Except for this little hiccup of a cold front coming for the weekend, it appears Mother Nature has finally gotten things straightened out and itís just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend. Memorial Day is the "official" beginning of the beach season and good weather and good fishing have arrived just in time.
Let me help prepare you with a subtle warning that the beaches, waterways and fishing grounds will be crowed this weekend. It is Memorial Day Weekend and barring a weather blowout that isnít in the forecast, things will be hopping. Be prepared to spend some extra time in lines at the ramp and just about everywhere, but donít get upset. Smile and be glad the weather and fishing appear to be sorted out.
I have to begin this weekís report with tales of cobia. Cobia fishing off Morehead City is as hot as it gets right now and itís pretty good at other spots form Hatteras to Southport also. I havenít heard of one surpassing 100 pounds yet, but am sure it will come. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasiní Tales Outdoors in Atlantic Beach reported weighing cobia of 91, 90, 80 and 77 pounds, plus a truckload of 30, 40 and 50 pounders. Most fishermen are catching limits and releasing more.
The cobia are being caught in a variety of ways. Some fishermen are riding just off the beaches and looking for the brown ghosts in the waves and sight casting to them. A few have also been caught sight casting to fish holding in the shade under buoys. One favorite ways is to soak big pieces of oily fish like menhaden on the bottom and wait for a bite. Some fishermen are even taking a page from king mackerel fishing and slow trolling live baits through areas known to hold cobia.
Whatever you do, donít try to put a cobia in the boat too soon. They always seem to hold a burst of energy for when they feel the non-skid on the deck and if they come over the side too soon they can be very destructive and dangerous. Please always resist the urge to free gaff the cobia trailing the one you are fighting. Without going into a lot of details Ė it just isnít wiseÖ
There were more Atlantic Bonito caught this week from Wrightsville Beach to Ocracoke. The hot spot has been Divers Rock off Sneads Ferry, but the Liberty Ship off Wrightsville beach has been heating up. There are also some false albacore mixed with them, so pay attention to what goes in your cooler and what is released.
My weekly advice while Atlantic bonito may be around is to get off your wallet and buy a fish ID book and learn to tell the difference between Atlantic bonito and false albacore. Both are cousins in the tuna family and often travel in mixed schools. Both also like shiny lures that are trolled or retrieved quickly and put up an excellent fight for their size. Atlantic bonito are good table fare while false albacore are just a little too strong flavored for most people.
Pay close attention to what you bring in when fishing for bonito. Last week some fishermen off Wrightsville Beach encountered baby bluefin tuna and this week, a pair of fishermen landed a 23 pound blackfin tuna at AR 315 off Atlantic Beach. I know blackfin occasionally come inshore, but this is the closest I have ever heard. AR 315 is just a little more than a mile off the beach.
The news from the Gulf Stream continues to be more and more dolphin. Even with liberal 10 fish per person/60 fish per boat limits, many charters are approaching limits. Many of the dolphin are gaffers and some are genuine big ones. I heard of several in the 50 pound range during the last week. There are also still some wahoo and blackfin tuna being caught. The dolphin action is all along the coast, with some wahoo and blackfins. Yellowfin tuna are being caught from Hatteras to the north. The fishermen in the Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day tournament this weekend hope to tally some billfish releases and maybe have a big blue marlin brought to the scales.
Fishermen who heads offshore after king mackerel, especially those stopping in 70 to 110 feet of water, should also take some bottom fishing tackle. The bottom fish are biting. Currently everything but red snapper and black sea bass can be kept. Grouper, triggerfish, porgys, grunts and an occasional hog snapper make for a fun day and lots of tasty fillets. Black sea bass will be added next Saturday (June 1) and it appears we will be given a couple of weekend seasons for red snapper beginning in July.
While they are generally caught in water deeper tan 150 feet, snowy grouper are a favorite of some fishermen. The 2013 snowy grouper season will be closing on May 31 and will reopen on January 1, 2014. For more information visit the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council website at www.safmc.net.
Spanish mackerel have arrived and are being found in many places. Several favorite locations are around the inlets, around the artificial reefs and along the tidelines just off the inlets. Size 00 and 0 Clarkspoons trolled quickly behind trolling sinkers and planers have been producing well. Pier anglers have been catching some larger Spanish mackerel approaching five pounds.
