As I'm writing this, I have just checked the movement of Hurricane Earl and I'll check it again several times before I finish. We are seeing the turn to the northeast that was predicted, but it increased to a Category 4 storm and these storms have proven to occasionally move other than their predictions, so a wary eye is always wise. We will see some serious rain later today (Thursday) and tonight and the forecast has us seeing tropical storm winds, but the folks in real danger are on the Outer Banks. The beaches from Emerald Isle to the Outer Banks have mandatory evacuation orders. Tomorrow (Friday) morning I can tell you what happened, but today is just speculation.
The good news from the National Weather Service is that Tropical Storm Fiona, which was right on the heels of Hurricane Earl, has turned offshore and shouldn't be a concern for us. I was initially concerned with Tropical Storm Gaston that formed late Wednesday, but it had fizzled out by late Thursday. It started a little farther to the west and was on a track that has been more threatening to us in the past. Thankfully it didn't continue developing.
Other good news is this batch of storms will pass overnight and early Friday and we should be able to celebrate Labor Day with a very nice weekend.
With our cooler weather over last weekend was a little swell from passing Hurricane Danielle and a strong dose of easterly winds. We were fortunate and the swell wasn't as big on our south-facing beach as had been predicted. There was a little more possibility for strong rip currents, but nothing like the east-facing beaches. What the east wind did for us was slow the fishing.
There are two times considered to be the beginning of fall along the coast. The official one is September 21, which is the Autumnal Equinox and then there is Labor Day Weekend, which marks the last big weekend for summer vacationers and tourists who spend a long weekend at the beach. While September 21 is still three weeks away, Labor Day Weekend is upon us and we are moving into fall.
After the heat of this summer, fall will be very welcome. Several mornings this week as I walked out to take the trash and recyclables, it felt good. Back inside a few minutes later, the TV weather reported the current temperature in the 60s. The number was irrelevant; these are nice cool mornings and we have been waiting on them since late May.
Probably by the end of the weekend, fishermen and beach walkers will see the first of the mullet minnows beginning to stream out the inlets and southward down the beaches. These minnows will be right in the surf zone and usually attract quite a few species of fish as they migrate southward. Once the migration begins, fishermen can expect to see Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, red drum, speckled trout and more move into the beach and begin feeding on the minnows. It usually takes a little easterly to northeasterly wind and a couple of cool morning to get this going and now we've had that.
I've also been seeing more and more yellow butterflies. I don't know who first told me to watch for them, but ever since being a kid I remember being told the good fall fishing would start when the yellow butterflies arrived. I noticed the first of the yellow butterflies last Wednesday and they were very thick as I fished this Wednesday.
Unfortunately the fishing hasn't been exceptional for the past week. The changing barometer and the threat of Hurricane Danielle slowed the bite and kept many fishermen on the hill. There were some good catches and they should increase as the weather settles out into the upcoming weekend.
The brightest spots for the past week were puppy drum, flounder and Spanish mackerel. Fishermen from the piers and those who trolled before the wind arrived over the weekend reported lots of Spanish mackerel. The Spanish are hitting trolled Clarkspoons, cast Got-Chas and smaller live baits free-lined or drifted behind an anchored boat. The Spanish have been feeding all summer and are larger that in the spring, plus the live baits are attracting some individuals in the five pound range.
Flounder have also been biting from the creeks out to the nearshore artificial reefs. Most are being caught on live mullet minnows, but they are aggressive and a few fishermen are reporting catching them on spinnerbaits, spoons and grubs intended for puppy drum. Pier fishermen are seeing more keeper flounder than earlier in the year and some of them are not just barely legal, but weigh several pounds.
Fishermen have also begun catching more puppy drum. The drum work edges, such as the shoreline, a sandbar, a grass edge, an oyster rock and creek mouths, looking for food. They have been biting well for a couple of weeks and the slight cooling, plus the baitfish starting to move, should fire them up even a little more.
Fortunately, a hungry drum will hit almost any bait and a curious one is almost as aggressive. Live baits add the possibility of catching flounder, which often share the same locations. Several local favorites are grubs and jerkbaits with spinners and small spoons, with or without spinners. Redfish Magic grubs and jerkbaits are very popular and many fishermen replace the standard grub with one of the scented or bio bait versions. Many of the more popular spoons are gold in color and many have some sort of hook guard to make them weedless. Spoons are favorites to fish in flooded marsh grass.
We will be coming back up on the New Moon phase next Wednesday (Sept. 8) and the higher tides associated with it should move drum into the grass chasing minnows, shrimp and sandfiddlers. Many times you can see these drum tailing (tail exposed as they feed) or waking (creating a wake as they move through the shallow water. This is a great time to target them, especially if there is a high tide near daybreak or sunset and we have several in the middle of next week that will be just right.
