The temperature is a little milder this week, but don’t let your guard down. Wear plenty of sunscreen and reapply it when needed. Also drink plenty of water to stay hydrated when staying in the sun and fishing all day.
Grouper season has finally opened and they have been biting. Wind and waves have been the only hindrance. Most reports have been of easily filled limits. The only consistent complaint has been the sea bass were so thick they were a nuisance eating baits intended for other fish and having to be reeled in and released. We’re on a countdown now until June 1 when we can keep black sea bass.
Offshore bottom fishermen said they were also catching beeliners, grunts, porgies, triggerfish and more. Grouper were reported as close in as 80 feet of water, but the best action was from about 100-115 feet deep.
Wahoo and blackfin tuna are still biting offshore and more dolphin are arriving every day. There has also been a surprisingly good billfish bite for a week or so. The blackfin and wahoo are more oriented to a temperature break or weed line that is pretty pronounced.
Dolphin are along these same temp changes and weedlines, but are also spread across areas with warm enough water. Don’t overlook any floating object when looking for dolphin. One fisherman reported catching six dolphin from under a single floating 2 X 4 and another said he caught two from around a crab pot float that had broken away.
King mackerel are still holding in water approximately 80 to 100 feet deep, but are slowing moving inshore. Kings like water of 70 degrees and warmer, but eating is their primary drive and they will hold around baitfish in water that is cooler. As the water continues to warm and baitfish move inshore, the kings will follow them. It is time to begin consistently seeing them at all the places in 60 or so feet of water where they hang out all summer.
Cobia are biting too. There has been a hundred pounder reported yet, but several have been in the seventies and eighties and it could happen at any time. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a strong cobia run.
If you catch one of these odd fish that appears to be a cross between a catfish and a shark, be prepared for some good eating. Cobia meat is very light and mild. About the only way you can mess it up is to overcook it. It grills, fries, broils and bakes well. If anyone has questions, I’ll gladly share my cooking skills in exchange for a couple of cobia fillets.
Spanish mackerel numbers are growing. Spanish macks are moving along the beaches and are feeding heavily along the tide lines around the inlets. Trolling 00 and 0 size Clarkspoons and Drone Spoons behind planers and trolling sinkers should catch them well. A few Spanish are several pounds and heavier and ready to eat small pogies and other live baits.
Big bluefish, have been just off the beaches for a couple of weeks and are moving into the Hook at Cape Lookout and inside at Morehead City too. Pier fishermen have caught a few almost every day and surf fishermen, especially on the Outer Banks and around the Fort Macon Jetties at Beaufort Inlet, are catching them too. Tuesday, they were chasing bait under the Atlantic Beach Bridge.
These blues are running eight to twelve pounds and are lots of fun to catch, but are a little strong for most folks taste. Be careful when removing hooks as big blues enjoy chomping on fingers and their teeth are sharp.
Pier fishermen are catching the big blues from the end. Oak Island and Ocean Crest Piers at Oak Island are reporting some king mackerel and cobia. The water is warm enough kings and cobia should be brought to the decks of other piers at any time. Other pier catches include flounder, pompano, sea mullet, Spanish mackerel, small blues, sand perch, skates, sharks.
The inshore fish are biting too. Flounder have been biting in inside waters from Calabash to Manteo. Live mud minnows have been the easiest live bait to find, but small pinfish, croakers and spots are excellent baits when you can get them.
Puppy drum are spreading through the marshes and creeks and are usually ready to bite. I have found using a combination of soft plastics and spinners works really well for the drum and also catches a surprising number of flounder. Gold is the color for the spinner and while I like in-line spinners better, the drum don’t seem to mind if they are in-line or on an "L" bracket. I like white, which includes pearl and glow, as the color for the soft plastic and use a mixture of shad tail and paddletail with roughly equal success.
Trout are biting and they continue to like live baits better than lures. Shrimp are their favorite live bait, but they have been difficult to find. Unfortunately, all the bait thieves that have moved back into the marsh and creeks like live shrimp too and they are too precious to bee feeding to pinfish.
For those fishermen wanting to fish lures, soft plastics in paddletail and shad tail have been working and shrimp shapes always work. For hard baits, topwater and suspending MirrOlures, Rapalas and Bombers have been catching well.
