It appears we might get a break this weekend from the storms that have been rolling through for the past week or so.  This would be a good time to get out and do some fishing.  The forecast shows a break in the thunderstorms for the weekend, with sea conditions starting fairly calm Saturday morning and deterioration that afternoon and into Sunday.  The higher probability of thunderstorms returns for most of next week.

Last week I made one of those trips that are a necessary part of my job as an outdoor writer.  Going to the International Convention of the Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. is one of those things you just have to smile and bear.  What’s that you say, it’s nothing but fun and why would I complain?  Well, the problem comes from seeing so many new things in the fishing world and not being able to bring all of them home to try out.

Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah’s Ark Charters in Harkers Island and I traveled to ICAST together and we took a couple of fishing trips on the way home to ease some of the pain of looking at so many neat things we couldn’t have.  We also tested some of the samples we collected and had a great time doing it. 

ICAST is a huge show and for the past two years has partnered with the International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) show, which made it even larger.  The show floor covered more than 500,000 square feet.  It was impossible to cover the show in a day and getting it done in two days was pushing it.  We took two and a half days and still missed a few booths. 

Every fisherman I talk with wants to go next year, but before you fire up the computer and look for when and where the next ICAST will be, I have to tell you it is not an open show.  It is only open to dealers, distributors, buyers and the press.  Some of the products displayed are so new they are actually prototypes and won’t be available until at least the fall.  Some won’t be available until around Christmas or the first of the year.  I should say I’m sorry for teasing you with things that might not be available for a few months, but I’m really not.  I saw some really unique things and they should begin showing up in area tackle shops in the next few months.

The New Product Showcase is a highlight of ICAST and is where manufacturers enter products they feel excel in a feature, function, or otherwise.  This year there were just more than 700 new products by 253 companies entered into 24 categories.  Buyers and the press voted on the products to select “Best of Show” awards in the 24 categories and overall.  A list of the categories and winners follows.   

There has been a growing theme in the New Product Showcase for the past four years and it is kayak fishing.  Three of the past four years a kayak has won the “Overall Best of Show” award and this year it was the Predator XL Power Kayak from Old Town. 

The Predator XL kayak (www.predatorkayak.com) has a new seat with multiple positions and innovations in storage and the deck, but the highlight of the Predator XL is the modular console system located in front of the fisherman.  The Minn-Kota Console was featured at ICAST and it offers complete hands-free navigation and trolling with a specially engineered Minn-Kota electric trolling motor.  The optional consoles are the Utility Console, a removable sonar electronics management system mated specifically to Humminbird products, and the Exo-Ridge Console, a flush mount insert to match the deck and open up the deck for big game fishing.

Engle (www.engle-usa.com) won the Best of award in Tackle Management for their UH 30 cooler with rod holders, but I thought their Stand Up Paddleboard designed for fishing was their hot product.  The Engel SUP uses the same construction process as the coolers and features a pocket built in for a small cooler or dry box and includes their cooler with rod holders for a seat, fish box combination.  Engel coolers are nearly indestructible, so their SUP should be also.

Several N.C. companies were displaying at ICAST.  Dry Case (www.drycase.com) is a Wilmington Company known for their waterproof cases for phones, iPods, iPads and such.  This year they were showing some roll seal dry bag that have backpack straps for easy carrying and are just the right size to be bungeed to a kayak or SUP.  

Betts Tackle, Ltd (www.bettstackle.net) of Fuquay-Varina has developed a good reputation with their Billy Bay Line of inshore tackle, especially the Halo Shrimp.  Betts introduced a new Halo Shrimp at ICAST that has the weight lightened and repositioned just a little farther back so it stays level and sinks slower.  This movement is more like real shrimp and they promised me some to use during the fall.  I’ll report back then.

Balloon Fisher King (www.balloonfisherking.com) is another Wilmington Company.  They make clips to attach balloons to fishing line and the idea has really caught on.  Balloon Fisher King introduced their Night Fisher at ICAST.  The BFK Night Fisher includes a glow light tube that slips inside the balloon and illuminates the balloon for fishing at night.  In addition to being a strike indicator, it lets night fishermen know where their lines are.  I thought it was one of the better ideas in the Terminal Tackle Category of the New Product Showcase, but not enough voters agreed with me. 

