The weather and sea conditions haven't been as good as had been hoped this week and the early forecast has the sea conditions deteriorating beginning late Friday for the rest of the weekend and most of next week. Strong northeast winds and sloppy seas are in the forecast for the weekend, then after falling out for Tuesday, the forecast has the winds and chop returning, but from the southwest.
I always try to find a silver lining in even the darkest clouds and this time it is the temperature and humidity dropping. Friday and Saturday are forecast to on be in the high 70s to low 80s, with next week just warming to the mid 80s. The temperatures have barely dropped into the upper 70s overnight this week, so that will be a pleasant change. We just need to find the right combination to get the winds to calm too.
The thunderstorms and afternoon sea breezes made the ride home pretty sloppy several afternoons during the week, but it has been hard to fault the catches. Many offshore boats are fishing the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, so there isn't much effort for other than it. The rigging for billfish isn't the most likely to produce good catches of dolphin, wahoo and tuna, but there have been some caught.
Other than big blue marlin, of which 7 have been weighed and more released so far this week during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, dolphin are the stars of offshore fishing. Fishermen are also catching a few wahoo and blackfin tuna. One fisherman suggested taking the time to find some small ballyhoo, which are often also called 16 pack ballyhoo, to help boost the hookup ratio for dolphin and blackfins. Neither have large mouths and they get the hook better with the smaller baits.
Fishermen wanting to fill their freezers should consider an offshore bottom fishing trip. There are a wide variety of fish biting and they are biting well. The limits on grouper, beeliners and black sea bass are tight, but an additional 20 of the reef complex fish (porgys, grunts and such) are allowed and that makes for a bunch of fillets. Check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net and see for yourself. The offshore bottom catch regularly includes, grouper, beeliners, black sea bass, triggerfish, grunts, porgys and more.
Fishermen in southern part of N.C. are adding an occasional hog snapper or African pompano to their bottom catch, but many folks are still undecided about lionfish. If you catch one handle it carefully, but understand they taste excellent. There are videos on cleaning them on YouTube. Lionfish taste excellent and most fishermen who try them begin keeping them.
It is wise to float a light line or bait under a balloon back in the current while bottom fishing offshore. This could be a small fish reeled up from the bottom, live bait caught and carried offshore, or a frozen cigar minnow or sardine. Many predators, such as king mackerel, dolphin, wahoo and others check the structure that holds bottom fish for pods of baitfish. It fires most fishermen right up when their attention is elsewhere and suddenly the clicker on the light line reel begins screaming.
There are king mackerel off N.C., but they are moving around. There hasn't been one caught from a pier in a while, but they are following baitfish and could move inshore at any time. Most of the kings have been caught in water roughly 50 to 80 feet deep. Some days they are closer in and some days farther off. It isn't a hot bite, but there are occasional good days.
The key to finding feeding kings is finding structure holding suspended bait. That bait doesn't want to be up in the water column, but something has forced it off the bottom and that something is usually feeding fish. With the warmer water, many fishermen have switched from trolling lures to slowing down and using live baits or frozen cigar minnows.
There are some scattered dolphin mixed with the kings. They aren't with every pod of bait or school of kings, but some have been caught within sight of the beach. Even a small wildly jumping dolphin is a pleasant surprise when you're expecting a king.
The cobia bite slowed this week. Someone said it was a combination of many of the fishermen who had been chasing them fishing the Big Rock Tournament and sea conditions being less than optimal, especially for sight fishing. The water is warming and it's about time for cobia to continue their migration to the north. Fishermen who want to tangle with one would be wise to schedule that trip soon. Fishermen should remember cobia season closes in federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore) effective at 12:01 A.M. on June 20. After that, they may only be kept if caught in state waters and consistent with the new N.C. regulations.
There may be a few small deviations, but the report on Spanish mackerel is going to sound like a broken record for the next several months. They can usually be found pretty close to the inlets, but may be anywhere along the beach or along the shoals at each cape. Tide lines form around the inlets on most falling tides and are good places to find Spanish. They tend to roam the clean water side of the tide lines waiting for baitfish to flush out of the dirty water side.
Size 0 and 00 Clarkspoons are the time tested lures for catching Spanish mackerel. They make silver, gold and several with colored flash tape. Clarkspoons are usually trolled behind small trolling sinkers or planers. Mackerel tree rigs, mackerel duster rigs and bird rigs are new ideas and all will catch Spanish. Mackerel tree rigs and mackerel duster rigs will often catch on days other rigs won't and bird rigs often attract larger Spanish.
