I ran a quick check of water temperatures this morning and they are steadily rising. The weather reporting stations along the beaches are generally showing 62 to 66 degrees and fishermen have reported some of the inshore creeks reaching 70 degrees on afternoon low tides. The RCOOS (www.carolinasrcoos.org) Onslow Bay and Wilmington buoys are reporting 69.6 degrees and the Gulf Stream eddies and loops are running 72 to 75 degrees. Not only is the water warming; fishing is heating up also.
Sea mullet are a favorite fish of many. They may call them whiting or Virginia mullet, but few fish eaters donít know what you are talking about when you mention one of these names. From childhood, I remember always thinking of them as special. They have the sweet flavor of speckled trout, but are a firmer meat and are easier to clean and otherwise handle.
There are a lot of sea mullet being caught right now. They are being caught from the piers, in the surf, just off the beaches in the ocean and in larger bays, like the Morehead City Turning Basin.
Inshore, nearshore and pier fishermen are also catching puffers, black drum and bluefish. Inshore fishermen can add speckled trout and red drum to their list, but they havenít shown in the surf and pier zone in any serious numbers yet this year. Once the water reached the lower 60s the bluefish started to arrive and they are here in good numbers now. They are also here in sizes from small to chopper. Watch your fingers when removing hooks from bluefish. They sometimes come across as saltwater cousins to piranha.
There are also some gray trout at the Outer Banks, in the ocean at Cape Lookout, Johns Creek Rock and Sheepshead Rock near Carolina Beach and the WOFES off Bald Head Island. The limit for gray trout is a single fish and they arenít usually targeted specifically. The good news is they can often be caught while fishing for another species, such as sea mullet, and are a welcome addition to most fish boxes.
A few flounder have been caught in creeks and along the edges of channels. The water is warm enough now to have them feeding. The flounder action is a little better in the southern end of the state, but there are some flounder biting along the entire N.C. Coast.
With the warming water, puppy drum and specks have become more active in the creeks. Live shrimp is the bait they do not refuse. Live minnows are second in preference. A few flounder are also trying to abscond with baits and lures intended for specks and pups. Fishermen who prefer to use lures have been having good luck with a variety of soft plastics and suspending hard baits like the MirrOlure MR17 and the suspending Bomber Badonk-A-Donk.
The water has warmed to their preferred temperatures, but several successful fishermen said it was still important not to fish to fast, especially for the larger specks. Several fishermen reported trout were hitting topwater lures in the warmer water inside area creeks. . The topwater catches were on MirrOlure She Dogs and She Pups and Bomber Badonk-A-Donks and mostly in brighter colors, like electric chicken.
Several fishermen said they played with false albacore within sight of the beach this week. One of the best reports I received was of the first Atlantic Bonito off Ocean Isle on Wednesday. These are fast moving fish and may spread up the coast in just a few days.
My weekly advice while Atlantic bonito may be around is to get off your wallet and buy a fish ID book and learn to tell the difference between Atlantic bonito and false albacore. Both are cousins in the tuna family and often travel in mixed schools. Both also like shiny lures that are trolled or retrieved quickly and put up an excellent fight for their size. Atlantic bonito are good table fare while false albacore are just a little too strong flavored for most people.
With bluefish showing, false albacore just offshore and the water warming, it shouldnít be long before we have the report of the first Spanish mackerel. Some kings are being caught offshore and hopefully they move in soon. Cobia are also being caught around the offshore wrecks and artificial reefs and should begin showing inshore within a couple of weeks.
A few more king mackerel were caught this week in the area just inshore of the Gulf Stream in approximately 100 feet of water. Just offshore of Frying Pan Tower is a hotspot. The water temps in this depth have risen to around 70 and bait has moved in to the rocks and wrecks there. When the food moves in there is usually something following it and kings, plus a few cobia and amberjacks are there. The kings will still bite lures, but many are being caught on frozen cigar minnows trolled slowly on live bait rigs.
There are also bottom fish in the same general areas as the kings. Bottom fish will be found on lower relief bottom structure too. Currently fishermen may keep beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys. Grouper season will open on May 1. Jigs bounced off the bottom and natural baits on bottom rigs will catch the bottom dwellers. For more information on seasons and limits, visit www.ncdmf.net and click on the Recreational Size and Creel Limits tab at the upper right.
Offshore fishing has been really good this week! The stalwarts of the catch continue to be wahoo and blackfin tuna, but a growing number of dolphin were in the catch. Several Morehead City catches had yellowfin tuna in numbers like a few years ago. For the past several years fishermen have said the yellowfins missing from the central and southern N.C. catches was cyclic and at any time the yellowfins could move back to the inshore side of the Gulf Stream and be in the catches off Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. Maybe this is the first of them moving back? I sure hope so.
The shad run is slowing in the rivers, with stripers beginning to take over. Several coastal captains spend some of the spring guiding on the Roanoke River near Weldon and I get reports from there pretty regularly. Their thoughts are that the shad run is slowing and the striper run is taking off. Stripers may only be kept there until April 30, so if you want a few stripers for the freezer, time is running low. There are also hook and slot size regulations for stripers on the Roanoke River. Check the Recreational Size and Creel Limits on the NC Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net for complete details.