I didnít hear of any chopper bluefish being caught from the nearshore artificial reefs this week. There are flounder already moving to the nearshore reefs and there have been some good catches. Some fishermen are soaking live baits on the bottom, but many are vertically jigging Berkley Gulp! baits and 2 ounce bucktails.
Pier fishermen are catching a variety of bottom fish, Spanish mackerel and blues, but the run of kings and cobia like on the southern piers hasnít spread northward yet. The water temperature has been on the plus side of 70 for about a week, so the big fish could arrive at any time. The bottom fish mixture includes sea mullet, flounder, red drum, black drum, gray trout and pompano.
Most inshore fishermen are finding some redfish and flounder in the bays and creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway and the coastal rivers. Live baits and soft plastics will both catch well. With the water warming, speckled trout are becoming a little more difficult to find. Look for them in deeper holes, where the rising tide will bring some cooler water.
With the rainwater runoff coming down the rivers, the water around Wilmington, Jacksonville, New Bern and Washington is a little cooler and specks are biting well there. The cooler water helps keep the fish active and feeding and there are good reports they will hit topwater lures early and late in the day and on cloudy days. Suspending lures and soft plastics fished along the bottom will catch them also.
Last week I attended a meeting in Shallotte where researchers from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences had invited members of the commercial fishing, charter fishing, recreational fishing, diving and tourism industries to discuss establishing two wind farms between Cape Fear and the S.C. state line. These locations, named the Wilmington West and Wilmington East Call Areas, are situated roughly around two very popular fishing areas that include natural hardbottoms, artificial reefs and wrecks.
There were once five areas proposed for wind farms off the N.C. Coast. Two were off different sections of Carteret, Hyde and Dare Counties in Onslow and Raleigh Bays, but have been eliminated due to concerns with encroaching on the Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras National Seashores, fish and whale migratory patterns, shipping patterns and military interaction.
The Wilmington East Call Area is just east of Frying Pan Shoals and extends from about 8 miles offshore out to beyond Frying Pan Tower. The Wilmington West Call Area begins just west of Lockwood Folly Inlet and extends west to the N.C./S.C. state line. It begins about 6 miles offshore and extends about 25 miles. The other remaining call area is the Kitty Hawk Call Area, which extends roughly from just below Oregon Inlet to the N.C./VA. state line. This also begins approximately six miles offshore, so the closest turbines would be well within sight of land.
The primary questions raised by the stakeholders attending the meeting were about construction of the towers to hold the turbines and access to the areas once the turbines were in place and operational. Their concerns with construction were with damaging and destroying existing natural hardbottom fishing areas and the artificial reefs.
The UNC panel assured the stakeholders they would emphasize their concerns with access, but did not anticipate it to be an issue. As for placing the turbine towers on existing hardbottoms and reefs, they said the developers wouldnít want to incur the extra expense of drilling through rock and if a multi-support tower sitting on the ocean floor couldnít be used because of irregularities, they would move the tower to the closest softer bottom.
No one attended from the Cape Fear Pilots Association or shipping interests and when questioned about shipping and navigation, the UNC panel responded that the turbines would be located a kilometer apart and that should be plenty of width to navigate between, but if there were concerns for larger shipping lanes, they could be included in the final plan.
The good news is that each turbine tower will become a small artificial reef. The design plans are for primarily mono poles, up to 50 feet in diameter, with a scour pad and buffering material extending 30 meters out all the way around. The transmission cables to carry the current back to land are to be buried in the ocean floor, so they shouldnít interfere with shrimping inshore of the call areas.
I was surprised no one emphasized the turbines would be close enough to the beaches they could be seen. It was mentioned and discussed very lightly and the discussion returned to construction and access. Hurricane damage was also briefly mentioned with the panel saying the turbine supports would easily withstand them and any damages would be limited to the turbines.
I would like to find a way of renewable energy and we have plenty of wind, but Iím just a little skeptical of this. Iím not opposed to it, but I just donít think it can be done as easily as indicated and without some disruptions and conflicts. This appears to be coming somewhere in the not-too-distant future and I hope all goes as smoothly as we are told. Call me a skeptic if you want, but while I like the idea, I have some reservations with allowing private corporations to build on any of my favorite fishing grounds.
