Earlier in the week I was telling weather man jokes and now the weekend forecast looks really good. I don't know if I upset one and this is a tease or a joke on me, but as of noon Thursday, the middle and northern NC coast looks to be in store for excellent ocean condition for the weekend and along the southern coast the forecast is almost as good. I hope the forecast doesn't change, but if it does, I'll be vindicated.
I complain about the weather forecasts all the time and say they are only half right, but I still check them religiously. I wish I could say I don't pay any attention to weather forecasts, but when spending time on the water, they are guidelines you have to consider. Besides, the forecasts are right often enough they evoke some sort of Pavlovian response and we have to pay attention to them.
The weather last weekend was one of those times the conditions looked right that storms had to follow and the severe thunderstorm warnings were warranted. In retrospect, we were quite fortunate that Saturday morning wasn't as windy as had been forecast and the severe thunderstorms forecast for the remainder of the weekend managed to miss most of us along the coast.
This is one of the weather events that have made me a member of the 50 per cent club. I believe basic weather, like rain and wind, will either happen or not. The odds are 50 per cent it will and 50 per cent it won't. I'm right as much as most weathermen.
Last weekend I was watching the weather closely as I was at Long Beach to do some kayak king fishing with Mark Patterson, who is the founder of the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association (www.nckfa.com). The kings had been biting for the pier fishermen there for a few weeks and Mark and I wanted to get some video footage of catching a king mackerel from a kayak on Friday. We let the first storms rumble through early that morning and watched the weather radar clear before heading to the ocean. The forecast and radar said we should be good to go until late afternoon.
Yeah, right. We had only made one pass over a section of live bottom not too far off the beach near Ocean Crest Pier when the rumbling started and the clouds began thickening. We fished for a while, but as the presence became more ominous we gradually headed back to a point more directly offshore of our vehicles. We had gotten wet launching through the surf and we were already wet, so not having enough sense to come in out of the rain wasn't going to figure into the equation. However, when the lightning began popping across the sky, we were smart enough to head for the beach and cover.
Jumping off the kayaks to beach them didn't matter on the way back in because the storm caught us and we were soaking wet. Adding insult to injury, we only had one Spanish mackerel and one shark to show for our efforts. As a final slap in the face, about the time we finished straightening everything out and taking showers the rain and lightning stopped, the skies cleared and it became a very nice afternoon.
Our blackfin tuna record has stood since 2007, but should be falling again shortly. The paperwork and pictures for a potential new state record is on its way to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries office in Morehead City. Mike Accattato was fishing with Capt. Rick Croson out of Wrightsville Beach on May 10, when he landed a blackfin tuna that weighed 40.7 pounds. This is 11 ounces heavier than the current record, held by Steve Lockwood and caught off Oregon Inlet in 2007. Expectations are the record will be certified shortly.
The 2011 Governor's Cup Billfishing Series got off to an excellent start when 13 blue marlin, 3 white marlin and a sailfish were released during the Hatteras Village Offshore Open, last week. The Governor's Cup has a 400 pound minimum to weigh a blue marlin and more than 95 per cent are released. Bragging rights for keepers started early too when Capt. Darrin Callahan backed the Low Profile into the weigh slip the first afternoon with a 511.2 pound blue marlin in the cockpit. This was the only billfish boated during the tournament. The fishing was good and the results are below.
While the tournament anglers targeted billfish and didn't fish specifically for other species, offshore fishermen not in the tournament were catching a variety of species. South of Cape Hatteras, wahoo are prominent in the offshore catches. Blackfin tuna are being caught along the entire N.C. coast, with growing numbers of dolphin. A few yellowfin tuna are scattered along the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream, but the concentration is primarily from Cape Hatteras to the north.
Many fishermen took advantage of several reasonably calm days to head offshore and catch hungry grouper. The grouper bite has been hot in 80 to 110 feet of water since the season opened on May 1. Don't get carried away when the bite is hot, the recreational limit is 3 grouper.
Offshore bottom fishermen are also finding plenty of hungry beeliners to help fill fish boxes. Grunts, porgys and hog snappers can also be kept and in only a few more weeks fishermen can keep black sea bass again. Be advised that when black sea bass season opens on June 1, the limit will be 5 fish per person with a minimum size of 12 inches. This is for south of Cape Hatteras. North of Cape Hatteras, the black sea bass season won't reopen until July 1, but anglers can keep 25. The quota will be reached and the season will close in the fall, but fishermen in this area do not fish as much in the cold of winter as below Cape Hatteras.
