I don't know what is going on with the weather, but I like it! The initial forecast is for another good weekend through Monday. The strongest wind forecasts are for 10-15 knots, with most areas at 5-10 knots. Maybe the thunderstorms will also stay away. However, once we get to the point in the year where the humidity and temperature are above 80, those things can happen with very little warning. Enjoy your time on the water, but keep an eye to the sky and be safe.
Speaking of the weekend, this is Memorial Day Weekend. Even though the beaches and waterways will be crowded, let's all find some time during the weekend to honor our servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy freedom, democracy and the American way of life. If you see someone currently in the service or retired, thank them for their service too.
After posting this last Thursday night, on Friday I accompanied several of the Camp Lejeune Wounded Warriors Fishing Club on a fishing trip to SeaView Pier in North Topsail Beach. The trip was arranged by Fishermen in Support of Heroes (F.I.S.H., www.fishheroes.org) and it was done well. Even the fish cooperated. Fifteen Marines attended the event and they caught more than 100 bluefish, plus some whiting, flounder, spots, croakers and more, which the volunteers filleted and sent home with them for dinner. Smiling faces were the uniform of the day -- on Marines and volunteers alike.
Gaffer dolphin have arrived in numbers and that tends to make everyone but billfish tournament anglers happy. Billfish tournament anglers have numerous experiences with dolphin slashing into a spread and destroying baits that were painstakingly rigged for billfish. Even worse, with the regulations requiring non-offset circle hooks when fishing natural baits for billfish, the dolphin rarely get hooked. It's bad enough having a bait ruined by a fish you aren't after, but not catching that fresh mahi-mahi for the gamefish category or dinner adds insult to the injury.
With the warmer water that brings rise in dolphin catches, the numbers of wahoo and tuna in the Gulf Stream catches are dropping. It's a good thing dolphin taste so good and jump and put on a show when hooked. These traits and the fact they are always feeding make them the favorites of many fishermen. If the water keeps warming, they will soon move closer in and occasionally be caught by king mackerel fishermen. Most of king fishermen think of summer dolphin as a likely bonus.
I've heard about numbers of bull dolphin in the 20 and 30 pound range, but Chris Critz of Holden Beach caught one on Sunday that weighed 55 pounds. Nice! He was fishing with Capt. Keith Logan of Feedin' Frenzy Charters in Holden Beach.
Grouper are biting well also. The gags and scamps may be as close as 80 feet of water, but the red grouper prefer water a little deeper. Several fishermen said they catch larger grouper while jigging, but it's a fact grouper can't resist a big chunk of pogy or a live pinfish on a bottom rig.
Hog snappers, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys are also biting well and can be kept. Black sea bass season opens on Wednesday (June 1) and many fishermen are hoping the large ones they are releasing now will still be around and hungry. Remember that non-stainless steel circle hooks are required for all bottom fishing beyond three miles from shore.
Spanish mackerel are biting along the beaches and around the inlets. OO size Clarkspoons behind small planers or trolling sinkers is the standard that still produces. Pier fishermen are having success with Spanish and bluefish by casting Got-Cha jigs and Clarkspoons with weighted Clark Casters. The best color for the Got-Chas is a white body with a red head. White with a green or chartreuse head is next. Gold hooks are a must on either. Gold has been the best color for Clarkspoons and Clark Casters and the 00 size Clarkspoon is getting more strikes. Some pier fishermen are also catching well with mackerel tree rigs.
Chopper bluefish have been the primary big game catch from the ends of the piers for a couple of weeks and haven't slowed this week. Several have been reported in excess of 15 pounds. They are cannibalistic too as many are eating smaller bluefish put out on trolley rigs for king mackerel. Some also hit Got-Chas, but most of them swim off with the plug for a souvenir.
Closer in on the piers the flounder bite continues to improve. There are more flounder being caught and they are getting larger. Other bottom fish include bluefish, whiting, croakers, pompano and more. Contrary to their usual preference for shrimp, whiting are showing a preference for cut pieces of bluefish.
