Maybe we have turned the corner to warmer weather and lighter winds.  The weather has already warmed from the last few weeks and is forecast to stay warm for at least the coming week.  This should also have the water warming pretty quickly and that should bring good things.  May begins on Sunday and it's time for the first cobia to arrive across the entire N.C. coast and for the first run of beach kings along the southern N.C. coast.  It might even happen this weekend and that sure would be nice.

The wind just doesn't want to let go, but it is slowing.  There are some threats of rain and thunderstorms, but not rainouts, so it could be a good time to head offshore. 

More fishermen headed offshore during the past week and the reports were mostly good.  The offshore trolling catch still has a good mix of wahoo and blackfin tuna and the numbers of dolphin are growing.  The largest dolphin of the year are usually caught during May and Sunday is May 1, so it's time. 

Offshore bottom fishing has been excellent.  Black sea bass - some big black sea bass - are the hot bottom catch right now.  These are those big ones, with the humps on their head and hand cranking a double is a lot like work.  The offshore bottom catch also includes beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, and porgys. 

There have been a few African pompano and hog snapper in the catch, but mainly off Cape Fear and most of the African pompano have been caught by jigging.  The 2016 grouper season opens on May 1 and the early forecast shows easily fishable conditions.  It will be interesting to see some of the early catches as fishermen have been releasing a lot of nice grouper during the spawning closure.

King mackerel have been offshore most of the winter and spring.  This is still where the numbers of kings are, but they are mostly smaller fish.  There have been very good reports off Frying Pan Tower, but there are also kings off Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras.  Kings are moving closer in with the warming water and baitfish, but they aren't close yet.  There was a 38 pounder weighed at one of the Ocracoke tackle shops this week and the word is it was caught about 20 miles from the inlet.  Look for suspended bait pods and as the water temps approach 70, the potential for a hot bite gets really good. 

I keep mentioning the need to learn the difference between Atlantic bonito and false albacore.  Atlantic bonito are excellent table fare while false albacore aren't held in much regard.  However, both are lots of fun to catch.  The Atlantic bonito bite went off late last week and was still strong at mid week off Wrightsville and Topsail Beaches.  Pods of bait moving quickly is a good sign one or both are nearby.  They like small shiny lures that are trolled or retrieved quickly. 

I didn't hear much from the piers this week.  That doesn't mean fishing was slow, it just means there weren't any of those huge black drum or other special catches.  Pier fishermen are catching lots of sea mullet, plus a few blowfish, bluefish, and an occasional black or red drum.  Spanish mackerel, have arrived along the southern N.C. beaches. 

The surf temperature was in the low to mid sixties earlier this week and should have warmed a degree or two with the warm temps this week.  I wouldn't be surprised to hear of a cobia caught from any of the N.C. piers before too long and the early king run off the southern piers could begin at any time.  Those early cobia and kings are eating bluefish and the bluefish have arrived.  Sea mullet, bluefish, blowfish, and a few black drum are being caught in the surf.

Sea mullet are still biting in Beaufort Inlet and along the ship channel up to the Morehead City Turning Basin and in the lower Cape Fear River at Southport.  There are blowfish, small croakers and even some scattered gray trout with them.  Several large gray trout were caught this week.  I say it every week and it's still important to remember that sea mullet like the freshest shrimp possible.  They also like pieces of Fishbites Bag-O-Worms synthetic bloodworms.

There are a lot of black drum around.  They are being caught anywhere from the backs of the creeks to the surf.  I have talked with several fishermen who didn't realize there is now a limit on black drum.  The black drum limit is 10 fish, with a slot size of 14 to 25 inches and an allowance that one fish may exceed the slot.  Much like sea mullet, black drum have excellent noses and use them to help find food.  Pieces of shrimp and cut bait are excellent for black drum and they will occasionally hit lures, primarily soft plastics.

It wasn't like a run, but there were reports of more puppy drum being caught last week.  Puppy drum have excellent noses too and some beat black drum to baits intended for the black drum.  Crab is an excellent natural bait for pups.  Puppy drum are also hitting soft plastics, weedless gold spoons, and some hard lures, including topwaters.  As the water warms, pups are spreading out into the bays in the Newport River and the bays and creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway heading north and south.

There were several large red drum caught at the artificial reefs off Oak Island last week and one caught Thursday at one of the reefs off Atlantic Beach.  They aren't thick enough to target, but could be a big surprise for fishermen at these and other nearshore artificial reefs.