Nearshore trollers are catching Spanish mackerel and bluefish on small Clarkspoons and Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows. There are two basic principles that can help with this, especially if you are seeing fish and not catching them. First - bluefish feed slower than Spanish, so many times simply speeding up will change your luck from bluefish to Spanish. Conversely, slowing your trolling speed will often increase the numbers of bluefish caught. Second- when the fish don't seem to be biting, switch to smaller lures. The smallest Clarkspoon is a size 00, but Nungesser makes a size 000 spoon. Sometimes trolling just the jigs from a speck rig will catch Spanish when nothing else works.
While the weather continues to play games and bounce the barometer, more kings were caught from piers this week. The spread for pier kings has been Topsail to Long Beach and some have been nice. The largest this week was a 35.7 pounder caught by Cory Whitman from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island on Saturday morning.
For the boaters, small to teenager kings are biting in many locations from the beach to about 100 feet deep. The intensity of the bite seems to be off a little right now as they are spread over such a large area. However, when you find a concentration the action can get pretty hot. The kings in deeper water are more likely to bite on lures and frozen natural baits, while the fish closer to shore may hold out for live baits. A few kings are being caught with dead natural or live baits on light lines while grouper fishing. The good thing is there are pods of pogies showing all along the coast and the kings usually follow them.
The cobia bite slowed for a day or two, but was firing up again at mid-week. The bite around Cape Lookout has been exceptional. I haven't confirmed a 100 pounder yet, but know of a good handful heavier than 80 pounds. Sight fishing has accounted for many of them and it's always good to watch a fish hit a bait you just threw to it. The action at the ends of the coast isn't as good. There are a few cobia on the southern end of the state, but they haven't gotten to the Outer Banks yet.
In addition to those kings from Topsail to the south, pier fishermen are seeing a variety of fish. The chopper blues are eating anything that goes in the water at Bogue Inlet Pier and they have pictures to prove it. Smaller blues and Spanish mackerel are hitting Got-Cha jigs cast from near the end. The better fishing on the bottom has been sea mullet, flounder, black drum and more small bluefish.
Flounder fishing is picking up noticeably. Flounder catches have improved for the past several weeks and are well ahead of where they usually are the third week of May. There are also some large flounder being caught. Flounder are a double threat as they are being caught in inside waters and on the nearshore reefs and rocks.
Puppy drum numbers are increasing also. In the warmer water, they may be found in small groups, but the big schools of winter have dissolved for the summer. The good news is they have spread over a large area.
On the full moon high tides of earlier in the week, many guides were reporting a lot of larger pups moving up into the flooded grass. The height of the tide usually tapers off quickly after the full moon, but I'll bet a good eye could still spot some feeding in the edges of the grass. They may not be tailing, but their wakes are very noticeable when they move in the shallow water.
There haven't been a lot of reports about speckled trout, but I believe that is partially because no one is targeting them during the closed season. There have been a few fishermen catching them and some have targeted the creeks off the Neuse River that are designated as Inland Waters and caught some for dinner. They said the trout were mostly smaller fish. It is now less than a month until trout season opens in Coastal and Joint Waters.
This week I received word that Chairman Danny McComas (R, New Hanover) is close to calling a meeting of the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development to discuss House Bill 353, the bill to give gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass. The expectations are for that to come during the next week. McComas is a co-sponsor of the bill, so it should get a fair shake when it comes up for discussion.
Supporters of HB 353 are urging fishermen to contact their local representatives and the members of the committee to ask their support for this bill. Once out of committee and passed by the House, the bill will cross to the Senate. Supporters are also asking fishermen to contact their Senators and ask them to support the bill and pass it quickly once they receive it.
A copy of HB 353, with information on its sponsors and its progress is available at www.ncleg.net. That website also has a listing of all state legislators, their committee assignments and contact information.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) met last Wednesday through Friday in Atlantic Beach and several key things came out of that meeting. One was the initial review and request for public comments regarding allowing a commercial hook and line fishery for striped bass. There are numerous options on the table and the review prepared by NCDMF staff is available at http://www.ncfisheries.net/mfc/presentations.html.