The big drum bite is going strong in the lower Neuse River and Pamlico Sound right now. If someone wants to tangle with some of these brutes, the time is right. Give the weather a day or two to settle and things should pick up right where they left off. Most fishermen are getting a half dozen or more shots per night. The guides are pretty busy, but you can usually find someone for a weekday trip and you can always do it on your own.
King fishing has been spotty. There are kings around, but they just haven't been consistent. The better spots seem to be a little deeper right now in 60 feet or more of water. That should change and move inshore if the water cools a little. The king fishermen are still catching a few dolphin, but most are scattered. They also are reporting occasionally tangling with sailfish.
One king fisherman said, "The king fishing might not be real good right now, but it ain't bad. It sure beats looking at walls and staring out the window." The good news is it should improve for the next couple of months.
Hunters are getting back in the woods. The for resident Canada geese opened Wednesday (Sept. 1), with more seasons opening over the weekend and next week. Dove and marsh hen seasons open on Saturday (Sept. 4) and the bow and arrow deer season opens next Saturday (Sept. 11). Remember H.I.P. certification is needed for hunting all migratory birds, including doves, and waterfowl stamps are required for hunting ducks and geese.
There have been some changes in the hunting regulations this year and hunters would be wise to familiarize themselves. Several changes that many hunters consider major include changing the daily limit for deer to equal the season limit, allowing crossbows to be used by anyone at any time the bow and arrow season is open and allowing Sunday hunting with archery equipment on private lands. The new regulations digest can be found at license agents or on-line at the Wildlife Resources Commission website, www.ncwildlife.org.
A series of public hearings to receive hunter input on recommended game law changes, deletions and additions for the 2011-2012 seasons have been scheduled across N.C. beginning next week. A list of these suggested regulations and their justifications is available on-line at the Wildlife Resources Commission website, www.ncwildlife.org. The closest meeting to our area is at the Court house in New Bern on Sept. 22 at 7:00 P.M. A list of other meetings is available at the Commission website as is a link for those wanting to comment, but are unable to attend one of the meetings.
Hunters and recreational shooters survived an attempt at regulating guns through ammunition last week when the Environmental Protection Agency ruled it did not have, nor desire, the authority to regulate lead in hunting ammunition.
The time is growing short for public comment regarding the red snapper fishing closure and bottom closure in Amendment 17A to the South Atlantic Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. Electronic copies of Amendment 17A may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries Service web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov, the e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov docket number NOAA-NMFS-2010-0035, or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at www.safmc.net.
Written comments on Amendment 17A must be received no later than September 27, 2010, in order to be considered by NOAA Fisheries Service. They should be sent to: NOAA Fisheries Service--Southeast Regional Office--Sustainable Fisheries Division--263 13th Avenue South--St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505--Attn; Kate Michie.
Electronic submissions must be sent to the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov using the following docket ID in the search box: NOAA-NMFS-2010-0035. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only. This is public record and may be posted along with any personal information included with the submission.
For the past several weeks I questioned the request by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to exempt the Speckled Trout (Spotted Sea Trout) Fisheries Management Plan from meeting the requirements of House Bill 1713, which became Session Law 2010-13 on June 23. This bill, which effective upon Governor Perdue signing it, requires any changes or new Fishery Management Plans to end overfishing within two years, return the fishery to a viable status within 10 years and must have at least a 50 per cent chance of succeeding. This bill was endorsed by the MFC and the Seafood and Aquaculture Commission and sailed through both houses with minimal changes.
This week I spoke with Rob Bizzell, Chairman of the MFC about this action and he explained it was all a matter of timing. "We (MFC, DMF and MFC Advisory Committees) have been working on the Spotted Sea Trout Fishery Management Plan for about 18 months and had submitted it to the Secretary of DENR and the JLCSA for final review, so we were thinking of it as completed, even though it had not been formally approved," Bizzell said. "We never thought it would be part of this law. The Spotted Sea Trout FMP was at least 95 per cent completed before H 1713 was introduced. All that remained was the formal acceptance after it was reviewed and approved by the Secretary of DENR and the JLCSA.
"We support SL 2010-13 and believe it is excellent legislation, but this FMP had been done prior to it and will not meet all the requirements. It's not a bad FMP, but it isn't quite as restrictive as the new law requires. Our options were to ask for the clarifying amendment or be voting on a FMP at our November meeting that does not meet all the requirements."
Bizzell said that concerned fishermen should come to the November 3-5 MFC meeting in New Bern. There will be public comment periods where their concerns can be heard. The provisions of the current FMP could be tightened, which would require going through much of the process again, or tighter regulations could be imposed by proclamation. The FMP will be up for review again in three years and that revision will be required to be structured to meet the provisions of SL 2010-13. For more information on the MFC visit www.ncdmf.net and for more info on HB 1713 visit www.ncleg.net.