The ICAST “Best of Show” Awards are below:

ICAST 2014 Overall Best of Show – Johnson Outdoors Watercraft – Predator XL;

Freshwater Rod – Duckett Fishing – Micro Magic Pro;

Saltwater Rod – Shimano American Corporation – Terez Stand Up;

Fly Fishing Rod – G. Loomis, Inc. – PRO4x Short Stix;

Freshwater Reel – Pure Fishing, Inc. – Abu-Revo Beast;

Saltwater Reel – Pure Fishing, Inc. – PENN Battle II Spinning;

Fly Fishing Reel – 3TAND, LLC – TF-70 Sealed Fly Reel;

Hard Lure – SPRO Corporation – BBZ-1 Rat;

Soft Lure – Okuma Fishing Tackle Corporation – Savage Gear 3D PVC Crab;

Lifestyle Apparel – Pelagic, Inc. – 4TEK Fish Finder Boardshort;

Technical Apparel – STORMR – Fusion Bib            ;

Boating Accessory – Johnson Outdoors – Minn Kota Ulterra Trolling Motor;

Boats – Johnson Outdoors Watercraft – Predator XL;

Combo – Lew’s Fishing Tackle – American Hero Baitcast Combo;

Electronics – Johnson Outdoors – Humminbird ONIX 8SI;

Eyewear – Costa – Product – 580P Mirror Lenses;

Fishing Accessory – Lit-Industries, LLC – Lit Coolers;

FishSmart Tackle – Cuda Fishing Tools – Cuda Grip & Scale;

Fly Fishing Accessory – Plastica Panaro SRL – M2300 – Fly Caddy;

Footwear – Columbia Sportswear – Megavent PFG;

Giftware – Helter Skeletons, Ltd. – Authentic Skeletal Articulation;

Kids’ Tackle – ZEBCO Brands – ZEBCO Splash Combos;

Line – Pure Fishing, Inc – Berkley IronSilk;

Tackle Management – ENGEL U.S.A. – UC30-RH;

Terminal Tackle – Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle – TroKar TK619; 

I was on the road most of last week and part of this week so I haven’t been able to gather as much information as usual, However, I understand that between weather that isn’t nice and finicky fish, the fishing wasn’t as good for the past week as I had expected.

Several fishermen said the best thing going was still flounder and the pictures I saw agree.  Flounder fishing has been good from the creeks to the reefs and not only is there good numbers of flatfish; there are some big ones too.  I heard of the second ten pounder (10.31 pounds) for the year and it was caught by Ray Fowler during the Wrightsville Beach Inshore Challenge. 

The reports are mixed with some fishermen catching fair numbers of puppy drum and others are struggling.  There have also been some trout reports that don’t include a lot of specks, but some nice ones.  Live baits are the right stuff for flatties, pups and specks, with mullet minnows and shrimp being preferred.  The fish will also hit scented soft plastics pretty well, but just not quite as good as live baits.

Fishermen are catching sheepshead on the pilings and bulkheads of many bridges along the entire N.C. coast.  Sheepshead are special fish and have the reputation of stealing bait and not being felt.  Sheepshead taste very good and are well worth the long learning curve to catching them successfully.  The best baits are sea urchins and fiddler crabs.

There are some nice Spanish mackerel from Calabash to Corolla.  Some fishermen are doing well around the inlets and artificial reefs, but there are also some nice Spanish on the shoals at all three N.C. capes.  The Spanish and bluefish are getting into skinny water on the shoals and are hitting trolled spoons and cast lures. 

There are some nice kings spread along the coast, but they are mostly in deeper water.  There were a few kings caught from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island in the middle of the week and a few at the artificial reefs off Atlantic beach.  With those exceptions the kings prefer the rocks and wrecks from 50 feet deep and out.  Some dolphin and a few scattered sailfish are feeding with the kings and they are welcome surprises.  Several tournaments are happening this weekend and I should have a better report for next week.

The most consistent fishing in the ocean is offshore bottom fishing.  Sometimes the grouper and snapper take a little coaxing, but the grunts, porgies, black sea bass, triggerfish and beeliners are biting when you find them.  The regulations are varied, so carry a fish guide and a regulations sheet.  You can find the latest at www.ncdmf.net.  

This is the final weekend of the 2014 red snapper season, so if you want some red delicious this year, you might want to plan a trip.  This weekend red snapper season is only open Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26, so don’t hold out for Sunday.  You can catch the others then, but the final segment of red snapper season opens at 12:01 A.M. on Friday and closes at 12:01 A.M. Sunday morning.  A list of places accepting red snapper carcasses for research is below.

More ladyfish and old drum were caught this week.  The ladyfish were mixed with puppy drum and trout during the daytime and gathered under lights at night to feast on shrimp and minnows being swept by in the current.  Old drum have been primarily along the edges of the bays and islands in Pamlico Sound and the lower Neuse River.  Some fishermen are finding them in shallower water during the daytime and getting them to respond to baits fished under large popping corks.

