A couple of weeks ago the crowds of Memorial Day Weekend ushered in our unofficial welcome to summer. The calendar says summer actually begins on June 20, which is next Wednesday, so this weekend is our chance for the last hurrah of spring. Things have been shaping up well too. After the mild winter and warm spring, much of our fishing is well ahead of where it usually is during the second week of June.
Flounder fishing has been good, maybe even very good, for this early in the season. Even better, flatfish are showing up in many places. Some are even being caught by fishermen seeking other species and in places not normally thought of as flounder holes.
Live baits are the preference for most fishermen and they can be anything from two-inch mud minnows to hand size spots, croakers and pogies. Many dedicated flounder fishermen believe big flounders can eat just about anything they can catch. That is true and another truism is that you donít catch small fish with large baits. If you have the patience, there are some flounder that can easily eat big live baits.
One of the things you have to learn when using large live baits for flounder is patience. It takes a flounder a while to handle a large bait and trying to set the hook too soon results in missed strikes and flounder that are still hungry. Many times you jerk the bait right out of its mouth.
Flounder have to turn a bait and swallow it head first, so the fins donít pop up and jam in its throat. This is what the wait is for. Iíve heard all kinds of ways to delay setting the hook, but making a sandwich, eating a snack or drinking a drink should give enough time for a flounder to turn and swallow a large bait. With smaller baits, you can set the hook quicker, but youíll usually be catching smaller flounder too. There are already fair numbers of five pound plus flatfish around, so you can decide how fast (or slow) you want to fish.
Puppy drum are biting too. There are a few schools of pups still together, but many have broken up into singles and small groups. Pups are opportunistic feeders that usually will hit a well presented bait. Sometimes they get finicky, but they are typically ready for their next meal. Pups like to move into flooded marsh grass during the high tides, so they often patrol the grass edges waiting for the tide to rise. Many are caught within a couple of feet of the edge of the grass, especially around creek mouths. Other good spots for pups are along oyster rocks.
Puppy drum will strike minnows and small fish deployed as baits for flounder and shrimp cast in search of trout. They also like crabs and I have had them try to make off with sand fiddlers dropped beside a piling for sheepshead.
Every time I think the water has warmed to the point the speckled trout bite has slowed, someone has an exceptional day with them. There wasnít a report of another seven pounder this week, but there were several good catches of barely keepers up to about three pounds. The full moon was last week and some fishermen believe that allows fish to feed at night and not during the day. Fishing was still pretty good and many fishermen expected the fishing would be better this week.
Specks will hit soft plastics and MirrOlures most of the time, but rarely refuse a live shrimp. Live shrimp can be fished suspended under a float or on the bottom. Unfortunately, every bait thief in the salt water world likes shrimp and will try to beat the trout to them. I have found that suspending the shrimp under corks and holding them a foot or two above the bottom also helps hold them above the hungry eyes of some of the bait thieves.
Nearshore fishermen had good luck with Spanish mackerel this week. There were numbers of smaller, but legal size, fish scattered along the beaches and some larger fish were holding along the tide lines a few miles off the inlets. The smaller fish were hitting Clarkspoons and Drone Spoons trolled behind planers well. Fishermen that were slow trolling or anchored and using smaller live pogies caught the majority of the larger Spanish.
Four to seven pound Spanish are lots of fun on trout tackle, but there is a really good chance to occasionally hook a king or cobia when floating live baits and they can often be a little more than bargained for with the super lightweight tackle. This is a nice second option for fishermen anchored on the nearshore artificial reefs and fishing for flounder. Just put out small pogies under floats or small balloons and wait for a school of Spanish to come by. The fun begins really quickly.
Some king mackerel are moving inshore, but arenít really staying there. There have been a few caught around the artificial reefs and nearshore rocks, but the more consistent action has been in 70 feet of water and deeper for the last week or so.
The ocean and coastal bays have been warm so long, we have lost sight of the fact it is only the second week of June. King fishing at those areas 15 to 20 miles off the beaches will get better and a few dolphin and sailfish should move onto them at any time. The upturn in activity could happen at any time.
Speaking of dolphin, they were caught fairly well last week from a little inshore of the 90 Foot Drop out to just past it and on towards the Big Rock. One group of fishermen said they found a weed line Saturday morning and caught dolphin there all day. A few wahoo and blackfin tuna are still being caught. Several yellowfin tuna have been weighed during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
The early billfish bite has been on fire from a little below Swansboro Hole to north of The Point, off Cape Hatteras. Fisher ladies in the ladies version of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament caught and released 30 billfish on Saturday off Cape Lookout. More details will follow. The Big Rock got off to a hot start Monday morning with Compromise releasing the first billfish of the tournament, a blue marlin, at 9:21.
The wind was blowing on June 1 when black sea bass season opened, but when fishermen got out to them they next day, they found them biting. Black sea bass arenít plentiful inshore like they were a month or so ago, but heading offshore to 80 feet of water and deeper should find them on most rocks and wrecks. The limit is five fish and the minimum size will be 12 inches until July 1, when it increases to 13 inches.
Grouper, beeliners, grunts porgies and more are also biting offshore. Some pretty hog snappers (Spanish hogfish) have been caught mixed with groupers off Cape Fear. The waters off N.C. are the northern end of the range for these unusual looking, but tasty, fish. Donít release them unless you already have a limit.
