The rain from early this week is messing with fishing in some areas and should be pushing to the coast in the next few days. This rain flooded some areas worse than hurricanes and still has several major roads closed as I write this. Hopefully it will push through and clean up quickly and not mess with our good fishing.
The warm days and sunshine continue to warm the water. Most places in southern and central N.C. are reporting mid to upper 60s water temps in the surf and warming offshore of that. The cooler rainwater coming down the rivers will probably cool this a few degrees, but hopefully it won't be much. You can check the water temps from Charleston to south of Hatteras by visiting the CORMP (Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program) website at www.cormp.org.
Wahoo and blackfin tuna are biting well offshore of the entire N.C. coast and more dolphin are joining the catch every day. Fishermen from Hatteras to the north are also catching some yellowfin tuna.
Offshore bottom fishing is very good and will get even better on May 1, when fishermen can add grouper to their bag instead of having to release them. There are black sea bass on most of the rocks and wrecks even inshore, but many of those in shallower water are too small to keep. Understand that black sea bass regulations are different north and south of Cape Hatteras and be sure you understand them before you head out. The best ocean bottom fishing has been inshore of the Gulf Stream in roughly 80-120 feet of water. The catch has included black sea bass, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgys, amberjacks, and even a few African pompano.
King mackerel are biting along most of the N.C. Coast too. They are closer in at the southern end of the state, with pier catches being reported up to Kure Beach Pier. There are kings being caught from the rocks and reefs 10-20 miles off out to the edge of the Gulf Stream. These are schools of smaller kings that are feeding heavily and they are moving around following bait. The most consistent spot has been the rocks, wrecks and AR 400 within sight of Frying Pan Tower. The kings are hitting live baits, dead baits, spoons, sea witches and more.
Closer in, generally within sight of the beaches, there has been a mixture of large bluefish, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, Atlantic bonito and red drum caught this week. The false albacore and bonito have been concentrated from Wrightsville Beach to Topsail, with a second group around Cape Lookout.
The bluefish are both large and small. Some weigh less than a pound and some weigh more than 10 pounds. They are willing biters and will hit live baits, dead baits and a variety of lures. There is an ongoing debate about the table quality of bluefish in any size and people feel strongly. My suggestion is simply not to keep them unless you plan to eat them. If you are king mackerel fishing, bluefish up to a couple of pounds make great king baits.
The Spanish mackerel schools are just arriving and are scattered. The Spanish action has been best off the southern N.C. coast, but is spreading up the coast. They have been holding under water a lot and that makes them more difficult to find. Seagulls can help you locate schools and so will oil slicks. If several birds are hovering over an area or if there is an oil slick in the middle of nowhere, both are signs there may be feeding fish beneath. Small Clarkspoons trolled behind planers or trolling sinkers should get down to them and provide fresh fish for supper.
There have been large red drum caught in the Outer Banks surf, around Shark Island at Cape Lookout and at Yaupon Reef off Oak Island. I would expect they might also be visiting some of the other nearshore artificial reefs. Someone also reported one caught in 110 feet of water while offshore bottom fishing. They have hit live baits, dead baits and jigs being worked for gray trout and black sea bass.
We have a unique situation between now and May 1. It appeared the Marine Fisheries Commission was going to close cobia season and reopen it on May 1, but instead they decided just to change the regulations effective May 1. Several cobia were caught off N.C. last week and there is a good possibility more will be caught before the new regulations become effective. Federal waters are closed to cobia, but state waters (out to 3 miles offshore) are open and cobia may be kept. Until May 1, the regulations are 2 cobia per person with a 33 inch (fork length) minimum size. Beginning May 1, the limit reduces to 1 fish per person, with a maximum of 4 fish per boat, and the minimum size increases to 36 inches (fork length). After May 1, cobia catches must be weighed and measured at a certified weigh station or reported to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
Pier fishermen caught more large bluefish this week, and a king bite is trying to start, especially along the southern coast. One noteworthy recent pier catch from this week was a blackfin tuna caught from Bogue Inlet Pier at Emerald Isle. Other pier catches included Spanish mackerel, sea mullet (whiting or Va. mullet), black drum, blowfish, flounder, and the first pompano of the season.
Ocean surf fishermen caught a mixture of bottom fish similar to the piers, plus some large drum along the Outer Banks. They and the large bluefish can be quite a surprise and a chore to work back in. At least one cobia was caught in the surf at the Outer Banks.
The water temperature in many creeks has reached 70 and that has gotten bait active and fish are following the bait. Bait is moving in and out of the creeks and fish are following into the larger bays and thoroughfares. Look for structure that is holding or funneling bait and you should find fish. Fishermen have caught a mixture of specks, puppy drum, black drum and a surprising number of early flounder.
Drum have superior noses and can locate bait by smell extremely well. Some fishermen have been having good luck with both red and black drum, by fishing pieces of shrimp or cut bait. I really like to use pieces of crab for drum. There is something about the oil in crab that really excites drum. Other fish will eat it, but once a drum smells crab, it will usually rush in and grab it without hesitation. Drum will also hit a variety of lures and live baits.
Speckled trout are also biting well and several successful fishermen said live bait was the key to catching them consistently. They recommended live shrimp as the best, but said specks would also hit mud minnows, mullet minnows, and small pogies, croakers, spots and pinfish. Most trout fishermen suspend their live baits under corks, but some fish them on the bottom. Trout have also been hitting soft plastics, especially shrimp shapes, and suspending MirrOlures.