There was also discussion on the Spotted Sea Trout Fishery Management Plan and House Bill 136 (Clarifying Amendment to Improving Success of FMPs). House Bill 136 is the bill to exempt Amendment 1 to this FMP from having to meet the requirements of SL 2010-13. House Bill 136 appears to be stuck in committee and there doesn't seem to be broad support to pass it if it is forwarded by the committee. According to procedures, this must pass this session or the FMP Amendment must meet the provisions of SL 2010-13 and it will not meet those provisions in its current draft. An update on the Section 10 Permit allowing incidental take of sea turtles while fishing with gill nets and the Sea Turtle Suit Settlement Agreement were also discussed.
At this meeting, the MFC went on record as opposing HB 353, which is the bill to give speckled trout, red drum and striped bass gamefish status. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as many supporters of HB 353 cite gross mismanagement of these fisheries by the MFC as the primary need for the bill.
A report on all the discussion and decisions from the meeting should be filed and posted on the Marine Fisheries Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries website (www.ncdmf.net) soon.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet May 23, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. at the NCDENR Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information contact Sea McKenna at 1-800-338-7804 or (252) 946-6481 or Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or Lynn Henry at 1-800-405-7774 or (252) 796-1322 or Lynn.Henry@ncdenr.gov.
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 www.regulation.gov, the Gulf Council's Web site www.gulfcouncil.org, or the South Atlantic Council's Web site at www.safmc.net.
On April 20, 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 was held May 19 at the NOAA Science Center in Silver Spring, MD. Additional public meetings may be scheduled around the country during the comment period which ends July 20, 2011. Comments may be submitted 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 Crystal Coast Boat Show is this weekend, May 21 and 22, in downtown Morehead City. There will be numerous boats on displays in parks and parking lots, plus some larger boats will be on display in the water. There will also be a car show, arts festival, music and demonstrations. For more information visit www.downtownmoreheadcity.com or call 252-808-0440.
The Hatteras Village Offshore Open, which is the first event in the 2011 Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, fished May 11 through 14 at Hatteras. The billfish action wasn't quite August hot and heavy, but there were billfish caught each day. All but one of the blue marlin from the tournament was released. The boated fish was caught by Scott Stokes on the Low Profile and weighed 511.2 pounds and collected $30,600 as the largest blue marlin of the tournament.
Capt. Jerry Shepherd and the Wired Up crew released two blue marlin and one white marlin to tally 1,000 points and claim the tournament win. The Outer Limits, with Capt. Jim Rickman, and Sea Striker, with Capt. Adrian Holler, each released two blue Marlin to tally 800 points. The Outer Limits released their second marlin earlier in the tournament and was awarded second place based on a time oriented tie-breaker. Sea Striker released the first blue marlin of the tournament just minutes into the opening day. During the four day tournament, 36 boats released 13 blue marlin, 3 white marlin and 1 sailfish.
In the Gamefish Division, Da' Chief, with Capt. Jim Senker and crew, caught a 46.4 pound tuna to claim the Heaviest Tuna Award. The Sea Striker was both first and second in the Heaviest Dolphin Award category with fish of 28.8 and 28.3 pounds. No wahoo were weighed during the tournament. For more information call 1-800-676-4939.
The Far Out Shoot Out began last Saturday from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach and will continue through this Saturday, May 21. This is a bluewater gamefish tournament where each competitor chooses one of the eight possible days to fish based weather, their work schedule or whatever factor most affects them. 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. As of my deadline, no fish had been weighed. I plan to have the full results next week. For more information call 910-575-3474.
Tournament 1 of the 2011 Redfish Action Challenge Cup will be held May 21 from Town Creek Marina in Beaufort. This is a team redfish series that features three tournaments, all held from Town Creek Marina in Beaufort. Participants compete for tournament prizes and year-end awards. Each team weighs their largest two slot redfish. For more information call 252-342-3074.
Capt. Lee Willis, who runs the Redfish Action Challenge Cup, works for the Corps of Engineers and has just volunteered for a 30 day temporary assignment to assist tornado victims in Alabama and Mississippi. Instead of flying to that assignment, he has rented a van and is collecting needed goods for the victims. There will be a tent at this weekend's Redfish Action Challenge Cup tournament in Beaufort to collect donations. Willis said toiletries and clothing are in particularly high demand and are easy to transport.
The Hillsborough Sportfish Club JWR Gaffer Dolphin Tournament will be held Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22. Entry fee is per day and participants may enter and fish one or both of the two days and may weigh their fish at seven locations between Hatteras and Carolina Beach. The headquarters for the tournament are at Sea Water Marina in Atlantic Beach. For more information, visit www.HillsboroughSFC.com or call 919-667-3508.