Once again weather is a big part of the fishing report for the week.  We're in the Dog Days of summer and the winds have been unusually calm, but there have been an abundance of thunderstorms.  Unfortunately, they aren't the only concerns.  It's that time of year when the tropical weather ramps up and it has. 

Last week Tropical Storm Franklin formed in the Gulf of Mexico and turned west into Mexico.  Then Tropical Storm/Hurricane Gert worked its way across the southern Atlantic, but turned northeast and passed offshore.  Tropical Storm Harvey formed Thursday and is forecast to pass just offshore of South America and impact several Central American Countries before reaching the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in the middle of next week. 

There are two disturbances behind TS Harvey that are expected to intensify.  Disturbance 1 has a 70 percent chance of intensifying and models have it moving just east of the Bahamas much like Gert and it's far enough out they don't have predictions of it beyond the Bahamas.  Disturbance 2 currently only has a 40 percent chance of intensifying and is expected to curve out into the open Atlantic.

Mike's Weather Page has concerns with Disturbance 1and feels it bears watching closely.  You can follow Disturbance 1 through the official info source at the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and Mike's Weather Page (www.spaghettimodels.com) has lots of information too.  Both of these weather sources also have Facebook pages.

Our local weather has thunderstorm icons most days, but no predictions of heavy rain until after mid week, next week.  Many days have had lighter winds except during and around the storms, but there is some general 15 or so knot wind in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, then again about mid week. 

This is a time of year to consider the offshore run.  The wahoo bite is good and building, plus there are still scattered dolphin and blackfin tuna.  Sailfish are moving many places between the Gulf Stream and nearshore waters and bottom fishing is excellent.  Kings are biting too and they don't require as far a run.

The wahoo bite is hot and you might catch some other fish while trolling for them.  A few wahoo have followed bait closer in, but most are over the structure along the break at the Continental Shelf.  They like lures sweetened with ballyhoo and have sharp teeth that require wire leaders for consistent success.  Most fishermen recommend dark colors, like purples, reds and black, but occasionally they hit lighter colors also.  Don't troll offshore without at least one lure in your spread that is blue and white or blue and crystal.

Offshore bottom fishing has been good all summer.  It's only limitations have been the weather and getting properly positioned over the fish.  Bottom fish are very territorial and don't move far from their structure, so you need to be anchored over it.  We can't do much about the weather, but learning to anchor in deep water is a skill that helps fill the fish box with bottom fish. 

The bottom fish catch usually includes black sea bass, grunts, porgys, triggerfish, grouper and beeliners.  There are typically a few amberjack around structure with an abundance of bottom fish and the numbers of African pompano have increased in the past few weeks.  There will probably be some sharks too.  It would be wise to drift a light line off the stern while bottom bouncing as kings, wahoo, dolphin and sailfish are all moving in the same areas that hold bottom fish. 

King mackerel fishing has been pretty good most of the summer and continues.  A few kings have been caught closer in or farther offshore, but the most consistent area has been from about 60 feet deep out to around 80 feet.  We think of structure to hold kings, but the real key is the bait the structure is holding.  That's what the kings come to eat.  Most are smaller summer and school kings, but there are a few big girls occasionally mixed in.  That's right, I said girls.  The largest kings are actually queens.

Spanish mackerel are biting around the inlets and along the beaches.  They are following baitfish and may be on a tide line, over an artificial reef and occasionally in the middle of nowhere.  Spanish like small flashy lures that are the size of the baitfish they are eating.  They will sometimes hit small live pogies and mullet minnows and it's always wise to float one back when flounder fishing on one of the nearshore artificial reefs or wrecks.

From Cape Lookout to the south, flounder fishing has been pretty good on the nearshore reefs and wrecks.  Some fishermen are doing best using live mullet minnows and peanut pogies fished on heavier Carolina rigs, while others are having better success vertically jigging bucktails with trailers. 

Pier fishing is generally slow, with a mixture of sea mullet, black drum, flounder and a lot of silver perch stealing baits.  The biggest pier fishing news, both literally and figuratively, is the tarpon action from the Topsail area piers.  It has been impressive and several more were caught this week.

Some small big news was the approximately 20 inch sailfish Jim Brown caught from Avon Pier on Wednesday.  He was casting a Got-Cha plug.  This is the first I have heard of this year, but several of these mini sailfish were caught last year - mostly from the Outer Banks piers.

