Once again the weather has been a major factor in the week’s fishing, but there has been more good than bad. Once we got through a bit of a windy weekend, the weather settled to hot and muggy, with lower winds. Real good news is the winds and seas are supposed to be really nice on Friday and Saturday, then pretty good on Sunday, before settling back to really good for most of next week. Of course, there are shower and thunderstorm possibilities every afternoon.
My concern looking ahead to next week is for later in the week because we have another storm brewing. Tropical Storm Dorian began as a wave just off Africa last weekend and then quickly grew to a Tropical Storm. Currently the forecasts are for it to remain at tropical storm strength through the weekend, but there is some mystery as to what might happen from about Tuesday on.
My suggestion is to take advantage of the nice weather and sea conditions while we have them and keep an eye peeled to the south and your ear to the ground regarding TS Dorian. The National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and Mike’s Weather Page (www.spaghettimodels.com) are watching it and giving several updates each day.
Some long-range forecasts have it turning east and heading out to sea early next week and that would be great. Unfortunately, as we have seen way too many times in the past, the forecasts beyond a few days have a lot of variables and can change significantly.
This week has been hot! I was glad for the cloud cover on Thursday and am looking forward to the minor cold front coming through to cool the weekend.
The good news is the fish have started to shake off some of their dislike of excess rainwater and are beginning to bite. I spoke with several folks at area tackle shops and some fishermen who spend a lot of time on the water and the general consensus is that fishing has begun to improve in the past two weeks. There are still some places the water is discolored pretty badly, but the fish are starting to feed.
When the ocean laid out early this week, fishermen headed out to various spots in the ocean and there have been some excellent catches. Those running to the edge of the Gulf Stream found lots of dolphin, some scattered sailfish, a few wahoo and even a few scattered tuna. There were lots of reports of big catches of bailer to shingle dolphin, but there have also been some large wahoo caught.
There haven’t been a lot of wahoo caught during the last week, but most have been large. I received reports of several in the 70s and even one in the 80s. They are also hitting while fishermen are slow trolling for kings. I hope you get to experience it yourself, but a stud wahoo can burn down a TLD 15.
Inshore of the Gulf Stream, the bottom fishing has been good. Black sea bass seem to be everywhere and from about 60 feet on out the catch begins including some porgys, grunts, triggerfish, beeliners and grouper. African Pompano aren’t really bottom fish, but fishermen in the general area of Frying Pan Tower have been catching them for a couple of weeks.
Kings bit this week and that makes a lot of people smile. While the most consistent action was still a little deeper, they are moving in. There were several good reports from the rocks and wrecks in 50 to 70 feet of water from Cape Lookout to the S.C. state line.
King fishermen are also seeing dolphin moving closer in with the kings and that’s a real good sign the water is cleaning up. There have also been a few sailfish hooked, with a couple being landed and released, while king fishing. Some of the fishermen said they had good action trolling dead cigar minnows and some preferred live baits.
There were also kings caught within a few miles of Shackleford Banks this week. That is really good news. In past years there have often been good late July and early August king bites from the Beaufort Inlet Channel over to Cape Lookout, especially in the Dead Tree Hole. With a little luck, this is about to happen again.
Closer in, there have been good reports of Spanish mackerel along most of the coast. Along the Crystal Coast down to Carolina Beach, they have been holding from just off the beaches out to 5 miles or so. If you turn the corner at Cape Fear, the water is dirtier from there to the south and west and the Spanish have been farther offshore at 5 to 10 miles.
Several fishermen said the offshore Spanish were larger, but they had a few small kings mixed in too. I first heard this about a month ago and passed the warning then, but will repeat it again. There are some small kings mixed with Spanish mackerel and the regulations are different. It is your responsibility to properly identify them and the mistake can be expensive.
The limit for Spanish mackerel is 15 fish per day and the minimum size is 12 inches (nose to the inside of the fork of the tail). For king mackerel, the limit is 3 fish per day and the minimum size is 24 inches (nose to the inside of the fork of the tail). At first glance, many not quite to barely legal kings and Spanish approaching citation size look very similar and can be confused.
