Tropical Storm Ana screwed up things along the Carolina coast for last weekend and a lot of this week, so there isn't a bunch to report. Thankfully it wasn't a strong storm and didn't do a lot of damage. However, there is still a lot of rainwater runoff making its way through the rivers to the ocean and inshore and nearshore waters remain dirty in some areas.
There is another storm brewing in our fisheries and it doesn't have anything to do with weather. It has been known that N.C. flounder stocks have been declining for more than a decade. Stock status surveys showed this, as did seat of the pants fishing. While we have begun this season with a trend of good flounder fishing, the surveys for years show fewer flounder overall and more young flounder in the harvest than is biologically sound.
This spring there has been an exploration by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (Board appointed by governor) and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (Biologists and Marine Patrol charged with gathering biology information and enforcing regulations enacted by and for the Marine Fisheries Commission) to change the Flounder Fishery Management Plan by Supplement, which allows reacting to the situation faster than adding an amendment to the Fishery Management Plan, which doesn't come up for review for two more years. The legal storm has come from two fronts - one is using the Supplement Process rather than waiting and amending the Fishery Management Plan and the other is from several of the options included in the Supplement. The options were formulated by the Division of Marine Fisheries and have been sent to the Marine Fisheries Commission for debate and a vote at their next meeting on May 20 to 22 in New Bern (see meeting notices below). As you read the options, keep in mind they are draft options and may be changed or combined.
Several county commissions have sent resolutions to the Marine Fishery Commission and the N.C. Legislature condemning using the Supplement Process, while others have sent resolutions heralding the Supplement Process as a way to get a head start on restoring declining numbers of flounder. In some cases it has unfortunately become a situation of pitting commercial and recreational fishermen against each other. At the risk of being overly general, a strong consensus is that recreational fishermen support the Supplement Process and commercial fishermen oppose it. There are also arguments that the options favor one user group over the other and both groups see the other as being favored. The purpose of this Supplement Process is to restore a lagging flounder population faster than the Fishery Management Plan can react and in the long run that should be beneficial to all.
There are five options proposed by the Division of Marine Fisheries for the Marine Fisheries Commission if they decide to follow the Supplement process. However, if they choose not to follow the Supplement Process, the discussion is ended. If the Supplement Process continues, the Marine Fisheries Commission may select one of the five options proposed by the Division of Marine Fisheries or they can modify one or more of the options and approve it (them), or they may formulate and approve their own option. Once the Marine Fisheries Commission has selected a preferred option, the options will go to the Marine Fisheries Commission Advisory Committees for meetings with public comment and each committee either approves or modifies one of the options and sends its suggestion(s) back to the Marine Fisheries Commission. The committees will meet during June and July and their input will go back to the Marine Fisheries Commission who will make a final decision at their August 19-21 meeting. Current plans are the decision of the Marine Fisheries Commission at their August meeting should become effective on September 1.
The five options proposed by the Division of Marine
Again, I must emphasize these recommendations are in draft form, dated May 4, 2015 and taken from the agenda for the Marine Fisheries Commission meeting that will be held May 20 to 22 in New Bern. They may be modified before and during the meeting. There will be time for public comment on Wednesday evening, May 20 and Thursday morning, May 21. If the Marine Fisheries Commission chooses to move forward with the Supplement Process, there will be public meetings of the MFC committees, with public comment solicited and public comments can be sent directly to the MFC.
For more information on the Supplement Process and options suggested by the Division of Marine Fisheries, visit the Division of Marine Fisheries website at http://portan.ncdenr.org/web/mf and open the Marine Fisheries Commission section from the menu at the left and then open the "Meetings" tab. The agenda for the May 20 to 22 Marine Fisheries Commission is there and the information on flounder is on pages 7 and 8 of the agenda.
As I have said numerous times this spring, water temperature is crucial to spring fishing. It has taken its time stabilizing this spring, but maybe TS Ana actually helped there by pushing some water up the coast to where it should be. We are looking at surf temperatures that have reached and held 69 to 71 for a few days now. The water now warms as you leave the beach and head offshore, instead of having a cold streak a few miles off the beach and that is another good sign. Another good sign is a couple of king mackerel were landed at the southern piers and a few cobia were landed just off the beaches in several locations along the coast. Hopefully they are following bait and the warm water up the coast.
This is setting up to be a great weekend to go fishing. The ocean winds are forecast at 5-10 knots for most of the weekend and early next week and the sky is supposed to be partly cloudy to sunny. It sounds like a good time to break out some sunscreen and a half dozen packs of ballyhoo to head offshore. The dolphin have been biting almost everywhere when the wind and sea conditions allowed going. There are even reports of dolphin breaking out of the Gulf Stream and moving closer in. A few 25 to 35 pounders as close in as the 90 Foot Drop off the end of Cape Lookout Shoals. This weekend is shaping up to be a good time to get some fresh mahi-mahi and add fillets to your freezer.
