The surf temperature has climbed back to the mid sixties across most of the state after dropping last week.  There has been a slug of warmer water just off the beach from Carolina Beach to Topsail this week and it has brought Atlantic bonito and some nearshore spring kings to just off the southern beaches.

Pier fishing has been pretty good this week.  There has been a mixture of sea mullet, black drum, bluefish, spots, puffers, and more.  Most are hitting bottom rigs and the favorite baits have been shrimp, squid and Fishbite strips.  Bluefish have also been hitting Got-Cha plugs.  There have also been some Spanish mackerel caught from the southern piers.

Surf fishing has been mixed, with some red drum, black drum, sea mullet, flounder and plenty of sharks and skates being caught.  Two cobia were caught in the Outer Banks Surf and there have been some large red and black drum caught from the northern Outer Banks to Cape Lookout.

Whether you call them sea mullet, VA. mullet or whiting, they are here and biting.  Many are being caught from the piers and there are two inshore hotspots.   One is the Morehead City Turning Basin and the other is the mouth of the Cape Fear River at Southport.  The best bait has been small pieces of the freshest shrimp possible, fished on speck rigs or double drop bottom rigs, especially those with the little squids above the hooks.  These fish will also sometimes hit bloodworms and Fishbites synthetic bloodworms.

There have been specks, puppy drum, flounder and some black drum in the creeks and bays off the Coastal Rivers and Intracoastal Waterway.  The inside water temperature has passed 70 in many places and is warm enough trout are becoming active and feeding.  They are already spawning in some places, so don't be surprised if you are cleaning one and it has roe.  

For the most part, specks, reds, uglies (black drum) and flounder have been feeding pretty hard and haven't been real picky about baits.  Live baits are easier to fish as they act like themselves and attract fish.  The only live baits readily available are mud minnows at tackle shops and some scattered peanut pogies in some of the creeks and basins.  Fish them on the bottom on Carolina rigs for flounder, pups and uglies or suspend them under floats for specks, pups and uglies.  Both drum will also eat pieces of fresh shrimp or cut bait. 

In the warming water, specks, reds and even flounder will chase lures.  Most fishermen will find soft plastics, in shrimp or minnow shapes, easier to fish.  Baits with scent or with scent added will usually attract fish better, especially in clouded or dirty water.  I prefer shrimp shapes as everything in salt water eats shrimp.

Pups and specks are also hitting hard lures.  Hard lures are designed to dive, suspend or float on top.  At this time I prefer suspending and topwater lures.  Suspending lures are easier to fish as you can let them drift naturally with the current and occasionally twitch them.  Topwater lures make for more exciting strikes as the fish has to break the surface to catch them.  However, most topwater lures require a "walking-the-dog" zig-zag motion that is more difficult to master.  It's worth the effort though.  Topwater strikes, especially from a big red drum, are very explosive and exciting.

There weren't many good days to head offshore this week, but there were biting fish when fishermen could make the trip.  The action started with black sea bass and flounder on the nearshore artificial reefs.  There were more black sea bass than flounder, but unfortunately most were shorts.  There weren't as many flounder, but more were keepers. 

False albacore and Atlantic bonito are being caught near the S.C. border and from Wrightsville Beach to Ocracoke.   They both like small spoons, jigs and feathers trolled or retrieved quickly.   You will do yourself a favor by learning to tell the difference between these tuna cousins as Atlantic bonito taste really good and false albacore have a strong flavor that doesn't appeal to most people.

Fishermen off Wrightsville Beach caught some Spanish mackerel and small king mackerel mixed with the alberts and bonito this week.  The kings were from marginal size up to about 8 pounds.  The Spanish should move up the beach at any time and it is a question if the kings will still be mixed with them.  There is a slug of warm water about five miles off the beach and the kings, alberts, bonito and Spanish are in it. 

