I want to call it smoke and mirrors, but, while there was smoke in places, there weren't any mirrors involved. It wasn't magic either, though it seemed like it to some when the fishing began to pick up offshore late last week. After being in a slower trend for several weeks, fishing had a spike as July began and fishermen are hoping it will continue.
If you could handle the crowds, the Fourth of July holiday gave everyone an extra day to catch some fish. The fish became more active and the bite picked up a little after the storms of last week and expectations are for this bite to continue as long as there are no dramatic changes in the barometer, temperature and wind.
The temperatures are still hot. That comes from the sun continuing to bake all the folks laying on area beaches. The Fourth of July week has historically been the largest crowd of the summer and the crowds I saw over the weekend and into this week are sure to continue the tradition.
This year the expectations for crowded waters and ramps were so high the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission sent out a press release detailing proper ramp etiquette! A drive by any of the area ramps will make it easy to understand why too. The parking lots are full and overflowing. Saturday through Monday the roads headed to area launching ramps looked like crowded exits on an Interstate Highway at rush hour. I expect to see crowds almost as large this weekend.
The weathermen were correct and we got about a day and a half of northerly wind late last week. It was just enough to blow smoke from the Holly Shelter Gamelands forest fire to the coast and remind us it was really close by. Sneads Ferry and Topsail were covered the thickest, but the smoky, foggy conditions blanketed the coast from Sunset Beach to Swansboroi.
That smoke combined with high humidity and a few degrees cooler morning on Friday to make what the weathermen called "Super Fog." The combination of smoke, fog, ash and other particulates produced a fog that was dang near impenetrable for Friday morning's early drive and early fishermen. I was headed to Wrightsville Beach and the visibility was measured in feet in many places and then only in double digits. Thankfully it burned off later in the day and the wind switched.
While Thursday's wind was a bit gusty, the wind laid out for Friday and Saturday mornings and boaters headed out in search of fish. While many offshore boats caught lots of dolphin, I received two reports of yellowfin tuna at the 100/400, which is just inshore of the 50 fathom line a little south of Cape Fear. These were smaller yellowfins, mainly barely legal (27 inches curved fork length), but they were yellowfins and that is good news.
This is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First is that the water there is way too warm to be holding tuna. Secondly is that there hasn't been more than an occasion scattered catch of yellowfins off Southeast N.C. in five or more years. Thirdly, if these tuna were heading north to cooler water as they should be, they could be passing over some spots in similar locations as they work their way up the coast.
One boat also reported a blue marlin busting the pods of yellowfins and free jumping as it fed. This is also something to log into your records as the water in this area is only about 180 to 200 feet deep, not the 50 to 100 fathoms (300 to 600 feet) normally thought of as the shallowest water to consider for blue marlin.
More details will be in the report on the Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament, but the billfish hung around through the weekend. Fishermen in the tournament landed (and released) fourteen white marlin, nine sailfish and three blue marlin. The whites and sailfish were biting from the get-go, but the blues were all caught on Saturday.
Offshore fishermen found a lot of dolphin waiting, plus some scattered wahoo and limits of bottom fish. Most of the dolphin were smaller and several boats found schools with enough dolphin to stop and bail them. This is something you have to do to appreciate.
A well-hooked dolphin is left over to see if it will attract the rest of the school. When the school comes up, someone throws handfuls of pieces of baitfish and squid over to get them excited and feeding. Once the dolphin are feeding, it is a matter of putting some of the pieces on lines with hooks and catching them. They will usually hang around as long as one dolphin is left in the water and pieces of food continue to be thrown over.
Some bottom fish are being caught as close in as Northwest Places and Jerry's Reef, but most fishermen are reporting better catches a little farther offshore. The ledges and livebottom off the 90 Foot Drop down to the livebottom east of Frying Pan Tower offer a lot of opportunities for grouper and a good mixture of bottom fish.