While there are other differences, the one difference that is easy to tell is a black spot on the leading edge of the forward dorsal fin. Spanish mackerel have this black spot and king mackerel do not. The dorsal fin of king mackerel is gray from end to end. This is the difference a Marine Patrol Officer will check, so check it first yourself.
There are reports of schools of red drum moving along Shackleford Banks in the ocean. This is the wrong time for them to be there, but don’t tell them that. Just go out and find them and have fun. They are moving and aren’t always in the same place, but often can be seen in the waves and as a reddish coloring in the water.
There are also sharks off the beach, especially behind the shrimp trawlers. They can be a lot of fun to catch and blacktips and spinners will usually give a few jumps to add to the excitement. If you want pictures, use a steel leader, but if a few jumps, a hard run and an early release is OK, then you can use mono leaders. A big circle hook and a chunk of fresh fish or a live bait will usually get their attention.
Pier fishing has been good this week, especially for the middle of the summer. However, without the tarpon and king catches of last week, it seems kind of slow. There is a good mixture of fish being caught including flounder, red drum, black drum, speckled trout, pompano, spots, bluefish and more. One of the highlights has been some nice Spanish mackerel from Wrightsville to Emerald Isle. A few fish are pushing and eclipsing 5 pounds.
A general consensus among many fishermen is that fishing inside the inlets is improving also. There are flounder in the Marsh creeks, plus throughout the sounds and in deeper water along the edges of inlet and ICW channels. The percentage of keepers is rising and there are some doormats in the mix too.
Many fishermen prefer live mullet minnows and peanut pogies for flounder bait and they do work well. However, I am continually growing fonder of jigs and soft plastics for flounder. I like that I can fish a little faster and cover a lot more bottom, but what I really like is that I don’t have to wait to set the hook.
The puppy drum bite is also picking up. The good thing about puppy drum is they are versatile. They like small crabs and shrimp, but will eat minnows, cut bait and a variety of lures.
Trout are biting also, but the action hasn’t been as consistent as with flounder and puppy drum. The fishermen who are catching them said they were holding just off the banks, where the bottom drops into channels in the marsh. They have been hitting topwater lures early and late and soft plastics fished along the bottom during the middle of the day. One method that always will temp specks to bite is live shrimp fished under a popping cork.
Don’t forget Sheepshead! They are biting well along the ICW between Carolina and Wrightsville Beaches, behind Topsail and under the Morehead City high rise bridges and the train trestle to Radio Island. Sea urchins and fiddler crabs are the top baits and be sure to use a sharp hook.
Tarpon are in the lower Neuse River and in Pamlico Sound around Brant Island Shoal. The water is still off color, so if you head out to chase the silver kings, you would be well served to have some very fresh bait and score it to let them get a smell. Lots of chum will help lead them to your baits also. The bad thing about chum is it also attracts some less desirable critters to your baits. At least they keep you busy.
There were a few more reports of large red drum caught in the Neuse River and in Pamlico Sound off West Bay and Cedar Island the past few days. The numbers are slowly increasing and this fishery could get going strong any day. Be sure to use the proper (circle hook and pegged sinker) rigs if fishing in this area between 7:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M.
There are also some large drum being caught at Little River Inlet. This is barely across the state line in S.C., so a S.C. license is required.
This week’s tagged great white shark report finds Mary Lee and Lydia almost together off Charleston, S.C. They have both been in the area just off the continental shelf between Cape Lookout and Jacksonville, Fla. for more than a month, but always were 50 miles or so apart. They have been a little less active on the surface the past couple of weeks, but have moved close enough together their tracks overlap on the plotting map.
I am constantly asked about these sharks. They are a source of fascination to a great many people – including me. I find it really interesting that they have worked their way to the same place and are in water far warmer than we have been told they prefer. I have always felt fish behaviors tended to center on a good food supply rather than absolute water temperature and this makes me think there must be an abundance of food just offshore of the Continental Shelf. To keep an eye on the travels of Lydia and Mary Lee, plus other tagged sharks from around the world, open the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.
As the small inlets continue to fill in there is word from Raleigh that Senate Bill 58, (Increase Funding for Dredging) was included in the budget bill and it is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting a signature. No movement is expected for House Bill 983 (2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as the gamefish bill). The legislators decided they wanted to adjourn on Thursday, July 25, and were rushing a lot of bills through.