Fishermen in the Lower Neuse River and Pamlico Sound are catching (and releasing) lots of trophy (40 inch plus) red drum.  They are also catching a few tarpon.  The tarpon bite best during the day.  The bull reds often bite well in the early morning, then slow during the heat of the day and fire back up in the late afternoon into the evening.  Drum fishermen should remember that a special drum rig is required for fishing in Pamlico Sound waters from 7:00 P.M. until 7:00 A.M.  This rig, often called the Owen Lupton Rig, uses a large circle hook, with a sinker fastened within 6 inches to help prevent drum from swallowing the bait and being deep hooked.  All red drum longer than 27 inches must be released.

Flounder were the inshore fish of this week.  Flounder were surprisingly prominent in many catches and there were citation size flatfish (5 pounds minimum) recorded all along the coast.  Flounder were caught from the inland creeks to the inlets.  The first of the year's crop of mullet minnows are beginning to move towards the inlets and they always help get the fish in a feeding mood.  Many fishermen are doing best fishing live minnows on Carolina rigs, but some are catching flounder by slowly retrieving soft plastics across the bottom.

Specks and pups are biting well at times, but the action isn't consistent.  Typically trout and red drum become creatures of habit and will feed on the same tide stage at the same place as long as there is an abundance of food.  Someone questioned if there might be too much bait this year and that could be why the specks and pups are difficult to figure out.  I don't know if that's the cause, but they sure seem to be moving a lot.  The good news is that when you find them, they are usually feeding and willing to bite.

Even with the abundance of bait and moving fish, specks and pups have been hitting topwaters from first light for a couple of hours.  If you sleep until sunrise and eat breakfast, you'll be too late. 

There were more reports of tripletails and ladyfish in southern N.C. this week.  Most of the tripletails were caught in the lower Cape Fear River, between the Ship Channel and the Carolina Beach/Kure Beach/Fort Fisher side.  A few have ventured into the creeks behind Bald Head Island and inside the rocks in the bays between Bald Head and Fort Fisher.  They like to hang around crab pot floats and will sometimes hit lures, but really like live shrimp and minnows.

Ladyfish are spread from Harkers Island to the south.  During the day, they might be anywhere there are trout or drum and will usually hit the same baits and lures.  At night they gather in the edge of the lights around bridges and lighted piers to eat shrimp and minnows that are carried by in the tide.  If they are around, you can hear them splashing as they attack baits.  Ladyfish have no food value, but run hard and usually jump a couple of times, which makes them great fun to catch.

Cobia Regulations Changed
On August 4, NOAA Fisheries sent out a Fisheries Bulletin (FB 17-044) to notify fishermen that cobia regulation changes had been posted on the Federal register at 82 FR 36344 earlier that day.  This Fisheries Bulletin is to make fishermen aware of several changes in cobia regulations that will be in effect when cobia season reopens in federal waters (3-200 miles offshore).  Unfortunately it wasn't made clear that the implementation date of September 5, 2017 for these regulations was not a reopening of the 2017 cobia season that was closed on January 24, 2017.   Another Fisheries bulletin was issued a couple of days later to clarify this.

The federal regulations that will be in effect when cobia season reopens on January 1, 2018 are:
* For the Atlantic cobia recreational sector (Georgia and northward), the minimum size limit will increase from 33 inches fork length to 36 inches fork length.
* The recreational bag limit will be modified to one fish per person per day, or six fish per vessel per day, whichever is more restrictive.
* The rule will also modify the accountability measure for the recreational sector. If the recreational and total catch limits (commercial and recreational combined) are exceeded, NOAA Fisheries will reduce the vessel limit, and if necessary, shorten the following season.
* For the Atlantic cobia commercial sector, the rule will implement a commercial trip limit of two fish per person per day, or six fish per vessel per day, whichever is more restrictive.

This final rule is the result of Framework Amendment 4 recommended to NOAA Fisheries by the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils.  These actions are expected to reduce the likelihood of exceeding the recreational and commercial Atlantic cobia catch limits in future years and therefore also reduce the likelihood of having closed or shortened seasons.  View this and other Fishery Bulletins from NOAA Fisheries by visiting the website at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishery_bulletins/index.html.  

South Atlantic States Schedule Public Hearings on Draft FMP for Cobia
The South Atlantic states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia have scheduled public hearings to gather public comment on the Draft Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Migratory Group (AMG) Cobia.  The intent of the Draft FMP is to complement federal AMG cobia management actions and distribute catches among member states through a proposed allocation strategy.

