It's going to be a while before we see cool again, so we better get used to the heat.  Summer officially arrived Monday evening, but the summer heat has already been hanging around for several weeks.  Unfortunately the hot air that came with summer has been blowing around a lot and the wind pushing it around has been rather stiff. 

Another big holiday weekend is almost upon us.  The two largest vacation weeks of the summer are the weeks before and after the 4th of July.  Next week is the week before, with Friday being July 1.  Get out your chill pills out and be ready for long lines everywhere, especially at area boat ramps. 

Hurricane season 2016 has gotten off to a busy start.  Tropical Storm Danielle, which is number four already, formed early Monday in the Bay of Campeche in the far western Gulf of Mexico.  It spun off to the west into Mexico and was breaking apart on Tuesday before The Weather Channel had a chance to sensationalize it.  Still, I'm concerned with the number of named storms already and we're still in June when there typically isn't much tropical activity.

With the windy conditions have affected fishing for a few weeks.  Many fishermen that wanted to head offshore have stayed inshore and nearshore and their catches have been mixed.  There are flounder, puppy drum, black drum and speckled trout in the bays and creeks, but they aren't widespread.  It seems to be that fishermen catch one or two, or they have a big catch, but no in-between. 

Some nice flounder were caught last week.  There were a few citations and a good number of 2-4 pounders.  Flounder were biting inside the inlets and on the nearshore reefs and wrecks.  The best I heard was a 7.5 pounder caught near Southport.  The two preferred ways to catch flounder are live baits and casting bucktails with soft plastic trailers.

Even with the water warming, there have been scattered pockets of hungry speckled trout.  Live shrimp and minnows are baits that work well, with shrimp seeming to work a little better.  Suspending them under a float about a foot to 18 inches off the bottom has been the hot ticket.

Trout are also hitting lures, with most fishermen doing better using soft plastics.  However they are hitting suspended hard baits and topwaters.  The best action with topwaters is from daybreak to about 8:00 A.M.  Trout also sometimes feed on the surface during the late afternoons too and that was a bit better last week with the summer equinox high tides bringing in more cooler ocean water.

The puppy drum action continues to try to improve, but it isn't consistent.  Some days they seem to be everywhere and willing to bite anything and some days they can't be found.  Pups hit the same live baits and lures as specks, plus they will eat cut bait and pieces of shrimp.

With the high equinox tides of the past week, there were fishermen cruising the flooded marsh grass looking for tails and trails.  I didn't receive a lot of reports, but they were out every afternoon and that speaks to catching fish or being stubborn.  I like the former.

Black drum have been mixed with pups and specks.  They don't always get the respect they deserve and are sometimes considered second fiddle to their red drum cousins, but fight well and are fun to catch.  Black drum prefer live or cut baits, but will sometimes hit lures, primarily soft plastics.

Pier fishing was basically slow again this week.  The winds and waves muddied the water, but there were a couple of jack crevalle caught and that's a sign of warm water and fish being around.  There was also a mixture of bottom fish including flounder, drum and trout.   

The ocean has been rough for a while bust some fishermen are finding small weather windows and heading out for a few hours.  Flounder were biting on the nearshore artificial reefs and wrecks.  Some fishermen used live baits and others vertically jigged bucktails with soft plastic trailers.  Both caught fish.

The rough water messed with Spanish mackerel fishermen too.  There were some Spanish macks to be caught, but the rough water made fishing difficult for some and kept others away.  Spanish macks are often found along the tide lines around the inlets and sometimes even inside the inlets, especially at the deep water ports like Morehead City and Southport. 

Cobia fishing slowed dramatically last week from Cape lookout to the south and many fishermen believe the big run has probably ended for the year.  The warming water temps are telling them to head on up the coast.  We'll still see some cobia in the catch through to the fall, but not the big numbers like the past six weeks.  I point this out in more detail later, but fishermen should be aware that cobia season closed in federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore) effective at 12:01 A.M. on June 20.  The season is only open in state waters (0 to 3 miles offshore) and with special restrictions.

