Every spring there is something special about reaching the next month and the increasing warmth, both to the air and the water, it brings. Well, today is the next to last day of April and Saturday we will welcome in May. Some say it won't be a bit too soon, but how quickly will they be complaining about the increasing heat and humidity? I just know right now is a special time of the year and all who can should get out and enjoy it.
The water has warmed a few degrees on the inshore / nearshore side and the fishing is improving with it. This morning the report from Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle had the surf temperature at 65 and it is a couple of degrees warmer at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. It still drops a few degrees a mile or so off the beach before warming again a little inshore of the Gulf Stream. However, warm water eddies are spinning off the Gulf Stream again and working their way in from offshore, so the water from the 90 foot drop and Frying Pan Tower out to the Gulf Stream should continue to warm.
The fishing is picking up a little too. This week the fishermen that headed offshore found that 72 degree and warmer water and caught good numbers of wahoo, blackfin tuna and a few scattered dolphin. There were even a few good reports of yellowfin tuna, but they were sporadic and haven't become consistent.
As the Gulf Stream waters continue to warm and migrate a little closer to shore the fishing should continue to improve. In a couple of weeks, there will be lots of dolphin in this catch and hopefully a mixture of yellowfin tunas with the blackfins. The yellowfins have been biting off the Outer Banks all spring and there was a little sample off Cape Lookout last week. Maybe that was the scouts and they will be here in good numbers soon.
Vertical jigging is another good way to find action offshore and it is growing in popularity. The two primary means of jigging involve finding a good mark of fish or some underwater structure on the fishfinder and having at it. There must be something about the fluttering fall of the metal jigs as fish seldom refuse if they are around. The primary catches have been amberjack and cobia, but a few grouper and blackfin tuna are being caught also. The grouper must be released through midnight Friday night.
Offshore bottom fishing has saved a few fishing trips already this year and it is about to get better. The knothead sea bass are still biting, plus grunts and porgies and beeliner (vermilion snapper) season opened for recreational fishermen on April 1. Grouper season will open at 12:01 A.M. Saturday, May 1, and many folks are planning to be offshore to catch those grouper they have been releasing for the past four months. Remember the limit has been reduced also and is now three grouper and this may include only one gag or black grouper, speckled hind, golden tilefish, snowy grouper or Warsaw grouper. Speckled hinds and Warsaw grouper are also restricted to only one fish per boat per day.
Several folks have been reporting catching a few hake in their bottom catches this year and I have seen them before. Someone sent me a picture this week of a fish they thought was a hake, but it appears to more closely resemble the picture of a cusk in my fish ID book. Regardless of which they actually were; they are members of the cod family and a rare catch for this area. Even better, my limited experience has found them to be very good table fare.
There were just a few reports of king mackerel this week, but many fishermen are ready. Fishermen are already setting king lines from the piers and are waiting daily. The smaller bluefish have arrived and expectations are there will be a few weeks of catching the big Hatteras blues before the kings arrive. However, you never know. There were a few early kings right along the beach last year and they could come again. Maybe next week I'll have a report of the first pier king of the year. For sure it won't be as long as it has been.
Some bonito, Spanish mackerel and false albacore were caught in the area this week. The best reports of bonito have come from off New River and Bogue Inlets, but a few are also being caught around Cape Lookout. There were reports of Spanish macks from Little River to Cape Lookout this week. A six pounder has already been weighed at Carolina Beach.
The new report from the piers this week was Spanish mackerel. The numbers weren't big, but the fish varied from keepers at Oak Island, Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Beach to being just a little short at Bogue Inlet Pier. That should get better with the warm weather in this weekend's weather forecast. The arrival of Spanish is one of the key signs the summer fishing is starting. Pier fishermen are catching good numbers of bluefish and sea mullet, with some a few spots, croakers, blowfish gray trout, black drum and even an occasional keeper flounder.
Sea mullet and gray trout are being caught in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the edges of the channel headed out Beaufort Inlet. There is no size or number limit on whiting, but a change may be imminent with gray trout.
The current limit on gray trout is six fish, with a 12 inch minimum size. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) mandated last fall for this to reduce to a single fish by May 1, with similar commercial catch reductions. This will go into effect on Saturday, May 1, in federal waters (3-200 miles offshore). The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) voted to go out of compliance with this and has been negotiating with the ASMFC for something different. As of my deadline today, no compromise has been reached and Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) said he was not anticipating a change for the state waters (0-3 miles offshore) until after the MFC meeting in mid-May.
However, changes to these regulations will be done by proclamation and could be immediate once approved. The DMF has said they will post any changes in the regulations as soon as they become official. My suggestion would be to check the DMF website (www.ncdmf.net) before each fishing trip that may include gray trout. I will update it here as soon as anything is official. Please remember the limit will change May 1 in federal waters and it will be illegal to have more than one gray trout if more than three miles offshore.
