Just a week or so ago I was talking about how it was about time for the air and water temperatures to be really warming up, but that when they did we would have some issues about how hot it was. Well, that has already happened! It happened over the weekend, when the current stretch of hot weather began and the temperatures locked in above the 80 degree mark. I visited several piers Sunday afternoon and heard numerous people talking about how hot it had gotten so quickly and how nice it would be to have a little cooling breeze. Hey folks, get ready. It will be a lot hotter and for a long time and it's coming soon.
The forecast for the weekend is mostly warm and sunny, with a slight cooling on Sunday. Now would be a good time to break out the sunscreen, long bill hat and some of that expensive clothing you bought to help keep cool. The first extended spell of hot weather each spring is always a shock and this might be it. As long as it has taken to get here this spring, it might even be a little worse than usual, so be prepared and drink lots of water.
This morning when I checked the water temperatures around the area, I got a little surprise. The water in the surf at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island has warmed to 73.8. We have been seeing water in the 70s back in the creeks for a few weeks, but this is the first time this year it has been this warm in the nearshore ocean. The water still initially cools a little when leaving the beach and heading offshore and it was only 68.7 at the buoy at Frying Pan Tower, but warmed back into the low 70s a few miles farther offshore at the edge of the Gulf Stream.
With the warming weather, the fishing warmed up a little also. I'll talk about my time with the ladies from WAIT a little later, but suffice it to say the fishing was pretty good and should get better.
Offshore fishermen found a waiting ocean that was calmer than the early predictions. The original forecast had not been very good, but the conditions kept moderating all week and the weekend was far nicer than had been predicted. Saturday was also the opening day of grouper season for 2010 and there were lots of folks eagerly waiting for it. I saw and heard lots of good grouper reports, but nobody volunteered a fillet so I could see if the meat had gotten any sweeter during the four months grouper fishing had been closed.
The offshore trollers found wahoo waiting, but sneaky. While most folks caught one to a few, they also had to admit the hookup ratio was about half of the strikes. It's amazing that fish that big can grab a bait without getting the hook. There were also a few blackfin tuna and dolphin caught and a few scattered reports of yellowfin tuna well north of the Big Rock in 700 to 1,000 feet of water and at Winyah Scarp south of the 100/400. As if the regular run to productive offshore water isn't far enough, either of these runs adds another 10-15 miles to the trip--each way.
Amberjack are on the offshore wrecks and several fishermen reported catching some really big ones. Amberjacks respond well to vertical jigging and it has become a popular way to hook one of these fighters many fishermen have tagged with the moniker "reef donkeys." They are definitely stubborn and put up a good fight. Some blackfin tuna and grouper were also caught while jigging.
Fishermen who went exploring the waters around some of the wrecks in 110 to 125 feet of water found a few kings, but not a huge concentration. The kings were scattered by the unusually cold water during the winter and the schools haven't returned in full strength just yet. This stretch of warming weather may be just the thing to pull the kings back together and if it stays warm they could be moving inshore pretty quickly. I'll predict there will probably be some kings caught during the Rebel Pier King Tournament this weekend in Oak Island.
The best bonito reports from last week came from just outside New River Inlet at Sneads Ferry. There were a lot of boats in this area over last weekend and many fishermen reported catching six to a dozen of the feisty little footballs.
We are seeing the first of the Spanish mackerel for the year and they will come right up along the beach. Spanish will feed along the beach just outside of the breakers and are a favorite catch for fishermen at the piers. There were reports of keeper Spanish from area piers over last weekend and the conditions have improved, so the bite should too.
Capt. Dave Dietzler reported the first cobia of the year this week at Cape Lookout. He said they were hitting big bucktails cast to them.
Sea mullet (whiting) and gray trout are being caught in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the edges of the channel headed out Beaufort Inlet. Whiting (sea mullet) are being caught along the edges of the Cape Fear River Ship Channel between Fort Caswell and Bald Head Island.
Be aware that not all regulation changes are positive. While the grouper season opened on Saturday (May 1), there is a question regarding the current limits on gray trout. The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission has voted to go out of compliance with the federal guidelines and the limit currently remains at six fish in state waters (0-3 miles offshore). The question involves federal waters (3-200 miles offshore). There doesn't seem to be a federal regulation to reduce the limit from six fish to a single fish, so what is the limit? I have spoken with several folks in the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and Marine Patrol and they said there has been no directive for them to change their enforcement limits, so they have not. As of my deadline, the DMF website (www.ncdmf.net) showed the limit at six fish in state and federal waters. The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is meeting next week and this is subject to change after that meeting.
This is important even if we aren't catching gray trout in federal waters. If the season is closed there or the limit is reduced, you can't catch a state limit inshore and then run out past three miles to catch Spanish or bonito. Some of you may remember what a bugaboo it was several years back when flounder had different minimum sizes inside or outside the inlets. 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.
The puppy drum fishing is still very good in most coastal creeks and marshes. They have been reported in just about every area between Cedar Island and Sunset Beach. They said the drum were particularly aggressive and were hitting topwater lures well.
There is something special about a large puppy drum rolling on it side to hit a topwater lure. Puppy drum have mouths that are on the bottom of their head and they have to roll to get their mouth to the surface to hit the bait. Many times they will make a wake behind the lure as they chase it down and then blow a hole in the water when they strike. If seeing that doesn't get your pulse racing and you adrenaline pumping, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor and soon too! You may be in worse health than you think.
