We saw hot weather and crowds during the past week and it appears both will improve during the coming week.  The crowds will fall back to "regular summer" after this weekend and after a shot of hot weather over the weekend, the forecast has the temperatures dropping back to the upper 80s and low 90s.  It's hard to believe those will seem almost pleasant.  It will still be plenty hot so be sure to wear sun resistant clothing, use lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

The forecast doesn't include thunderstorm warnings every day, but I'll add them.  When the temperature and humidity are this high, there is a possibility for pop-up thunderstorms at any time.  These storms are rarely rainouts, but rain heavily for a while and usually have way too much sharp lightning. 

Avoid being caught in these storms if at all possible.  If you are on the water, head for shelter as soon as you see them forming.  Waiting until you see lightning or hear thunder may be too late.  These storms form quickly and move quickly.  Get out of harm's way and return to fishing after they pass.  

Fishing was pretty good overall last week, but the hot thing was Spanish mackerel.  Everyone who tried caught plenty of Spanish for dinner and there were lots of limits carried home.  Some of the Spanish were larger too; not necessarily six pound citation fish, but nice 3 pounders and heavier.

Many Spanish were caught by trolling small lures behind trolling sinkers and small planers.  Size 00 and 0 Clarkspoons are favorite lures and have been as long as I can remember.  They come in silver, gold, and silver with flash strips.  One of the hottest Clarkspoons this summer has been the electric chicken color (silver spoon with pink and chartreuse flash).  Spanish are also hitting mackerel trees, mackerel dusters, bird rigs and live baits. 

To add to your fun, troll the mackerel dusters without a sinker or planer on trout tackle.  Spanish macks fight really well on the lighter tackle.  Also put a live bait out on trout tackle while flounder fishing in the ocean and you might catch some Spanish macks then too.  Some Spanish are large enough they have been hitting the live king mackerel baits at the ends of the piers.  

Flounder have been another highlight of recent fishing.  They are biting fairly well inside the inlets, but have been biting better on the nearshore artificial reefs and hard bottoms.  Most fishermen are using live baits inside the inlets, but bucktails with trailers will also catch flounder well.  Bucktails with trailers catch flounder very well jigging them vertically over the reefs and structure and don't hang up as often as live baits.

There are tarpon moving up the beaches.  They have been from about the end of the piers and offshore a couple of miles.  Several have been landed from piers along the Tar Heel Coast, but most of the tarpon encounters are tales of the ones that got away.  Tarpon like live baits and have surprised king mackerel fishermen on boats and on the piers as they have moved up the coast.  They are difficult to land under the best circumstances and are a special challenge for pier fishermen.  Unfortunately several tarpon hooked from the piers have been broken off by boaters fishing too close.

Other pier fishing was mostly a mixed bag this week. In addition to the near misses on the pier ends, fishermen caught pompano, drum, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, flounder and more. 

King mackerel haven't come to the beach yet, but they have been biting from a few miles off the beach out to 80 feet of water or so.  Most are smaller kings, but they taste good.  The best concentrations have been around structure from about 50 feet and deeper.  There have also been a few scattered dolphin feeding with the kings.  Slow trolling with live baits or frozen cigar minnows has been producing kings, dolphin, amberjacks and more.

Offshore bottom fishing is hot.  The fish are hungry and aren't bashful about biting.  Double drop rigs baited with squid, cut bait, cigar minnows, or small live baits will catch well.  The usual fare is grouper, beeliners, triggerfish, black sea bass, grunts and porgies.  Several hog snapper were caught this week offshore of Frying Pan Tower.  Put a light line out in the current behind the boat while bottom fishing to add a king, dolphin or something else to your catch.

Gulf Stream trolling is producing dolphin, plus a few wahoo and blackfin tuna.  There are also billfish, primarily sailfish being caught.  Color changes, temperature breaks, weedlines and rips are good places to find fish in the Gulf Stream.  Dolphin and sailfish are following baitfish inshore and might be caught mixed with king mackerel at any time.

Fishermen who stayed inside the inlets found a mixed bag.  There were days the flounder bit well, days the trout bit well and days the puppy drum bit well too.  Unfortunately, I didn't hear of anyone having a huge catch of all on the same day.  There were days two of them bit well, but not all three.  Don't take this to say the fishing was bad; that's not the case.  Inshore fishing has been fairly good at times, just not consistent. 

One of the good reports from the last week or so has been a surprising number of upper and over slot puppy drum.  These fish weren't in the mix just a few weeks ago.  It good to see them.  Even though the overslot pups must be released, they are still lots of fun to catch. 

Drum have good appetites and are usually hungry.  When you find them, they will bite pieces of shrimp, cut baits, and a variety of lures.  Some drum fishermen report catching flounder on weedless spoons and spinnerbaits fished slowly. 

Speckled trout have been biting pretty good too, especially considering the heat.  Let's hope this week's heat wave doesn't change that.  Trout can be really picky at times and live shrimp are the most consistent attractor for them.  Sometimes they will hit minnows also, but not always. 

As picky as they have been, specks have been hitting topwaters in the first couple of hours of daylight.  Several fishermen said they were really aggressive too, especially in the first half hour or so of light. 