There are speckled trout in the marshes, but they have been playing hide and seek and haven't been easy to locate.  The water temps are similar to last fall, but the specks haven't been in many of the places they were during the fall.  The good trout news is that when you find them, they are usually hungry.  Many are small, like they were last fall, but there are some big ones around too. 

Trout have been showing a preference for live baits, especially suspended about a foot above the bottom under a cork.  They also hitting lures, primarily soft plastics and especially those with scent or scent added.  They sometimes move shallower to feed, but generally prefer water 4 to 6 feet deep.   

Flounder have been biting too, but are spread out, not grouped up like they will be in another month or so.  Most are just short to barely legal, but there have been some 2 and 3 pounders.  Flounder are hitting live baits and lures.  Several puppy drum fishermen commented they have been catching flounder on weedless gold spoons intended for pups.

There are also some flounder on the nearshore artificial reefs.  Some fishermen are using live baits, but others are having similar success jigging soft plastics on 2 to 4 ounce bucktails.  Soft plastics with scent and those with scent added are preferred.

For those interested, there are still stripers in the Neuse River between Oriental and New Bern and in the Cape Fear River around Wilmington.  They should head upstream to spawn at any time and already have in several other rivers.  There were also specks and pups mixed with them.

Marine Fisheries Honors Former Reef Coordinator with Artificial Reef Additions
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries will memorialize former Artificial Reef Program Coordinator Jim Francesconi by sinking two vessels in his honor next week.  Francesconi, who began working for DMF in 1987, headed the Artificial Reef Program for 14 years before losing a battle with leukemia on July 18, 2014.  The vessels will be sunk on the Howard Chapin Reef (AR 330), approximately 10 miles west-southwest of Beaufort Inlet.

The vessels will be stationed near the northwest corner of the reef site in approximately 63 feet of water and plans are to have them oriented in a northeast-southwest fashion.  The largest vessel, a 108-foot retired U.S. Army tugboat, has been renamed the James J. Francesconi and adorned with his name in steel letters on the forward portion of the wheel house.  The second vessel, The Tramp, is a 65-foot retired New York Harbor tugboat, which will be sunk in-line with, and tethered to, the James J Francesconi.

Francesconi’s efforts for the division resulted in hundreds of enhancements to artificial reefs from the Outer Banks to Long Bay, including the creation of the New River Reef (AR-398) near Jacksonville, the Jim Knight Reef (AR-430) near Oak Island and the Bob Black Reef (AR-400) near Frying Pan Tower.  He also oversaw the sinking of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter SPAR, the Tug Titan, the Captain Greg MicKey, the Tug Pawtucket, the Admiral Charlie, and two U.S. Coast Guard Falcon aircraft. 

Following Francesconi’s death, several diving and fishing organizations began a grass roots effort to raise money for a ship to sink in his name.  Donations came in from the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association, the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, the Eastern Carolina Artificial Reef Association, and a GoFundMe site that included large donations from the Scherle Family, the Francesconi Family, Rum Runner Dive Shop, Olympus Dive Center and the Gilman Corporation.  Additional funding came from the sale of SCUBA license plates and the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Conservation Fund.  In all, $118,653.97 was raised for the project, which has an estimated price tag of approximately $117,000.

Eternal Reefs Inc. donated two Eternal Reef Balls and commemorative plaques, which will be mounted to the deck of the James J. Francesconi. 

For safety, those wanting to watch the sinking on private vessels will be asked to stay 300 feet back from the operation.  If the weather cooperates, the sinking could be done as early as Monday, May 2.  For more information on this and other artificial reefs, visit the DMF section of the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality website at www.ncdmf.net and open the Artificial Reef Program tab from the Quick Links.

Fish Rules App Makes Salt Water Fishery Regulations Readily Available
There is now a smartphone app that enables checking the regulations while fishing.  Fish Rules, a free app available through the App Store and Google Play Store, provides images for identification and the regulations for the area where you log in from.  It works in salt water from Maine to Texas and includes seasons, minimum size, bag limit, the ID picture and more.

Fish Rules was co-developed by Albrey Arrington, a recreational fisherman in Jupiter, Florida.  The app uses your smartphone's GPS and calendar to determine your location and the date and then show the state and/or federal regulations apply to that location on that day. 

 The app, which initially covered state and federal waters from Texas to N.C. and for the Bahamas, was originally developed in 2011 by Arrington and his fishing buddy Rick Blalock.  Scott Steinback, an economist in the Social Sciences Branch at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass., wanted the information for the northeastern U.S. waters also and contacted Arrington.  Arrington was interested in expanding use of Fish Rules, and was open to the idea of getting the National Marine Fisheries Service involved so this was a win-win situation.

