The weather hasn't been awful this week, but it has been rather unpredictable and marginal for fishing - especially offshore.  The weather included wind and thunderstorms and neither is good for fishing.  Fishermen reacted differently; some went anyway, others waited for a better forecast and still others modified their plans and fished closer to shore or in locations that were more sheltered.  The good news is that many of them found the fish biting at least enough to have a good day and provide fresh fish for supper.

The water has been crowded for more than a week and that crowd amplified over the weekend.  The waters will continue to be crowded for several weeks, but the big push will ease off when the 4th of July crowd heads home this weekend. 

The forecast includes a big drop in the barometric pressure beginning today.  This usually indicates a change in weather, but all that is in the current forecast is stiffer winds for the weekend.  The wind is supposed to stay from the southwest.

More fishermen made it to inshore and nearshore waters this week than made it far beyond the beaches.  The flounder bite was pretty good and while no one seemed to find the mother lode, fishermen caught flounder in a variety of locations.  We think of structure as the key, but more correctly the key is structure that attracts bait.  If there isn't any food, flounder, and other fish, will move on. 

Flounder have been biting pretty well.  Bridge bulkheads and abutments are easy places to find and usually hold flounder.  They have also been around the few jetties in the state, along the rock wall at Fort Fisher and in most places, there is rip-rap running into the water.  They are also around the nearshore artificial reefs and shipwrecks.  You might not catch a limit, but if you put in your time, you should be able to find a couple of keeper flounder for dinner.

Most flounder fishermen are using live baits, such as mullet minnows, peanut pogies and mud minnows.  Some fishermen are doing well by slowly dragging soft plastics, especially those with scent or scent added, across the bottom.  In deeper water, like on the ocean reefs and wrecks, some fishermen are catching more by vertically jigging bucktails with trailers.

Fishermen have been catching black drum since the winter, but their numbers spiked this week.  Several ideas have been offered as why, but the most common thought is the (very) warm water has slowed the trout and red drum and black drum are more aggressive and getting to the baits first.  They prefer live or natural baits, but will hit soft plastics fairly well.  They usually don't care for hard baits, but one of my friends said he has been catching them on gold weedless spoons while fishing for red drum.

Red drum and speckled trout bit this week, but in lower numbers than the past several weeks.  Maybe that was because of fishermen not going to their "A" spots because of the weather, but this isn't expected to last.  Specks and pups should respond to live baits, especially live shrimp, well.  Unfortunately, so does every bait thief and undesirable fish in salt water.  Have plenty of live baits as you'll get to feed a bunch of pinfish, bluefish, toadfish, skates and others.  They should also hit soft plastics, some hard lures and there has been a topwater bite several mornings before the wind blew up. 

There were sheepshead caught along much of the coast.  Fish sandfiddlers or sea urchins immediately beside vertical structure like bulkheads and pilings for sheepshead.  I like sea urchins better as the sheepshead have to crunch them to get the meat out and they are easier to feel. 

Pier and surf fishing has slowed in the warmer summer water.  Typically the best action is earlier in the morning, but not always.  High tide is also a good time to fish the surf and from the ocean piers as fish move closer to shore then.  The pier catch includes flounder, trout, pompano, drum, bluefish and Spanish mackerel.  Fishermen on the pier ends have caught a few tarpon, especially along Topsail Island.

Last week there were two dolphin caught at Outer Banks piers.  J.R. Clate landed a 33-inch dolphin from Avon Pier in Avon and Sammy Thornton caught one of similar size from Jennette's Pier in Nags Head.  Clate was using a live croaker on a pin rig and Thornton cast an electric chicken (pink, yellow and white) Got-Cha jig.  This is very unusual, but happens from time to time.

Much like fishing from the piers, surf fishing is slow and maybe not as steady as from the piers for not being able to reach deeper water.  There were some pompano catches and they are always welcome.  There are also a few flounder, red drum and black drum in the surf. 