For the past few weeks I have pointed out the Ultimate Fishing Towns poll that is being run on-line by the World Fishing Network. Hatteras is leading this round and appears to be in good shape with only today (Friday) left for voting. This is a poll where voting often is not only legal, but is actually encouraged. Letís give our neighbors a final push for the win. Voting is allowed several times daily and there are ways to get extra points. The link for voting is www.worldfishingnetwork.com/uft/homepage.php.
This weekís tagged great white report finds Mary Lee moving even farther south while Lydia heads to the middle of the Atlantic. Mary Lee spent much of last week around the Continental Shelf off Charleston, S.C. and had now moved more towards shore and a little farther south off Brunswick, Ga. Lydia suddenly developed a liking for the deep and has moved hundreds of miles offshore and northeast of Bermuda. The lack of similarity in their movements is not only surprising to us as laymen, but absolutely intriguing to the researchers tracking them. To keep an eye on the travels of Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks from around the world, open the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
According to the N.C. Legislature website, www.ncleg.net, as of Thursday morning the Senate Finance Committee substitute bill for Senate Bill 58, (Increase Funding for Dredging) is still in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development. If approved there, it will then go to the House Finance Committee and, if approved there, back to the house floor for votes two and three. This is the bill that proposes to raise boat registration fees and include a little Highway Excise Tax to pay for dredging. Complete details can be found at the N.C. Legislature website, www.ncleg.net, as can the contact information for your representatives and senators.
House Bill 983, whose specific title is the 2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act, is generally referred to as the gamefish bill. HB 983 requests gamefish status for red drum, speckled trout and estuarine striped bass, plus includes provisions to pay for the shallow channel and inlet dredging, observer funding and to compensate commercial fishermen for any documented lost income for three years and to purchase commercial fishing gear that can no longer be used.
There has been a lot of heated discussion and disagreement on HB983. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development, with the House Finance Committee and Appropriations Committee to follow if returned favorably. Details, wording and the bills track can be found at the N.C. Legislative website, www.ncleg.net. Whatever your opinion on these two bills, the way to have your opinion heard is to call, write or e-mail your legislators. The contact information for your legislators and the legislators on these committees can be found at www.ncleg.net.
The Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina is a major force behind HB 983. They are having a Legislative Day on Tuesday, May 28, starting at 9:00 A.M. and all supporters of HB 983 interested parties are invited to attend. Details are on the CCA-NC website at www.ccanc.org.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will meet May 29-30 at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. There will be time for public comment beginning at 6:00 P.M. on May 29 and at 9:00 A.M. on May 30. For more information contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov. A copy of the agenda may be downloaded from the MFC website at www.ncdmf.net.
The N.C. Division of marine Fisheries will host a public meeting on the commercial fishery for summer flounder at 6:00 P.M. on June 4 at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office in Washington. For more information contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov. A copy of the agenda for the meeting may be downloaded from the DMF website at www.ncdmf.net.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will have its summer meeting June 10-14 at the Hutchinson Island Marriott in Stuart, FL. For more information call 1-800-775-5936. A copy of the agenda may be downloaded from the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on proposed actions in Amendment 28 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region regarding a season for red snapper. The proposed rule published in the Federal Register on April 29, 2013 (78 FR 25047) and comments must be submitted by May 29, 2013.
These actions would establish (1) a process to determine if a fishing season will occur each year; (2) an equation to determine the annual catch limit amount for each sector; and (3) management measures if fishing is allowed. Please note that these actions are only to specify a process to determine if a season would occur.
The red snapper actions in Amendment 28 propose an opening date of the second Friday in July with several Friday, Saturday and Sunday sections that would be announced when opening day is announced and the establishment of a 1 fish bag limit with no minimum size
Comments may be submitted electronically or by mail. Electronic comments must be submitted via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0040. Mail comments should be directed to Rick DeVictor - NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office - Sustainable Fisheries Division - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505. More information, including Frequently Asked Questions for Amendment 28, can be found online at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm.
Military Appreciation Day is next Saturday, June 1, and will be headquartered from the Morehead City Waterfront. This event, which began as a fishing day for service members, now includes land based activities for family members and an end of the day gathering for all. This year the response has been fantastic and more than 600 service members have registered for the fishing trips and many are bringing their families. The total number of registered participants already exceeds 1,300 which makes this the largest all volunteer event of its kind.