The water is on the edge of being too hot, but there has been a bit of a king bite along the central to southern coast. The closest ion action is in the Beaufort Ship Channel and up Shackleford Banks toward the Dead Tree Hole. This inshore bite often peaks around the July Full Moon and that is next Friday. Chasin' Tails Outdoors reported Casey Stone caught a 43 pound king in Beaufort Inlet. Once south of Swansboro, the best king action seems to be in around 60 feet of water.
Spanish mackerel have become a little picky in the warm water and heat. The best times are very early and very late in the day, but sometimes, mainly on cloudy days, they will bite all day. When they appear picky, they are feeding on little baitfish and aren't interested in Clarkspoons and other larger lures. When this happens, switching to smaller lures can get them to bite. Two of my favorite lures for this are Nungesser Spoons in size 000 and small bucktails like used on speck rigs.
Pier fishermen have been catching Spanish this week too, but the big news, both literally and figuratively, was tarpon. Maurilio Marquez of Cary had a near miss at Bogue Inlet Pier on Sunday. He fought a tarpon estimated at 130 pounds back to the pier and had it ready to land until it made a final surge and broke off on a piling. A little farther south, 13 year old Shelby Kotler-Ross caught and released one from the Oak Island Pier and Susan Leonard caught one a little bit larger from Ocean Crest Pier. Both Oak Island Tarpon were caught on Saturday.
Pier catches of citation size pompano continue, plus some nice flounder and sea mullet. Other pier catches this week included sheepshead, black drum, and a couple of red drum.
While speckled trout season opened on June 16 and a few trout are being caught, the trout fishing could not be described as good in any stretch of the imagination. I had several discussions regarding this during the week and while no one proclaimed it as good, the consensus was to wait and see. Last year the trout had suffered kills during a cold winter and suddenly in late September a bunch of 12 and 13 inch trout showed up. Hopefully that will happen again. Live shrimp suspended under corks have been the best way to catch trout since the season opened.
This began as a good year for flounder and may have slowed a little, but remains one of the more consistent fisheries. I didn't hear of any more nine pounders this week, but there were a few citation size fish weighed and a good number of two to four pounders. Fishermen are catching as well with artificials as with live baits. This week the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries announced they had upgraded the status of southern flounder stocks from recovering to viable. That is great news.
Red drum are usually one of the most consistent summer fish, but maybe we are fishing some spots too often. Sure, we are releasing most of them, but it seems they are learning not to eat the same lures that have caught them before. Bass fishermen often say they try to throw something the bass haven't seen yet and that may be something to consider for puppy drum also. Puppy drum are the closest thing we have to bass in salt water and this week I had an experience of catching some big pups on live baits when they wouldn't hit artificials.
Last week I received a call from Capt Stu Caulder of Gold Leader Guide Service in Wrightsville Beach to assist him in filming a segment of Carolina Outdoor Journal TV show on PBS. He first wanted to do it Wednesday and I couldn't fit it in my schedule. I hate the rain and stormy weather on Wednesday prevented him from doing the show, but we needed it badly and still need more. On a more personal note, his having to reschedule to Friday allowed me to go, so there was a silver lining to this cloud.
Friday morning when I headed out to meet Caulder and Carolina Outdoor Journal host, Joe Albea, the fog was unbelievably thick. The weather forecasters said it was a "super fog" that was a combination of fog, smoke and particles from the forest fire in Holly Shelter Gamelands. I can't verify the composition, but can verify it was thick and smelled like smoke. I allowed extra time, but wondered if it would clear and allow us to film.
The good news is the fog cleared and the fish were hungry too. Caulder took us up the Intracoastal Waterway north of Wrightsville Beach to a small creek off of a larger creek. There already was a boat farther up the small creek, but he was far enough away to easily slip in and anchor without disturbing him. We must have been in a popular area as numerous boats passed in the larger creek and a couple even maneuvered through smaller creeks to points in the marsh around us.
