Even though there have been a few thunderstorms and a couple of days of wind, the past two weeks have been the most weather friendly so far this year. There is a cool front forecast to cross into the area over the weekend, but it isn't expected to bring a significant reduction in temperature or an increase in winds. Hopefully any barometric fluctuations during its passing won't disrupt the good fishing.
The forecast shows the winds at less than 15 knots all weekend, with most of the coast being at less than 10 knots Saturday and Sunday. The cold front is pretty weak also and only drops the temperatures from the high 80s to the low 80s. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for every day, so it would be wise to keep an eye to the sky for any that develop rapidly--especially as the front passes sometime from late Saturday through early Sunday.
The big news this week is the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament and I'll begin with it. Most noticeable to all folks in the Morehead City area is the abundance of large sportfishing boats moving through area waterways in the early mornings and afternoons. The marinas are also full of crews cleaning after a day of fishing and preparing for the next. A walk through the public marinas will show the latest in offshore fishing boats and tackle and the tournament continues through Saturday.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament activity began last weekend, with the Keli Wagner Ladies Big Rock on Saturday. In the largest turnout to date for this tournament, 61 teams entered to compete and another 29 entered in honor of Wagner's memory and to support the Raab Oncology Center at Carteret General Hospital. The James Joyce II fishing team caught and released two blue marlin to win the tournament and pocket the first place prize of $6,481.25. They hooked their first blue mere minutes into the tournament at 9:16 A.M. and tallied a release for Joyce Tipton 44 minutes later. Chelsey Williams was the angler for the team's second blue, which hit at 11:52 A.M. and was released 24 minutes later.
Two dozen lady angler teams brought gamefish (tuna, dolphin, wahoo) to the weigh station. The Tortuga team, captained by James Rosemond of Durham, grabbed the Heaviest Wahoo prize with a 16.2 pounder reeled in by Diane Filer of Cary. The Heaviest Tuna prize was claimed by Big OH, captained by Ronnie Fields of Jupiter, FL, with a 61.55 pounder caught by Olivia Ingram. The Heaviest Dolphin prize was decided by a mere .06 pounds and went to the Fight-N-Lady team, captained by Shane Brafford of Morehead City, for the 24.5-pounder caught by Lori Seawell of Greensboro.
The Big Rock Tournament began on Monday and will fish through Saturday, with each boat fishing their choice of up to four days. This is the largest blue marlin tournament in N.C. and, even with the recession, boasts the second largest purse ever at 1.6 million dollars. It is also the third event in the 2009 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfish Conservation Series.
Because I'm posting this before the Thursday weigh-in, I only have the standings through Wednesday. At the end of weigh-in on Wednesday, 89 releases had been tallied and two blue marlin boated. Only one of those met the Big Rock minimum size of 400 pounds or 110 inches in length. This is larger than the federal minimum size of 99 inches and the disqualified fish surpassed the federal minimum.
The Figment, owned by Mickey Corcoran of New Bern and captained by Glynn Loftin of Swansboro, landed a 439 pound blue marlin on Wednesday. The angler for the marlin was Corcoran's son-in-law Kyle Culpepper and it was his first blue marlin. The Figment also leads the Tuna Category in the Gamefish Division with a 98.25 pound yellowfin Clay Walker reeled in on Monday.
With the good weather so far this week, many boats are using their final fishing day Thursday and the size of the filed will dramatically reduce on Friday and Saturday. The Piracy, with Capt. Chris Russell of South River, leads the Release Division with 1050 points from two blue marlin and 2 white marlin releases. The Sea Hag, with Capt Ken Cramer of Morehead City, leads the Dolphin Category with a 57.15 pounder and the Certifiable, with Capt. Joel McLeod of Jupiter, Fla., leads the Wahoo Category, also with a 57.15 pounder. One thing that won't change is the 51st Billfish Release, which went to the Haphazard, with Capt. Will Ross and angler James Rucker and was recorded on Tuesday.
Two weigh-ins remain for the public to see some large offshore fish and the competitors to change the course of the tournament. One will be this afternoon (Friday) and the other is Saturday. The weigh-ins will be each afternoon on the Morehead City waterfront. Weigh-ins will also be webcast live. For more information, visit www.thebigrock.com.
Other offshore fishing also continues to be really good. There aren't as many large dolphin as there were a few weeks ago, but the numbers of smaller dolphin are growing. With the calm seas and the ability to cover more water, some boats are finding a few yellowfin tuna that have been so noticeably absent all spring. There are also good catches of blackfin tuna and wahoo. As the water continues to warm, the dolphin have moved inshore and a few are also being caught by king mackerel and grouper fishermen.