There will be pier, inshore, nearshore and offshore fishing trip for the troops and onshore activities for the families. With more than 600 troops from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy already registered and an equal number of family members attending, there is still a need for volunteers to assist. Volunteers can do anything from offer a boat to take troops fishing, family members for boat rides, assisting with shore side tasks to cleaning fish. If you are interested in spending the day thanking those who protect our freedoms, visit the MAD website at www.militaryappreciationday.org and volunteer.
Safe Boating Week began May 18 and runs through May 24. However, safe boating should be a primary objective all year. For more information on all aspects of safe boating, visit the Safe Boating Council website at www.safeboatingcouncil.org.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, in partnership with Neuse Sport Shop, Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service, is supporting more than 35 free fishing events for kids from late May through early June. To give kids a better chance of catching fish, the Wildlife Commission is stocking fish at many of these sites before the events ó from trout in the mountains to channel catfish and bluegill in Piedmont and coastal public waters.
The events, which are held throughout the state each year in celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week (June 1-9), are listed on the Commissionís website, www.ncwildlife.org, alphabetically by county.
Young anglers registered at any fishing event can enter a statewide drawing for a chance to win one of more than 150 fishing-related prizes. The grand prize is a lifetime sportsman license, which includes freshwater and saltwater fishing privileges, as well as hunting privileges, donated by Neuse Sport Shop, located in Kinston. The first prize is a lifetime freshwater fishing license, donated by the N.C. State Council of Trout Unlimited.
Neuse Sport Shop also is donating tackle boxes, rod-and-reel combos and fishing line, while the Wildlife Commission is donating prizes, such as fishing towels, playing cards and mini-tackle boxes. Local sponsors for many events will provide prizes and gifts to registered participants as well. The Wildlife Commission will conduct the drawing for prizes at the end of June and will publish a list of winners on its website, www.ncwildlife.org, in early July. For more information about National Fishing and Boating Week 2103, visit the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundationís website, www.takemefishing.org.
Memorial Day Weekend features a couple of tournaments. The Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Bluewater Fishing Tournament will be held May 24-26, with the Captains Meeting at the Swansboro Civic Center and Weigh-ins at Casperís Marina in Swansboro and Big Rock Landing in Morehead City. This is the second tournament in the 2013 N.C. Governorís Cup Billfish Series and features release prizes for billfish, a capture prize for blue marlin and capture prizes for tuna, dolphin and wahoo. For more information visit www.swansbororotary.com.
The Fishing the Range King Mackerel Tournament will be held May 24-25 from New River Marina/Power Marine Outfitters in Sneads Ferry. Friday, May 24, is the final sign up day and fishing will be on Saturday. The tournament will be held in memory of Eric Powell, operator of New River Marina and friend of many fishermen, who passed away earlier this year. There is a unique twist to this tournament to honor those who died protecting our country. Each boat must have an active duty service person aboard. The tournament will feature prizes for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, dolphin and cobia. For more information call 252-236-2450 or 252-290-0925.
The weekend of June 1 will be a busy one for tournaments. The Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament has new dates for this year. It has been moved ahead roughly a month and will be held May 30 to June 1 from Wrightsville Beach Marina in Wrightsville Beach. This will be the third tournament in the 2013 NC Governors Cup Billfish Series. For more information visit www.capefearbluemarlintournament.com.
The SHARE King Mackerel Tournament will be held May 31 to June 2 from Dockside Marina in Wrightsville Beach. This tournament has two fishing days, but participating teams choose one or the other depending on weather, their schedule or whatever reason they like. Proceeds go to SHARE NC to assist children and their families in five eastern N.C. counties who are facing difficult circumstances. For more information visit www.sharenc.org.
The Second Annual Spanish Mackerel Tournament will be held by the Cape Fear Fishing Club at Inlet Watch Marina in Carolina Beach on June 1. This yearís tournament will be in honor of Horace Sikes, a club member who succumbed to a long bout with cancer earlier in the year. For more information call (631) 834-4511.
The 22nd Annual Bald Head Island Fishing Rodeo will be held May 31 to June 2. This is an offshore gamefish tournament, which uses aggregate weight of all the species to decide the winner. There is also a billfish release prize. For more information visit www.baldheadisland.com.
The Ocean Isle Inshore Challenge will be held June 1 from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle. This is a flounder tournament that is the first of a series of five tournaments that will be held between Ocean Isle Beach and Topsail Beach. The tournament also recognizes red drum as a Tournament Within A Tournament species. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.