The cooler weather felt good last weekend and early in the week and Iím waiting for this weekís cold front to roll through and cool us again. Itís been a little windy at times, but not too bad. The forecast once this front passes isnít enough to be a mullet blow, but the ocean will be bumpy once you get a few miles offshore. The calm ocean earlier in the week beckoned to fishermen and in many cases it followed up the invitation will good catches.
While fall wonít officially roll in for another 9 days, the weather is trying to get a head start. Letís hope it can complete the transition and stay with us, which the spring and summer had difficulty doing. This is a great time to be on the N.C. coast and itís even better if you enjoy fishing. The change has already started and Iím looking forward to an excellent fall.
The tropics have gotten active enough that more than an occasional look is warranted. Several times in the last week the outlook changed daily. Tropical Storm Gabrielle has broken up and reformed, but passed by well offshore on Thursday. Meanwhile, Hurricane Humberto formed as a tropical storm late Sunday/early Monday and grew to hurricane strength overnight on Tuesday. It has become the first hurricane of the season, but is forecast to wander over open ocean and lose strength back to tropical storm levels by Saturday. You can follow this on the National Hurricane Center website at www.nhc.noaa.gov and Mikeís Weather Page website at www.spaghettimodels.com. Mikeís Weather Page is also on Facebook.
The hottest fishing this week has been offshore. Wahoo were the fish of the day, every day and made some fishermen raise a sweat while reeling them in. There is no doubt our fall wahoo fishing has begun.
Just about everyone who went to the edge of the Gulf Stream caught at least one wahoo and numerous reports included 6 to 10 of the super mackerel. The average catch ratio is roughly half of the strikes, so there are lots of wahoo and the numbers are increasing. Offshore trollers also caught good numbers of dolphin and a few blackfin tuna. Several billfish even made surprise visits.
A little inshore of the Gulf Stream the offshore bottom fishing was red hot. The action included grouper, beeliners, amberjack, black sea bass, porgies, grunts and more off most of the state, plus some African pompano and hog snappers off Cape Fear. Mixed bag limits were the norm.
Inshore of the bottom fishing the king mackerel action was pretty good too. The kings arenít thick enough they are everywhere yet, but when a school is found they are usually hungry and willing to buzz drags. A few kings have been caught all the way inshore to some of the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs and a 29 pounder was landed from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island Thursday afternoon. Several fishermen have also caught wahoo mixed with the kings in 60 to 80 feet of water.
Spanish mackerel fishing is good and improving. There are lots of Spanish around the inlets and along the beaches. Some larger Spanish have been caught on the tide lines around almost every inlet, plus on the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs. The smaller Spanish have been readily striking a variety of trolled lures, but the larger Spanish sometimes get finicky and prefer live baits. Finger mullet are a favorite bait for them.
Pier fishing is picking up a little and should really get good at any time. There is a mixture of Spanish mackerel, flounder, pompano, red drum, black drum, bluefish, plus a few early spots and sea mullet being caught. A steady stream of mullet minnows is heading down the beach and more fish should key on them at any time. With the water continuing to clear and beginning to cool, itís time for king mackerel to move in along the beach too. There was the one king caught at Oak Island on Thursday and the pier king fishing could explode at any time.
Flounder are one of the favorite inshore fish of many anglers. They are biting around the creek mouths, along edge of the bars around most inlets and at the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs. Flounder key to structure that funnels bait. Bridge bumpers are one easy to find place that does this as do jetties and any rocks, sand bars or oyster bars that interrupt water flow.
Most fishermen prefer to chase flounder with live baits and they definitely work well. A local favorite is a Carolina rig with a mullet minnow, tiger minnow, peanut pogey, or mud minnow for bait. Make a bunch before you go, because you have to cast into structure to find flounder and you will lose rigs.