Speaking of grouper - there is a pending application for a new state record for gag grouper. There is not currently a N.C. record for these fish and establishing a new record is much more complex than breaking an existing one. The fish has to be judged as exceptional for his species by a committee. Comparisons are made to the world record and state records of neighboring states.
The potential record was caught by David Abernethy of Morehead City on May 26. It weighed 43.8 pounds. The process is ongoing and will be announced when it is approved. Virginia does not currently list a gag grouper state record and the S.C. record is 48 pounds, 8 ounces. Abernethyís fish compares reasonably well with the S.C. record and could become the initial N.C. record in a few weeks. Meanwhile, congratulations to David Abernethy on catching a really nice gag grouper!
Iím going to stop here and make a suggestion for Fatherís Day. Everyone knows if their significant father is a fisherman there are all kinds of excellent gifts for them. My suggestion is something for any father who spends time outside.
If you are reading this, you probably have had less than thrilling experiences with mosquitoes. Like everyone else, I hate to become their dinner, but also dislike having to be covered in mosquito repellant. Enter ThermaCELL. ThermaCELL is a division of Schawbel Corporation and they make several models of mosquito repelling lanterns and personal devices that actually work. Yes, I said they really work!
I have a personal ThermaCELL that I take fishing and hunting, but at home have a ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent Outdoor Lantern that is just the thing for the deck. A single lantern is rated to cover 225 square feet, which is a 15 foot X 15 foot area. The lantern uses a butane cylinder to provide a heat source that activates a repellant mat and it drives mosquitoes away. Iím usually really skeptical of things that claim to repel mosquitoes, but this one actually does it. It also has a circle of LEDs that are powered by AA batteries that have two power levels for just the right amount of light.
The decision is not about getting a ThermaCELL for the father that doesnít have one, but only about which model. I am really impressed with how well they work and am comfortable recommending them. Remember there is a small contained flame, but it is less than the lowest setting on a grill lighter.
The ThermaCELL lantern is perfect for grilling and eating on a small deck and two would handle a large deck. I really appreciate being able to enjoy being outside and eating delicious food, rather than spraying repellant or swatting mosquitoes. I highly recommend it for the significant father in your life. It really tops underwear or a tie!
NOAA Fisheries Service has implemented a rebuilding plan for red grouper off the Southeast Atlantic States. The red grouper stock of the South Atlantic was assessed in 2010 through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review Process. The assessment determined red grouper to be overfished (population too low) and undergoing overfishing (rate of fish removal too high). The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to implement a rebuilding plan within two years after notification of an overfished stock. Amendment 24 will implement a plan that has an 81 percent probability of rebuilding the stock in 10 years. The final rule (77 FR 34254) published in the Federal Register on June 11, 2012, and will become effective on July 11, 2012.
The annual red grouper catch limits for the area are based on SAFMC allocations of 44 percent commercial and 56 percent recreational. Commercial fishermen will be allowed 284,680 pounds in 2012, 315,920 pounds in 2013 and 343,200 pounds in 2014 and subsequent years. The recreation allowances for the same times will be 362,320 pounds in 2012, 402,080 pounds in 2013 and 436,800 in 2014 and subsequent years. These numbers are in weight of the whole fish. If an annual catch limit is exceeded, the annual catch limits for the following season will be reduced by the amount of the overage. For more information on this and other federally regulated fisheries, visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) has been in a scheduled meeting this week in Orlando, Fla. For more information on the meeting visit the SAFMC web site at www.safmc.net. A report of the meeting should be published next week.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission has scheduled a special meeting for 1:00 P.M. on June 21 at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern. The purpose of this meeting is to decide whether to grant or deny consideration of a request for declaratory ruling regarding a proclamation related to menhaden fishing.
Omega Protein, a menhaden processing company in Reedville, Va. that sends boats to N.C. waters to fish, filed the request, which challenges the validity of a proclamation prohibiting the use of purse seines deployed from a mother ship for the harvest of menhaden in state waters. The commission voted for this management measure at its May meeting, and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) Director Louis Daniel implemented the regulation by proclamation.
The DMF received the petition May 31 and is required by law to act within 30 days. Should the commission choose to grant consideration of the petition, attorneys will present their arguments at a later date. The request for declaratory ruling and the meeting agenda are posted on the division website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/june-2012-mfc-business-meeting .
The meeting is open to the public; however, no public comment period is scheduled. For more information visit the MFC/DMF website at www.ncdmf.net.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Sea Turtle Advisory Committee will meet at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, June 21 at the Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov or visit the Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
The weekend weather is looking rather windy, but at least the marlin fishermen are on big boats. The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament continues through Saturday. At this point, with four of six days in the books, the Flybuoy continues to lead with the 499.3 pound blue marlin Todd Baxley reeled in on Monday. Inspiration, with Capt Casey Wagner and angler Terry Clark, is second with a 437.7 pounder caught on Tuesday and although 76 more billfish have been caught, no others have been brought to the scales. These last two days could be very interesting. For more information visit www.thebigrock.com.
The Jolly Mon King Mackerel Tournament from Ocean Isle Beach was the other tournament scheduled for this weekend, but the tournament organizers announced Wednesday the tournament will be postponed a week due to the weather. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
I wanted to give just a little extra heads-up that the Sneads Ferry Lions Club will host its 12th annual Pinfish Tournament on June 23. Check-in begins at 7 a.m. at the Sneads Ferry Community Center. Top prize is $1,000 for biggest pinfish, plus there will be categories for trout and flounder. For more information call 910-320-1182.