Fishermen in larger boats and a few hardy fishermen in smaller boats worked the weather windows to make it offshore last week and returned with mixed catches.  Good news is their catches still included a few wahoo and blackfin tuna in addition to dolphin. 

Many fishermen consider the best news to be that dolphin are moving inshore and sometimes are feeding with king mackerel in 50 to 80 feet of water.  Both will hit live pogies and frozen cigar minnows.  Keep a few of those smaller pogies you consider too small for king baits in case you run into a school of dolphin.  Their mouths are smaller and they get the smaller baits (and hooks) in them better.  

Offshore bottom fishing continues to be really good.  Several fishermen described the offshore bottom bite as frantic.  The offshore bottom catch includes black sea bass, grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgys and more.  A few African pompano and hog snapper are being caught a little offshore of Frying Pan Tower. 

My broken record advice for when bottom fishing offshore is to float a light line or bait under a balloon back in the current.  A variety of fish, including king mackerel, dolphin, and wahoo swim by the structure where you are fishing. 

The ride to those cobalt blue waters of the Gulf Stream is long and has been rough.  Dolphin are still the main catch along the weed lines and eddies, but there are also blackfin tuna, an occasional wahoo and even a few billfish. 

Cobia Season Closed in Federal Waters
Effective at 12:01 A.M. on June 20, Cobia may not be possessed in federal waters, which are those waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore.  The season is still open in state waters, which are from land out to 3 miles offshore, but with serious restrictions.  The restrictions were implemented by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission with the aim of keeping cobia season open through September 20 in N.C. waters.

The cobia restrictions limit recreational fishermen in private boats to only keeping cobia on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays and then, only a single cobia per person up to a boat limit of two.  Pier and surf fishermen may keep one cobia per day per person.  Charter operations may keep one cobia per person up to a boat limit of four.  The minimum size was also increased to 37 inches (fork length).  If the annual allocation is reached, the season will close earlier by proclamation.  For more information visit www.ncdmf.net and open the regulations tab.

NC Wildlife Resources Commission Outdoor Education Opportunities
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across N.C. and also offers programs at 4-H camps and such through the Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) Program.  The closest of the education centers is the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  Others are at the Centennial Campus Center at NC State University in Raleigh, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla, and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest.

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.   

Division of Marine Fisheries Seeks Public Comment on Joint Enforcement Agreement
As part of Session Law 2015-201, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) was charged with forming an advisory group and undergoing a 12 month study on the Impacts, coasts, and benefits of entering into a joint enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

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.

NOAA Fisheries Seeks Public Comments for Hogfish
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement for Amendment 37 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (Amendment 37).  NOAA Fisheries is proposing to manage hogfish in the South Atlantic as two populations: Georgia through North Carolina and Florida Keys/East Florida. A population assessment determined that the Florida Keys/East Florida population is undergoing overfishing and is overfished and, therefore, in need of a rebuilding plan. The overfishing and overfished status of the Georgia/North Carolina population is unknown.

The draft environmental impact statement for Amendment 37 analyzes a range of alternatives for actions, which include:

•Modifying the management unit for hogfish.
•Establishing a rebuilding plan for the Florida Keys/East Florida population to increase hogfish biomass to sustainable levels.
•Specifying commercial and recreational annual catch limits and accountability measures for the Georgia/North Carolina and Florida Keys/East Florida populations of hogfish.
•Modifying or establishing fishing regulations for both populations of hogfish, including minimum size limits, commercial trip limits, recreational bag limits, and a recreational fishing season.

For more information, please see the frequently asked questions section at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2015/am37/index.html.  The comment period ends on August 1, 2016.  Electronic copies of the draft amendment and environmental impact statement may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2015/am37/index.html or the e-Rulemaking Portal  at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0068.  