While there wasn't a lot of king mackerel activity around the piers this week, more were caught in the mid-depth ranges of 50 to 80 feet. They should be around the Big Ten Fathom Rock, Northwest Places, Jerry's Reef, Southeast Bottoms, Jesse's Ledge, 23 Mile Rock, Christmas Rock, Horseshoe, Shark Hole, 65 foot Hole, Jungle and more. Even better, the kings have been hungry and were eating frozen cigar minnows as well as live baits.
The Bogue Inlet to Drum Inlet cobia bite continues to be the best in the state. There were a few slow days this week, but Chasin' Tails Outdoors also weighed a 90 pounder. There will be a lot of fishermen looking for one of these bruisers this weekend. A few were caught along the southern N.C. coast and off Hatteras this week. Maybe they are spreading out some or reinforcements are arriving.
The top inshore fishing is for flounder and puppy drum. Flounder are also being caught on the nearshore artificial reefs. Even with the minimum size increase to 15 inches, many fishermen feel they are already catching more keepers this year. Several guides are reporting limits or near limits on flounder and some of the catches have been nice size flounder, including several citation size fish (5 pounds). The flounder have been biting on mud minnows, peanut menhaden and soft plastics on a small jighead or bucktail.
I thought puppy drum had separated into small schools, but had someone tell me he saw a school of more than 200 over the weekend. He said they moved and fed just like in December, except they were aggressive. He said they ate jerkbaits until his arm was sore.
That is a good problem to have. Most fishermen are seeing puppy drum in singles and small groups. Several have said the summer pattern of working the mouths of smaller creeks during the falling tide is a good way to find them. Puppy drum are feeding pretty well and if you can find some, they should be biting. Live baits and soft plastics have been productive and some fishermen are having success with topwater lures.
Speckled trout are around, but the low number indicates they were badly affected by the cold winter. The speckled trout spawn is peaking about now and will be strong for another two to three weeks. That is just about right to give those fish that survived last winter time to spawn a few times before the season reopens on June 15.
I recently made a trip to Hatteras to chase some big red drum on the sandbars in Hatteras Inlet. I was fishing with Capt. Ken Dempsey of Ken Dempsey Guide Service (www.kendempseyguide.com), who specializes in inshore and nearshore fishing. The sea conditions were just about right, but the sun kept playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds and we needed it to be able to spot the drum feeding in the inlet.
Unfortunately, we never found a school of those big drum. I really don't think they were there that day. With the challenge, Capt. Ken showed his versatility and between periods when the sun was out, we worked some of the fingers in the sound for smaller drum, bluefish, whiting and flounder. That took care of the need to feel something pull back, but they just don't have the muscle of those 50 pound drum.
At one point we had worked across the outer edge of the main bar and thought we saw something floating near the Sea Buoy. Hoping this might be something holding a cobia or two, we headed over to find a huge loggerhead turtle, but no cobia were with it.
Just as we were turning to go back inside the inlet, a small humpback whale surfaced beside us and began blowing and slapping the water with one of its flippers. This was obviously a juvenile and it was swimming along the beach near the Sea Buoy. We got close enough to take some pictures, but made sure to stay a safe distance away and not bother it. The whale never breached entirely for us, but it was a bright spot as it eased along and kept blowing and slapping the water.
At the risk of sounding commercial, I have to point out that even Cape Hatteras is growing and modernizing. Hell must be getting colder too. I don't remember which Hatteras local it was that told me, "It will be a cold day in hell before we have those stores here," but I hope he enjoys his crow. A Wings store opened in Hatteras Village this spring.
After being battered by hurricanes, but surviving and serving well for many years, some of the long time fixtures are being upgraded also. They are no longer the mere fishermen's motels they once were. I stayed at the Breakwater Inn, which is right beside Oden's Dock in Hatteras Harbor. Once I parked, I didn't move my truck again until I left. It was about 100 yards to Capt. Ken's boat and less to the Breakwater Restaurant, where I recommend trying the excellent tuna tortilla.