Surf fishermen are catching a few drum (red and black), pompano, flounder, bluefish and sea mullet. The big blues have been in the surf too, especially at the Outer Banks and around the Fort Macon Jetties at Beaufort Inlet.
Many of you know restoring the striper population to the Cape Fear River is a project that interests me. According to the information I can find, approximately 100 years ago the Cape Fear River was considered one of the top five striper rivers on the east coast. Beginning in 1915, the first of the Cape Fear Locks and Dams was built and the stripers were no longer able to freely reach their traditional spawning grounds above Fayetteville and their numbers began to decline.
There has been debate over the Cape Fear Locks and Dams for more than a decade. The NC wildlife Resources Commission has stated and US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed that with the three Cape Fear Locks and Dams removed they thought the native populations of stripers, shad, herring, sturgeon and more would begin to rebound and grow. However, while not intended as a community water project, the cities of Fayetteville and Wilmington, plus a handful of smaller towns along the river have their water intakes in the pools created by the locks and dams and these intakes would be above water level if the dams were removed.
Some hope came with the first awarding of stimulus money in 2009. There was extensive repair needed to fill a scour hole and stabilize Lock and Dam Number 1 and in addition to this contract, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received funds to build a rock and pool fish ladder so fish could cross Lock and Dam Number 1.
Repairs on the scour hole were completed approximately a year ago and construction on the rock and pool fish ladder began during the summer of 2011. Work on the rock and pool fish ladder is temporarily suspended during spawning season, but is approximately 2/3 completed and should be completed sometime this fall.
The good news is that some fish are already using the completed part of the rock and pool fish ladder. Students from NC State trapped shad during the early migration and tagged some with microchips similar to those used on pets. They said they saw some shad moving over the completed section of the fish ladder while working and shad arrived at Lock and Dam Number 2 that were not recorded going through the lock at Lock and Dam Number 1.
Cape Fear Riverwatch used proceeds from past Cape Fear Riverwatch Invitational Striper Tournaments to purchase 20 sonic tags that were inserted in spawning size stripers caught in the Cape Fear River below Lock and Dam Number 1 during January and February. Most of these sonic tags were inserted during the 2012 Cape Fear Riverwatch Striper Tournament and the remainder were placed by a N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries crew during the following weeks.
Two of these sonic tagged stripers made the trip up the river to Lock and Dam Number 2. The fish carrying striped bass sonic tag number 51771 went across the top of the fish ladder at Lock and Dam Number 1 on March 28 and was registered at Lock and Dam Number 2 on March 30. The fish carrying striped bass sonic tag number 51777 went through the lock chamber at Lock and Dam Number 1 on April 9 and was recorded at Lock and Dam Number 2 on April 11.
This may sound inconsequential, but understand this was two of twenty and that represents a 10 percent rate. In fishery science this is a huge return. Many are conducted registering less than a five percent return. The purpose of the study was to show there is a striper population attempting to spawn in the Cape Fear River and this accomplishes that. Spawning season is not over and more may be making the trip at this time.
There is hope that the findings from this survey and the surveys with the shad will combine with Atlantic sturgeon, which have a population in the Cape Fear River, being placed on the endangered species list, and convince politicians and fishery managers to secure funds for similar rock and pool fish ladders at Lock and Dam Number 2 and 3. Biologists say the recovery of the striper population would be almost immediately noticeable and in as little as ten years it would be well on its way.
Other good news has to do with many of the smaller, shallow draft inlets along the N.C. coast. Most of the coastal counties paired with the state and local towns to approve funds for dredging the inlets early last fall and fishermen and boaters have been waiting since. It took almost a year for all the red tape to be cut though to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use state and local funds to dredge the inlets, but the dredging is finally underway.
The Corps of Engineers Dredge Merritt is in Lockwood Folly Inlet now and is scheduled to be there through May 12. It was already deployed at Carolina Beach and New River Inlets in April and is scheduled to be in Bogue Inlet for 12 days in June (June 16 to 27) and 9 days in July (July 11 to 19.)
Once the dredge is finished, the Corps of Engineers survey the inlet and forward the survey to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard will then deploy their buoy tender to place the buoys in the inlet. A Coast Guard spokesman said re-buoying the inlet channels was a priority with them and they would work to do it as soon as possible after they received the survey.