 Once in the ocean, the closest fishing is trolling for Spanish mackerel around the inlets and along the beach.  Diving birds and large oily slick spots are good signs of Spanish feeding below the surface.    

There were a couple of days this week that allowed heading offshore and the king mackerel and offshore bottom fish were biting.  Kings were closest in and started biting at about 50 feet deep.  They hit slow trolled live baits and dead baits.

Bottom fishing continues to be good in 80-120 feet of water.  This is as close to going catching as it gets.  The fish are holding around rocks, wrecks and artificial reefs that are also holding baitfish.  The bottom fish mixture includes grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, porgys, grunts, amberjacks and African Pompano.  Sometimes there are king mackerel and more higher in the water column, above the bottom fish.           

With the water at summertime warm, dolphin and sailfish are breaking away from the Gulf Stream and following baitfish inshore.  King mackerel fishermen are catching a few dolphin and an occasional sailfish and some also move to the action of a hot bottom fish bite and might pick up a bait floated behind the boat.

Marine Fisheries Warns About Mistaking Small King Mackerel as Spanish Mackerel
          This is still happening, so I'm including this warning again this week.  There are many undersize king mackerel mixed with schools of Spanish mackerel and the two are being confused.  This is an issue because the regulations are different for the two mackerel species.  I don't believe folks are doing this intentionally and want to warn everyone as it is a substantial court cost and fine for possessing illegal fish.

          Fishermen may keep up to 15 Spanish mackerel each per day, with a minimum size of 12 inches fork length (tip of nose to middle of fork of tail).  The limit for king mackerel is 3 fish per person per day, with a minimum size of 24 inches fork length.

          There are several ways to differentiate between these species, but the most reliable is to look for a black spot on the leading edge of the forward dorsal fin.  If the fish has the black spot, it is a Spanish mackerel.  If the dorsal fin is all gray, it is a king mackerel.  The news release and more information are available at the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.

Catching and Releasing (or not) Tar Heel Tarpon
Tarpon have begun to show along much of the N.C. Coast and a few are being caught.  When fishermen post pictures on social media of them with their sometimes huge catches, the comments go wild with everything from congratulations to name calling.  It's rare there is any middle ground.  Either the fisherman is a hero for catching such a huge fish, or a monster for killing it.  Sometimes they are even maligned for taking the fish out of the water for a picture and/or to be weighed, even if it is revived and released. 

What is right?  I have mixed emotions.  I have been releasing tarpon without removing them from the water for about 20 years, but I can't guarantee how I'd feel if I caught one that might be a state or world record.  I think I'd just get measurements, take a picture, take a scale and release it, but I'm honest enough to think I'd probably at least think about keeping and weighing it.

Tarpon are not considered to have any food value and are rarely to never eaten in the U.S., but are reportedly eaten on some of the Caribbean Islands and in several Central American countries.  

The social media battle is about keeping tarpon to weigh, which usually involves killing them.  I  wouldn't do it with an average, even fairly large one, but I've caught them before.  Even though I wouldn't keep one, I also wouldn't judge someone else because they kept one to weigh.  It would be nice if all could be weighed and released alive, but it just won't work.  Even smaller tarpon look huge and I understand the excitement of besting such a large fish. 

My most recent tarpon catch was a big girl we guesstimated at 130-150 pounds.  I thought I fought it for 47 minutes, but have been told it was actually an hour and 47 minutes.  I was fighting as hard as I thought the hook, line and leader could stand to get a healthy release.  My forearms were so pumped they were shaking when I finally led it to boat side.  It had chafed the leader so bad it broke as we were taking pictures beside the boat, but my only regret was not getting to remove the hook.

Some of the social media comments are really vicious and even infer inflicting bodily harm on fishermen for keeping a tarpon.  Folks, this needs to be handled better than that.  You can disagree and even state your disagreement, but do it in a way you would like to have someone disagree with you.      