There are also blackfin tuna, wahoo, a few scattered yellowfin tuna and some scattered billfish along the edges of the Gulf Stream. Maybe the grass lines that were broken up by TS Ana will be getting back together and also look for color changes, rip lines and temperature breaks to hold fish. This looks to be a great combination of weather and fish for some epic fishing. There is a rumor that after seeing the weekend forecast, drug stores along the entire Tar Heel Coast ordered extra supplies of Icy Hot.
The ocean was slow calming after TS Ana and there haven't been a bunch of reports by my deadline this week. The offshore reports also included lots of bottom fish in the 100 to 125 foot depths and said that should improve as the swell and current subsided. There were some king mackerel in the same general area as the bottom fish, plus they were beginning to move in with baitfish and warming water.
The early to mid week reports from along the ocean front all included dirty water. There weren't many reports from the surf, piers, or Spanish mackerel and bluefish trollers. However, the water is clearing a little with every tide change and will be better, maybe even good, by the weekend.
There were a few nearshore and inshore cobia caught after my deadline last week and before TS Ana stirred up the ocean. Those reports haven't begun again in earnest, but there were a couple of reports of cobia caught on the bottom out near Cape Lookout - including one caught near Shark Island while looking for drum and several caught along the Cape Fear River Inlet tide line and at Yaupon Reef. With this weekend's weather report, there will be a lot of folks fishing for cobia and someone will find them. If the water clears, they might be just about anywhere.
There were several citation flounder weighed at tackle shops from Southport to Morehead City last week. Some big flounder are here and they are biting from the inshore waters to the nearshore ocean artificial reefs.
Everyone is complaining of dirty water in inside waters. The runoff from the rain has to go somewhere and it goes inside first. Much like the nearshore ocean, the inside water is flushing and cleaning a little with every tide. I don't know that it will be perfectly clean by the weekend, but I expect fishermen to find some fish and send me good reports for next week.
Several fishermen recommended using baits with a lot of smell to help fish locate them while the water is clearing. Several said natural baits were best and suggested pieces of cut mullet, cut menhaden and crab. Several also said scented artificial baits, like Berkley Gulp, Fishbites and several other soft plastics, or artificial baits coated with aftermarket scents, like Pro-Cure, could be worked slowly and the fish would find them - even in dirty water.
The water running through the creeks and marshes should be cleaning pretty well and it's time for more reports of speckled trout, red drum and flounder. There will also be some black drum mixed with them and it's time to be seeing some sheepshead too. The creeks should clean up first and then the marshes.
Last week was the final week of the 2015 wild turkey season and Capt. Karl Helmkamp of Fistful Sportfishing and Albemarle Outfitters (www.fistfulsportfishing.com or Fistful Sportfishing on Facebook) invited me to spend a few days with him at his turkey hunting operation in Northeastern N.C. Capt. Karl is a four-time N.C. Duck Calling State Champion and knows how to talk turkey too. This was an invite that couldn't be turned down and I headed there with thoughts of seeing lots of turkeys and maybe even inviting one home to be the guest of honor at dinner one day soon.
I arrived at Capt. Karl's camp with concerns of TS Ana on my mind and wondering how it might affect the turkeys. With confidence that wasn't bravado, Capt. Karl told me not to worry and to get ready as we were going to have a good time. His friend David Arris would join us for one hunt and his dad for another.
David's hunt was a bird he and Capt. Karl had to work for, but 3 1/2 hours after hearing it gobble the first time, David shot once to collect a big old tom turkey. I had one sneak past too, but it came from a direction I wasn't ready for, so I let it walk by without moving and spooking it to get a shot that would have been marginal by the time I could take it. That was a good move as I'm pretty sure it was the turkey taken from that location on the last morning of the season.
A hunt the next morning with Capt. Karl's dad, produced a missed opportunity and a turkey that will be smarter next year. However, it gave me the opportunity for another try and I got to see Capt. Karl's favorite turkey hunting tactic work to perfection. Capt Karl set us up and crawled to the edge of the field to work a strutting jake decoy and bring two mature toms on the run. Seriously, I've never seen anything like the way those two old gobblers charged in.
The adult toms were mad at this brash intruder and made the mistake of forgetting about everything else as they rushed in to beat down this impudent youngster and drive him from their area. I believe if I hadn't shot, they would have attacked Capt. Karl and his decoy laying in the edge of the field. I was amazed at how well this tactic worked and was super pleased with a huge gobbler that became my personal best.
This big bird weighed 23.6 pounds and had a 10 3/4 inch beard and 1 1/2 inch spurs to score 75.1 points using the National Wild Turkey Federation formula. It's a trophy bird, but even better, it's going to taste real good after being introduced to some home-brewed marinade and a hot grill.