The puppy drum and speckled trout bite is improving in the creeks and marshes. Fishermen are seeing a good number of schools of minnows and peanut pogies moving through the creeks with the tide and the fish are feeding. There are also some fishermen catching a few shrimp in their cast nets and minnow traps and the fish definitely know what the shrimp are. They showed a definite preference for shrimp over the mud minnows and small mullet minnows that were also available. Some fishermen also reported good catches by suspending scented artificial shrimp, like Gulp shrimp, under popping corks.
If you have any interest in kayak fishing, check out the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association (NCKFA). The NCKFA is an internet based group that also has monthly meetings. Up until now, the meetings have been being held at the Get:Outdoors store in Greensboro, but a coastal meeting is being started at the Hook, Line and Paddle store in Wilmington. The first meeting there is May 4. Perhaps there is room for another coastal meeting somewhere down east? For more information visit www.nckfa.com.
I had a special adventure this week courtesy of Roanoke River Rentals and Guides (www.roanokeriverrentalsandguides.com) in Roanoke Rapids. I was invited for a combo cast and blast trip that included a turkey hunt and striper fishing. I turkey hunted with guide Toot Elias during the rain one morning and we saw lots of turkeys, including three that were definitely up close and personal, but none were what I was looking for. We had one hen within 6-7 feet, another hen at about 10 feet and a young jake at about 15 feet. Another slightly older, but not mature, jake came within range, but was rewarded with a pass because of his youthfulness. It was a great hunt and I only wish it hadn't been raining so I could have been shooting with my camera.
On the river I fished with Roanoke River Rentals and Guides co-owners Mike Shearin and Jill Dawes. While a couple of mornings began a little slow, the bite was on. They use a pontoon boat for drifting the river and it is an exceptionally easy and comfortable way to enjoy the fishing. It worked great for us and I believe it would be exceptional for a family with children. We caught a few undersize stripers, limits of keepers in the 18-22 inch size, released a few of the 22-27 inch slot fish and even managed one really nice 32 incher that weighed almost 20 pounds. There are special regulations for this river, so check them out at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission website (www.ncwildlife.org) before you plan a trip.
Speaking of stripers and a little closer to home, over the weekend the folks at Chasin' Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach had a fisherman weigh a 15 pound striper he caught along the rocks at Fort Macon. He also caught some puppy drum. The fishermen said the striper was a pleasant surprised mixed in with the pups.
Several outdoor organizations have brought concerns from the National Seashore at Cape Hatteras to our attention. Access to your favorite fishing and recreation spots is threatened under new proposals from the National Park Service (NPS) themselves. The most recent threat is posed by the NPS for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area (CHNSRA). The NPS recently published their Draft Environment Impact Statement concerning access by the public to the CHNSRA and the document is 800 pages long. It describes six options for management of Off Road Vehicles (ORV) and pedestrian traffic within the CHNSRA.
The preferred option of the NPS would permanently close areas of the beach and sound to all human access. These options represent the most restrictive regulations ever implemented in CHNSRA. We must act and not allow this great national treasure to be closed to all the activities we enjoy because of a poorly conceived bureaucratic proposal.
We all need to take action immediately to try to prevent this. May 11 is the final date to accept comments on the NPS DEIS. Visit www.preservebeachaccess.org to understand the issues, learn about the possible options, and send the NPS your comments. Visit the web site, attend the meetings when they are nearby and let your feelings be known on the options in the DEIS. This seashore and recreation area belongs to the people, but the NPS is trying to take it away.
Of special concern in the Cape Lookout Area is that similar regulations could be not-too-far down the road from being implemented for the Cape Lookout National Seashore. It is important to take the time to visit www.preservebeachaccess.org to understand the issues, learn about the possible options, and send the NPS your comments.
The 2010 Women Anglers In Training (WAIT) program will be held at Oak Island this weekend, May 1 and 2. This is a special event for the ladies only! Saturday will be a day of classroom instruction and Sunday will be a day on the water to try some of the tips and techniques. There are a few seats still available. More information and registration is available at the Oak Island website at www.oakislandnc.com or by calling the Oak Island Recreation Department at 910-278- 5518 or 910-278-4747.
Tournament time is upon us! The Martini's Hook A Hoo, Wahoo Tournament began Saturday, April 17, with no one fishing, but that changed as the weather calmed during the week. This was an eight day tournament that extended through Sunday, April 25, with each boat picking their single day to fish. The tournament was held from Harbourgate Marina in North Myrtle Beach, with fishermen from North and South Carolina participating. The tournament was won by the Ocean Isle Fishing Center Fishing Team of Captains Brant and Amy McMullan, with Brian and Austin Aycock, who caught a 74.08 pound wahoo. Some big wahoo were landed as second and third places were also heavier than 50 pounds.
The Dolphin Category was won by Sing's Fling, with a 21.58 pounder caught by Kevin Singletary, who also finished in third place in the Wahoo Division. The Tuna Category had a late change and was won by Jimmy Moore, on the Island Girl, with a 28.36 pound blackfin tuna.
The next tournament of 2010 is the Reelin' For Research Tournament that will be held this weekend, April 30 and May 1, on the waterfront in Morehead City. This is an offshore tournament that supports North Carolina Children's Promise and pediatric hematology and oncology patients. For more information, visit www.reelinforresearch.org.