The bottom line is that keeping a tarpon in N.C. is legal and there isn't a minimum size.  Another factor to consider is that for many fishermen who catch a tarpon, it will probably be the largest fish they ever catch and most will only catch one.  Only a handful of fishermen ever catch anything of comparable size or that is larger.  The number kept is small and doesn't appear to be hurting the population.  I wouldn't keep one, but I'm not going to disparage someone for keeping his (or her) catch of a lifetime - and I don't think others should either. 

Cape Fear Flyfishers Offer Free Intro to Flyfishing Seminar
The Cape Fear Flyfishers will host a free Introduction to Fly Fishing & Fly Fishing in Saltwater Class on Tuesday, July 11, at the St. James Community Center off NC 211 near Southport.  The seminar will begin at 9:00 A.M.  No previous experience is necessary.  Participant can bring their own rods and the Cape Fear Flyfishers will have rods & reels for those who don't have one.

This class is for those who are new to fly fishing, new to saltwater fly fishing, or just want to sharpen their skills and get back to flyfishing.  Class size is limited so call or e-mail Dan Smith at 410-841-4827 or dansmithmaryland@aol.com to register or ask questions.  The class is sponsored by the Cape Fear Flyfishers of Southport www.capefearflyfishers.com.

The Cape Fear Flyfishers meet the third Wednesday of each month (July 19) at 6:30 at the St. James Community Center.  A casting clinic is held prior to each meeting beginning at 5:00.  Participants may bring their own equipment or there will be loaners to use.  No previous flyfishing experience is necessary and visitors are welcome.  For question about the Cape Fear Flyfishers, their meetings or pre-meeting casting clinics, contact CFFF president Jim White at (910) 477-0441 or jwwhite115@gmail.com, or visit www.capefearflyfishers.com

Saltwater Anglers May Receive Fishing Survey
           North Carolina recreational fishermen holding a current Coastal Recreational Fishing License may receive a survey conducted by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries in the coming months.  The survey will be sent by random selection, so not all fishermen will receive it.  Fishermen will be asked a variety of questions such as what species they commonly target, average fishing trip expenditures, demographic information such as education, age and household income, and their opinions on fisheries management and user conflicts.

          It is very important that anglers participate and answer as many questions as possible.  By completing the survey, anglers help ensure that fisheries managers receive the best possible information about the economic effects of regulations.  Individual responses will be kept strictly confidential.  Results from the study will be aggregated to present an overall view of the economic status of the recreational fishery and published in a report that will be made available to the public at: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/social-economic-data-reports.     

          The survey is a follow up to a previously conducted data collection in 2009.  It seeks information on the economic characteristics of coastal recreational anglers’ fishing trips, as well as social and demographic characteristics.  The information gathered in the survey will be used in fishery management plans and in developing economic impact models to help fisheries managers make informed decisions on various fisheries topics.  The survey is being funded by the Marine Resources Fund which seeks to manage, enhance and protect the marine resources of North Carolina based on sound science and strategies.  For more information, contact Adam Stemle, NCDMF Economics Program manager, at 252-808-8107 or Adam.Stemle@ncdenr.gov.  

NOAA Fisheries Establishes Spawning Special Management Zones off N.C., S.C. and FL
With South Atlantic Fishery Bulletin FB17-035, issued on June 30, 2017 and posted on the Federal Register as 82 FR 29772, NOAA Fisheries has issued their final rule that will establish five Spawning Special Management Zones in Federal Waters of the South Atlantic.  Amendment 36 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region implements these spawning special management zones (SMZ) to protect spawning, or reproducing, fish and their habitat.  The new regulations will become effective on July 31, 2017.