A few tarpon are being caught, but they aren’t around in good numbers yet.  They have been spotted around the piers along much of the N.C. coast and in the sloughs at Cape fear and Cape Lookout.  It’s time for the tarpon action to pick up and it could at any time.  They are one of the fish that goes from not here to wide open almost overnight.

Bad News

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is some I need to share this week.  Jim Francesconi, who ran the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Artificial Reef Program for many years, passed away on July 18 during the second round of a prolonged battle with cancer.  Jim was dedicated to the Artificial Reef Program and worked with numerous groups along the N.C. Coast to replenish existing artificial reefs and establish new ones.  More than a co-worker or associate, Jim was a friend to the artificial reef associations and all N.C. salt water fishermen.  He was a good man and we will miss him.  Godspeed Jim.    

Fishing in the N.C. Budget

It is embarrassing just how slowly and poorly the budget negotiations in the N.C. Legislature are going.  I thought it was a battle between the House and the Senate, but the Senate appears to want to fight the governor too.  With this much infighting in the same party, is it any wonder there is difficulty when the parties have to agree to pass something?  Fisheries aren’t the only issues of serious contention and that’s a real shame.  I believe the House Budget is better for the health of the fisheries, but there are a few things there I would like to see changed also. 

Check out the budget bill (SB 744) for yourself.  It began as a Senate bill, but there is a House version too.  Both versions of the bill, with its full history, can be found at www.ncleg.net.  It is one of the hot topics and is on the home page when the website opens.  There is a section stating the intent to take interest from several funds and transfer it to the General Fund that is noted in the first few pages and the section on fishing begins on page 134 in the House version and on page 136 in the Senate version.

Let your legislators know how you feel about this and all bills.  The listings and contact information for all N.C. legislators, including those on the House and Senate Budget Committees can be found at www.ncleg.net


BIG (Boating Infrastructure Grants)

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is accepting proposals for the Boating Infrastructure Grant Program for federal fiscal year 2015.  BIG grants is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program that reimburses up to 75 percent of costs for projects that construct, renovate or maintain tie-up facilities and related amenities for recreational transient vessels that are at least 26 feet long.  The BIG grant program, which was authorized by Congress in 1998, is funded by excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuel.

The NC DMF serves as the N.C. liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Big grants.  Several examples of projects potentially eligible for BIG grants include transient slips, mooring buoys, day-docks, floating and fixed piers and breakwaters, dinghy docks, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, retaining walls, bulkheads, dockside utilities (water, electric, telephone, Internet), sewage pumpout stations, recycling and trash receptacles, navigational aids and marine fueling stations.  The facilities must have or intend to construct dedicated dockage for transient vessels to receive BIG grants.

BIG grants are distributed each year on a two-tiered basis.  For Tier 1 (Basic) grants, all states may receive up to $100,000 per grant cycle as long as proposals meet the program's guidelines.  Tier 2 BIG grants are reserved for large-scale, more expensive undertakings and are awarded on a nationwide competitive basis.  BIG grant applicants may apply for up to $100,000 under Tier 1 and up to $1.5 million under Tier 2.

For information about BIG grant availability, eligibility and proposal development, visit the DMF website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf, or contact Kelly Price at 252-808-8168 or 800-682-2632 (N.C. only) or at Kelly.Price@ncdenr.gov.  Applications are available on the DMF website and must be received by DMF by August 28.  Electronic submission is preferred.

2014 Red Snapper Season and Carcass Collection

Two of the three weekends for the 2014 recreational fishing red snapper season have passed and the third and final segment opened today (Friday, July 25) and closes Saturday, July 26 at midnight.  The bag limit is one fish per person per day and there is no minimum size.


The 2014 commercial red snapper season opened on Monday, July 14, with no set closing date.  It will close by NOAA Fishery Bulletin when the commercial catch limit of 50,994 pounds gutted weight is estimated to be approached. The commercial daily trip limit is 75 pounds, gutted weight, and there is no minimum size.

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries biologists will be collecting red snapper carcasses for research at carcass collection centers from Calabash to Hatteras.  DMF biologists request that fishermen clean their red snapper leaving the head and tail intact on the carcass and take them to the collection centers.  DMF biologists will examine the carcasses and provide the information gathered to NOAA Fisheries for use in an upcoming red snapper stock assessment. The research is to determine the health of the South Atlantic red snapper fishery and how it is progressing toward recovery. 

The carcass collection program will operate as it has in the past three years with a citation and rewards for bringing a red snapper carcass and filling out the information card.  Freezers will be stationed at the collection sites with instructions on how to deposit carcasses. There will be information cards to complete and pack with each carcass. The information requested will be basic information pertaining to how and when the fish was caught.