The Breakwater used to be a typical fisherman's motel, but after one of the hurricanes they razed one building and built a new one that is elevated and overlooks the harbor. The rooms are so nice I almost felt guilty staying there while fishing. The private decks of this new building overlook the harbor and are a great place to sip coffee and watch the day break and the harbor come to life or enjoy an adult beverage as the sun sets. There is still some of the traditional old motel that was refurbished, but the new building has more of a Key West feel. Check it all out at www.odensdock.com.
I had heard rumblings of the political trading of HB 353 for budget concerns for a while, but couldn't confirm it. There was smoke, but the supporters were still responding positively and I couldn't find the fire until Late Wednesday afternoon. At that point several phone calls, plus several phone calls that weren't returned, pointed towards the flame. Thursday morning North Carolina Sportsman Magazine broke the story on their website at www.northcarolinasportsman.com.
House Bill 353 is the bill that would grant gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass. For several weeks it has been held captive in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development as a means to secure votes to achieve a veto overriding majority for the Republican budget. According to the North Carolina Sportsman story, the final five Democrats crossed the isle on the budget bill in exchange for quashing HB 353 in committee. One of them was even a co-sponsor of HB 353. This comes even though several key political opinions indicated HB 353 had majority support in both houses and would have passed handily had it been allowed to come to a vote.
Supporters of HB 353 said this only delays the bill for this legislative session, but time will tell. It seems there are some strong political allegiances to overcome and they continue to exert quite a bit of influence, even in a Congress with Republican majorities in both houses. I guess politics does bring about some very strange bedfellows indeed.
Several supporters said a strong showing of voter support could still save HB 353 in this session, but it has to happen quickly. They are asking concerned fishermen to contact their legislators and demand they support it. A copy of HB 353, with information on its sponsors, plus a listing of contact information for all state legislators is on the N.C. General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net.
In another move that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, Governor Bev Perdue's office announced she doesn't support HB 353. This bill would overturn the decisions of her political appointees on the Marine Fisheries Commission who have continually shown a bias toward commercial interests when making fishery decisions. Perdue didn't go so far as to say she would veto the bill, but in her short time in office she has already made a history of being heavy-handed with the veto stamp.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is requesting public opinion regarding a commercial hook and line fishery for ocean-caught striped bass. At their recent meeting the Commission voted to take the issue to its four regional advisory committees and its Finfish Advisory Committee to receive input from the fishing public. The Commission will consider the gathered input at their August meeting. The Commission said they have not yet decided if they want to create this fishery.
The list of meeting dates for this includes:
* June 14, 6:00 P.M., Central Regional Advisory Committee, DMF Central District Office, Morehead City;
* June 15, 10:30 A.M., Finfish Advisory Committee, DENR Regional Field Office, Washington;
* June 16, 6:00 P.M., Southeast Regional Advisory Committee, DENR Regional Field Office, Wilmington;
* June 28, 6:00 P.M., Inland Regional Advisory Committee, Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, Raleigh;
* June 30, 6:00 P.M., Northeast Regional Advisory Committee, County Commissioners' Meeting Room of the Dare County Administrative Building, Manteo.
For more information visit the Commission's website at www.ncdmf.net.
Other meetings of the N.C. Marine Fishery Commission Advisory Committees coming soon include meetings of the Central/Southern and Albemarle/Roanoke Striped Bass Advisory Committees. These include:
* June 1, 6:00 P.M., Central/Southern Management Area Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, NCDENR Regional Field Office, Washington.
For more information contact Katy West, Katy.West@ncdenr.gov, or 1-800-338-7804.
* June 2, 5:00 P.M., Albemarle/Roanoke Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, Chowan County Agricultural Extension Building, Edenton.
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. Comments must be received by July 20, 2011 and 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.
Tournament 1 of the 2011 Redfish Action Challenge Cup was 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.
The redfish were biting on Saturday and many competitors caught good numbers of nice fish. The father-son Reel Truth Team of Travis and Kyle Tobin of Garner were the winners with a pair of reds that weighed 13.90 pounds. They also won the White Swan Red Hot Bite of the Day Award for the largest redfish with their larger fish of 7.45 pounds. In addition, the Tobins were the Top Amateur Team and collected the Riley Rods contingency prize.