Live baits fished on the bottom will catch a variety of fish, including drum, specks and flounder. During the past week some big bluefish have made their way to inside waters and they like live baits too. It's a surprise to hook a 7-10 pound bluefish on trout tackle, but with patience you can land them. Several big blues have also been caught while trying to pilfer a hooked fish that was being reeled in.
There are still stripers in many of the coastal rivers. Some have headed upriver to spawn and more should be following soon. The keeper season in the Roanoke River Management Area has been extended to May 7 due to lower catches than anticipated.
New Cobia Regulations Begin
on May 1
The requirement to weigh and measure every cobia might seem excessive to some, but is being done to record actual N.C. landings data as opposed to data that is projected and extrapolated by federal fishery managers. Many fishermen and some fishery biologists believe the federal projections are too high and are forcing closures and extra restrictions that aren't really needed.
NOAA Fisheries closed the 2017 cobia season in federal waters on January 24 and it isn't scheduled to reopen until January 1, 2018. Federal waters begin at 3 miles off the beach and extend to 200 miles offshore, while N.C. waters begin inland and extend out to 3 miles off the beach.
There have already been some cobia caught and they are legal to keep prior to May 1 as long as they are caught in N.C. waters. According to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website, through April 30 the cobia regulations allow a limit of 2 cobia per person per day with a 33 inch minimum size (fork length). Cobia do not typically reach N.C. waters until May, but with the mild winter and rapidly warming water, several have already been caught and more may be caught prior to May 1, when the new regulations go into effect. This and other fishery regulations are available at the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
Oak Island Parks and
Recreation Offers Ladies-only Fishing School and Kayak Fishing School
The Recreation Department will also host a Kayak Fishing School and Demo Day on May 6 and there are 8-10 spots still open. The day will begin with seminars on safety, then move to rigging a kayak for fishing, plus tips, tactics, and techniques for inshore fishing and an introduction to nearshore ocean fishing. After lunch there will be a selection of kayaks in the water for participants to demo and individual instruction on throwing cast nets. The course will be held at Dutchman Creek Park in Oak Island. For more information on either class, visit the website at http://oakisland.recdesk.com or call 910-278-5518.
WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host
Ongoing Fishing Programs
The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums at Manteo, Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher and Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head. Approaching summer the aquarium will offer programs on surf fishing, exploring the marsh, canoeing and more. For more information, visit www.ncaquariums.com.
Military Appreciation Days
Troops participating in MAD 10 will have options to fish inshore or offshore from boats or from a kayak. Military Appreciation Day is open to all active duty military personnel from all branches of the military. There will be shoreside activities for family members at several of the MAD events.
Registration for the 2017 MAD events is open for volunteers and the Morehead City MAD is open for troops to register. 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 special and rewarding. I take 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.
NC Wildlife Resources Seeks
Info on Alligators
"Submitting an alligator observation is very easy," said Alicia Davis, of the NCWRC. "If you see an alligator and can take a picture, you simply upload the photo to iNaturalist and add it to the NC Alligators project. If the picture was taken with a Smartphone, the iNaturalist platform automatically gathers data on when and where the photo was taken. If you take the picture with a traditional camera, you can drop a pin where you saw the alligator using the Google map on the website."
Those wishing to report alligator sightings other than through iNaturalist can e-mail their pictures and information to Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. The email should include: a photo, the date and time, the location (GPS coordinates are best, but a detailed location description is acceptable), and an estimation of the alligator's size.
Davis cautions to keep a safe distance away when photographing alligators and that enticing them with food for a better picture is dangerous and illegal.
The public can also help the Wildlife Commission learn more about alligators in North Carolina by reporting locations of alligator nests and providing access to private property for alligator surveys. For more information, contact Davis at the e-mail or phone above or read the Wildlife Commission's report, "Coexisting with Alligators" that is available on their website at www.ncwildlife.org.
Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
April 28-29: Reelin' for Research, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.reelinforresearch.org.
April 29 and 30: Women Anglers in Training (WAIT), Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com.
April 29: Gator Hole Fishing Tournament, Gator Hole Country Store, Hwy 133 Bolivia, www.facebook.com/The-Gator-Hole-Country-Store-463430387129155/?fref=ts.
May 1: 2017 Grouper season opens, www.ncdmf.net.
May 1: Cobia regulations change, www.ncdmf.net.
May 5-7: Topsail Island Surf & Pier Fishing Challenge, East Coast Sports, Surf City, www.fishermanspost.com.
May 5-7: North Carolina Paddlefest, Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro, www.ncpaddle.org.
May 6: Oak Island Kayak Fishing School, Dutchman Creek Park, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com.
May 6: Pogies Kayak Redfish Series Tournament 2, Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.
May 6-14: Far Out Shoot Out, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, www.oifc.com.
May 9-13: Hatteras Village Offshore Open, Hatteras Harbor Marina, Hatteras, www.hvoo.org.
May 13: Ride the Tide Kayak Race and Fun Paddle, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com.
May 19-21: Hillsborough Sportfishing Club Offshore Challenge, Crow's Nest - Atlantic Beach and OBX Marina - Wanchese, www.hillsboroughsfc.com.
May 19-21: Crystal Coast Boat Show, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, N.C., www.crystalcoastboatshow.com.
May 20-21: Rebel Pier King Tournament, Ocean Crest Pier, Oak Island, www.oceancrestpiernc.com.
May 25-28: Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water Fishing Tournament, Swansboro Rotary Civic Center, Swansboro, www.swansbororotary.com.
May 27: Pogies Redfish Series Tournament 2, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.
May 28: Pogies Kayak Redfish Series Tournament 3, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.
May 29: Memorial Day.