Most of the North Carolina shallow draft inlets are scheduled for dredging during the next few months. The dredging schedule (updated as of May 1) is posted on the Wilmington District Corps of Engineers website at www.saw.usace.army.mil/nav along with a warning that dredging schedules are approximate and subject to change.
A little more good news….. In a press release dated May 9, NOAA Fisheries announced that effective May 1o they would be eliminating the 240 foot water depth snapper grouper prohibition in all South Atlantic federal waters. This closure has been in effect since January 31, 2011. Eliminating the depth regulation only allows fishing in these waters. All other regulations for species caught in these waters remain in effect. For more information visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov or www.safmc.net.
Even more good news……. In a press release dated May 9 the Recreational Fishing Alliance noted the US House of Representatives voted late in the evening of May 8 to approve the Southerland-Grimm Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2013 that would prohibit use of appropriated funds from being used to develop, approve or implement a new limited access privilege program that is not already developed.
This is a current version of a similar bill that Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-NC) tried unsuccessfully to have passed a year ago. Fishermen believe this amendment will prevent further development of "catch shares" or limited Access Privilege programs as a means of licensing fishermen. Support is now needed for similar legislation in the senate.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is meeting at the Clam Digger Inn in Pine Knoll Shores as I am writing. The meeting featured time for public comment on Wednesday and again on Thursday, with the business meeting following on Thursday and Friday. I plan to have updates here next week and a report will be posted in several weeks on the NC DMF website at www.ncdmf.net.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will offer a kayak fishing seminar on Saturday, May 12 at the A-Frame in Bill Smith Park in Oak Island. This seminar will offer classroom instruction in the morning, then a session on kayak fishing accessories, plus a kayak fishing trip in the afternoon. Participants may register for the classroom sessions or the classroom sessions and the fishing trip and registration will be open through Saturday morning. Some rental kayaks are available on a first-registered basis. For more information contact the Oak Island Recreation Department at 910-278-5518.
Two other unique events are this Friday, May 11. The 14th Annual Cape Fear Disabled Sportsmen Pier tournament will be held on Kure Beach Pier from 8:30 until 12:30. This is a joint project of the Got-Em-On Fishing Club and Kure Beach Pier. For more information visit www.kurebeachfishingpier.com.
The 6th Annual Boots on the Boards Fishing Day will be held Friday, May 11, at Sea View Pier in Topsail Beach from 8:30 until mid afternoon. The event, which is for Marine and Army Wounded Warriors and Warriors in Transition, is a joint project of Fishermen in Support of Heroes and Sea View Pier. For more information visit www.fishheroes.org.
The Chasin’ Tails Outdoors Cobia Challenge began on April 1 and runs through June 11. Chasin’Tails also added a Spanish and Flounder Challenge that began May 1 and runs through August 31. I don’t have an update for the Spanish and Flounder Challenge, but the Cobia Challenge leader is Anthony Nelson, Beaufort, with a 69 pound cobia.
Capt. Joe Shute’s Bait and Tackle Shop is sponsoring a Cobia Tournament that runs through the end of May. I did not receive and update on this tournament. For more information stop by the store or visit www.captjoes.com.
This tournament wasn’t here, but a couple of North Carolina fishing teams set the
pace for the NBOA Gulf Coast Open King Mackerel Tournament held May 4 and 5 in Sarasota, Fla. Team Liquid Fire, with Mark Henderson and his family of Swansboro, won the tournament with a king that weighed just over 47 pounds. The Ocean Isle Fishing Center Fishing Team of Rube, Brant, Barrett, and Amy McMullan finished third with a 44 pounder. Congratulations to both teams for carrying on the Carolina winning tradition.
The Fishers of Men Inshore Trail will be in Hyde County this Saturday, May 12, for the Rose Bay Special Tournament. This tournament will feature speckled trout, puppy drum and flounder. For more information on the Fishers of Men Inshore Trail or this tournament, call 252-230-0359, 252-236-1592 or 252-883-9392.
The Far Out Shoot Out will be held May 12 to 19 from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. This is an offshore tournament that allows anglers to choose and fish one of the 9 days based on weather or their schedule. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
The Hatteras Village Offshore Open will fish May 16 to 19 from Hatteras Harbor Marina in Hatteras. This is the first 2012 N.C. Governor’s Cup Tournament of the year and features billfish and offshore gamefish. For more information visit www.hvoo.org.