Once that front bulldozed its way across the coast last Friday afternoon and night, the weather settled out and cooled again. The ocean was a little bumpy Saturday morning, but it fell out and the weather developed into a pretty nice weekend and into the middle of this week.
However, I'm sure the folks who were shivering as they launched Saturday morning with the thermometer hovering below the good side of 50 wondered what had happened. That goes doubly so for the kayakers fishing the tournament at Fort Fisher. Getting your feet wet at 50 degrees is one thing, but wetting your butt that early in the morning is quite another. Even folks like me who have good padding recover from wet feet much faster.
Until Wednesday, the big news along the Carolina Coast had been king mackerel. It began with the 39 pound, 7 ounce king caught by Wanda Johnson to win the Rebel Pier King Tournament at Oak Island and that was certainly impressive enough for the first weekend in May.
However, Johnson's excellent catch was overshadowed by a behemoth king caught at Yaupon Reef, also off Oak Island, by Thomas Cavin of Kannapolis. Cavin's big king tugged the scales to 60.65 pounds. It was 60 inches long and 26 inches in girth.
Capt. Jimmy Price weighed Cavin's king at Wildlife Bait and Tackle and said it wasn't the only citation fish he weighed on Friday and Saturday. Price said quite a few folks caught some big Spanish mackerel, but most didn't quite reach the six pound mark required for an outstanding catch citation. He said Jeff Berne of Southport made the grade with a Spanish that weighed 6.22 pounds.
Capt. Jimmy called back Monday to report weighing another big king. Tim Lewis of Winnabow was at Wildlife Bait and Tackle weighing a 45.80 pound king he had just caught at Yaupon Reef. Just like Cavin, Lewis caught his big king on a naked pogy.
While some other big kings were caught, the one that made the most folks think was the 30 pounder caught by Kyle Daub, while fishing in the surf at Topsail. Daub was fishing for sharks, but the king was hungry and found the bait first. I guess the kings really are "on the beach" and heading north.
The king fishing was impressive enough until Capt. Darrin Callahan pulled the Low Profile to the dock Wednesday afternoon on the first day of the Hatteras Village Offshore Open Blue Water Tournament. They had a 511.2 pound blue marlin in the cockpit. That's an excellent way to start the first day of the first Governor's Cup Billfishing Series tournament of the year. There were also eight billfish releases on the first day. The tournament fishes through Saturday and could put up some impressive numbers by then. I'll have the full results next week.
Offshore fishermen not in the tournaments continue to have good days with wahoo, blackfin tuna, a growing numbers of dolphin and a few scattered yellowfins. Several fishermen reported finding weed lines in 30 to 50 fathoms that were loaded with small dolphin and a growing number of gaffers.
Closer in, back near the edge of the break, the grouper bite continues to be strong. Fishermen should remember the recreational limit is 3 grouper. When the bite is on, it doesn't take long to fill a limit. Beeliners are also biting well and in only a few more weeks fishermen can keep black sea bass again. Hopefully, some of the big black bass that must be released now will still be around and hungry.
A few kings are being caught with light lines while grouper fishing and they are also moving to some of the rocks closer in. The cooler weather this weekend stalled the move into the mid depths, but as soon as the weather warms again the kings should be moving into that 60 to 70 foot deep range.
Cobia are a mystery fish to many people, but the growing numbers being caught around Cape Lookout and in Beaufort Inlet should be making them familiar to a lot more people. They have been caught in the traditional manner of setting lines in known holes and along travel routes and have become very popular as sight fishing targets along the beaches like at the Outer Banks. I have heard of one fish that was supposedly heavier than 100 pounds this week, but haven't confirmed it. I have confirmed several in the eighties and a bunch from thirty to fifty pounds.
Cobia look like a cross between a catfish and a shark, but don't judge this book by its cover. They are fun to catch and excellent on the dinner table. Even better, the time is right to catch a cobia along the Crystal Coast. Don't be too quick to make a mistake and call them a shark, then cut the line. It happens more than fishermen care to admit and there is always regret.
With the reports of king activity, a couple of cobia and lots of chopper bluefish, fishermen are dangling live baits from the Tees of most North Carolina piers. This isn't the only action though. There is also good fishing for smaller blues, sea mullet, Spanish mackerel, flounder and more. Pier fishing is pretty good right now.
The number of Spanish mackerel is growing almost daily. Some of these early fish are nice size too. Several heavier than three pounds have been caught from the piers and some are even hitting live baits intended for king mackerel. Spanish are adaptable and will hit just about everything from Clarkspoons and Got-Chas to live baits almost their own size. They are also considered by many to be the best tasting of the mackerel family.
Inside the inlets some red drum, black drum, whiting, flounder and speckled trout are biting. The flounder numbers seem to be improving best and especially when you consider the ratio of keepers is rising too. Flounder are also biting at the nearshore artificial reefs and rocks in the ocean, especially on the Emerald Isle end of Bogue Banks. The good early numbers of flounder indicate they are responding to some of the new management practices.
Puppy drum have separated into year classes in many creeks and they have a tendency to be either upper slot fish or shorts. It is still just over a month before trout can be kept, but many of them are small and it isn't all bad to be releasing them. By the end of summer, those just short to barely legal trout will have spawned several times and we should have the makings of a good spawn for next year. Hopefully the winter won't be too cold.
Last week I was concerned that House Bill 353, the bill to give gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass, might not make it out of committee in time to be voted on by the full House and meet the crossover date of May 12 for consideration by the Senate. What I didn't know was the previous day the House passed a resolution (HR 875) to extend the crossover date from May 12 to June 9. Apparently the extra budget debate created a need for extra time.