Details, wording and the tracking of all bills can be found at the N.C. Legislative website, www.ncleg.net. The contact information for all legislators can also be found at www.ncleg.net. Contact your legislators and the committees and let them know how you feel.
On July 19, NOAA Fisheries sent a Fishery Bulletin announcing the 2013 recreational red snapper season for the South Atlantic will be limited to three days, August 23, 24 and 25. The limit will be a single fish and there will not be a minimum size. The annual catch limit for recreational anglers in N.C., S.C., Ga. and the east coast of Fla. is 9,585 fish.
The 2013 commercial red snapper season will open on August 26 and run until federal fishery managers project the annual catch limit of 21,447 pounds (gutted weight) will be caught. The season will close by proclamation. Commercial fishermen will be allowed a daily limit of 75 pounds (gutted weight) and there will not be a minimum size.
Incidental Take Permits (ITP) are the permits that allow the occasional incidental taking of animals, birds or fish protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) while conducting an otherwise lawful activity. There permits, which are possible through Section 10 of the ESA, are also sometimes called Section 10 Permits. North Carolina has applied for ITPs for sea turtles and sturgeon and they have entered the stage for public comment.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has published the draft environmental assessment for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) application for an incidental take permit for sea turtles in the Federal Register. The draft environmental assessment is posted at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/07/16/2013-17037/notice-of-availability-of-draft-environmental-assessment-on-the-effects-of-issuing-an-incidental. NMFS is soliciting comments and the deadline for public comment is July 31, 2013.
NMFS has also published the DMF application for an incidental take permit for Atlantic Sturgeon in the Federal Register. The application is posted at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0104-0003. NMFS is soliciting comments and the deadline for public comment is Aug. 8, 2013.
Another large section of inside waters were closed to large mesh gill netting Wednesday evening, July 24. The waters of Pamlico Sound and Upper Core Sound will be off limits to set large mesh gill nets until at least September 1. Large mesh gill nets are those nets having a stretched mesh of 4 to 6 1/2 inches, which are primarily used as flounder nets in this area. Using large-mesh gill nets in N.C. waters is subject to regulations included in a lawsuit settlement agreement between the DMF and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
The proclamation to close these waters is directly tied to multiple interactions with sea turtles in the gill net fishery in upper Core and Pamlico Sounds. Since late May, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) Observer Program has reported eight sea turtle interactions, including two dead green sea turtles, three live green sea turtles, one live loggerhead sea turtle, one live hybrid sea turtle (loggerhead-Kemp’s ridley) and one live sea turtle that was not identified before it freed itself from the gill net where it was entangled. Making matters worse, one of the dead green sea turtles was in a large mesh gill net set prior to one hour before sunset, which was a violation of state fishing regulations.
Sea turtles are classified as endangered and threatened by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, there are provisions in section 10 of the ESA to allow limited incidental takes of listed species encountered in an otherwise lawful activity.
In the past, DMF had an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for sea turtles in part of Pamlico Sound. That ITP expired several years ago and at that time DMF began seeking an ITP for sea turtles in all internal coastal waters. The new ITP is nearing completion and its Environmental Assessment is currently posted on the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/07/16/2013-17037/notice-of-availability-of-draft-environmental-assessment-on-the-effects-of-issuing-an-incidental for review and public comment through July 31.
This closure will remain in place until at least September 1. If sea turtle activity is still high, the season will remain closed. September 1 is the date the flounder gill net season is scheduled to open in the Pamlico Sound Restricted Gill Net Area. Chris Batsavage, DMF Protected Resources Section Chief, said, that season will not open if the ITP has not been issued.
This closure does not apply to run-around, strike, or drop nets that are used to surround a school of fish and are immediately retrieved. The proclamation, M-21-2013, can be seen at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is accepting applications for proposals for the 2013-14 funding cycle from the N.C. Marine Resources Fund. The fund, which receives proceeds from the sale of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses, provides grants for projects that help manage, protect, restore, develop, cultivate and enhance the state’s marine resources. Only universities, local and state governmental entities in North Carolina, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are eligible to apply. Others must partner with one of these eligible entities.
