Last weekend was Memorial Day Weekend and crowds were huge everywhere. I hope in all the hustle and bustle everyone remembered what Memorial Day is all about. After remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, it is good to thank those who are still doing it.
A celebration and thank you for active duty military will be held this Saturday, June 4, from downtown Morehead City. Military Appreciation Day 2011 (MAD 6) is a day of fishing for all military personnel and includes inshore, nearshore and offshore opportunities. There are opportunities to assist by volunteering to take folks fishing and by assisting land side. For more information visit www.militaryappreciationday.org.
The weekend weather looks pretty good again also. While several days this week have been breezy, the forecast for most of the weekend is for 10 knots and less. If the forecast doesn't change, fishermen should be able to go where they want and return with full fish boxes.
Lots of folks sent pictures of big dolphin this week. The gaffers have arrived and they are spread all along the coast. I've seen several 50 pounders and those fish look huge. I saw a 70 some pounder once many years ago and it almost didn't look real. In addition to giving you all the fight you want, dolphin are one of the fish that don't get stronger tasting as they get larger.
With the warming ocean water, dolphin are following bait well inshore of the Gulf Stream and its eddies. Several king mackerel fishermen reported having nice dolphin smash their baits between 14 Buoy and the 90 Foot Drop. Similar reports have come from Hatteras, Wrightsville Beach and Southport.
With dolphin moving into those depths around 100 feet, they are a pretty realistic target for light lines while grouper fishing. The grouper are biting well and it only takes a little time to fill a three grouper limit. Often the activity of grouper being pulled up from the bottom creates some action in the water and attracts dolphin and king mackerel. Occasionally a sailfish picks up a light line bait also.
Speaking of bottom fishing -- black sea bass season opened Wednesday (June 1) and some excellent catches have already been reported. Right now you can catch a bunch too, as the limit remains at 15 per person with a minimum size of 12 inches. Since shortly after the season closed in February, the folks at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) have been telling us the limit would be 5 black sea bass when the season reopened. However, the regulatory process has moved at a slow pace and the limit change hasn't been approved just yet.
In a press release sent May 31, the SAFMC said the black sea bass season would open as scheduled on June 1, but the limit will remain at 15 and change at some later date. Fishermen are directed to check the SAFMC website (www.safmc.net) to see when the limit will change. Unfortunately they aren't hedging on the allocation, so if (when) it is met again, the season will close.
Beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys are also biting well and can be kept. North Carolina is the northern end of the range for hog snapper and they are a trophy. Many fishermen in the Florida Keys would love to catch a hog snapper like those caught around Frying Pan Tower and the wrecks nearby. Remember that non-stainless steel circle hooks are required for all bottom fishing beyond three miles from shore.
Fishermen are reporting king mackerel moving closer to shore and biting well. The spots mentioned most often are in the 50 to 65 foot range. Several folks also said bait was thick along the beaches, so it shouldn't be an excuse for not catching.
From the boat parade along the beaches, it is obvious that Spanish mackerel are as popular as ever. The smaller mackerel have been caught in good numbers along the beaches, especially around the inlets. They are a favorite fish of trollers and fishermen casting from the piers.
The southerly breezes have stirred up the nearshore ocean and are making it difficult to spot cobia to sight cast to. Fishermen around Cape Lookout, around Beaufort Inlet and behind Shackleford Banks have been continuing to catch a few cobia using chunks of bait on bottom rigs and letting the cobia find them.
Chopper bluefish have been the primary big game catch from the ends of the piers again this week, but that began to change a little. Fishermen at Bogue Inlet Pier landed a couple of cobia over the weekend and this week and there was another small push of kings from the piers at Oak Island. Pier fishermen are also catching smaller bluefish, Spanish mackerel, whiting, croakers, pompano and more.