"People often don't know the regulations and are unaware of changes made year to year, or about areas closed for spawning during specific time periods," said Steinback.  "It can be hard to keep up and understand the regulations, especially if you fish at different locations.  Fish Rules makes it easy to comply because recreational fishermen have the most information at their fingertips, in a format that is easy to use and understand.

"There was nothing out there like Fish Rules, so folks at NOAA Fisheries were interested in making the app more useful by expanding its range and in encouraging more anglers to comply with ever-changing regulations," Steinback said.  "And I wanted to use it when I went fishing, no matter when or where that was along the coast. Even if you are at sea with no signal, you can manually select your location to see the relevant regulations.  Fish Rules has a lot of potential."

Fishermen can also use Fish Rules to learn about various species.  In addition to the pictures for helping with identification, Fish Rules includes explanations of fork length, curved fork length, total length and other measurements.  The app is interactive and tapping the screen when a closed season is shown will give information regarding the closure and when the season will reopen. 

NOAA Fisheries Service is charged with protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement.  NOAA Fisheries Service information is available on the internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

Fish Rules is available for both iPhone and Android in the App Store and the Google Play Store.

Oak Island Parks and Recreation has Upcoming Fishing Seminars
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department has two popular fishing schools upcoming in the next few weeks.  The first is the Women Anglers In Training, popularly called the W.A.I.T., that will be this weekend, April 30 and May 1.  As the name implies, this is a ladies-only event.  The ladies will have a day of classroom and hands on instruction on Saturday and then a day of fishing, to try everything out, on Sunday.  The classroom instruction will be at the Oak Island Recreation Center and the fishing will be on Oak Island Pier, with options to upgrade to inshore and ocean charter boats (weather permitting).

The Oak Island Kayak Fishing Seminar will be May 14 at the Cape Fear Yacht Club.  There will be a half day of classroom instruction in the morning and then an optional several hours of on water experience following in the afternoon.  There is plenty of space for the classroom session, but the on water optional session is limited to the first dozen interested participants and that has filled. 

For information or to register for either seminar, call the Oak Island Recreation Department at 910-278-5518 or visit their section of the Town of Oak Island website at http://oakisland.recdesk.com.  There is also registration and seminar information for the kayak fishing seminar at www.captjerry.com.     

NC Wildlife Resources Commission Outdoor Education Opportunities
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has three outdoor education seminars in the coming weeks.  Two, a fly tying forum and a beginner fly tying seminar will be at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  The fly tying forum will be on April 28 and the beginner fly tying seminar will be on May 14.  There is no cost for either.  For more information, contact Tom Carpenter at thomas.carpenter@ncwildlife.org, or 910.868.5003, Ext 11 or visit www.ncwildlife.org and open the Learning tab.

The third event is a "ladies-only," Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) weekend event May 20 to 22 at the Eastern 4H Environmental Education Conference Center in Columbia, N.C.  This will cover multiple topics during the weekend.  For more information contact B.B. Gillen at 919-218-3638 or bb.gillen@ncwildlife.org, or visit the "Learning" section of the Commission’s webpage at www.ncwildlife.org.

Hammocks Beach State Park to Host North Carolina Paddlefest
Hammocks Beach State Park, near Swansboro will host NC Paddlefest May 3 to 7.  The event begins Tuesday, May 3, with numerous seminars and kayak adventure programming.  On Saturday, May 7, vendors and product demonstrations will be added for the general paddling public to enjoy.  There will also be more seminars Saturday, including an introduction to kayak fishing.  For more information and a schedule of the seminars, paddle film festival,  and other events, visit www.ncpaddle.org

Coastal Habitat Protection Plan Conference Committee to Meet by Conference Call
The North Carolina Coastal Habitat Protection Plan Conference Committee will meet by conference call at 3:00 P.M. Monday, May 2.  The committee will review changes to the 2015 Coastal Habitat Protection Plan that were requested by the Environmental Management Commission.

A Coastal Habitat Protection Plan Conference Committee is statutorily required to facilitate a resolution if any of the three commissions under the plan (Environmental Management Commission, Coastal Resources Commission and Marine Fisheries Commission) disagrees with any aspect of the plan.