Caulder explained that these red drum had been fished heavily and probably wouldn't respond to lures, so we began with live pogies fished on Carolina rigs using circle hooks. I don't know that the fish wouldn't have responded to lures, but they sure liked the pogies. We caught a dozen or more and several of them were overslot length. We didn't measure it, but guesstimated the largest was 32 to 33 inches. The circle hooks worked as they should have and every fish was hooked in the mouth where the hooks could be easily removed.
After stopping in Wrightsville Beach for a far nicer lunch than is the norm for when fishing, we headed to another spot south of Wrightsville Beach and anchored to spend the late afternoon playing with bonnethead sharks.
If you aren't familiar with bonnethead sharks, they are smaller cousins in the hammerhead family. Their head is not as wide and more rounded and actually resembles a bonnet. Three to four feet is a large one and these were large ones. This is as far north as I am aware of bonnetheads in a concentration large enough to specifically target.
Caulder switched to similar, but heavier rigs and continued to use the live pogies. He stayed with an 80 pound test fluorocarbon leader, so we would be able to easily snip the leader if any sharks were hooked deep. We did cut one leader and the fluorocarbon cost us an acrobatic blacktip shark that got leader in his mouth during one of it jumps, but that was fine.
The sharks weren't quite as hungry as the red drum had been earlier, but there were plenty for our entertainment. We were fighting them on the same rods and reels as the drum and it took five to ten minutes to land each one. I was genuinely surprised at the speed, strength and endurance of the bonnetheads.
When they decided to run, they ripped line from the reels very quickly. If they rolled to the side or pointed their head down, that is where they went. Their heads acted like the dive flaps on a submarine. Even after their longer runs slowed, it was a struggle to bring them the last few yards to the boat. Several times we questioned if we had them or they had us.
Like the drum, all the sharks were released alive. I can't speak for Caulder and Albea, but I was tired and my wrists, elbows and shoulders got a healthy rubbing of Icy Hot that evening. It was a fun day! Thanks for the invite.
I received a message this week inquiring if there was a special reason July 31 had been left off of the July Tide Table supplied by a local business. I asked a few places and all we could come up with was that it was a setup error by the printer. While asking around, I talked with someone who said they had also seen a tide table with a day left out. These errors are just that and are not intentional and have no special significance. Occasionally printers make errors and now that we know, pay close attention.
The only intentional omission in a tide table is the long dash in a column when there are only three tides in a day. Tides change at a rate of approximately an hour later each day, so every six or seven days, or about four times a month, there are days with only three tides. This only happens when the fourth tide would occur just after midnight and therefore is technically the next day. This can happen with a high or low tide.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website has a new home. I don't understand the need to move it, but I'm not a state bureaucrat. My reaction is that www.ncdmf.net was just too easy to say and remember. The NCDMF is moving its homepage under the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources website as part of an effort to consolidate the agency's Internet presence. The NCDMF's new homepage is at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home. At least for the time being, those who go to the old homepages at http://www.ncfisheries.net and http://www.ncdmf.net will be redirected to the new site.
The lone N.C. Marine Fishery Commission Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for July is the Sea Turtle Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for July 14 at 6:00 P.M. at the DMF Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Red Munden at Red.Munden@ncdenr.gov or call 1-800-682-2632. This is four days prior to the federal turtle meeting that will also be held in Morehead City and is noted below. More information is available on the NCDMF website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
On June 24, NOAA Fisheries posted a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for Sea Turtle Conservation and Recovery Actions and to Conduct Public Scoping Meetings on the Federal Register. NOAA officials are concerned there are too many fatal interactions with protected and endangered sea turtles in the trawl fishery for shrimp. Part of preparing the EIS will involve a series of public hearings across the Gulf Coast and up the Southeast Coast to Morehead City. There will also be options for a 45 day window for fishermen that cannot attend the meetings to offer mail, e-mail and faxed comments.