Founder fishing has been pretty good inside the inlets, but not all the flounder are quite keeper size. The flounder have been a little larger on the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs in the ocean. They have been hitting mud minnows on Carolina rigs and scented soft plastics fished on light jig heads.
My special adventure this week was spending Saturday and Sunday with the ladies at the Eighth Annual Women Anglers In Training (WAIT), ladies-only fishing school in Oak Island. This is a highlight of the fishing seminars I do each year and this year was no exception. Saturday was a classroom situation, with Sunday being a time to put all that new knowledge to use. Options in the class allowed the ladies to register for the class and fishing on the pier for a base fee or they could upgrade the fishing to being on a boat with a local captain.
About half the ladies opted to upgrade and fish from boats and the weather turned out to be much better than expected, so they had an easy trip. Rebecca Squires and Jacci Hohnstein of the Oak Island Recreation Department and I joined the other ladies for a day of fishing from Oak Island Pier. The first thing we did was have all the ladies tie a double drop rig from scratch and attach it to their fishing outfits. It didn't take but a couple of minutes for the first fish to come in and all of the ladies were soon catching fish on a rig they made themselves.
The previous day fishermen at the pier had caught good numbers of Spanish mackerel, bluefish and whiting. The Spanish were in lower numbers on Sunday, but there were two times when schools of baitfish erupted as larger predators sliced through them. Unfortunately the baitfish schools stayed out of casting range from the pier.
The ladies caught plenty of bluefish. There were also a lot of sand or silver perch. The total tally of flounder was more than a dozen, with one lady catching half of them. After the third one, we thought she had found a honey hole, but she would move and catch another. Unfortunately none of them quite measured up to the 14 inch minimum to invite home for dinner. A couple of nice whiting were a prize for one lady and she said she planned to introduce them to some House Autry seafood breader and hot grease later that evening.
The ladies all said they had a good time, but none could have outdone mine. It is really special to introduce someone to fishing and give them enough of the basics they can go with it and make it succeed. All of their fish were caught on rigs the ladies made themselves. What keeps me on my toes and makes it exciting for me is to receive questions from a different perspective. The ladies often ask questions I have never considered and I have to admit I learn something every year. Approaching things from a different point of view has helped my fishing too.
Thank all you ladies, I really enjoyed it. It will be a long WAIT until next spring, but I'll be looking forward to seeing you.
Last week I mentioned the situation at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and I want to reinforce the seriousness of that situation and urge everyone to take a few minutes to check it out and comment on what is happening there. Access to many of our favorite fishing and recreation spots is threatened under new proposals from the National Park Service (NPS). 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 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. Next Tuesday, May 11, is the final date to accept comments on the NPS DEIS. Visit www.preservebeachaccess.org to learn about the issues and 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.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will meet next week (May 12-14) at the Clarion Hotel in downtown Raleigh. Among other things they will discuss the Draft Spotted Seatrout (speckled trout) Fishery Management Plan, striped bass management assessment and goals, gill net changes to address issues with the Endangered Species Act and issues with being out of compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission weakfish (gray trout) recommendations. There will be a public comment period beginning at 6:00 P.M. on May 12. For more information visit www.ncdmf.net.
The Reelin' For Research Tournament was held over the weekend from the Morehead City waterfront. This is an offshore tournament that uses aggregate weight to determine the winners. With a field of 29 boats the tournament raised $65,000 to go to the North Carolina Children's Promise for Children's Cancer Research.
The winning team included Allen Cooke, Dave Stout, Walker Holt, Will Bullock, Quincy King and Nathan Isner who were fishing on the Bill Collector with Capt. Stephen Draughan. They had three fish for a total of 133.4 pounds. The Bill Collector was fishing in honor of Jim Garrison and Jim Barber.
The second place team was the Coley Cosmetics team of Chris Coley, Bill Veazy, Mark Anderson, William Smith, Garrison Coley and Jody Gordon, who were fishing on the Run Off with Capt. Brian Harrington. The caught three fish that totaled 117.7 pounds and included the largest fish of the tournament, a 64.6 pound wahoo caught by Chris Coley. The Coley Cosmetics Team was fishing in honor of Harrill Coley.
A N.C. Team had a good weekend in Jensen Beach, Florida. The Tideline Fishing Team, with Capt. Dieter Cardwell, Mike Lundy and Kevin Alley won the Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) Pro Tournament and the Frances Langford Memorial Tournament, which were held concurrently. The Tideline crew caught a 57 pound king to win the Langford Tournament and added a 40 pounder to also have the heaviest total weight in the SKA Pro Tournament. Several other N.C. fishing teams were scattered through the top 10.
Tournament season has begun in earnest. This weekend, the Rebel Pier King Tournament will be held at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. In addition to the tournament money, Ocean Crest Pier is offering a bounty of $50 for the first chopper bluefish heavier than five pounds and it could be caught at any time. For more information visit www.oceancrestpier.net.
The Far Out Shoot Out will begin Saturday from Ocean Isle Fishing Center. This is an offshore tournament that will run from Saturday until next Sunday (May 8-16). Each participating boat picks a single fishing day. The species in the tournament are tuna, wahoo and dolphin. For more information, visit www.oifc.com.