The Draft FMP was initiated in response to recent overages of the federal annual catch limit (ACL) for AMG Cobia.  The Draft FMP addresses immediate management and conservation goals in anticipation of a new benchmark AMG cobia stock assessment in 2018.  Management options include size, bag, and vessel limits to complement federal measures along with proposed de minimis options for Mid-Atlantic states (Maryland through New York) whose landings are minimal or episodic.

The most significant change may come in the form of state-specific recreational allocations.  The current ACL for AMG cobia is 670,000 pounds (620,000 pound recreational ACL and a 50,000 pound commercial quota).  Managing the recreational ACL on a coastwide basis has resulted in federal closures and significant overages in 2015 and 2016, disrupting fishing opportunities and jeopardizing the health of the stock.  The Draft FMP contains a number of proposed options to allocate a recreational harvest limit (equal to the federal recreational ACL) to the four primary states (Georgia-Virginia) to allow those states more flexibility in developing seasonal options that best suit their specific state’s recreational and for-hire interests. 

At this time, the options for the commercial AMG cobia fishery do not include state specific allocations and generally complement the proposed federal requirements. 

A PDF version of the press release, complete with hearing details, can be found at: http://www.asmfc.org/uploads/file//5995da05pr38CobiaDraftFMP_Hearings.pdf.

There will be one hearing in Virginia on Sept. 12 at 6:00 P.M. at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in Newport News.  For more information contact Joe Cimino at 757-247-2236.

There will be two hearings in N.C.  One will begin at 7:00 P.M. on September 19 at the Hatteras Community Center in Hatteras and the other will begin at 7:00 P.M. on September 20 at the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City.  Michelle Duvall (252-808-8013) is the contact for both N.C. hearings.

South Carolina will have one hearing on September 14 at 6:00 P.M. at the Town and Country Inn in Charleston.  More information is available from Mel Bell at 843-953-9007.  Georgia will have one hearing on September 13 at 6:30 P.M. at the Richmond Hill City Center in Richmond Hill.  More information is available from Pat Geer at 912-264-7218.

The Draft FMP is available at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/DraftCobiaFMP_PublicComment_Aug2017.pdf or on the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission’s website at www.asmfc.org.  Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft FMP either by attending their state's public hearings or providing written comment.  Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on October 6, 2017 and should be forwarded to Louis Daniel, FMP Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org using the subject line "Draft Cobia FMP."  Final action on the Draft FMP is scheduled to occur in October 2017.  For more information, please contact Louis Daniel, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at ldaniel@asmfc.org or 252.342.1478.

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
A fisheries rule went into effect July 31, 2017, that prohibits offshore bottom fishermen from fishing five areas that have been designated as Spawning Special Management Zones (SMZ).  South Atlantic Fishery Bulletin FB17-035, issued on June 30, 2017 and posted on the Federal Register as 82 FR 29772, contains the final rule from NOAA Fisheries that established five SMZs in Federal Waters of the South Atlantic off N.C., S.C., GA. and FL.  as per Amendment 36 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.  The SMZs were implemented to protect spawning, or reproducing, fish and their habitat. 

The final rule for Amendment 36 implements the following management measures:
* Establishes 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

NOAA Fisheries Publishes Final Rule for Hogfish
On July 26, NOAA Fisheries announced a final rule for Amendment 37 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.  Effective August 24, hogfish (hog snapper) in the South Atlantic will be managed as two geographic populations.  One will be Georgia through North Carolina and the other will be the Florida Keys and the East Coast of Florida.  A population assessment determined that the Florida Keys/East Florida population is undergoing overfishing (rate of removal is too high) and is overfished (population abundance is too low) and, therefore, in need of a rebuilding plan.  The overfishing and overfished status of the Georgia/North Carolina population is unknown.

In addition to specifying commercial and recreational annual catch limits and accountability measures, the final rule for Amendment 37 will implement the following management measures:
* Georgia - N.C.:  The recreational season will be open all year with a minimum size of 17 inches (fork length) and a limit of 2 fish per person per day.  The commercial trip limit will be 500 pounds whole fish weight.
* Florida Keys - East FL.: The recreational season will be open May through October with a minimum size of 16 inches (fork length) and a limit of 1 fish per day.  The commercial trip limit will be 25 pounds whole fish weight.

This information was published in the Federal Register on July 25, 2017 as 82 FR 34584 and was published by NOAA Fisheries as FB17-041 on July 26, 2017.  View this and other Fishery Bulletins from NOAA Fisheries by visiting the website at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishery_bulletins/index.html.

