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08-29-13

I like cold fronts in August. They help most of us get through the day with a little less effort, but most of all they fire up the fishing. We havenít seen a real spike in fishing just yet, but there have been some little surges and the big one is coming. Weíre only a few weeks from fall!

Before we get to fall, we have to get through Labor Day Weekend. Labor Day Weekend begins Friday, with the holiday on Monday. This holiday is in celebration of the social and economic contributions of the American worker. It has become a time of barbecues and the unofficial "last weekend of summer." It is one of the largest beach crowds of the summer and with excellent weather in the forecast, this weekendís crowd should fill the beaches to overflowing. On the calendar, summer lasts until September 20, but with schools back in session the number of vacationers has already begun to taper down.

My Thursday morning check of the tropics was good again this week. Over last weekend, Tropical Storm Fernand popped up off Mexico, but immediately headed inland at low intensity and dissipated. A strong front over the Florida Keys showed a little chance of intensifying early in the week, but fell apart too. There are some lows and areas of Thunderstorms rolling off the coast of Africa, but currently nothing is expected to develop within the next five days.

I hope the tropics stay calm, but we are entering what is typically the most active part of hurricane season. This is also when many of the storms stay in the Atlantic and head our way. Tropical weather forecasting has moved forward in leaps and bounds in my adult lifetime and information is readily available. The websites I follow closely are the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and Mikeís Weather Page (www.spaghettimodels.com). As I have said many times, Mike is often a little ahead of the National Hurricane Center, but they are the official tropical weather forecast.

The inshore flounder bite has been pretty good and is picking up again. Flounder are gathering at creek mouths, around the inlets and at the nearshore artificial reefs and rocks. Flounder are feeding on the finger mullet that are streaming out to the ocean beaches, but they will also hit strips and soft plastics.

I donít know if it is flounder fishermen catching puppy drum or drum fishermen catching flounder, but there have been a bunch of mixed catches. I guess that means they are feeding in some of the same places, especially so in the creeks and marshes. Capt. Dave Dietzler said there are already red drum in the surf at Shackleford Banks. Cut bait also works well for drum, but use fresh bait. Red drum have the best nose in the marsh.

The water temperature has dropped a few degrees and with the cool mornings and daytime highs only in the low to mid 80s, I hearing more reports of speckled trout. They have been around all summer and occasionally surprised fishermen, but the numbers seem to already be increasing for the fall.

Specks typically like water a little deeper, but will move shallow to feed, especially on the rising tide. They were caught from the creeks to the bays this week. Some folks did well with lures, but a live shrimp dangling under a popping or rattling cork was almost irresistible.

If you havenít gotten into a school of ladyfish yet, they are still around. Most of the time they are mixed with trout and puppy drum during the day, but really come into their own as it begins to get dark. Ladyfish have large eyes and see to feed very well in limited light situations. They can beat anything to a shrimp drifting in the tide under a lighted dock, pier or bridge. When a school comes through with the tide, the action can get really crazy for a while.

The tarpon bite seems to have slowed in Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River, but this week there were tarpon scattered along the beach from Bogue Inlet to Cape Lookout. Many king mackerel fishermen were surprised when their line smoked out and then the big silver fish on the end began jumping.

Large red drum are biting well in the Pamlico Sound and Neuse River. Fishermen are catching 35 to 55 inch fish on soft plastics, chunks of cut bait and this week there have even been a double handful caught by fly fishermen. This is a world class fishery as long as we donít get careless and injure the fish. If you want a quick picture, handle them carefully and get them back in the water as quickly as possible.

There are also some large red drum at Little River Inlet. The big reds here like live peanut pogies and finger mullet drifted through the inlet.

Pier and surf fishing picked up a little this week. The water is the cleanest it has been since May and the fish must like it. Mullet minnows are streaming out the inlets and moving south down the beaches. This will bring more fish into the zone just beyond the breakers. Pier fishermen are catching more and larger Spanish mackerel, plus some red and black drum, flounder, spots, pompano, bluefish and more. Hopefully the kings will return to the pier ends soon.

Surf fishermen are catching red and black drum, flounder, pompano, bluefish and a few whiting.

Spanish mackerel fishing is pretty good and improving. In the Cape Lookout area, there have been some larger fish around Cape Lookout and Lookout Shoals. Farther south, those larger Spanish are still a few miles off the beach. The hot ticket has been 00 size Clarkspoons and Mackerel tree rigs. Larger Spanish also like to eat live finger mullet and are lots of fun on trout and puppy drum outfits.

The story remains the same with king mackerel. Fishermen who donít find them think the fishing is slow, while fishermen who locate a school think it is pretty good. There are a few scattered kings closer in, but the better action seems to be from about 60 feet deep and farther offshore.

