a lot of fun and you might want to get some of these and try them.

False albacore and Atlantic bonito have arrived off Cape Lookout and also should be off Wrightsville, Topsail and Sunset Beaches, but I haven't received reports from the Southern beaches.  The schools are a few miles off the beaches and slowly moving in.  When they are feeding, there are usually birds hovering over them, so they're often easy to locate.  False albacore and Atlantic bonito will hit small spoons and jigs that are trolled or retrieved quickly.  Learn to tell the difference as Atlantic bonito taste really good and false albacore have a strong flavor that doesn't appeal to most people.

Fishermen are also beginning to catch flounder on the nearshore artificial reefs and rocks.  The most productive method has been vertical jigging 2 to 4 ounce bucktails tipped with scented soft plastics.  Some fishermen are using mud minnows on Carolina rigs and catching flounder, but they can't cover as much bottom and haven't been catching as many fish.  These methods are also catching black sea bass and a few gray trout.

Bluewater fishermen received a few more days this week with good wind and sea conditions and headed offshore to return with good catches.  Fishing ranged from pretty good to excellent, depending on who you spoke with.  There weren't fish everywhere, but there were fish in many places from Winyah Scarp to The point and above.  Wahoo and blackfin tuna are along the temperature breaks and edges of rips and eddies up to about Cape Hatteras and a few yellowfin tuna are in the mix from there to the north.  Several fishermen said the blue water was as warm as 77 and 78 degrees in many places.  A few dolphin are being caught and those numbers will continue to increase. 

There were king mackerel, a variety of bottom fish and a few cobia caught inshore of the Gulf Stream this week.  Bottom fishing has been and continues to be good, with fishermen filling fish boxes with black sea bass, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgys, amberjacks and sharks.  In two weeks (May 1) those grouper that must be released right now can be added to the fish box.  With the warming water, some bottom fish are moving a little closer in, but the hottest action has been from about 95 to 125 feet.

King mackerel are holding over some of the same rocks and wrecks as the bottom fish.  A few are being caught by drifting light lines while bottom fishing, but trolling is more productive.  The kings are slowing moving inshore a little, but the water temps are fluctuating and they move back out again.  Most fishermen feel 65 degrees is the minimum for the offshore kings, but I feel a lot better at 68 or so.  Suspended bait is the big key.  If there is suspended bait, there will probably be a few kings around it.  Look for kings from about 80 to 120 feet.  They aren't picky yet and will hit spoons, sea witches rigged with strips and frozen cigar minnows.

For Ladies Only
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will host a Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) workshop on April 17 to 19 in Wilkes County at the YMCA Camp Harrison at Herring Ridge, Boomer.  There will be a variety of outdoor skills classes throughout the weekend.  Space is limited and these events usually fill early, so if you are interested don't wait too long to register.  For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab at the top of the page.

The annual Women Anglers In Training (WAIT) fishing school hosted by the Oak island Parks and Recreation Department is coming up on April 25 and 26.  WAIT is a ladies-only program that includes a day of classroom and hands-on instruction, then a day of fishing.  The basic program includes fishing on Sunday from Oak Island Pier and there are upgrades to fishing inshore and in the ocean from boats.  For more information call 910-278-5518 or visit www.oakislandnc.com/Departments/Parks-Recreation.aspx.

Forecasters See Fewer Than Average Hurricanes in 2015
In a press release dated April 14, 2015,  Researchers Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University said the Atlantic hurricane season in 2015 will see fewer than the average number of storms.  Klotzbach and Gray said that cooler ocean temperatures and the expectation that favorable atmospheric conditions will continue through the summer months will mean fewer hurricanes.

Klotzbach and Gray said the Gulf Coast and East Coast both have a 15 percent chance of getting hit by a hurricane this season, well below the average for the last century of 30 percent.  Their forecast calls for seven named storms, of which three will become hurricanes with wind speeds of 74 mph or higher.  The federal forecast will be released later this spring.

Military Appreciation Day,
Military Appreciation Day (MAD) 10 is scheduled for May 30 in Morehead City.  MAD is a N.C. based organization that focuses on taking active duty military personnel fishing as a way of thanking them for their service to our country.  This is the 10th year of MAD events and this year there are MAD events planned for Morehead City and Southport in N.C., Charleston, S.C., Hampton, Virginia and Lewes, Delaware.  The Morehead City MAD is the original MAD event and remains the largest.  Military families are also invited to participate in numerous on-shore activities throughout the day. 

Registration for MAD 10 is open for volunteers and troops.  Volunteers are needed for all aspects of the event, from taking troops fishing, helping with the many land-based activities and even cleaning fish.  If you can spare a day, or even a few hours, it will be appreciated by the organizers and really appreciated by the service men and women and their families.  Helping at a MAD event is something special and rewarding.  I take some troops fishing and always feel like I have as much or more fun than they do.  Anyone who would like to help can visit www.militaryappreciationday.org  and register. 