The public may listen on-line, by conference call, or with DMF staff at the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Central District Office, 5285 Highway 70 West, Morehead City.  To listen to the meeting, go to https://ncdenrits.webex.com/ncdenrits/j.php?MTID=m0fbcf9dce8c8fa85fad485766089ce3e and click “Join.” The meeting number is 645 666 918 and the password is 8075. Click “Call Using Computer” to get audio. You may also listen by calling the conference call number, 1-866-434-5269. The access code is 9791183#.  For more information, contact Anne Deaton at 910-796-7311 or Anne.Deaton@ncdenr.gov or Jimmy Johnson at 252-948-3952 or Jimmy.Johnson@ncdenr.gov

WRC Seeks Members for Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is seeking nominations for three seats on its Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee — a board of North Carolina citizens that provides advice to the Commission on nongame wildlife conservation issues across the state.

The first seat is an expert affiliate seat.  Nominees for this seat should have extensive biological, regional, academic, scientific and/or habitat expertise and experience in matters dealing with nongame wildlife conservation in North Carolina.

Two additional seats are at-large affiliate seats.  Nominees for these seats should be qualified individuals from land trusts serving North Carolina, federal natural resource agencies other than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, non-governmental conservation organizations, industries with operations and/or management that have landscape-scale effects on wildlife, or other organizations that provide a stakeholder voice in wildlife resource conservation. Individuals should have a comprehensive knowledge of nongame wildlife conservation in North Carolina.

The committee meets four times a year, usually at the Commission’s headquarters in Raleigh.  Nominations will be accepted through May 16.  The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will appoint the committee members at its July meeting.  Nomination forms and information on supporting documents can be downloaded at www.ncwildlife.org.  Electronic submissions are preferred, but hard copies may be mailed to the Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee - Attn: Shauna Glover, Habitat Conservation Division - MSC 1721 - Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1700.  Electronic nominations should be emailed to shauna.glover@ncwildlife.org.  For more information, e-mail Glover or call (919) 707-0064.

Fisheries Meetings
May 2:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Coastal Habitat Protection Plan Committee, Conference call meeting, https://ncdenrits.webex.com/ncdenrits/j.php?MTID=m0fbcf9dce8c8fa85fad485766089ce3e and click “Join.” The meeting number is 645 666 918 and the password is 8075.

May 2-5:  Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Spring Meeting; Westin; Alexandria, VA, www.asmfc.org

May 9:  South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council Joint Question and Answer Public Meeting on the cobia season closure, Hilton Garden Inn, Kitty Hawk, www.safmc.net and www.mafmc.org.   

May 18-20:  N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Quarterly Meeting, Crystal Coast Civic Center, Morehead City, Contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
April 16 to June 12:  Chasin' Tails Outdoors Cobia Challenge, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailoutdoors.com.

April 29 to 30:  Reelin' for Research, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.reelinforresearch.org.

April 30 and May 1:  Women Anglers In Training (WAIT) Ladies only fishing school, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com, 910-278-5518.

May 3:  Craven County Recreation and Parks Department Kayak Fishing Seminar at Creekside Fellowship Church in New Bern, https://cravencounty.recdesk.com, 252-636-6606.

May 3 to 7, NC Paddlefest, Hammocks Beach State Park (mainland), Swansboro, www.ncpaddle.org.

May 7, Ride the Tide Kayak Race and Float, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com, 910-278-5518. 

May 7 to 15:  Far Out Shoot Out, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle, www.oifc.com

May 10 to 14: Hatteras Village Offshore Open,  N.C. Governors Cup, Hatteras Harbor Marina, Hatteras,  www.hvoo.org

May 14:  Oak Island Kayak Fishing Seminar, Cape Fear Yacht Club, Oak Island Parks and Recreation, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com, 910-278-5518.

May 20-22 Topsail Island Surf & Pier Fishing Challenge, East Coast Sports, Surf City, www.fishermanspost.com

May 21:  Cape Fear Flatfish Open, Island Tackle and Island Marina, Carolina Beach, 910-223-3633 or 910-524-0353.

May 21:  CCA-NC Cobia Challenge, TowBoat US/Portside Marina, Morehead City, www.ccanc.org.

May 21 and 22:  Crystal Coast Boat Show, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.crystalcoastboatshow.com

May 26 to 29:  Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water Fishing Tournament, N.C. Governor's Cup, Swansboro Rotary Civic Center, Multiple weigh locations, Swansboro, www.swansbororotary.com

May 27 to 30:  Cobia Clash, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle, www.oifc.com

May 28:  Blackbeard's Spring King Bash, Blackbeard's Restaurant, Sneads Ferry, www.blackbeardskmt.com.  

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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