Fishing is pretty good almost everywhere and nearshore ocean fishing is really good. Last week, nearshore king mackerel arrived at the southern end of the state and this week cobia hit the entire N.C. Coast area like an assault force. There have been lots of cobia caught by pier and boat fishermen and kayak fishermen got in on the action in several places too.
As long as our weather continues to be sunny and nice the fishing should improve. There is some cooling forecast for this weekend, but we have been above the normal range for most of the last week and it will be nice to slip back into the seventies for daytime highs. The big thing is to hope the wind stays at light to moderate levels. There looks to be a little hiccup as a front rolls across the state just before the weekend, but with winds settling back to comfortable levels pretty quickly.
The nearshore king mackerel are still concentrated along the far southern coast, but cobia have spread along the entire N.C. Coast and are biting everywhere. There are lots of nice cobia being landed, including at least one that tugged the scales to the low eighties, but no one had caught a trip digit monster at my deadline. Someone or several fishermen land a 100 pound cobia most years and this weekend there will be lots of fishermen trying.
One of the most impressive cobia catches came on Wednesday when Brandon Braxton of Greenville landed a citation fish off Atlantic Beach in his kayak. Braxton had lost a few last week at Oak Island on lighter tackle and beefed up things to make sure he had enough for them this week, His big cobia weighed 53 pounds. There is also a story of a 72 pounder landed by a kayak fisherman somewhere in the Cape Hatteras area, but I havenít confirmed all the details. Congratulations are in order for both!
Cobia are a unique fish that look like a cross between a catfish and a shark. Often during the fight, they will come to the surface and their dorsal fin will stick above the water. At that point they are a big dark fish with a dorsal sticking out of the water and many are cut off each year thought to be sharks. Donít do it; thatís a bad mistake!
One of the stories about cobia is that they always save a burst of energy for when you gaff them and try to lift them into the boat. There are numerous tales of the damage done by a cobia once it was in the boat and Iíve seen that first hand several times. They are also strong in the water and several kayakers told tales this week of long sleigh rides before the line weakened and parted.
The water temperature had been fluctuating some in the nearshore ocean, but was in the seventies along most of the coast. Cobia, Spanish mackerel and lots of bait pods are just off the beaches and good fishing appears about to become great.
Spanish mackerel are biting from halfway out the piers to well offshore. Most of the Spanish close to the beach are being caught by trolling Clarkspoons or casting Got-Cha jigs. More fishermen are using the Mackerel Tree Rigs being made by Sea Striker and other manufacturers that use several tubes on droppers and a Clarkspoon at the end. These rigs are effective and will catch multiple fish. Larger Spanish are a little farther offshore and some are large enough to eat live baits intended for kings and cobia.
Pier fishermen are catching cobia across most of the coast, but the pier king mackerel action has been concentrated mainly south of Cape Fear. Pier fishermen are also catching black drum, red drum, pompano, bluefish, jack crevalle, flounder, whiting, sand perch, and more. With the water warming and bait arriving, pier fishermen along the entire coast could see kings at any time.
A few Atlantic bonito and false albacore are being caught also. Some are in small schools on their own and some are mixed with the Spanish mackerel. Most have been caught incidentally while trolling Clarkspoons for Spanish mackerel and you know you have something different immediately.
If you find a school of these smaller cousins in the tuna family feeding on the surface, they are much more fun to catch when casting small spoons and jigs on trout and puppy drum tackle. It is also a must to learn to differentiate between them. Atlantic bonito are excellent table fare, but false albacore are a little strong for most folks.
There are kings offshore that are gradually moving inshore. The rocks and wrecks off each of the capes have been holding them. In most instances they have been in water 80 feet and deeper, but the real key is water of at least 68 degrees that is holding bait. Most of the water has warmed above 68 degrees now and bait is steadily showing up. When this bite goes off, it happens quickly and this could be the weekend.
Offshore fishing is really good too. Offshore bottom fish are gnawing and fishermen are catching a little bit of everything. Grouper season is open and they can now be added to the fish box along with black sea bass, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys.
A pending state record 46 pound African pompano was caught by Toby Grantham of Knightdale over the weekend. When approved, this will be Granthamís second state record (the other was a 27 pound, 1 ounce scamp grouper in 2012) and both were caught while fishing on the Continental Shelf, out of Morehead City, with Capt. Dave Tilley. If youíve never tried the huge pompano, they fight well and taste great.