Tagged Great White (and other) Shark Watch
There appears to be a great white shark convention going on along the N.C. Coast right now.  Mary Lee, who hasn't been north of Charleston in a long time, suddenly began to head north late last week and her most recent ping was just offshore of the edge of the Continental Shelf a little offshore of the Point northeast of Cape Hatteras.  This is particularly interesting as Genie, another mature female great white shark, returned to the N.C. Coast late last week after spending months in the North Atlantic.  Genie headed straight in and through Oregon Inlet and her most recent ping was a week ago on April 9 and she was in Pamlico Sound off Stumpy Point. 

Mary Lee made a similar incursion into one of the Georgia Sounds about this time last spring and the question it brings to my mind is does this have something to do with spawning?  After that, Mary Lee stayed in the general area, just a little offshore, for months. 

Katherine was the first to arrive and began to ping off the Outer Banks several weeks ago.  She hasn't pinged in two weeks now, but that last ping was just a few miles north and inshore of where Mary Lee pinged Wednesday afternoon.  Mary Lee is the only one of the three pinging regularly right now and she may still be moving.  if she stops at the Outer Banks, I'll be pretty sure something is up.

These are tagged sharks.  When I see similar movements from them, I can't help but wonder how many of their non-tagged counterparts are also in these areas?  It does make you think, doesn't it?  You can follow the travels of Genie, Katharine, Mary Lee and numerous other tagged sharks around the world by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.

Marine Fisheries Commission Seeks Advisers on Fishing License Grants
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is seeking three to five recreational fishermen to provide input to the MFC Coastal Recreational Fishing License Grant Committee.  The advisors will meet with the committee, which typically meets two to three times a year, to develop a request for proposals, review proposals and select which grants to fund.

 Advisors will be appointed by the MFC chairman to serve for three-year terms.  Advisors must be recreational fishermen and may not have had a significant fisheries violation within the past three years.  At least one of the advisers will be from the recreational for-hire industry.  Advisors will be reimbursed for travel mileage and meals associated with the meetings.

Advisor applications are available online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/mfc-advisory-committees, at N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ offices or by calling 252-808-8021 or 800-682-2632.  Applications should be returned by May 1 to the Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557, Attention: Nancy Fish.

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Seeks Scientific Advisors
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is soliciting scientists interested in serving on its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the SSC Socio-Economic Panel (SEP). Membership is open to any qualified scientist, regardless of affiliation or geographic location.  The Council will review applicants at its June 8-12, 2015 meeting in Key West, Florida. Applications received by April 19, 2015 will be submitted to the Council for consideration.

The SSC is responsible for reviewing the scientific basis of council management plans and actions, and developing fishing level recommendations in accordance with national fisheries management guidelines. The South Atlantic Council's SSC meets at least twice a year to address a broad range of topics, including stock assessments, management action evaluations, social and economic analyses, habitat evaluations, and ecosystem management issues.  SSC members also play a key role in developing and reviewing stock assessments through participation in SEDAR, the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review program.  The Council's SSC members serve 3-year terms and may be appointed to multiple terms.

 The SSC Socio-Economic Panel consists of experts in these fields who provide recommendations to the Council through the SSC on social and economic aspects of Council actions.  Individuals may serve on the SSC, the SEP, or both.  The SEP typically meets once per year.

Application materials and details on the application process may be obtained by contacting John Carmichael, Science and Statistics Program Manager, at john.carmichael@safmc.net or 843/571-4366.  Learn more about the SSC and the SSC Socio-Economic Panel from the Council's website at www.safmc.net.  

Information and Comment Requests/Pending Legislation and Regulations
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on proposed Amendments 20 and 36 for the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.  Amendment 20 would revise the snowy grouper annual catch limits, commercial trip limit, and recreational fishing season.  Amendment 36 includes Special Management Zones (SMZs) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Southeast Region, in collaboration with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), intends to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to describe and analyze a range of alternatives for management actions to be included in Amendment 36.  Amendment 36 will consider alternatives to implement SMZs.

Comments on both amendments must be submitted by May 8.  The proposed amendments can be found at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov or http://www.safmc.net.  Comments for Amendment 20 may be submitted via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0003, or by mail to Nikhil Mehta - NOAA Fisheries - Southeast Regional Office - Sustainable Fisheries Division - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, Florida 33701.  Comments for Amendment 36 may be submitted via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0050, or by mail to Rick DeVictor - NMFS Southeast Regional Office - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a proposal to revise the guidelines for National Standard 1, 3 and 7 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  The National Standard guidelines assist the eight regional fishery management councils and NOAA Fisheries in developing effective fishery management plans.

“The proposed revisions clarify and streamline the National Standard guidelines, address concerns raised by partners and stakeholders during the implementation of annual catch limits and accountability measures, and provide flexibility to address fishery management issues,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “The proposed revisions, if implemented, will result in better-managed and more sustainable fisheries.”