Second place overall and third in the Largest Fish category went to The Crystal Coast Graphics team of Captains Jeff Cronk and Mike Taylor. Their aggregate weight was 13.06 pounds and their large fish weighed 6.61 pounds. Reversing that order, Team Smith and Murphy finished third overall with 12.25 pounds while catching the second largest fish at 6.86 pounds.
Gayle Mace was the Top Lady Angler with her 6.45 pound red and Capt. Lee Parsons was the Top Senior Angler at 6.51 pounds. Team Gotta Fly, led by Parsons, also caught the fish with the most spots. The Top Rookie Team (first year of competition) was Team Snaggletooth.
At this event Capt. Lee Willis, who runs the Redfish Action Challenge Cup, collected needed goods for the victims of the recent tornadoes in Alabama and will be driving them down to the distribution center in Birmingham, Al. Willis has volunteered for a 30 day temporary assignment there with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Hillsborough Sportfishing Club JWR Gaffer Dolphin Tournament was held Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22. In a unique format, the entry fee was paid per day and participants could enter and fish one or both of the two days. There were also seven weigh locations between Hatteras and Carolina Beach, with the tournament headquarters at Sea Water Marina in Atlantic Beach. For more information, visit www.HillsboroughSFC.com or call 919-667-3508.
The winner and second largest dolphin were both caught on Sunday. Brian Bosman, fishing with Capt. Bobby Bourquin on the Teezher caught a 27.5 pounder to secure the win. Ray Crowler, fishing with Capt. Ned McClug on the Magic was second at 23.5 pounds. The top dolphin on Saturday were a 22 pounder, caught by Don Martin on the Smackwater Jack, with Capt. James Martin and a 21.5 pounder caught by Scott Houston, fishing with Capt. Dave Dietzler on the Rumor Has It.
Two wahoo were also weighed on Saturday. The largest weighed 41 pounds and was caught by Jamie Williams while fishing on the Delta Dawn with Capt. Pete Manual. The second wahoo was caught by Alex Sutherland on the Fish On and weighed 28.5 pounds.
The Far Out Shoot Out began on May 24 and ran through May 21 from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. This was a bluewater gamefish tournament with each competitor choosing one of the eight possible days to fish. The tournament is based on 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.
Weather was a factor for the 26 boats fishing the tournament and most picked the last few days to fish. The Office 2, with John Munroe of Bald Head Island won the tournament with a 26.75 pound wahoo, 25.1 pound dolphin and 7.7 pound blackfin tuna for a total of 59.55 pounds caught on Friday the 20th. This included the largest wahoo of the tournament.
The largest fish of the tournament was a 32.25 pound dolphin caught by the Black Gold, with Captains Don Williamson and Mike McDuffie. Second place overall was claimed by Richard Boles and crew on the Toes Up with 39.15 pounds total. Jamie Milliken came out of retirement to team with Joe Seegars and lead the Caribbean Soul to third place with 37.20 pounds. The largest tuna was a 10.10 pounder caught by Capt. Brant McMullan and the OIFC team.
A trio of tournaments are on tap for this weekend. The largest is the Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water Fishing Tournament from Swansboro. This is the second tournament in the 2011 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Conservation Series and it features categories for Largest Billfish, Billfish Points, Billfish Release Points and the bluewater gamefish, tuna, dolphin and wahoo. Weigh stations will be at Casper's Marina in Swansboro and the Big Rock Landing on the Morehead City Waterfront. For more information call 252-422-9100.
The New River Spring Fling King Mackerel Tournament will be held May 28 from New River Marina in Sneads Ferry. This is the first tournament of the new Carolina Kingfish Anglers Association (CKAA) and the first of five tournaments in the Northern N.C. Division. The CKAA tournaments feature low entry fees and 35 mile boundaries. For more information call 910-340-0328.
The Harkers Island Tackle and Trading Post Cobia Tournament will be held on May 28. Headquarters for the tournament is Harkers Island Tackle and Trading Post. For more information call 252-838-1126.