The document is identified as NOAA-NMFS-2016-0068 and comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal by going to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0068 and clicking on the "Comment Now" icon.  Comments may also be mailed to: Nikhil Mehta -  NMFS Southeast Regional Office - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

SAFMC Examines Options For Cobia and Red Snapper
At their Meeting June 13 to 17 in Cocoa Beach, FL, the members of the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) looked at options to protect the cobia season beginning in 2017 and to have at least a limited red snapper season.  

Council members received a new stock analysis that continues to show red snapper as overfished, with overfishing continuing.  This comes as fishermen are seeing more red snapper and having to release them, even though biologists estimate 40 percent of those releases don't survive.  The SAFMC must balance the desires of fishermen with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  

The proposed management options include:
* Reducing discards by establishing a federal private recreational snapper grouper fishing season;
* Allowing a limited recreational bag limit for red snapper during the season;
* Use of descending devices and venting tools;
* Changes to size limits;
* Limiting the number of hooks allowed.
There was also discussion of a federal recreational snapper grouper stamp. 

In a separate amendment, the SAFMC voted to address options for a limited entry program for the for-hire sector. There are also recommendations for improving data collection for the fishery that include electronic reporting using logbooks for private recreational fishermen, increased biological sampling, discard monitoring using cooperative research and citizen science projects, tagging programs, and more.  

This was referred back to the SAFMC Science and Statistical Committee and will be discussed again when the SAFMC meets September 12-16, 2016 at Myrtle Beach, SC.

In a separate action, the SAFMC approved management actions and alternatives for Atlantic cobia to take to public hearings scheduled for August 2016.  These measures, as outlined in draft Framework Amendment 4 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan, would reduce harvest of cobia in federal waters along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to New York.  The goal of the new measures is to help ensure consistent and stable fishing opportunities for all participants in the fishery. 

The sudden push on cobia regulations came about because an overage of the recreational harvest in 2015 required the season to close early (June 20) this year.  The 2016 recreational closure of the seasonal fishery occurs during the peak fishing season in North Carolina and Virginia. The SAFMC reviewed numerous written and public comments before choosing alternatives for public hearings. 

The actions going to public hearings include reducing the recreational bag limit with a preferred alternative to reduce the daily bag limit from 2 per person/day to 1 fish per person/day with a vessel limit of 3 fish/per day, modifying the recreational fishing year with a preferred alternative for the year to begin May 1st, modifying the current accountability measure, and changes to the commercial trip limit.  The dates and locations for the public hearings have not been set yet.

SAFMC Discusses Limited Entry for Federal Permitted Charters
The SAFMC also discussed options for establishing a limited entry program for the federally permitted for-hire sector.  This includes the Snapper Grouper, Dolphin/Wahoo and Coastal Migratory Pelagic Fisheries that require federal permits.  The Council approved a control date of June 15, 2016 for the open access charter vessel/headboat permits.  The control date is designed to alert fishermen that the Council may use that date for making future management decisions. The Council approved development of an amendment to establish a for-hire limited entry program.  This should be discussed again when the SAFMC meets in September in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Fisheries Meetings
June 28:  Coastal Recreational Fishing License Committee Meeting, 10:00 A.M., DMF Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Wayne Johannessen at 252-808-8004 or Wayne.Johannessen@ncdenr.gov.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
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.    www.capelookoutflyfishers.com

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

July 13 to 16:  Barta Boys and Girls Club Billfish Tournament, Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series, Beaufort Town Docks, Beaufort, www.bartabillfish.com.  

July 16:  Wrightsville Beach Inshore Challenge, Wrightsville Beach Marina, Wrightsville Beach, www.fishermanspost.com

July 16:  CCCF Spanish Mackerel Challenge, The Boat House, Beaufort, 252-222-6222.

July 22-24:  Cape Lookout Shootout, The Boathouse, Beaufort, www.capeshootout.weebly.com.              

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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