The National Standard 1 guidelines provide guidance on preventing overfishing while achieving the optimum yield (the amount of fish which will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities) from each U.S. fishery.  The National Standard 3 guidelines provide guidance on managing a stock as a unit throughout its range, and the National Standard 7 guidelines address minimizing costs and avoid duplication in fisheries management.

The proposed revisions do not establish new requirements or require councils to revise their current fishery management plans. Rather, they offer additional clarity and potential flexibility in meeting current Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act mandates.

The proposed revisions include:

● Increasing flexibility in setting timelines for rebuilding programs;
● Providing flexibility for better managing data-limited stocks;
● Clarifying guidance on which stocks require conservation and management;
● Enhancing current efforts by the councils to apply ecosystem approaches to management;
● Providing for more stable fisheries through guidance on multiyear overfishing determinations, phasing in results of new stock assessments and the carryover of the unused portion of annual catch limits to subsequent years;
● Adding a definition for “depleted stocks” to recognize non-fishing-related impacts to fish stocks, and;
●  Recommending the councils re-evaluate the objectives of fishery management plans, to ensure they reflect the changing needs of the fishery, including allocation of fishery resources.

Public comments on the proposed rule are due June 30, 2015.  To learn more and read the proposed rule as well as to submit comments, visit: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/national_standards/ns1_revisions.html.  

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Advisory Panels to Meet During April
Fishermen and others interested in federal fishery management issues should mark their calendars for upcoming meetings that will impact snapper grouper, mackerel, and shrimp fisheries, as well as policies affecting essential fish habitat and ecosystem-based management. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) will hold several advisory panel meetings and a meeting of the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) during April.  The meetings will be held in North Charleston, South Carolina and will be available online via webinar as they occur.

Information about the advisory panel meetings and Spawning SMZ Workshop, including meeting agendas, overviews, and briefing book materials are posted on the Advisory Panel Meetings page of the Council's web site at www.safmc.net.  Additional information on the SSC meeting will be posted on the SSC Meetings page of the website as it becomes available.  Members of the public are invited to attend all meetings or watch by webinar.  Webinar registration is required and details are posted on the meeting pages of the website.

The remaining meeting is the Scientific and Statistical Committee and Socio-Economic Panel Meeting April 28 to 30.  Information on the SAFMC advisory panels and SSC and their role in fisheries management is available at www.safmc.net.

Fisheries Meetings
May 4:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, 6:00 P.M., DENR Regional Office in Washington, Contact Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Stephen Taylor at 910-796-7289 or Stephen.Taylor@ncdenr.gov.  

May 20 to 22:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Business Meeting, May 20-22, Doubletree by Hilton Riverfront, New Bern.  Public comment sessions on the evening of May 20 and morning of May 21.  For more information and an agenda visit http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/dmf.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
April 17 to 19:  East Coast Paddle Sports and Outdoor Festival, James Island Park, Charleston, S.C., www.ccprc.com.  

April 17 to 19: Big BOW Workshop, (ladies - only), Wilkes County at the YMCA Camp Harrison at Herring Ridge, Boomer, www.ncwildlife.org.

April 18:  Spring Redfish Shootout, Wrightsville Beach Boat Ramp, Redfish Shootout Series, www.redfishshootoutseries.com.  

April 18 to June 14:  Chasin' Tails Cobia Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.  

April 25 and 26:  Women Anglers in Training (WAIT), (ladies-only), Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com/Departments/Parks-Recreation.aspx.

May 1 to 3:  Topsail Island Surf and Pier Challenge,  Multiple species, East Coast Sports, www.fishermanspost.com.

May 2:  Kayak Fishing Seminar, Bill Smith Park, Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com/Departments/Parks-Recreation.aspx.

May 2:  Southport Nature Fest,  Southport Waterfront, Southport, www.happiestseasidetowninamerica.com.  

May 2 and 3:  Rebel Pier King Tournament, Ocean Crest Pier, Oak Island, www.oceancrestpiernc.com.

May 12:  Craven County Recreation and Parks Kayak Fishing Seminar, New Bern, https://cravencounty.recdesk.com.  

May 15 to 17:  BOW (ladies-only) Fly-Fishing Weekend, PCWE & Davidson River Campground, Transylvania County, www.ncwildlife.org

May 16:  Ride the Tide, Oak Island Parks and Recreation, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com/Departments/Parks-Recreation.aspx.

May 16:  Fisherman's Swap Meet to benefit Military Appreciation Day, Grand Slam Yacht and Boat Sales, Morehead City, www.militaryappreciationday.org.

May 16:  CCA NC Cobia Challenge, Boathouse Marina, Beaufort, www.ccanc.org.

May 16 and 17:  Crystal Coast Boat Show, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.crystalcoastboatshow.com

May 16 and 17:  Ladies Pier King Tournament, Ocean Crest Pier, Oak Island, www.oceancrestpiernc.com.

May 17-23:  Safe Boating Week  (N.C. events begin on May 16), www.ncwildlife.org.

May 30:  Military Appreciation Day, Morehead City Downtown Parks, Morehead City, www.militaryappreciationday.org.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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