With the warm water, a few offshore fish have followed baitfish inshore and are often found feeding along with king mackerel. It is occasionally a big surprise to find what was anticipated to be a king is actually a dolphin, wahoo or sailfish. Dolphin and sailfish might be mistaken for a large king until they jump, but with fast first run of a wahoo the reel usually makes a sound few people have heard before and that banshee scream is a clue something isnít normal.

The offshore trolling action is picking up along the edges of the Gulf Stream. The catches are dolphin, wahoo and tuna. The tuna action is best from Hatteras north, while the wahoo bite is building from Cape Lookout to the south. This bite should stay hot, probably even improving a little, for another month or so.

The legendary white marlin bite off Oregon Inlet is happening right now and it is world class. Two weeks ago, fishermen in the Pirateís Cove Billfish Tournament released right at 300 for the tournament and last week fishermen in the Va. Beach Billfish Tournament released more than 200 on two different days. Oregon Inlet and Pirateís Cove charter boats were flying double digit release flags several days last week. If you would like to sample this world-class action, it appears the time is right. The bite is definitely on!

Last weekend was the limited red snapper season for the South Atlantic for 2013. The season ran from 12:01 A.M. on August 23 until 12:01 A.M. on August 26 with a one red snapper limit and no a minimum size. I received reports of some catches, but the windy weather definitely slowed the effort. This may have put off the catch enough to consider adding an additional weekend. That decision will be made after the catch numbers are tabulated. NOAA Fisheries is already considering this for the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Iíll pass on any information as soon as I receive it.

Ocearch scientists have been hard at work off Cape Cod tagging more great white sharks and have tagged a couple more (Betsy and Katherine) in the past 10 days. Accounts of the captures and taggings are available in the blog at the Ocearch website. Perhaps they will join Mary Lee and Lydia in the warmer southern waters where we donít usually expect to see them.

The tagged great white sharks Lydia and Mary Lee havenít been to the surface and pinged a location in more than a week. Lydia last pinged on August 12 and for Mary Lee it was August 19. At that time they were still offshore of the Continental Shelf roughly offshore of Savannah. Ga. Speculation on the suddenly increased times between their pings focuses on staying under water to escape the heat of a southern summer. Follow the travels of Mary Lee, Lydia and other sharks around the world by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has applied, but not yet received, for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for sea turtles protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). These permits are issued to allow incidental takes of protected species while engaged in an otherwise lawful activity. Several areas along the coast have been closed to large mesh gill nets due to an abundance of sea turtles in those areas and trying to avoid interactions. DMF had hoped the NMFS would issue the ITP at the end of August and the areas currently closed to large mesh gill nets could reopen on September 1. That wonít be happening.

In a proclamation dated August 27, DMF Director, Dr. Louis Daniel stated the large mesh gill net areas in the Pamlico and northern Core Sounds and from the Highway 58 Bridge (Cape Carteret to Emerald Isle) south and west to the South Carolina state line will remain closed indefinitely. A spokesman with DMF said these areas would open once the state receives the ITP or the water cools to the point few turtle interactions are expected. In the same proclamation, the waters included in southern Core Sound, Back Sound, the Straits and North River remain closed for large mesh gill nets and are currently scheduled to reopen to large mesh gill nets on October 14.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles are one species of sea turtles protected by the Endangered Species Act. They have been listed as "Threatened" under the ESA for more than 30 years and their numbers are increasing. Suddenly federal agencies are seeking to protect habitat for the large turtles and it is a two pronged approach. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is seeking to designate 96 miles of N.C. Coast as "On-Land" Critical Habitat and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is seeking comment regarding designating much of the waters just off that 96 milers of coastline as "In the Water" critical habitat.

This is an overload of sudden correctness for these marine animals whose numbers have been growing without the critical habitat designations. The Carteret County Board of Commissioners has threatened to sue the USFWS if they continue with their pursuit of the land based critical habitat designation and passed a resolution against the in-the-water critical habitat designation. A coalition of city and county governments from the southern N.C. Coast has committed to helping defeat these designations. Concerns are the designations could be devastating for coastal landowners and communities.

Public hearings have already been held concerning the "On Land" critical habitat and a second round of public hearings regarding the need for "In the Water" critical Habitat areas are scheduled for Sept. 9 and 10 from 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. The Sept. 9 public hearing will be at the Warwick Center at UNC-Wilmington in Wilmington and the Sept. 10 public hearing will be at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City.

NMFS staff will present a brief overview of the Proposed Rule titled Designation of Critical Habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Loggerhead Sea Turtle Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and Determination Regarding Critical Habitat for the North Pacific Ocean Loggerhead DPS. Following this overview, members of the public will have the opportunity to go on record with comments on the proposed designation.