The final rule for Amendment 36 will implement the following management measures:
* Implement five spawning SMZs in federal waters of the South Atlantic region off North Carolina (1), South Carolina (3), and Florida (1).
* Inside of the spawning SMZs, fishing for, retention, and possession of fish species in the snapper-grouper complex will be prohibited year-round by all fishers.
* Anchoring inside all the spawning SMZs, except Area 51 and Area 53 off South Carolina, will be prohibited.
* Transit through the spawning SMZs with snapper-grouper species onboard will be allowed if gear is properly stowed.
* Most spawning SMZs would automatically go away in 10 years unless they are reauthorized.
* Modify the SMZ procedure in the fishery management plan to allow for the designation of spawning SMZs. In addition, modify the framework procedure to allow spawning SMZs to be established or modified through the framework process, rather than through plan amendments.
* Move the existing Charleston Deep Artificial Reef Marine Protected Area to match the boundaries of the permitted site.

The Spawning SMZs include the following locations using corner coordinates:
North Carolina
South Cape Lookout: 33° 53.040N and 76° 28.617W; 33° 52.019N and 76° 27.798W; 33° 49.946N and 76° 30.627W; 33° 51.041N and 76° 31.424W (total of 5.10 square miles).

South Carolina
Devil's Hole / Georgetown Hole: 32° 34.311N and 78° 34.996W; 32° 34.311N and 78° 33.220W; 32° 32.748N and 78° 33.220W; 32° 32.748N and 78° 34.996W  (total of 3.03 square miles).

Area 51: 32° 35.250N and 79° 28.600W; 32° 35.250N and 79° 27.000W, 32° 33.750N and 79° 27.000W; 32° 33.750N and 79° 28.600W (total of 2.99 square miles).

Area 53: 32° 22.650N and 79° 22.250W; 32° 22.650N and 79° 20.500W; 32° 21.150N and 79° 20.500W; 32° 21.150N and 79° 22.250W (total of 2.99 square miles).

Warsaw Hole: 24° 22.277N and 82° 20.417W; 24° 22.277N and 82° 18.215W; 24° 20.932N and 82° 18.215W; 24° 20.932N and 82° 20.417W (total 3.60 square miles).

The details of the monitoring for these Spawning SMZs Monitoring details are outlined in a System Management Plan (SMP) that can be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Website.  The link to this SMP is: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2016/am36/documents/pdfs/sa_sg_am36_app_n_smz_smp.pdf.

WRC Hosts Ongoing Fishing Programs
          The NC Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across N.C. and offers a variety of fishing and outdoor education programs. 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.

          There are numerous evening and weekend classes and programs offered at the Pechmann Center each month.  For more information on the centers and their programs, 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 are always interesting programs at the Pechmann Center that include kayak fishing, fly tying, lure making, fishing tips and boating safety.

N.C. Aquariums Offer Fishing Programs and Youth Summer Camps
         The North Carolina Aquariums offer a variety of fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jennette's Pier in Nags Head.  The local aquarium is at Fort Fisher and the other aquariums are at Pine Knoll Shores and Manteo.  The summer programs for all ages include surf fishing, exploring the marsh, canoeing and more.  There are also summer camps for youngsters.  For more information, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select the Fort Fisher Aquarium.

Wildlife Photo Contest
          The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is accepting entries to its 13th annual Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine Photo Competition until 5 p.m., Sept. 1, 2017.  The contest is open to amateur and professional photographers of all ages, except for employees of the Wildlife Commission, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, and their immediate families.  Entrants must be either current subscribers to Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine or younger than 18.

           Only photographs taken in North Carolina since Sept. 15, 2013 are eligible for the competition. The categories include birds, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, animal behavior, outdoor recreation, wild landscapes, wild plants and fungi, youth photographer 13-17 and youth photographer 12 and younger.

          Entries will be judged by a panel of staff from the Commission and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, as well as professional photographers.  The grand prize winner will have his or her photo published on the cover of the January/February 2018 issue of Wildlife in North Carolina and will receive a check for $200.  All winning photographs will be published in the magazine and exhibited at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.  First place in all categories pays $100; second place, $75; and third place, $50.