My favorite topwater lures for specks are MirrOlure Top Pups and She Pups.  Top Pups have a single low frequency rattle and usually work best in flat calm conditions.  She Pups have double higher frequency rattles and work well in many conditions, but are superior in choppier water.  Several fishermen have also reported good success using the MirrOmullet, which is a smaller lure in a finger mullet shape with high frequency rattles. 

Inside flounder are holding along the edges of channels, along oyster rocks, along drops in creek banks and at other spots where structure or current concentrates baitfish.  There are some nice flounder being caught, but there are also a lot that are just a little too short to keep.  There haven't been many reports of limits, but most fishermen are finding a couple for dinner.  Live peanut pogies and finger mullet have been the preferred baits for flounder inside the inlets.

More fishermen are mentioning good sheepshead catches.  Sheepshead like vertical structure, like the pilings of docks and bridges and along the bulkheads of the bridges and the Morehead City State Port.  Sheepshead like sandfiddlers and sea urchins and have a very light bite.  I prefer sea urchins as the sheepshead have to crunch the shell to get the urchin out and you have a better chance of feeling the bite.

I've only heard a few reports, but it's time for the old red drum to begin arriving in the Pamlico Sound and lower Neuse and Pamlico Rivers.  They are lots of fun to catch on lighter spinning tackle and popping corks, but sometimes those battles last a while and really tire the fish.  Be sure to revive them well before releasing them. 

If you fish the Pamlico Sound/lower Neuse River area from 7:00 P.M., through the night until 7:00 A.M. and use bait, remember that effective July 1 there are special regulations.  Check them out at the "Red Drum Circle Hook" link at www.ncdmf.net.   

Beware of Undersize King Mackerel
I first heard this from several nearshore charter operators at the southern end of N.C., but the reports spread northward along the coast last week, so I wanted to share their warning.  It seems there are undersize king mackerel mixed and feeding with schools of Spanish mackerel.  The two fish look very similar, but have significantly different regulations.

Fishermen may keep 15 Spanish mackerel per person per day with a minimum size of 12 inches fork length (tip of nose to the fork in the tail).  The regulations for king mackerel allow 3 fish per person and have a minimum size of 24 inches, also fork length.  Most of the undersize kings have been around 17 to 20 inches and look a lot like really nice Spanish.  If someone ran into a school of them they could think they are catching really nice Spanish mackerel, but have undersize kings and be over the king limit too.  This could be a pair of expensive violations.

The spots are not the difference between Spanish and small king macks; both have them.  Some fishermen want to call the small kings cero mackerel, but they're not.  Cero mackerel are a Caribbean and South Florida fish and don't come this far north.  Cero mackerel  have gold bars, not spots, on their sides.

There are several small differences between king and Spanish mackerel, but the most reliable way to tell the difference is to look at the leading edge of the forward dorsal fin.  If it has a black spot, that fish is a Spanish mackerel and if the dorsal is all gray, that fish is a king mackerel.  This is what the Marine Patrol officer will check to determine the species.

Boaters - Please Give Pier Fishermen Space to Fish
Several weeks ago I dedicated part of this column asking boaters to give the piers adequate distance so the pier-end fishermen could fight large fish.  It seems some fishermen either didn't read it or refuse to heed it, so I'm going to ask that again.  If you are in a boat, you can go anywhere you like, so head to the tide lines around the inlets, Cape Lookout, or one of the artificial reefs and leave the pier fishermen room around the pier.

I'm visiting this again because this week two young fishermen on a southern N.C. pier lost tarpon to boats that were trolling for Spanish mackerel too close to the pier.  This isn't just speculation as one of the young pier fishermen reeled in the Clarkspoon trolling rig after it broke his tarpon off.  While this started with a situation at the southern end of the state, fishermen tend to troll too close to almost all N.C. piers. 

A running king mackerel, cobia, tarpon, jack crevalle or other gamefish can cover 400 yards in about 30 seconds.  If you are within 400 yards of the pier, you can't react quick enough to get out of the way.  All those folks standing at the pier railing, waving their arms and yelling aren't saying hello; they're trying to get you to move out of the way.

Many folks aren't good with estimating distance, so here's a visual.  A football field is 100 yards.  You should stay at least 3 and really 4 football fields distance from the pier.  Give the fishermen on the pier a fighting chance to land their fish.  The odds are already against them.

Thank you!

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.   

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
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 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 15:  Cape Lookout Flyfishers monthly meeting, Cox Family Restaurant, Morehead City. www.capelookoutflyfishers.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.              

July 23:  Carolina Redfish Series Event 2, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, http://pcflive.com/carolinaredfish.       

July 27-30:  Carolina Boatbuilder's Tournament, Pirate’s Cove Marina, Manteo, www.pcbgt.com.  

July 28-30:  Ducks Unlimited “Band the Billfish” Tournament, Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, Morehead City Waterfront, Morehead City, www.bandthebillfish.com.  

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

July 30:  TJM Charity Kayak and SUP Fishing Tournament, Hook Line and Paddle/Grace United Methodist Church, Wilmington, www.hooklinepaddle.com.  

Good fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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