The carcass collection centers will be located at:

* Hurricane Fleet – 9975 Nance St. – Calabash;

* Ocean Isle Fishing Center – 65 Beach Causeway – Ocean Isle Beach;

* Carolina Beach Fishing Center – 313 Canal Drive – Carolina Beach;

* Tex’s Tackle – 215 Old Eastwood Road – Wilmington;

* Dudley’s Marina – 106 Cedar Point Blvd. – Swansboro;

* Capt. Stacy Fishing Center – 415 Atlantic Beach Causeway – Atlantic Beach;

* Carolina Princess Fishing Center – 604 Evans St. – Morehead City;

* Oden’s Dock – 57878 N.C. Hwy 12 – Hatteras.

A map of these locations is posted at the DMF website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/snapper/freezer-locations.     

Pending Legislation/Regulations

At their June meeting, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) approved several measures and amendments for Public Hearing/Scoping Meeting during August The N.C. and northern S.C. meetings are August 6 and 7 and the locations are noted below.  These range from the transportation of dolphin fillets from the Bahamas into U. S. waters to protection of deepwater corals.  The SAFMC reviewed draft amendments to fishery management plans and approved several to take out to public hearing and scoping meetings in August of this year.  They also reviewed recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), advisory panels, and public comment, and approved the following amendments for public hearings:

* Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 7/ Snapper Grouper Amendment 33 (fillets) – The Council is considering actions to allow fillets of dolphin (mahi mahi) and wahoo to be transported by recreational fishermen traveling from The Bahamas into U.S. federal waters.  Fillets of the two species are currently prohibited from transport within the U.S. EEZ.  Amendment 33 would also modify current regulations that allow transport of fillets of species within the snapper grouper management complex.

* Snapper Grouper Amendment 32 (blueline tilefish) – The amendment would adjust the Acceptable Biological Catch, Annual Catch Limit (ACL), and other management parameters. Following a 2013 stock assessment for blueline tilefish, the Council requested an emergency action to reduce the ACL until Amendment 32 could be implemented to end overfishing. The emergency rule implemented an ACL of 224,100 pounds (whole weight) beginning April 17, 2014.  In 2012, blueline tilefish landings totaled 477,125 pounds (ww). The amendment would further reduce the ACL based on recommendations from the SSC.  Amendment 32 would also modify Accountability Measures, establish a commercial trip limit, and modify the current recreational bag limit. Because of concerns about data used in the 2013 stock assessment, the Council requested a new standard stock assessment be conducted for blueline tilefish through the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) program as soon as possible. The commercial fishery closed on June 23, 2014.

* Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 20 (snowy grouper) – The amendment includes alternatives to adjust the current rebuilding strategy and Annual Catch Limit for snowy grouper based on the 2013 stock assessment.  Other alternatives include updating allocations between commercial and recreational sectors, changes to the current recreational bag limit of 1 fish per vessel per day, dividing the commercial fishing year, and modifying the commercial trip limit.

* Generic Accountability Measures and Dolphin Allocation Amendment – The amendment would modify Accountability Measures for the golden crab fishery as well as several snapper grouper species to provide consistency.  Alternatives for modifying allocations between commercial and recreational sectors for dolphin are also included.

* Coastal Migratory Pelagic Framework Amendment 2 (Atlantic Spanish Mackerel) – The amendment includes alternatives to modify Atlantic Spanish mackerel commercial trip limits off of SC, GA and FL.

The SAFMC will also conduct public scoping during the August meetings on proposed amendments to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan.  Amendment 35 proposes the removal of some species from the management unit and Amendment 36 proposes a process to establish Special Management Zones for spawning areas.  The public hearing and scoping meetings will be held August 6 –14, 2014.  The northern S.C. and N.C. meetings will be August 6 and 7 and the locations are noted below.  For more information visit the Public Hearing and Scoping Meeting page of the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.  The next SAFMC meeting will be September 15 to 19 in Charleston, S.C.

Fishery Meetings

August 4:  CANCELLED, N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, For more information contact Tina Moore at 252-808-8082 or Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Stephen Taylor at 910-796-7289 or Stephen.Taylor@ncdenr.gov, www.ncdmf.net, CANCELLED.

August 6:  SAFMC Public Hearing & Scoping Meeting, discuss amendments and regulations noted above, Bay Watch Resort and Conference Center, North Myrtle Beach, S.C., www.safmc.net, 834-272-4600.

August 7:  SAFMC Public Hearing & Scoping Meeting, discuss amendments and regulations noted above, Crystal Coast Civic Center, Morehead City, www.safmc.net, 252-247-3883.

 Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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