Flounder continue to bite well on the nearshore artificial reefs and wrecks. Flounder will move deeper and farther offshore, but the reefs in state waters (beach to 3 miles offshore) are the most consistent. You can find a list of artificial reefs in the "Artificial Reefs" tab of the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
There are also hardbottom areas and small named and unnamed shipwrecks scattered along the entire N.C. Coast. Just like the artificial reefs, any of these could be holding a lot of flounder. Often other larger fish come to visit too. Cobia have been there for a while and kings may visit at any time.
Pier and surf fishing seems to be in a bit of a lull right now. I haven't received a report of a king or cobia in almost two weeks. However, there are some pompano, sea mullet, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder and trout being caught, just not especially large fish or in big numbers.
Most pier and surf fishermen prefer live minnows, shrimp or cut bait, but mole crabs (sand fleas) are excellent baits. Sand fleas can't be found everywhere; they live in the places along the beach with softer sand. Walk the water's edge barefoot and you should be able to feel the difference.
Inshore fishing has picked up a little in the last week or so, but don't expect to find all the popular species in all locations. It happens occasionally, but isn't consistent. Some fishermen are doing well with flounder, some with puppy drum and others with specks. The good news is that some of all are around and there seems to be a little upturn in numbers and a few larger fish.
The top bait for puppy drum and specks is live shrimp. They will take them off the bottom, but the most popular technique is suspending them about a foot to 18 inches above the bottom under a cork. Some fishermen like plain corks and others like rattling or popping corks that make noise to help attract fish. They will also hit lures, including topwaters, in the early mornings and late afternoons.
Puppy drum can sometimes be real suckers for a soft plastic crab. Trout will sometimes eat small crabs but prefer shrimp and minnows. Fish the edges of grass lines, sections of cut banks, edges of oyster rocks, and similar places where the water is a foot or two deep and deeper water is nearby.
Flounder may also be feeding in these locations, especially around high tide. When the tide is higher, flounder often feed mixed with drum, but fall back to deeper water as the tide falls. Flounder prefer minnows or peanut pogies, but will readily slurp down a shrimp should one pass close. They hit artificials too and many fishermen slowly twitch a soft plastic shrimp along the bottom for flounder, pups and specks.
Unique Catches This Week
The big catfish hit a piece of gizzard shad on a Carolina rig. To make the feat even more interesting, Landon subdued the big fish from a dock using a bass rod that broke just as his mother was netting the fish. It took Landon, his mom and his dad to roll the big fish up onto the dock.
Unlike at the coast, there are a shortage of scales inland that will handle a fish of 100 pounds plus. Landon's fish may have been heavier when first caught, as the official weight wasn't established until about mid day on Monday. His dad, who was chauffeuring Landon and the big fish around while looking for a scale, said the big catfish should also be eligible for a world record for most miles a catfish has traveled in a truck.
How many times have we seen offshore blue water so close to the end of the ocean piers that we think it might be possible to catch a dolphin, wahoo, sailfish or other offshore fish? Well, young Austin Smith did it this week while fishing in a kidís tournament at Avon Pier on Wednesday. Smith, who appears to be approximately 8 to 10 years old caught a 34 inch dolphin from the pier. The king angler that netted the fish for Smith said he handled it just like a seasoned fisherman. What a story to tell! I'll bet he wins the tournament too...
David Mammay of Southport landed a huge 13.02 pound flounder from the Cape Fear River early Tuesday morning. Mammay was using a 1 ounce white and silver jig tipped with a 3 inch Gulp shrimp in the new penny color and was fishing in approximately 3 feet of water near the end of the falling tide. David said the fight lasted 8 to 9 minutes and became really testy when he tried to net the fish. That took three tries and the line broke just as it slid into the net for good.
Congratulations to all three fishermen.
Wildlife Resources Commission Outdoor Education Opportunities
These centers offer extensive programs and events. For more information on all the centers and the BOW program, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab. The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page. There is no charge for programs at the education centers unless there are expendable materials included and then the fee is only to supply the materials.