This weekís tagged great white report finds Mary Lee and Lydia still offshore of the continental shelf and Genie hasnít pinged since January. Iím beginning to think her transmitter is malfunctioning. To keep an eye on the travels of Genie, Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks from around the world, open the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
Last week the introduction of a bill to classify red drum, speckled trout and striped bass as gamefish in N.C. waters was speculation. This week the bill was filed on Wednesday in the House of Representatives. House Bill 983, titled the "2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act," is a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Representatives Tom Murry (R-Wake), Michael Wray (D-Halifax, Northampton), Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe), John Bell (R-Craven, Greene, Lenoir, Pitt), Brian Brown (R-Pitt), Paul Luebke (D-Durham) and Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe, Martin). While many will consider it just a re-do of the bill that didnít reach the House floor in the last legislative session, there are some key differences.
The first thing is to define the gamefish classification and in this use it means these fish can only be caught by hook and line and may not be sold, traded or bartered, except for a few specific situations that are highlighted in the bill. One of the key differences is that this bill only classifies striped bass as gamefish inside the inlets. In the ocean, they can be caught commercially to the sold.
The bill contains a provision to immediately transfer $1.3 million to the MFC Observer Program to fund that program. Other provisions include compensating fishermen for any documented lost income, purchasing gear commercial fishermen can no longer use, increasing the cost of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses (CRFL), and appropriating some of the fees generated by the sale of CFRLs to be used to fund the dredging of shallow draft channels, including inlets. The projected implementation date is July 1, 2013.
Expectations are for the debate of this bill to be as contentious as its predecessor. Emotions and expectations are high on both sides of the issue. While the public is already debating its merits, the discussion in the House will begin after a first favorable reading and assignment to a committee. A copy of the bill is available at the N.C. Legislative Website at www.ncleg.net. I would suggest reading it before discussing it.
Iíve mentioned Senate Bill 58 (Increase Funding for Dredging) several times and the N.C. Legislative Website shows no movement since March 5. While SB 58, which was introduced by Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow), is still alive, there was much public opinion against it. SB 58 seeks to raise boat registration fees to help pay for dredging the shallow N.C. inlets. However, it exempts most of the commercial boats using the inlets and raises registration fees for recreational boats across the entire state, plus doesnít give clear view of who will administrate the funds and decide priority for the inlets.
HB 983 offers another way to raise the dredging fees. I would suggest visiting www.ncleg.net and reading both bills. 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 have already been a lot of fishery meetings held during April and a few more are still on the schedule. The Finfish Advisory Committee will meet April 23 at 10:30 A.M. at the Division of Marine Fishery Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Kathy Rawls or David Taylor at 252-264-3911 or 252-808-8074 or Kathy.Rawls@ncdenr.gov or David.L.Taylor@ncdenr.gov. More information and an agenda for the meeting are available at www.ncdmf.net.
A public meeting on Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission American Eel Draft Addendum III will be held April 24 at 6:00 P.M. at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Washington Regional Office in Washington. For more information contact Garry Wright at 252-948-3864 or Garry.Wright@ncdenr.gov.
The Habitat and Water Quality Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for April 22 at 1:30 P.M. at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office on Washington has been cancelled. For more information contact Anne Deaton at 910-796-7215 or Anne.Deaton@ncdenr.gov.
The Shellfish/Crustacean Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for April 25 at 6:00 P.M. at the Craven County Agricultural Extension Building in New Bern has been cancelled. For more information contact Craig Hardy or Mike Marshall at 252-808-8046 or 252-808-8077 or Craig.Hardy@ncdenr.gov or Mike.Marshall@ncdenr.gov.
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 last week in North Charleston, S.C. to review black sea bass, cobia, and Spanish mackerel stock assessments and the benchmark assessments for cobia and Spanish mackerel conducted through the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) stock assessment program.
The SAFMC said they plan to have a one-day meeting via webinar in May 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 30 days earlier and expectations are the SAFMC will seek to loosen some of the current regulations for black sea bass. For more information on either of these meetings visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
Kayakers, SUP enthusiasts and those who enjoy other outdoor sports might want to plan a trip to Charleston, S.C. over the weekend. The East Coast Paddle Sports and Outdoor Sports Festival will be held at the James Island County Park April 19 to 21. 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.
Hereís one for the ladies!!! The Women Anglers in Training (WAIT), ladies only fishing school, will be held April 27 and 28 at the Oak Island Recreation Center in Oak Island. Saturday (April 27) will be classroom instruction featuring several knowledgeable area fishermen and Sunday (April 28) will be a day on the water to see if the tactics, techniques, lures and bait discussed in the classroom will actually produce. There are several options for Sunday including fishing from the pier or boat trips with local guides for inland or ocean species. For more information visit www.oakislandnc.com and click on the Recreation Department or call 910-278-5518.
The Oak Island Recreation Department will offer a kayak fishing seminar on Saturday, May 11. There will be classroom sessions in the morning and an optional on-water session that afternoon. For more information visit www.oakislandnc.com and click on the Recreation Department or call 910-278-5518. There is also a link to a flyer for the kayak fishing seminar on the home page of this website at www.captjerry.com.