Kings are moving closer in and more reports are coming of kings being caught within sight of the beach. Two spots mentioned frequently are Northwest Places and the area from 13 Buoy out to the Hutton.
Spanish mackerel fishing also continues to be really good. Daily reports come from right outside the inlets. Another spot often mentioned is just beyond the breakers from the jetty at Fort Macon down to the pier. Spanish are also being caught at Cape Lookout. Some are inside the hook, but from the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty out to and along Cape Lookout Shoals has been producing well. Double 0 size Clarkspoons behind small planers and trolling sinkers has been the hot setup.
Capt. Noah Lynk (www.noahsarkfishingcharters.com) said he was having an excellent year with cobia and flounder. He said the cobia weren't huge, but he was catching a lot of 30 pounders. Lynk said the flounder were a little larger and well spread through the waters around Cape Lookout and Harkers Island. Several good flounder catches came from the nearshore artificial reefs again this week. Mud and mullet minnows were the hot baits for them, but they will also hit drifted or jigged strip baits.
As the water warms, the numbers of speckled trout being caught dropped a little, but more larger specks are being caught. With the warmer days, the bite is often better and in shallower water early and late in the day. Live bait, especially shrimp, will help keep the trout bite going through the heat of the middle of the day.
Don't forget the puppy drum; they're biting too. There are drum from just off the beaches to the backs of the coastal creeks. The local tackle shops can steer you to popular hotspots in all areas of the coast. Drum are usually pretty cooperative and will hit live baits, cut bait and a variety of artificials.
The surf is warming and some new fish are showing at the piers. Bottom fishermen and pluggers are catching Spanish mackerel, bluefish, black drum, red drum, speckled trout, flounder, croakers, sea mullet, pompano and spots. The mixture varies from day-to-day and with the tide, but there is a good mixture.
Last week I reported a tarpon had been caught from one of the southern piers. This week another slug of warm water moved in on them and they caught numerous barracuda and a jack crevalle. Several more tarpon were jumped, but not hooked solidly and a dolphin (the fish, not flipper) hit a king mackerel bait at Ocean Crest Pier at Oak Island. This warmer water is moving up the coast and hopefully is a preview of a great year for pier fishing all along the N.C. coast.
While many fisheries meeting have been cancelled this year and the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meetings shortened, several issues have been referred from the MFC to the advisory committees. It seems there are some issues with speckled trout that have been recognized and in a effort to respond more quickly a provision allowing interim measures while fisheries management plans are being adopted may be implemented.
Several issues with speckled trout were identified at the recent MFC meeting, including possibly raising the minimum size to 14 inches, regulating fishing in primary nursery areas and the need for seasonal and possibly area closures. These issues will begin working through the advisory committees with the Speckled Trout Advisory Committee meeting next week. That meeting will be Wednesday, June 17, at 4:00 P.M. at the NCDENR Field Office in Washington. The public is invited and a public comment period is included on the agenda. Visit the Division of Marine Fisheries website, www.ncdmf.net, for more details.
Another issue arose last week when several Omega Protein menhaden boats fished off Cape Lookout. Omega Protein is based from Reedville, Va. There no longer is a menhaden processing plant in N.C. According to reports, there were several issues with the boats, but the most flagrant was the by catch species, especially approximately 50 large red drum, that were trapped in the nets and killed. One of the other issues was a ripped net that created a spill of approximately 150,000 dead menhaden.
Menhaden fishing close to shore is banned in Brunswick and Dare counties through local legislation, but allowed elsewhere in the state even though the catch must be transported out of state for processing.
The 50th Annual Blue Marlin Release Tournament begins June 15 from the Hatteras Marlin Club in Hatteras. This is one of the oldest billfish tournaments around and has a long successful history. Many of the boats from the Big Rock Tournament will head up there on Sunday. For more information, visit www.hatterasmarlinclub.com.
Attention pier fishermen! The Oak Island Open Pier Tournament is fast approaching. This popular event, hosted by the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department, will be held June 20 and 21, from Oak Island and Ocean Crest Piers in Oak Island. This tournament allows participants to fish just for their favorites or for all species found around a pier. Fishermen may enter one, two or all three of the species categories.
The categories include: Category One, spot, croaker, whiting, spade, Atlantic pompano, pinfish; Category Two, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, grey trout, speckled trout, red drum, black drum, flounder, sheepshead; Category Three, king mackerel, cobia, jack crevalle, amberjack, tarpon. There will also be a Junior Angler division for youths 12 and younger. For more information, call 910-278-4747 or 910-278-5518 or visit www.oakislandpiertournament.com.