While it isn't quite perfect yet, the weather continues to improve and so does the fishing. I'm not a researcher and haven't fine tuned a hypothesis for a cause-effect relationship, but it seems pretty easy to see that when the weather warms and gets nicer in the spring more fish are caught. Warmer water temperatures stimulate the fish to become mobile and begin feeding and warmer sunny weather stimulates the fishermen into going fishing. The combination directly equates to better catches!
For the most part we are looking at a fairly nice weekend again. With the exception of some late Saturday/early Sunday gusting to 15-20 knots north of Cape Lookout, the forecast is for winds of 15 knots or less through Sunday. It might begin to blow a little heavier on Monday, but that's a ways off and the forecast will probably change a time or two before then.
OK, so what's been happening and where should you be headed? It has been an interesting week along the Carolina coast and there are numerous options.
Big bluefish began moving in for the pier and nearshore boaters a week or so ago and they have continued. While most are photographed, weighed and released, they have continued and are lots of fun on lighter tackle. This Wednesday, the first Spanish mackerel of the year was landed at Bogue Inlet Pier. Congratulations to Delmer Burgess on his early 2 pound catch.
The water temperature in the surf was 63 degrees then, but, with all the sunshine and warm days, may reach 65 by the weekend. It is in the high 60's in many creeks and bays. I was way back up a creek on a mud flat Saturday afternoon and found one spot the water temperature had reached 73.5 degrees. We're approaching that magic 70 degree mark--and pretty quickly too.
Continuing with the pier news, the first king mackerel of the year were landed Wednesday at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. Congratulations to Paul Shivey, who went fishing optimistically and caught both of them. The Oak Island piers, of which Ocean Crest is the only one still operating (Long Beach Pier was torn down several years ago for a development project and Yaupon Pier is closed and boarded up while a bankruptcy/foreclosure procedure continues), have a long history of having an early run of kings that occurs some time between the third week of April and Mother's Day Weekend. This year that run began right on target. It will be interesting to see how long and at what intensity it continues.
Other pier catches include smaller bluefish, sea mullet, blowfish, black drum, sharks and an occasional flounder.
Some of the best and easiest inshore fishing right now is drifting for sea mullet in the Morehead City Turning Basin and out to Beaufort Inlet. Sea mullet locate a lot of their food by smell and having the freshest shrimp possible is a big plus. Because fresh shrimp are nearly impossible to get this early in the year, many dedicated fishermen fresh freeze their own during the fall when shrimp are plentiful. Fresh freezing is simply either vacuum packing or covering the shrimp with water before freezing them. When air can't get to them, they freeze much better.
The preferred rig for sea mullet is a speck rig, tipped with a small piece of shrimp. Drifting along the edges of the turning basin or channel allows for covering more area and exposing you baits to more fish. Jigging the speck rigs creates a little movement and helps sparks the fish's curiosity.
The main secondary catch is usually gray trout, but I haven't heard of many just yet. Other possibilities include croakers, spots, bluefish, pigfish, an occasional flounder or speckled trout and one year I hit a bunch of small cod that were visiting the turning basin for a few days.
Speckled trout have been biting well in the marshes and coastal creeks, with a surprising bunch of citation size (5 pounds or heavier) trout being caught. With all the upstate rainwater making its way down the rivers, the specks have worked their way back into the creeks, bays and coves, where the salinity is higher.
Red drum and a few flounder are also biting in inside waters. The drum are also moving about to find saltier water and are sometimes difficult to find, especially in waters with higher freshwater runoff. However, they are holding true to form and can usually be persuaded to bite once you find them. No one is really targeting flounder yet and they are being caught as a by catch of fishing for specks and reds.
Puppy drum were in the surf again this week and were joined by large (5-10 pound) bluefish. The best action has been from Cape Lookout to the north, but enough have been caught from the central and southern coast piers that they could move that extra several hundred yards into the surf at any time. A few larger drum made surprise appearances, but they are mostly at Ocracoke and farther north.
Good striper action continues in the rivers. They are being caught in the Neuse and Tar/Pamlico, but the hotspot has been in the Roanoke. There they extend from Jamesville, east of Highway 17, to Weldon, at Interstate 95. The reports from Weldon are the bite is getting better and many fishermen are reporting catching (and releasing) over 100 stripers per day. There are special regulations for stripers in this area, including using barbless hooks. Check out the regulations at www.ncdmf.net or www.ncwildlife.org before making the trip.
