We've been at the mercy of the wind for several weeks, but it has been better this week and the long range forecast is for it to be around 10 knots most of the daylight time over the 4th of July Weekend, before breezing back up by mid week.  The forecast also holds chances of thunderstorms every day, but it's as good as we've had for a while.  Hopefully everyone will have some time to take advantage of it.

The 4th of July Weekend is typically the busiest of the year and the crowds don't back off much during the week.  A bunch of folks are already here and more will be coming.  The crowd and traffic congestion will slow things down, but be happy with a good weather forecast that should help make for good fishing the majority of the time.  The water is going to be crowded, but the conditions should allow doing just about any kind of fishing.  Have a good, and safe, time as you celebrate our nation's birthday.

I'll give two warnings and the first is to be prepared to wait in lines.  There will be lines everywhere, especially at area boat ramps and some folks haven't practiced backing their trailer since last summer.  Take a chill pill before you head out and relax. 

The second warning is for pop-up thunderstorms.  When the temperature and humidity are this high, there is also a big chance of pop-up thunderstorms.  These won't be rainouts, but can be locally heavy, with lots of lightning. 

Pay attention and head for shelter if you see one of these storms forming.  These storms form and move quickly, so you need to react as soon as you see the sky getting dark or hear a distant crack of thunder.  The good news is they also pass pretty quickly and you can get back to fishing without a lot of delay.

There have been an increasing number of good catches from inside the inlets.  I don't want to make it sound like the inside fishing suddenly turned on, but there have been some good catches in the last week or so.  There were also some that weren't as good, so the fish aren't widespread.  Some fishermen found a lot and some found a few, but fishermen found fish in many places and that's always good.

When puppy drum are feeding, the deal is on when you find them.  They will hit pieces of shrimp and cut bait, live minnows and shrimp and a pretty wide variety of lures.  Black drum are often with them or in deeper water nearby and prefer natural baits, dead or alive.  Black drum will occasionally hit lures, with soft plastics, especially those with lots of scent, being most likely.

Trout have gotten into summer mode.  They prefer live shrimp, but will often hit minnows too.  They are a little pickier than drum and prefer mullet minnows, but will also hit peanut pogies and occasionally mud minnows.  When you find specks feeding on pogies, they are often a bit larger.  Early birds are reporting trout occasionally hitting topwaters early in the morning.  The best action is right at daybreak and it's usually over in a couple of hours.

Fishermen are catching some nice flounder, but there are also a lot are 1/2 inch short to be invited home for dinner.  I haven't heard of any limits in inshore waters, but a few limits have been caught on the nearshore artificial reefs and wrecks.  Most ocean flounder fishermen are jigging bucktails and soft plastic trailers, but some are soaking live minnows and peanut menhaden.  Live bait often works better inside the inlets.  A few drum fishermen are also catching them on weedless spoons and spinnerbaits in shallow water.

The sheepshead action is picking up.  The best reports this week were from the Morehead City area.  Sheepshead were caught around the pilings of docks and bridges and along the bulkheads of the bridges and State Port.  They like sandfiddlers and sea urchins and have a very light bite.  There are a few big ones being caught.  The best I heard was a 9.65 pounder that Tom Blevins weighed at Chasin' Tails Outdoors this week.  

Pier fishing has picked up some this week and is poised to get better.  There have been a few kings, jack crevalle, and some tarpon caught from the Topsail and Wrightsville Beach piers.  There were also tarpon fought, but not landed from the piers at Oak Island.  The largest king I heard of was a 40 pounder that Tim Chavez caught from Seaview Pier at North Topsail.

There are a lot of nice Spanish mackerel being caught along the entire NC Coast.  Many of the Spanish are large enough they're taking live baits at the end of the piers.  There are also flounder, hogfish, croakers, pompano, specks, drum, and some summer spots.   

Spanish mackerel have also been biting well for trollers.  Around the inlets is a good place to find them and they are also scattered along the beaches.  Some of the better catches around the inlets have been during the falling tide, while the rising tide has often been better along the beaches.  Trollers have been catching well with Clarkspoons, mackerel tree rigs and bird rigs

Fishermen who locate a school and cast have been catching well using Got-Cha jigs, Jigfish, Hopkins and other small flashy lures that can be retrieved quickly.  A tip for all is that if you choose to cast Got-Cha jigs, spend the extra money to get the ones with gold hooks.  It often makes a big difference.

The wind relented more this week and more fishermen began spending time in the nearshore to mid depth areas just out of sight of land.  They caught some kings, with a few dolphin mixed in, as close as 50 to 80 feet of water.  Sea conditions are supposed to stay pretty calm through the weekend, so you might want to check this out.  Both will hit slow trolled live baits or cigar minnows.

Sailfish also often move close to shore while feeding and there is warm water and a lot of bait this year.  I've heard of a few already ready that swam into the spread and hit king mack baits.  I have caught two sailfish on Saturday of past July 4th Weekends.  Both hit live pogies intended for kings.  One was barely 4 miles off the beach, while to other was a little farther off and in approximately 60 feet of water.  The conditions are right for it to happen again. 

Offshore bottom fishing continues to be really good.  This is as close to going catching as you will ever be.  If you get anchored so your bait drops to the intended rock, reef or wreck, bottom fish are always hungry and will bite.  The offshore bottom catch includes black sea bass, grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts, porgys and more. 

When bottom fishing offshore, it is always smart to float a light line or bait under a balloon back in the current.  The bait could be a frozen cigar minnow, live bait you caught heading out, or even one of the fish you caught while bottom fishing.  King mackerel, dolphin and other fish are constantly checking out the places that hold bottom fish for a snack and the fish they eat could be your bait.  You're already there, so why not? 

With calmer seas, the long ride to the Gulf Stream is easier to take.  Fishermen who made the trip during the past week found the dolphin were biting well.  A few wahoo and blackfin tuna were still around too, plus there is always the possibility of hooking a billfish.  The long range forecast looks like making a stream trip will be comfortably possible through Monday.

If you head offshore, watch your temperature gauge for temperature changes and keep a sharp watch for color changes grass lines, rips, upwelling and anything that creates an edge.  There is a lot of water out there, but fish tend to gather in the places that concentrate bait and the edges of these changes are good places to look.  Even better, the water has warmed and these places are beginning to show on the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream and occasionally even farther inshore.  It's always nice to spend less time running and more time fishing.

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.   

Friday is Last day to Comment on Fisheries 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.  Part of the sturdy involves public comment and this Friday, July 1, is the final day of the public comment period.  

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 Joint Law Enforcement Agreement Advisory Group had their first meeting on June 1.  This group had representation from commercial fishermen and charter operators/guides, but no one represented the several hundred thousand N.C. recreational 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.  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
August 17 to 19:  Marine Fisheries Commission Quarterly Business Meeting, Doubletree by Hilton Raleigh Brownstone - University, Raleigh, www.ncdmf.net, Contact  Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
June 26 to 30:  Annual Blue Marlin Release Tournament, Hatteras Marlin Club, Hatteras, www.hatterasmarlinclub.com.

July 1 to September 30:  Sheepshead Jackpot Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

July 1 to October 15:  Flounder Jackpot Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

July 1 to October 31: Spanish Mackerel Jackpot Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.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

July 12 to 15:  International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST), Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL., www.icastfishing.org.    

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 and enjoy our nation's birthday celebration
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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