Great White (and other) Shark Watch
Jax, a female tiger shark that was tagged last fall in Port Royal Sound near Hilton Head, has moved off the beach a few more miles, but continues to ping her location off Edisto in S.C. Georgia, a female tiger shark tagged off Fernandina Beach, FL. on March 18, last pinged her location on May 5 and was just a few miles off Holden Beach at the time. She hasn't pinged since, so the question is if she is still in the area, has departed under water, or her tracking device has malfunctioned. The Ocearch tracking devices only send a locating ping if the shark is on the surface and the sensor is out of the water for approximately 90 seconds.
Ocearch is in N.C. this week with an expedition seeking sand tiger sharks. They launched a boat from the Wilmington area on Thursday and have students from UNCW and other UNC System schools aboard while in the area. There will be updates on the Ocearch website at www.ocearch.org and on the Ocearch Facebook page. You can also follow the travels of Georgia, Jax, Lydia, and Mary Lee, plus the locations and wanderings of numerous other tagged sharks around the world, by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
of Marine Fisheries Opens Public Comment on Joint Enforcement Agreement
In a joint enforcement agreement, the N.C. Marine Patrol would contract with the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Law Enforcement to supplement and enhance federal fisheries law enforcement capabilities. The agreement would be accompanied by an enforcement plan in which both the state and federal agencies agree to a list of priorities and activities to be enforced by state officers. In return, the Marine Patrol would receive monetary compensation and training about federal regulations.
A joint enforcement agreement also would allow Marine Patrol officers to charge fishermen with minor federal offenses, and adjudicate those charges through state district court. For more information, contact Marine Patrol Col. Jim Kelley at 252-808-8130 or Jim.M.Kelley@ncdenr.gov.
The requirement for being on this advisory group was to be a commercial fisherman or hold a for-hire license. This several hundred thousand N.C. recreational fishermen were not represented in this group. When asked how representatives were chosen for the group from those who applied, Col. Jim Kelly of the N.C. Marine patrol who served as interim director for DMF, said the response was low and all who applied and met the requirement were appointed.
The Joint Law Enforcement Agreement Advisory Group had their first meeting on June 1. The meeting was initially scheduled with no provision for input except from those on the group and select DMF staff. The day before the meeting, the agenda was changed to allow public comment. However this was too late of a notice for most fishermen. The tone of the meeting was against entering into the joint enforcement agreement even though N.C. is the only Atlantic coast state not participating. It appears this will be the only meeting of this advisory group
Comments will be accepted by e-mail or mail until 5:00 P.M. on July 1. Comments should be sent to Marine Patrol Capt. Steve Anthony at Steve.Anthony@ncdenr.gov or at P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557. Whether mailed or e-mailed, comments must be received by 5:00 P.M. July 1 to be considered.
DMF staff will review the comments and submit a final report to the Environmental Review Commission no later than October 15, 2016.
Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
June 13-18: Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, Morehead City Waterfront, Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, Morehead City, www.thebigrock.com.
June 17: Junior Jolly Mon, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, www.oifc.com.
June 18: Carousel Center Flounder Tournament, Inlet Watch Yacht Club, Carolina Beach, http://carouselcenter.org/events.
June 18: Sneads Ferry Lions Club Pinfish Tournament (Also Flounder and Speckled Trout), Sneads Ferry Community Center, Sneads Ferry, www.facebook.com/Sneads-Ferry-Lions-Club-101553526572291.
June 18 and 19: The Jolly Mon Classic King Mackerel Tournament scheduled for June 18 and 19 from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach has been postponed until August 26 to 28. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
June 24 and 25: Topsail Inshore Challenge, Sear's Landing, Surf City, www.fishermanspost.com.
June 25: RFANC Benefit Inshore Tournament, Snows Cut Park, Carolina Beach, www.facebook.com/RFANC.
June 25: Summer Redfish Shootout, Redfish Shootout Series, Carolina Beach Wildlife Ramp, Carolina Beach, www.redfishshootoutseries.com.
June 26 to 30: Annual Blue Marlin Release Tournament, Hatteras Marlin Club, Hatteras, www.hatterasmarlinclub.com.
July 4: N.C. Free Fishing Day, N.C. residents may fish in any N.C. waters on July 4 without a license, www.ncwildlife.org.
July 6 to 9: Hatteras Grand Slam, Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, Village marina, Hatteras, www.hatterasgrandslam.com.
July 9: All American Flounder Tournament - Wildlife Bait & Tackle, Southport, 910-457-9903.
July 9 and 10: The East Coast Got-Em-On Classic King Mackerel Tournament, Carolina Beach Boat Docks, Carolina Beach, www.gotemonliveclassic.com.