Military Appreciation Day
Registration for MAD 10 is open for volunteers and troops. Volunteers are needed for all aspects of the event, from taking troops fishing, helping with the many land-based activities and even cleaning fish. If you can spare a day, or even a few hours, it will be appreciated by the organizers and really appreciated by the service men and women and their families. Helping at a MAD event is something special and rewarding. I take some troops fishing and always feel like I have as much or more fun than they do. Anyone who would like to help can visit www.militaryappreciationday.org and register.
Commission Seeks Members for NC Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee
Nominees for the Expert Affiliate Seat should have extensive biological, regional, academic, scientific and/or habitat expertise and experience in matters dealing with nongame wildlife conservation in North Carolina. Nominees for the At-Large Affiliate Seat 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.
To nominate an individual for the Non-Game Wildlife Advisory Committee, submit a nomination form with information regarding affiliation and expertise, a résumé, if available, and a cover letter. The nomination form can be downloaded from the Commission's website, www.ncwildlife.org, by clicking on the "Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee" icon on the home page. Electronic submissions are preferred, but hard copies may be mailed to the Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee, Attn: Shauna Glover, Division of Inland Fisheries, MSC 1721, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1721. Submit electronic nominations to email@example.com. For more information about the committee or the nomination process, e-mail Glover or call her at (919) 707-0064.
Information and Comment
Requests/Pending Legislation and Regulations
“The proposed revisions clarify and streamline the National Standard guidelines, address concerns raised by partners and stakeholders during the implementation of annual catch limits and accountability measures, and provide flexibility to address fishery management issues,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “The proposed revisions, if implemented, will result in better-managed and more sustainable fisheries.”
The National Standard 1 guidelines provide guidance on preventing overfishing while achieving the optimum yield (the amount of fish which will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities) from each U.S. fishery. The National Standard 3 guidelines provide guidance on managing a stock as a unit throughout its range, and the National Standard 7 guidelines address minimizing costs and avoid duplication in fisheries management.
The proposed revisions do not establish new requirements or require councils to revise their current fishery management plans. Rather, they offer additional clarity and potential flexibility in meeting current Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act mandates.
The proposed revisions include:
● Increasing flexibility in setting timelines for
Public comments on the proposed rule are due June 30, 2015. To learn more and read the proposed rule as well as to submit comments, visit: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/national_standards/ns1_revisions.html.
May 20 to 22: N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Business Meeting, May 20-22, Doubletree by Hilton Riverfront, New Bern. Public comment sessions on the evening of May 20 and morning of May 21. For more information and an agenda visit http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/dmf.
Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
May 8 to 16: Far Out Shoot Out, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle, www.oifc.com.
May 12 to 16: Hatteras Village Offshore Open, N.C. Governor's Cup, Hatteras Harbor Marina, Hatteras, www.hvoo.org.
May 15 to 17: BOW (ladies-only) Fly-Fishing Weekend, PCWE & Davidson River Campground, Transylvania County, www.ncwildlife.org.
May 15 to 17: Crystal Coast Surf Fishing Challenge, Reel Outdoors, Emerald Isle, www.fishermanspost.com.
May 16: Ride the Tide, Oak Island Parks and Recreation, Oak Island, www.oakislandnc.com/Departments/Parks-Recreation.aspx.
May 16: Fisherman's Swap Meet to Benefit Military Appreciation Day, Grand Slam Yacht and Boat Sales, Morehead City, www.militaryappreciationday.org.
May 16: CCA NC Cobia Challenge, Boathouse Marina, Beaufort, www.ccanc.org.
May 16 and 17: Crystal Coast Boat Show, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.crystalcoastboatshow.com.
May 16 and 17: The Ladies Pier King Tournament scheduled for May 16 and 17 at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island has been cancelled. For more information visit www.oceancrestpiernc.com.
May 17-23: Safe Boating Week (N.C. events begin on May 16), See events listing at www.ncwildlife.org.
May 21 to 24: Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Bluewater Tournament, N.C. Governor's Cup, Rotary Civic Center, Swansboro, www.swansbororotary.com.
May 22: Cape Lookout Flyfishers, Monthly meeting, Cox Family Restaurant, Morehead City, www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.
May 27 to 30: Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament, Wrightsville Beach Marina, Wrightsville Beach, www.capefearbluemarlintournament.com.
May 29 to 30: Ocean Isle Inshore Challenge, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle, www.fishermanspost.com.
May 30: Military Appreciation Day, Morehead City Downtown Parks, Morehead City, www.militaryappreciationday.org.
May 30 and 31: Oak Island Open Pier Fishing Tournament, Oak Island and Ocean Crest Piers, Multiple species, www.oakislandnc.com.