The flounder bite continues to improve everywhere, including on the piers. Not only are there are more flounder being caught, they are getting larger too. The past few weeks have been the best early flounder fishing in many years and the number of citation flounder bears it out. Capt. Jimmy Price at Wildlife Bait and Tackle in Southport said he weighed five citation flounder on Friday and Saturday alone.
Puppy drum are biting across a wide area. There was a run of overslot drum on the Cape Lookout Shoals over last weekend and there are small groups in almost every bay from Manteo to Calabash. Reports have the pups hitting everything from topwater lures to spoons dragged across the bottom. Marsh edges, along oyster rocks, marsh points and creek mouths are good places to find them. There have also been some black drum mixed with the reds.
There were a few more reports of speckled trout this week, but the reports aren't especially good. The season reopens in less than two weeks (June 15), but it may be wise to continue releasing them for a while longer. The cold may have affected them far worse than anyone thought. This week I received a copy of a South Carolina Dept. of Natural Resources report indicating winter trout deaths from excessively cold water as far south as Charleston. The trout spawn will continue into the fall, but will be at its strongest for the next month.
I received word late Friday that the 40 pound, 11 ounce blackfin tuna caught by Mike Accatato of Wilmington on May 10 has been certified as the new N.C. state record and will replace the 40 pound blackfin caught by Steve Lockwood off Oregon Inlet in 2007 in the record books. Accatato was fishing with Capt. Rick Croson of Living Waters Guide Service and caught the fish in 280 feet of water off Masonboro Inlet. The tuna were feeding on top and Accatato was fishing a Williamson Jet Popper. The new record blackfin is 39 inches long (37 inches fork length) and 29.5 inches in girth. Congratulations!
I had to make a trip through Belhaven last week and stopped in to see my friend Ricky Radcliffe of Radcliffe Marine. Ricky is an avid fisherman and asked me what kind of time I had. When I replied I wasn't on a tight schedule, he suggested I stay and once he got things settled after lunch, we would spend a couple of hours in some of the creeks off the Pungo River and see what was biting.
Since I really wasn't in a hurry and had a couple of rods and reels in the truck, I figured I would see what Ricky had in mind. The wind blew up a little that afternoon and shortened our range, but Ricky knew the short cuts and how to hide from it as much as possible, so we headed out.
After jokingly asking me three or four times if my spinnerbait spoon wasn't actually a bass bait, Ricky had to back up when a nice flounder decided it looked too good to let pass. He was casting curltail Gulp baits and catching trout, but nothing was large and they all had to go back anyway. We picked at the fish during the heat of the afternoon and then began getting a little more serious as the afternoon wound down.
A pass down the Belhaven Breakwater showed fish suspended in the water column, but they weren't interested while the sun was well up in the sky. We headed up Pungo Creek to try to add a drum to our catch list and killed another hour or so. On our way back to Ricky's boat house, he suggested we give the breakwater another try.
We were slow-trolling Rat-L-Traps right beside the structure and started getting hits from rockfish. The first couple didn't make it all the way to the boat, but then we started getting better. The rock had gotten active and began feeding as the sun was setting. I think it was actually after dark when we released the last one.
The bottom line is it was a fun day and we caught trout, flounder and rock (stripers). We never did catch a puppy drum, but it was fun anyway. The only problem was my eyes wanted to get heavy on the ride home. Thankfully I had some cold water in the ice on top of the flounder fillets I took home for dinner the next day.
Last week I mentioned being told that HB 353, the bill to grant gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass was being held as a political hostage. That story was broken by North Carolina Sportsman Magazine (www.northcarolinasportsman.com) and this week it appeared to come to fruition. Five key coastal Democratic representatives announced they would be voting with the Republicans to give a veto proof majority for the budget bill and there has been no move to call a committee meeting to hear HB 353. If HB 353 does not pass and be referred to the Senate by June 9, it is dead for this session.
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. Copies of all pending N.C. legislation, plus committee assignments and a listing of contact information for all state legislators is on the N.C. General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net.
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.