More bonito were caught this week. They are usually found from just beyond the surf out for a few miles. Artificial reefs and bait pods are excellent places to fish for them. Trolling small flashy lures at a pretty quick pace, casting and retrieving quickly or vertical jigging are good ways to catch them. Some false albacore may also be around, so study your fish charts and learn to tell the difference. You will want to invite the bonito home for dinner and release the false albacore to fight with someone else on another day.
With the water temperatures rising and more baitfish arriving, the kings are slowly working their way inshore. Spots in the 25-35 mile offshore range have been producing for several weeks, but the kings should be reaching the Big 10 and Little 10 or Northwest Places areas at any time. Off Cape Fear they were caught in the Horseshoe area several days this week and it is a similar distance offshore. The bottom line for spring kings is if you see a good concentration of bait and the water temperature is 67 degrees or higher, stop and fish.
Offshore bottom fishing continues to be good. There are large spawning sea bass right now, but they will be ending soon. There are lots of beeliners and grunts in many areas and more folks are catching grouper every week.
The first tournament of the Cape Lookout Redfish Challenge will be held next weekend, May 2 and 3, at Calico Jacks Marina in Harkers Island. The Captains Meeting, Final Registration, and Sponsors and Fishermen's Cookout will be Friday (May 2), beginning at 5:00 P.M. Fishing will be on Saturday, with check-out and weigh-in at Calico Jacks. This is the first redfish series designed just for Tar Heel fishermen and it should be a fun, festive and family atmosphere. For more information visit the website at www.redfishaction.com.
For those fishermen wanting to learn a little more about fishing in area waters, the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department, Overtons, Consumers Marine and North Carolina Sportsman Magazine will be hosting a fishing seminar at the Nature Center at River Park North in Greenville on Tuesday, April 29. The topics will be Inshore Saltwater (speckled trout, flounder, puppy drum), with Capt. Ray Massengill of Down East Guide Service and I will be speaking on King Mackerel for the second session. For more information, visit www.northcarolinasportsman.com.
SIDEBAR: Notes From Highway Patrol Meeting on Trailering Boats
I have mentioned several times about the stepped up enforcement of the laws regarding towing trailers (and boats). The Highway Patrol held their first-ever public forum at the Warwick Center at UNC Wilmington on April 21 and tried to explain all the provisions of the laws and what was needed to be legal. There was a lot of information, some of which was a bit confusing, but the bottom line is they will be enforcing the existing regulations dealing with width, weight, towing restrictions, licenses and license plates as they pertain to trailering personal boats.
The Highway Patrol spokesmen pointed out these laws have been in place for years and were established for safety purposes. Unfortunately, there is no provision in the N.C. code for boats as recreational vehicles and they are being held to the same standards and restrictions as commercial trucking. This makes it difficult to impossible for many owners of mid-size and larger boats to transport them for a weekend of fishing or cruising.
Don't make the mistake of thinking this only affects folks with large boats. It starts with skiffs over 8-1/2 feet wide and goes up. The current regulations prohibit trailering a boat more than 8-1/2 feet wide at night, on Sundays and for a period 12 hours prior to and after a holiday.
If your skiff, pontoon boat or any boat is 8 feet and 7 inches wide or wider, you can't take it to the ramp during any of these times. This isn't just a coastal issue as some see it, but it affects all boat owners across the entire state. Many pontoon boats cannot be legally moved at night or on Sunday, which is a primary day for using them on lakes and rivers in interior N.C.
Larger boats also require special drivers licenses and license plates based on weight. This information is available in the Drivers Services and Vehicle Services sections of the Department of Motor Vehicles web site at http://www.ncdot.org/dmv.
The information, requirements and permit applications for boats exceeding 8-1/2 feet wide are available at the Oversize / Overweight Permits Unit web site at http://www.ncdot.org/doh/operations/dp_chief_eng/maintenance/permits/.
Several legislators, including Representative Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle, Senator Julia Boseman of Wilmington and Representative Bonner Stiller of Oak Island were present and promised there were bills aimed at changing some of the regulations in place and waiting for the Short Legislative Session in May to be introduced. Boaters need to contact their legislators and let them know how they feel. A composite of the trailering regulations can be found at www.northcarolinasportsman.com and a listing of the phone numbers, e-mail and mailing addresses of all N.C. legislators can be found at www.ncleg.net.