The MFC Central Regional Advisory Committee will meet at 6:00 P.M. on Monday, Sept. 20, at the NCDENR Regional Field Office in Washington. There will be a public comment period. For more information on this and other MFC meetings visit www.ncdmf.net or call 1-800-682-2632.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) will meet in Charleston on September 13 to 17. I do not have an agenda for the meeting yet, but there will be times for public comments. For more information visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
Military Appreciation Day (MAD) 5.5 at Oak Island is a day to take any and all active duty servicemen and women fishing and it is only a week away. Boats to carry the military participants fishing and volunteers to prepare and serve food are still needed. For more information visit www.militaryappreciationday.org.
A foursome of tournaments was scheduled for this past weekend and all but one were postponed due to the small craft advisory posted for local waters. The Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic included a king mackerel tournament and a redfish tournament to be held from South Harbor Village Marina. These tournaments have been postponed until September 10 and 11. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
The first Cobb's Corner Classic King Mackerel Tournament was to be held Saturday, August 28, in Carolina Beach and has also been postponed until a tentative date of Sept. 11. This tournament was to benefit the Venice, Louisiana Charter Fishermen who have been out of work during the oil leak crisis and was accepting weigh-in receipts from the Brunswick Islands Saltwater Classic to allow fishermen to participate in both tournaments. For more information call Ty Cobb at 910-512-1423.
The NC / SC Governor's Cup Shootout was held August 27 and 28 from Oden's Dock in Hatteras. This is a year end tournament between the top boats in the NC and SC Governor's Cup Billfish Series. This year five boats from N.C. (Peggy, Jester, Outlaw, Galot, Islander) and three boats from S.C. (Micabe, Rookie IV, Game On) accepted the challenge. Participants had an easy day Friday, but Saturday had to fish through breezier winds and increasing swells from Hurricane Danielle.
The Shootout alternates between the states and the 2011 tournament will be held in S.C. The shootout is an all-release tournament with blue marlin scoring 400 points and all other billfish scoring 125 points. The N.C. team won the shootout with 2450 points earned from releasing three blue marlin, four white marlin and six sailfish. The S.C. team compiled 1375 points from releasing six white marlin and five sailfish. The Peggy, owned by Doug Abrahms and captained by Mike Guthrie, was the top boat with 1200 points from three blue marlin releases. The eight boats caught 24 billfish (12 white marlin, 9 sailfish and 3 blue marlin) during the two day tournament.
The fourth tournament of Capt. Jimmy Price's Top Dog Flounder Series was held Saturday in spite of an easterly wind that was mainly threatening in the morning, but increased throughout the day. With the shifting barometer and easterly wind the fishing was tough, but the fishermen returned with some nice flounder and tales of even bigger ones that got away.
Shine Hall won the tournament and the $50 TWT with a flounder that weighed 3.32 pounds and collected $250. Just behind, with a flounder that weighed 3.30 pounds, Wayne Crisco placed second overall and won the $100 TWT, which paid $400. To help everyone understand just how close this was, .0625 pound is an ounce and the difference was 1/3 of this. The difference was less than the weight of a penny (.03). Anthony Hickman finished in third place with a 2.54 pound flounder and Jerri Hall won the $25 TWT and took home $100 with her 2.04 pounder. For more information visit www.topdoginc.org.
There are no tournaments on the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries schedule for Labor Day Weekend. Because of the postponements from this weekend, the next weekend, Sept 10, 11 and 12 has become a very busy weekend. As already noted, three tournaments have been postponed until then and Military Appreciation Day is September 11 in Oak Island.
The Onslow Bay Saltwater Fishing Club will host an "Artificial Lures Only" King Mackerel Tournament from Caspers Marina in Swansboro on Sept. 11. For more information visit www.captainstanman.us/forums.
The Teach's Cove Kayak Fishing Tournament will be held Sept. 11 in Oriental. For more information visit http://web.me.com/ebwjrw/tctournament.com/Welcome.html.
The Masonboro District Boy Scouts will host a flounder tournament on Sept. 11 from the Bridgetender Marina in Wrightsville Beach. For more information call 910-395-1100 Ext 21.
The Kings of the Coast Pier King Mackerel Tournament will be held Sept. 10 through 12 at Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. For more information visit www.oceancrestpier.net.
The Bay Creek Classic Flounder Tournament is to be held Saturday, Sept. 11, in Oak Island. Proceeds from this tournament will be used to help Southport outdoorsman Brandon Matthews have a much needed surgery to regain some use of his hands after experiencing paralysis from a fall from a deer stand several years ago. For more information visit www.baycreekclassic.com.