The N.C. Marine Fishery Commission Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet June 13 at the DENR Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information contact Sean McKenna at Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-338-7804 or Lynn Henry at Lynn.Henry@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-405-7774. Meeting times and agendas are posted on the NCDMF website at www.ncdmf.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.
The Swansboro Rotary Memorial Day Blue Water Fishing Tournament was held May 27 to 29 from Swansboro. This was the second tournament in the 2011 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Conservation Series and 48 boats participated.
The tournament and the Governor's Cup Series have a 400 pound minimum for weighing a fish and no blue marlin were brought to the scales. The Weldor's Arc, with John Roberts of Greenville won with two blue marlin releases for 600 points. The Maggie, with Randy Bryant of Atlantic Beach was second with 375 points. Then came a six-way tie with one blue marlin release each. Builder's Choice and Harris Huddle of New Bern were awarded third place for releasing their marlin earliest in the tournament.
John Mallard, on Cardinal Sin of Raleigh, caught a 35.90 pound wahoo and won that division. Peggy, led by Doug Abrams of Raleigh, won the Dolphin Division with a 29.50 pounder. No tuna were weighed.
Sarah Schwartz, New Bern, fished on Noah's Ark and caught a 25.30 pound dolphin to win Top Lady Angler honors. John Roberts of the Weldor's Arc was the Top Senior Angler with two blue marlin releases and Sam Boughman, Selma, won Top Junior Anglers with a 26.70 pound dolphin caught on Marlin Fever.
The New River Spring Fling King Mackerel Tournament was 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.
Jeff Naylor and the Reelin' Em N caught a 24 pound king mackerel to claim the win. They also weighed a 4.5 pound Spanish mackerel to win that category. Jonathan Graham and the crew of the Tighten Up were second at 16.3 pounds. The Back-Lash, with Capt. Eris Jones finished third with a 13 pound king. The Youth Angler Award, sponsored by Fishzizzle Tackle, was awarded to G's Machine, owned by Jeff Norris.
This will be a busy weekend for tournament fishermen. The Eighth Annual Tuna Roundup will be held June 3 and 4 from Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo. This is a yellowfin and blackfin tuna tournament that also has TWT categories for bigeye tuna, dolphin and wahoo. For more information visit www.fishpiratescove.com or call 252-473-1015
The Fisherman's Post Spring Inshore Challenge will be held June 4 from Wrightsville Beach Marina in Wrightsville Beach. Proceeds from the tournament, which features flounder and red drum, will be donated to the Marine Tech Club at Cape Fear Community College. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com or call 910-452-6378.
The S.H.A.R.E. King Mackerel Tournament will be held from the Dockside Restaurant in Wrightsville Beach June 4 and 5 to benefit the S.H.A.R.E. Foundation of N.C., which assists special needs children and their families. The tournament uses a fish either Saturday or Sunday format and there are boundaries. First prize is $10,000 guaranteed. For more information visit www.sharenc.org and click on the tournament link or call 910-431-6418.
The Bald Head Island Fishing Rodeo will be held June 2 through 4 at Bald Head Marina on Bald Head Island. This is an offshore tournament that highlights dolphin, tuna and wahoo. Weigh-ins will be each afternoon at Bald Head Island Marina. For more information call 910-457-7393.
The Oak Island Open Pier Tournament will fish June 4 and 5 from Ocean Crest Pier and Oak Island Pier on Oak Island. Fishermen may fish from 6:00 A.M. through 6:00 P.M. on Saturday and 6:00 A.M. until noon on Sunday. Another unique aspect of this tournament is that is it divided into three categories by groups of species and fishermen can enter their favorite or all three.
Category 1 includes spot, croaker, whiting, spadefish, pompano, and pinfish. Category 2 includes Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sheephead, trout, red drum, black drum and flounder. Category 3 includes king mackerel, cobia, jack crevalle, amberjack and tarpon. For more information on how to register call the Oak Island Parks & Recreation Dept at 278-5518 or visit www.oakislandpiertournament.com.