Gulf Stream trolling has been great, but there was a little hiccup around the full moon. The wahoo and blackfin tuna numbers are easing off a bit, but they have been replaced by hordes of gaffer dolphin. The dolphin are scattered from the first blue water at the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream out to 200 fathoms, with the numbers generally being greater farther offshore. Dolphin are also breaking out of the Gulf Stream current while following baitfish inshore and have already surprised a few king mackerel fishermen. It wonít be long before they are summer regulars at some of the rocks and wrecks within 20 miles of the beaches.
Red drum are still the largest part of the inshore catch and there could be some bonuses after this weekís full moon. The water is warm and they are feeding aggressively. Right now they are hitting live baits, soft plastics, hard baits and even topwater lures.
I know it is early, but I found several places where red drum were in the marsh tailing last weekend. The best tides of this full moon have already passed, but there should be enough water to look for tailing puppy drum around the high tides this weekend. However, the window will be small as it is after the full moon on Wednesday and the higher tides are dropping back close to normal. You need to be at your first spot before high tide and move between spots pretty quickly to have much fishing time on a lesser high tide.
It has been my experience that morning tides usually arenít as high as evening tides unless the moon is rising really late and that isnít the case this time. Still, the morning tide might be a better choice for catching pups on this full moon due to sunrise and sunset times as they relate to the tides. However, you canít catch them if you donít go. Cajun Thunder and Johnson Silver Minnow gold spoons and soft plastics rigged weedless should produce well.
More keeper flounder are putting in an early appearance. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves itís only mid-May and the fishing might be a little better than it should be for many reasons. Larger flounder should be arriving near the end of the month.
I often fish for flounder using soft plastics instead of live bait, especially when I know there are lots of short flounder around and I will need to release many of them. Flounder tend to grab soft plastics far better than live baits that are trying to get away. Even better, there is no waiting to set the hook. As soon as you feel him, set the hook and wind him in. With live baits, you have to wait for them to turn the bait to eat it and if you wait too long they are hooked deep and it is sometimes near impossible to remove the hook without at least minor injuries.
More speckled trout are joining the inshore mix and that will probably improve again with the full moon this week. This is catch and release fishing as trout season doesnít open until June 15 and that is a month away. They are hitting live baits, soft plastics, suspending lures and topwater lures. If you want to have some fun before trout season opens, take the hooks off a MirrOlure She Dog or She Pup and have it ready if you find some aggressive trout. They will slam it and slap it and not get hooked and you donít have to worry about removing the hooks and releasing them.
Several of my guide friends were planning to fish the striper spawn in Weldon another week, until the cobia action went off so strong this week. The keeper season for Roanoke River stripers is closed, but the crowds have only thinned a little. Part of the reason for that is the striper bite is still wide open. Many guides continue to report 100 fish days.
There was another WOW! moment over the weekend with the tagged great white sharks I have been tracking and updating here. A spear fisherman off Sebastian Inlet in Florida snapped a picture of a great white shark that swam up to him while fishing over the weekend. When I compare that to the track and pings of Katharine, guess where she was over the weekend. Yep, thatís right. She was just off Sebastian Inlet.
The picture wasnít really good and was from below so the dorsal was hidden and I canít see the signal tag on it to confirm it was her, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty good. Of course, it could also be an untagged great white that is swimming with her or that is in the area otherwise. With those options, I prefer thinking it was Katharine.
April is the closest to us right now and she is a little offshore of the Continental Shelf east of the N.C./Va. state line. She has been in this general area for several months and has stayed generally along the Continental Shelf between the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and Oregon Inlet. Mary Lee is the next closest and she continues to like the water just offshore of the Continental Shelf off Brunswick, Georgia.
Genie has stayed in the same general areas for the past several weeks. She remains just offshore of the Continental Shelf east of the entrance to Delaware Bay. Lydia has pulled a disappearing act and hasnít pinged in more than two weeks. Her most recent pings were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean roughly triangulated equally distant between Bermuda, the Cape Verde Islands and Puerto Rico. You can follow the travels of April, Genie, Katharine, Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks around the world, by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on the proposed rule for Regulatory Amendment 14 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region. The proposed rule published in the Federal Register on April 25, 2014 (79 FR 22936) and the comment period ends on May 27, 2014.