If you are catching what you think are large Spanish, take a good look to be sure they aren't undersize kings.  Spanish have a black spot on their forward dorsal fin that sets them apart from kings, which have a gray dorsal.  The minimum size for kings is 24 inches (fork length) and it is an expensive ticket for just not taking the time to be sure of your catch.

Fishermen are also catching a few flounder on the nearshore artificial reefs and rocks.  Vertical jigging bucktails tipped with scented soft plastics has been the most productive way to catch the flatfish and also catches black sea bass, gray trout and other fish.  The flounder will also hit live mud minnows, but you can't cover the same amount of bottom when using live baits. 

The offshore fishing begins at around 100 feet.  Bottom fish are the most productive and almost every rock, wreck or artificial reef is holding them.  The bottom fish catch includes black sea bass, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgys, amberjacks and sharks.  Grouper season reopens next Friday on May 1.  There was also at least one cobia caught this week that tried to grab a grunt being reeled to the surface.

King mackerel are in this same general area as the offshore bottom fish and are slowly moving inshore.  A big key for finding kings is locating structure with suspended bait. 

Gulf Stream temperatures have reached the upper 70s and fishermen are catching wahoo and blackfin tuna, plus a few dolphin.  There are yellowfin tuna being caught from Hatteras and Oregon Inlet, but they are very scarce elsewhere along the N.C. Coast.  Dolphin numbers are increasing and will for another month or so.  Last week I said not to be surprised when the billfish reports started and it began this week.  The Dancin' Outlaw released a sailfish Wednesday off Cape Lookout. 

I spent last weekend at the East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival in Charleston, S.C. and had a great time.  This annual events brings together the manufacturers of most of the top kayaks, paddleboards and other outdoor equipment in one location where interested folks can pay a small fee and demo the different equipment.  There are also numerous seminars teaching techniques both on and off the water. 

It is a really good time and a great place to see all the new equipment for most of the manufacturers.  I was helping at the Hobie Kayaks booth and many people came to see us and take a test ride, but there was special interest in the new Pro Angler 17 Tandem Fishing Kayak and the Tandem Island Sailing Kayak.  Both are very impressive and I wish the lines hadn't been as long so I could have "tested" them a little more.

WAIT ing For Ladies Only
The annual Women Anglers In Training (WAIT) fishing school hosted by the Oak island Parks and Recreation Department is scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and 26.  WAIT is a fishing school for the ladies-only and it includes a day of classroom and hands-on instruction on Saturday, followed by a day of fishing on Sunday. 

Saturday begins with an introduction to the tackle, technology and terms used in fishing, then the ladies learn how to tie a fishing line to an eye, how to make a loop and how to tie two lines together.  Once the ladies are comfortable with this, there is species specific instruction for catching flounder, red drum, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel and king mackerel.  The first day ends with sessions on throwing cast nets and cleaning fish.

Sunday is the fishing day.  The basic program includes fishing from Oak Island Pier.  For those ladies who would like their fishing adventure to be from boats, 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.

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
I don't usually include this here, but there has been somewhat of a gathering of great white sharks at the Outer Banks for the last week or so.  Mary Lee, who hasn't been north of Charleston in a long time, suddenly headed north a couple of weeks ago and went as far as the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay before turning back to just offshore of the edge of the Continental Shelf out from Nags Head. 

Genie and Katharine, both great whites, haven't pinged their locations in more than a week, so it will be interesting to see where they pop up next.  At their last pings, Genie was in Pamlico Sound, near Stumpy point and Katharine was approximately halfway to the edge of the Continental Shelf off Nags Head.  Adding to the gathering is Cate Ells, a female mako shark that headed to the open ocean northwest of Bermuda a few weeks ago and is now returning towards the Outer Banks.

These are tagged sharks whose movements we can track - at least as long as they come to the surface and stay long enough to send a locating ping from a GPS transmitter strapped to their dorsal fin. When I see similar movements from them, I can't help but wonder how many of their non-tagged counterparts are moving with them?  It makes you think, doesn't it?  You can follow the travels of Cate Ells, 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.

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

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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