Proposals will be evaluated based on the Coastal Recreational Fishing License Strategic Plan for the Conservation and Improvement of North Carolina’s Marine Resources. The plan considers priority research needs identified in fishery management plans approved by the Marine Fisheries Commission, issues identified in the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan and research needs identified cooperatively with other agencies. The strategic plan can be found on the Division of Marine Fisheries’ website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=585d10cc-7591-408c-b5a0-f44ff893673e&groupId=38337.
Projects submitted for this funding cycle should fall under one of three programmatic areas:
* Fish — Projects that estimate recreational fishing effort, harvest and mortality of important coastal recreational fish species, the socio-economic attributes of coastal recreational fisheries or the characterization of catch and release mortality;
* Habitat — Projects that improve the effectiveness of existing environmental programs or that identify, designate or protect coastal recreational fish habitat;
*People — Projects that provide increased access to recreational fisheries resources and enhancement structures or provide better public education and enrichment products.
All proposals must be submitted to the director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries by 5 p.m. July 31. Directions for submitting a proposal and an application form can be downloaded from the Division of Marine Fisheries’ website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/crfl-grants-projects-applications-procedures. For more information, contact Coastal Recreational Fishing License Grant Project Coordinator Beth Govoni at 252-808-8004 or Beth.Govoni@ncdenr.gov.
There will be a joint meeting of the Finfish, Habitat and Water Quality, Shellfish/Crustacean and Sea Turtle Advisory Committees at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern on July 30 at 12:30 P.M. This meeting will be to gather and discuss public comment regarding the petition for rulemaking the MFC received requesting that all inside coastal waters not already designated as nursery areas be classified as secondary nursery areas. As trawling is not allowed in nursery areas, this would effectively ban inshore trawling. For more information contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov. For more information visit the MFC/DMF website at www.ncdmf.net.
There is a summer outdoor show in Greensboro this weekend. The Big Buck Expo will be in the Special Events Center at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on July 26 to 28. There will be special appearances by Troy, Elizabeth and Jessica of Swamp People on the History Channel. For more information visit www.southerntrophyhunters.com.
The Ducks Unlimited "Band the Billfish" tournament begins on Friday and will also fish Saturday. This is the seventh of eight tournaments in the N.C. Governor’s Cup Billfish Series and includes billfish and offshore gamefish. There will be weigh-ins both afternoons on the Morehead City Waterfront. For more information visit www.bandthebillfish.com.
The Raleigh Saltwater Sportfishing Club King Mackerel and Flounder Tournament will be held July 27 and 28 from Jaycee Park in Morehead City. This is actually two different tournaments and fishermen may enter either. The king mackerel tournament is the first of five tournaments in the Southern Kingfish Association Division 1. For more information visit www.rswsc.org.
The Oriental Rotary Club Inshore Slam and Tarpon Tournaments are underway from the Oriental Marina and Inn in Oriental. These are actually two different tournaments held on the same weekend. The Inshore Slam is for puppy drum, trout and flounder and fishes today, Friday, July 26. The Tarpon Tournament is an all release tournament featuring tarpon and fishes on Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28. For more information visit www.orientalrotary.org.
The Capt. Eddy Haneman Sailfish Tournament will be held July 26 and 27 from Bridge Tender Marina in Wrightsville Beach. This is a limited area tournament that also has prizes for dolphin. For more information visit www.bridgetendermarina.com.
The TJM Celebrity/Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament will be held July 27 at Wrightsville Beach Park in Wrightsville Beach. This is a catch, photo release format tournament, so fishermen will fish at their favorite area spots and bring their cameras with pictures to the check in. For more information visit www.hooklineandpaddle.com.
The Carousel Center Flounder Tournament that was originally scheduled for June 8 will be held July 27 at Inlet Watch Yacht Club at Carolina Beach. For more information visit www.carouselcenter.org.
I know this seems impossible, but I double checked through my notes and with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries on their schedule and could not find any tournaments scheduled for the weekend of August 2-4. Several local fishing teams will be in Savannah, Ga. fishing an Inshore Fishing Association Redfish Tour tournament.