Fisheries Bulletin FB 11--054 regarding this is posted at the NOAA Fisheries website at www.sero.nmfs.noaa.gov. The Morehead City meeting is scheduled for July 18, from 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.
On April 20, NMFS filed with the Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to revise the National Standard 10 Guidelines and is requesting public comment on potential adjustments to the Guidelines. National Standard 10 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act states "Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, promote the safety of human life at sea." The National Standard 10 Guidelines are the primary source of NMFS guidance for the consideration of safety issues in fishery management.
A public meeting was held May 19 at the NOAA Science Center in Silver Spring, MD. NMFS said public comment will be accepted through July 20. Comments may be submitted on-line via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (Identifier "0648-BA74"), by Fax, attention Debra Lambert, at 301-713-1193 or by mail, attention Debra Lambert, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13403, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
North Carolina is also required to participate in gathering input for a Draft Omnibus Amendment for spot, speckled trout and Spanish mackerel for management in a joint federal/state manner. The Draft Amendment can be obtained via the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) website at www.asmfc.org, under Breaking News, or by contacting the Commission at 703-842-0740.
The North Carolina meeting regarding this was held June 21, but public comment is still being accepted by ASMFC through 5:00 PM (EST) on July 20, 2011. Comments should be forwarded to Danielle Brzezinski, FMP Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line should read Draft Omnibus Amendment.
Capt. Joe Shute's Bait and Tackle will be presenting free red drum fishing seminars next Saturday, July 16, at the Crystal Coast Civic Center. There will be several seminars throughout the day and into the evening. For more information or to register call Capt. Joe at 252-240-2744. Space is limited.
The Cape Fear Blue Marlin Tournament was held June 29 through July 2 at Wrightsville Beach Marina in Wrightsville Beach. This is the fourth event in the 2011 N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series and it was excellent. While only 18 boats participated, 26 billfish were caught and released. Fishermen were allowed to fish two of the three days and billfish were caught each day.
Friday was the hot day with 16 billfish caught. Blue marlin didn't make a showing until Saturday, but three were caught then. Other billfish included 14 white marlin and nine sailfish. The Chain Link, with Capt. Ralph Griffin, released seven white marlin to amass 875 points and claim first place. Chain Link dominated the morning on Friday and released six white marlin before noon to take the lead.
Trophy, with owner/captain John Horton ruled the afternoon on Friday and also tallied 875 points. Trophy released two white marlin in the morning on Friday, then added four sailfish and another white marlin during the afternoon. Trophy caught their last fish later than Chain Link and time was the tie breaker, so they received second place. Capt. Mike Guthrie and crew on the Peggy caught (and released) the first blue marlin of the tournament on Saturday and those 400 points were enough to move them into third place.
In the Meatfish Category, the Stream Machine, with Capt. Barry Moore, boated a 35.9 pound dolphin to win the Dolphin Category. Carolina Time, with Capt. Shane Brafford, claimed second in the Dolphin Category with a 29.5 pounder. The Great Escape, with Capt. Jim Mothershed, won the Wahoo Category with a 41.5 pound wahoo and Change Order, with angler Glenn Healey, finished second at 24.2 pounds. No tuna were caught. For more information visit www.capefearbluemarlintournament.com.
After having only a single tournament on Fourth of July weekend, the saltwater tournament activity picks up again this week. The Hatteras Grand Slam will be held July 7 to 9 from Village Marina in Hatteras. This is a billfish tournament, scheduled in the middle of the Outer Banks billfish season. It was begun locally to support civic and charitable causes in the Hatteras community. There is also a meatfish category. For more information visit www.hatterasgrandslam.com.
The East Coast Got-Em-On Classic King Mackerel Tournament will be held July 8 to 10 from the city docks in Carolina Beach Yacht Basin. This tournament is a major fundraiser for the Carolina Beach Fire Department. While the tournament includes two fishing days, participants may only fish one day and can choose the one that better suits their needs or schedule. For more information, visit www.gotemonliveclassic.com.