The public may also submit written comments at the hearing, or via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. To use the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0079, click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on July 18, 2013 (78 FR 43006) and may be obtained at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/07/18/2013-17204/endangered-and-threatened-species-designation-of-critical-habitat-for-the-northwest-atlantic-ocean. More information and background documents can be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/loggerhead.htm.

For more information contact Susan Pultz, NMFS Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, MD, telephone: 301-427-8472, email: susan.pultz@noaa.gov; or Therese Conant, NMFS Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, MD, telephone: 301-427-8456, or therese.conant@noaa.gov.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a proposed rule and its associated draft environmental impact statement, which aims to reduce discards of Atlantic bluefin tuna, and outlines measures to help ensure compliance with international quotas. The proposed measures in the draft of Amendment 7 to the Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan are designed to control bluefin tuna landings and dead discards in the pelagic longline fishery, enhance reporting in all bluefin tuna fisheries, and ensure U.S. compliance with binding recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

NOAA Fisheries has identified bluefin tuna as a species of concern, but the species is not listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries will hold numerous public hearings for this action along the Atlantic Coast, and in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico regions until the comment period closes on October 23. Dates, times and locations of the public hearings will be announced at a later date.

The proposed measures include:

* Revising bluefin quota allocations among the fishery participants to increase the allocation to the longline fishery, because dead discards will now be counted against their individual vessel allocations;

* Allocating individual shares of bluefin catch (landings and dead discards) to increase accountability and reduce dead discards in the longline fishery;

* Enhancing reporting requirements to improve accounting for dead discards in all bluefin tuna fisheries;

* Allowing longline fishermen who have demonstrated their ability to avoid bluefin while fishing for swordfish and other tunas to fish in areas where many bluefin are found, and restricting fishermen who cannot avoid bluefin from those areas, and;

* Prohibiting pelagic longline fishing for all species when the longline bluefin quota is reached.

Under these proposed measures, fishermen will have a strong incentive to avoid catching bluefin tuna incidentally when pursuing swordfish and other Atlantic tunas, as bluefin tuna landings and dead discards would be counted against individual longline vessels and reaching the bluefin quota could result in prohibition of further longline fishing.

Throughout the hearings, NOAA Fisheries will accept public comments on the proposed management measures. Electronic comments should be submitted via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0101 and click the "Comment Now!" icon.

The Marine Fisheries Commission has been meeting in Raleigh this week and the meeting will finish Friday afternoon. This was the third of its four scheduled meetings for the MFC for 2013. There were several important topics on the agenda, with the most highly charged on being discussion and a vote on the petition to declare all internal coastal waters that are not currently classified as nursery waters as secondary nursery waters. I plan to have a report next week. For more information on the MFC and coastal fishery regulations visit the MFC and Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.

Registration for participants and volunteers for Military Appreciation Day (MAD) 8 in Southport on September 21 is open. This is a great event to show members of the military we appreciate them by taking them fishing. The Southport MAD 8 will be held at Southport Marina. This is an all volunteer event for the civilians and is open to all active duty service members from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy.

Historically the Southport MAD event is smaller than the Morehead City MAD event held in June. The troops will be treated to a day of fishing and a large picnic dinner in the afternoon. This year families will also be invited, with events planned during the day prior to the cookout at the end of the day.

In addition to boats and captains to take the troops fishing, volunteers are needed for many land side activities, such as registration, preparing the meals, entertaining the family members, set up, take down and even for cleaning fish. For more information and details on this event, visit the MAD website at www.militaryappreciationday.org.

Hunting season will begin on Labor Day, so donít be surprised to hear occasional gunshots in the distance. Many years the N.C. hunting season begins with dove season on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, but that will not be the case this year. Federal regulations require opening day of dove season to be in September, so the opening day will be on Monday, September 2. Sept. 2 will also be the opening day for the season for resident Canada geese. Marsh hen season and our eastern archery season for deer will open Saturday, Sept. 7, as will the special teal season for east of US 17.

Hunters pursuing all migratory birds, from dove to duck, must have a H.I.P. (Harvest Information Program) certification in addition to their license and waterfowl stamps (only required for waterfowl). This is a free certification that can be done on-line at www.ncwildlife.org or at any license agent. Information on seasons, limits, regulations and license requirements can also be found at this website.

The Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic will be held August 31 from South Harbor Village Marina in Oak Island. The Captains Meeting and Final Registration is Friday afternoon and evening and the scales will open at 3:00 P.M. on Saturday. This is the third of five tournaments in the Southern Kingfish Association Division 9. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.

I don't know how it slipped by, but I didn't have one on my list and the NC Division of Marine Fisheries also doesn't have a tournament on their schedule for the weekend of Sept. 7. If the trend of cool weekends continues, this could be an excellent weekend to go fishing Ė just of the fun of it.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver

                                      

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