Buoys Removed in Cape Lookout/Bardens Inlet Channel
The channel from Harkers Island to Bardens Inlet was another maintenance fatality last week when the Coast Guard removed several navigation markers citing excessive shoaling.  This was also done at Lockwood Folly Inlet  several months ago.  There is good news for Lockwood Folly Inlet as the Corps of Engineers dredge Merritt is currently there and working and the channel is expected to be reopened and navigation buoys placed in the next several weeks.  There currently is not a projection on when or if Bardens Inlet Channel will be dredged.

Boaters are continuing to use these inlets.  Caution is advised if you choose to use one of these inlets.  Boaters should also check their marine insurance policy as many do not cover transiting through unmarked inlets.        

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 the 2016s winning photos is posted on the Commission’s Facebook page.

Southport Military Appreciation Day Scheduled for September 9  
Military Appreciation Day 12 will be held from Southport Marina on Saturday, September 9.  This is a project of the Military Appreciation Day organization (www.militaryappreciationday.org) based in Charlotte through the Military Appreciation Day – Southport Chapter and assisted by volunteers from across N.C. and beyond.  It is simply a day of saying "Thank You" by taking members of the active duty military fishing.

MAD 12 will begin when the troops check in and board boats around daylight and concludes with a cookout and picnic for the troops and volunteer boat captains in the late afternoon.  MAD events are all-volunteer events and volunteers are needed for MAD 12 in Southport.  Volunteers with boats are needed to take the troops fishing and volunteers are also needed for shore side duties ranging from helping with setup and the meal to helping clean the fish that are caught.

Those interested in being a part of MAD 12 can visit the website at www.militaryappreciationday.org for more information and to register as a volunteer.  I’ve been volunteering at MAD events for a handful of years now and highly recommend it.  It’s a day you won’t forget.  I’m pretty sure I have as much or more fun than the troops I take fishing.

Oak Island Peer Fishing Festival Scheduled for October 6
The 4th Annual Peer Fishing Festival, sponsored by Ocean Crest Pier and Operation North State, will be held at Ocean Crest Pier on October 6.  The Peer Fishing Festival honors North Carolina wounded warriors, disabled veterans and veterans by treating them to a day of fishing and fellowship on Ocean Crest Pier.   

Volunteers are needed to assist the guests with their fishing needs and to supply extra, fishing outfits, tackle and bait.  This is an opportunity to give back a little to those who served our country.  Many volunteers spend the day smiling as much or more than the veterans who attend.  More information on the Peer Fishing Festival is available at the Operation North State website at www.operationnorthstate.com and those wishing to volunteer can contact Steve Sanders at Ocean Crest Pier at 910-278-6674. 

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.   

Great White (and other) Sharks Off NC
It has been several years since there wasn't an active sonic tagged shark off the Carolinas and this is the second week.  The closest active tagged sharks are off Long Island, N.Y.  An active shark is one that has come to the surface and pinged its location in the previous 30 days.  There are two groups monitoring sonic tagged sharks that have been off the Carolinas.  Ocearch tags multiple species of sharks and they can be followed using the shark tracker at www.ocearch.org.  The White Shark Conservancy tags and tracks great white sharks and they can be monitored through the "Sharktivity" App on their website at www.atlanticwhiteshark.org.           

Fisheries Meetings
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
August 15-19:  Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament, Governor's Cup Billfishing Conservation Series, Pirate's Cove Marina, Manteo, www.pcbgt.com.    

August 18-19:  Rotary Club of Sneads Ferry King Mackerel Tournament, New River Marina, Sneads Ferry, www.sneadsferrykmt.com.   

August 19:  Sheriff Ingram Flatfish Roundup,  Southport Marina, Southport, www.sheriffjohningram.com.

August 19:  Neuse River Summer Slam Fishing Tournament, Lawson Creek Park, New Bern, www.facebook.com/NeuseRiverSummerSlam.  

August 26:  Raleigh Saltwater Fishing Club King Mackerel Tournament, Jaycee Park, Morehead City, www.raleighkmt.org.

September 9:  Military Appreciation Day, Southport Marina, Southport, www.militaryappreciationday.org.

September 9:  Southport Inshore Challenge, Southport Marina, Southport, www.fishermanspost.com.

September 9:  Cape Lookout Shootout Tournament 2, Boathouse Marina, Beaufort, www.capeshootout.com.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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