The proposed rule would:
* Revise the current fishing year for both commercial and recreational sectors of greater amberjack from May 1 through April 30, to March 1 through the end of February.
* Revise the current commercial fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to January 1 through December 31.
* Establish a new commercial trip limit for black sea bass. Black sea bass pots are prohibited from November 1 through April 30. From May 1 to October 31, the trip limit would be 1,000 pounds gutted weight for black sea bass pots. From May 1 to December 31, the trip limit would be 1,000 pounds gutted weight for hook-and-line gear. The hook-and-line gear would be restricted to a trip limit of 300 pounds gutted weight from January 1 to April 30.
* Revise the current recreational fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to April 1 through March 31.
* Revise the black sea bass recreational accountability measure to have NOAA Fisheries announce the length of the recreational season for black sea bass annually in the Federal Register prior to the April 1 recreational fishing year start date. The fishing season would start on April 1 and end on the date NOAA Fisheries projects the recreational sector's annual catch limit would be met for that year.
* Revise the commercial trip limit for gag from the current 1,000 pounds gutted weight, to include a trip limit reduction to 500 pounds gutted weight, when 75 percent of the gag commercial quota is reached.
* Modify the recreational accountability measure for vermilion snapper by implementing an in-season closure and an annual catch limit overage adjustment (payback) in the event an overage of the recreational annual catch limit occurs. If recreational landings reach or are projected to reach the recreational annual catch limit, recreational harvest would be prohibited for the remainder of the fishing year. Payback of a recreational annual catch limit overage in the following fishing year would occur if vermilion snapper are determined to be overfished and the total annual catch limit (combined commercial and recreational annual catch limits) is exceeded.
Electronic or hardcopies of the proposed rule may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/reg_am14/index.html or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at http://www.safmc.net.
Comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to: www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0052, click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Comments may also be mailed to Nikhil Mehta - NOAA Fisheries - Southeast Regional Office - Sustainable Fisheries Division - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, Florida 33701.
Upcoming Meetings, Events and Tournaments
April 19 to June 15, Third Annual Chasiní Tails Outdoors Cobia Challenge, Chasin Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com;
May 10 to 17: Far Out Shoot Out, Offshore Gamefish, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, www.oifc.com.
May 14 to 17: Hatteras Village Offshore Open, Billfish and offshore gamefish, N.C. Governorís Cup, Hatteras Harbor Marina, Hatteras, www.hvoo.org.
May 16 to 18: NC Offshore Challenge, Offshore Gamefish, Morehead City, Hatteras and Oregon Inlet, Multiple Captains Meeting and scales locations, www.hillsboroughsfc.com.
May 17: Youth Fishing Derby, Bogue Inlet Pier, Emerald Isle, www.emeraldisle-nc.com, Recreation Department.
May 17: Armed Forces Day Fly and Light Tackle Inshore Fishing Tournament, VFW Post 9960, Swansboro/Cape Carteret, http://armedforcesfishing.weebly.com.
May 17: Rescheduled from May 10 - King of the Beach Kayak King Mackerel Tournament, 49th Street East Dune Crossover, Oak Island, www.nckfa.com.
May 17: Turtle Triathlon and First Crawl Environmental Festival, Middleton Park Soccer Fields, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com.
May 17: Marine Yard Sale, Boat and Fishing Equipment, Middleton Park Soccer Fields in conjunction with First Crawl Environmental Festival, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com.
May 17-18: Rebel Pier King Mackerel Tournament, Ocean Crest Pier, Oak Island, www.oceancrestpiernc.com.
May 17 to 23: Safe Boating Week, Nationwide (NC events are statewide and begin on May 16), N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, www.ncwildlife.org.
May 21-23: North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) Meeting, Clam Digger Inn, Pine Knoll Shores. www.ncdmf.net.
May 23 to 25: Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water Fishing Tournament, Billfish and offshore gamefish, Governorís Cup, Multiple scales, www.swansbororotary.com.
May 24: Oriental Kayak Tournament, Multiple Inshore Species, Brantleyís/West Marine/Silos, Oriental, www.orientalkayak.com.