          The Commission is accepting entries online only — no slides, negatives or prints will be accepted by mail.  Entrants may submit a maximum of two photos per category.  Each photo must be in JPEG format and no larger than 2 megabytes each.

           For more information or to submit a photo, visit the Commission’s Wildlife in North Carolina Photo Competition webpage (www.ncwildlife.org/contest).  A video of last year's winning photos is posted on the Commission’s Facebook page.

USSA Schedules Kids Fishing Day for August 11 from Southport Marina
The United Special Sportsmen Alliance (www.childswish.com) will host their second event in the Southport area on August 10 and 11.  The first was a year ago and was a resounding success, so event 2 has been planned and volunteers are needed to take a terminally ill or severely sick child and their family, usually mom and dad, fishing for a few hours on August 11. 

After an arrival and welcome at Comfort Suites the afternoon and evening of August 10,fishing is scheduled for 8:30 to 1:00 the next morning from Southport Marina.  Lunch, provided by the Lions Club, will follow fishing.  This is not an offshore trip, but more of a nearshore or backwater experience and often simply being on the water is extremely therapeutic.  However, having some bites and catching fish puts an exclamation point on the experience. 

John Cranford of the Winston-Salem Saltwater Fishing Club is heading the local committee and can be reached at 336-312-3458.  More information on the event and USSA is available at their website, www.childswish.com

Ocearch Hosts Contest with Shark Tagging Adventure as Grand Prize
Ocearch, the organization that has been tagging and tracking sharks around the world for several years has teamed with Costa del Mar sunglasses to host a contest with the grand prize of accompanying Ocearch scientists on a shark tagging trip and getting to name the shark tagged on the trip.  The winner will fly to new York and then join the Ocearch crew off the northeastern U.S. Coast.  This sounds very interesting to me and I have already entered.  If it intrigues you also, the details and entry form are on their website at www.ocearch.org.  

Fisheries Meetings
 August 1-3:  ASMFC 2017 Summer Meeting, The Westin Alexandria, Alexandria, VA., www.asmfc.org.  

August 8-10:  Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Philadelphia Courtyard Marriott, Philadelphia, PA, www.mafmc.org

August 16-17:  NC Marine Fisheries Commission, Doubletree by Hilton Raleigh Brownstone-University Hotel, Raleigh, www.ncdmf.net.        

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
July 6-8:  Hatteras Grand Slam, Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, Village Marina, Hatteras, www.hatterasgrandslam.com.   

July 8-9:  East Coast Got-Em-On Classic King Mackerel Tournament, Carolina Beach Boat Docks, Carolina Beach, www.gotemonliveclassic.com.

July 11:  Free Introduction to Flyfishing Class, St. James Community Center, www.capefearflyfishers.com.  

 July 13-15:  Barta Boys and Girls Club Billfish Tournament, NC Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series, Beaufort Town Docks, Beaufort, www.bartaboysandgirlsclubbillfish.com

July 14-15:  Cape Lookout Shootout, The Boat House, Beaufort, www.capeshootout.weebly.com

July 15:  Topsail Island Inshore Challenge, Surf City, Fisherman’s Post, www.fishermanspost.com

July 15:  Pogies Redfish Series Tournament 3, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com

July 15-16;  CCCF Spanish Mackerel Challenge, The Boat House, Beaufort, 252-222-6222.

 July 16:  Pogies Kayak Redfish Series Tournament 4, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com

July 25:  Take a Kid Fishing, Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Swansboro, www.takf.com.

July 26-29:  Carolina Boatbuilder's Tournament, Pirate’s Cove Marina, Manteo, www.pcbgt.com.

July 27-29:  Ducks Unlimited “Band the Billfish" Tournament, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.ncdubillfish.com.

July 28-30:  Raleigh Saltwater Sportfishing Club King Mackerel Tournament, Jaycee Park, Morehead City, www.raleighkmt.com.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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