House Bill 353 was sent to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development, which is chaired by Rep. Danny McComas of New Hanover County, who is one of the co-sponsors of HB 353. The House Commerce and Job Development Committee is a standing committee that convenes by call from the chairman. This week I received several calls and e-mails that HB 353 should begin moving again soon, maybe even as quickly as next week.
Fishermen are urged to contact their local legislators and the members of the committee to express their feelings regarding this bill. The bill, with information on its sponsors and its progress, plus a list of state legislators, their committee assignments and contact information, is available at www.ncleg.net.
The Marine Fisheries Commission is meeting this week at the Sheraton Atlantic Oceanfront Hotel in Atlantic Beach. The meeting began with a session for public comments on the evening of May 11, the resumed for May 12 and 13 to discuss issues. Several of the items on the agenda included the Spotted Sea Trout and Southern Flounder Fishery Management plans, plus HB 353 (Game Fish Designation) and HB 136 (Clarifying Amendment to Improving Success of FMPs) and an update on the Section 10 (Incidental Take of Sea Turtles) Permit and the Sea Turtle Settlement Agreement.
A report will be filed after the meeting and posted on the Marine Fisheries Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) has several committee seats open and is looking for interested qualified people to fill them. There is one seat on the Golden Crab Committee, eight seats on the Snapper-Grouper Committee, two seats on the Wreckfish Sub Committee and ten seats on the Spiny Lobster Committee. For more information on these committee openings, including an application, visit the SAMFC website at www.safmc.net. Applications must be received by May 16 and appointments will be made at the next SAFMC meeting June 12 to 17 in Key West.
NOAA Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)/Amendment 10 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Spiny Lobster in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. The DEIS became available April 15, 2011 (76 FR 21345) and there are 10 actions in the DEIS. Written comments must be received by June 1, 2011. Copies of the DEIS and directions for commenting may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries Service Web site http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SpinyLobsterAmendment.htm, the e-Rule Making Portal http://www.regulations.gov, the Gulf Council's Web site http://www.gulfcouncil.org, or the South Atlantic Council's Web site at http://www.safmc.net.
On April 20, 2011, NMFS filed with the Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to revise the National Standard 10 Guidelines and is requesting public comment on potential adjustments to the Guidelines. National Standard 10 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act states "Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, promote the safety of human life at sea." The National Standard 10 Guidelines are the primary source of NMFS guidance for the consideration of safety issues in fishery management.
A public meeting will be held May 19, 2011, from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. at the NOAA Science Center, 1301 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD. Additional public meetings may be scheduled around the country during the comment period. Comments must be received by July 20, 2011. You may submit comments on-line via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (Identifier "0648-BA74"), by Fax, attention Debra Lambert, at 301-713-1193 or by mail, attention Debra Lambert, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13403, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
The Reelin' for Research Tournament was held from the Morehead City waterfront on Saturday, May 7. Reelin' for Research is an annual bluewater tournament to honor Tony Montana. The tournament proceeds are dedicated to NC Children's Promise, the fundraising arm of NC Children's Hospitals in their search for cures for cancer. Some final donations are still trickling in, but it was announced at the Captains Meeting that the 2011 contribution had already surpassed $100,000.
The Chain Link, with Capt. Ralph Griffin and a 101.6 pound aggregate were the winners. Their hefty total was anchored by a 59.4 pound wahoo, caught by Scott LaFever, which was the largest fish of the tournament. The Dancin' Outlaw, with Capt. Thomas Wood, finished in second place with a three fish aggregate that totaled 81.5 pounds. Emma Baggett earned Top Lady Angler Honors with a 25.4 pound wahoo. For more information on the tournament, visit www.reelinforresearch.org.
The Carolina Yakfish Tournament Trail visited Fort Fisher on Saturday, May 7, for its only saltwater tournament of the year. The tournament was a catch, photograph and release event that combined each participant's longest flounder, red drum and speckled trout. The fisherman catching the largest fish of each species was also recognized.
Brian Roy paced the field by winning the Overall and the Largest Flounder categories. Roy's total length was 45.75 inches and his flounder was 16.25 inches. Steve Hurst finished a mere 1/4 inch back at 45.5 inches total to collect second place. Third place went to Mark Patterson, who finished with 41.25 inches.
Joey Sullivan, who finished in fourth place, caught the largest trout. It was 19.25 inches long. Ashley Williams only caught red drum, but his largest topped the redfish category at 23.5 inches. For more information visit www.carolinayakfish.com.
The Rebel King Pier Tournament was held May 6 to 8 from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. The fishing positions had been filled for several weeks and the tournament action began hot also. The action was best Friday, but good conditions and a sporadic Hatteras bluefish bite kept things interesting through the end.
Wanda Johnson set the benchmark when she landed a 39 pound, 7 ounce king shortly before lunch on Friday. Johnson's king held to win the tournament. Tom Shepard landed the only other king at 3:12 on Friday. It weighed 19 pounds and 15 ounces and stayed in second place all weekend. Thomas Cutler decked a 14 pound and 10 ounce bluefish at 1:52 Friday afternoon and held second place for about 90 minutes, but slipped to third when Shepard scored.
Two tournaments are on the schedule for this week and weekend. The Hatteras Village Offshore Open, which is the first event in the 2011 Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, is already underway from Hatteras Landing Marina in Hatteras. This tournament features billfish divisions for the Heaviest Blue Marlin and Most Release Points (all billfish), plus a Gamefish Division for the largest dolphin, tuna and wahoo. For more information call 1-800-676-4939.
The Far Out Shoot Out will fish for a week from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. This is a bluewater gamefish tournament that begins May 14 and fishes through May 21, with each competitor choosing one of the eight days. The tournament recognizes the heaviest aggregate of one dolphin, one tuna and one wahoo, plus the largest fish of each species and has a special award for any billfish catches. For more information call 910-575-3474.