Flounder will also hit artificials and many are caught incidental to fishing for puppy drum and trout. The good thing about catching flounder on artificials instead of live baits is that you can set the hook as soon as you feel it. With live bait you have to wait for the flounder to turn the bait to head first so he can swallow it.
I donít know if puppy drum numbers are increasing or if they can just see to feed better in the clearing water. Whichever it is, no one is complaining. Fishermen are catching pups from the back of most creeks all the way to the ocean inlets and some are running up and down the first slough along the beach, especially at the beaches without houses. Red drum donít like lights at night and the populated beaches have lots of lights. Pups usually arenít particular either, especially if they are hungry. Pups will eat live baits, cut bait, soft plastics, hard baits, spoons, spinnerbaits and more.
The trout action is picking up too. I think the latest shrimp hatches, mullet minnows leaving the marshes, the water clearing and cooling are all contributing factors with the current uptick in trout catches. Trout will hit a variety of artificials, but few fishermen will argue that a live shrimp suspended under a float and struggling is the equivalent of Pavlov ringing a bell for trout.
I havenít mentioned sheepshead in a while and they are still biting. Capt. Matt at Chasiní Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach weighed some big ones this week for a few customers. Sheepshead are right beside structure like the wall at the State Port and bridge pilings. Two of the best baits are fiddler crabs and sea urchins.
There are still a few ladyfish in the marsh creeks, but if you really want to have some fun with them, spend a couple of hours under one of the lighted bridges at night with some live shrimp on a bare hook. Ladyfish go wild when hooked and run stronger than their size indicates, plus they usually jump several times. They donít have any food value, so when you wear them down, release them to thrill someone else at a later time.
The big red drum bite is still going strong in the Pamlico Sound, Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. The white marlin bite is better than excellent off Oregon Inlet. Double digit releases are the norm and several boats have flown more than 50 flags several days this week.
I was beginning to worry a little about tagged great white sharks Lydia and Mary Lee. Well, at least I was beginning to worry a little about where they were. Until Saturday, neither had been to the surface and pinged a location in almost three weeks. Lydia still hasnít pinged since August 12, but Mary Lee came to the top Saturday and was still a little offshore of the Continental Shelf offshore of the S.C. and Ga. state line. This was her first surface visit long enough to ping since August 19.
Perhaps as the water begins to cool this fall they will return to the surface and ping their positions more often. It certainly is more fun to try to follow them when they are leaving a trail. Itís also nice to know where they are. You can follow the travels of Mary Lee, Lydia and other sharks around the world by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
Several changes in beeliner (vermilion snapper) and red porgy (pink snapper) regulations became effective on Sept. 5 through Regulatory Amendment 18 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.
Based on recent population assessment updates for the two popular species, the vermilion snapper annual catch limit will increase from 1,066,000 pounds whole weight to 1,372,000 pounds whole weight. The more important change is that Amendment 18 will remove the November 1 to March 31 recreational fishing closure for vermilion snapper.
Unfortunately, the annual catch limit for red porgy will be reduced from 395,304 pounds whole weight to 306,000 pounds whole weight. The bag and size limits for both species will not change.
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).
While NOAA Fisheries has identified bluefin tuna as a species of concern, they are 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.
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 Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) received the Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for sea turtles in the flounder gill net fishery this week. Now that DMF has all that information in hand, they are working with observer reports, field staff, key fishermen and more to decide when the closed areas can reopen to large mesh gill nets. Their concern is to open an area too soon and catch a bunch of turtles and have to close again and not be able to reopen until September of 2014.
The ITP was issued under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act and allows for a limited number of interactions with sea turtles while lawfully fishing with gill nets. The numbers vary by area and species and several spots are so limited they could be closed again after a single interaction. For more details or to see a copy of the ITP and the Implementation Document, visit the Marine Fisheries Commission/Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net. The documents and a press release are under the "Hot Topics" header.
Several MFC Advisory Committee meetings are scheduled during September.
* The Standard Commercial Fishing License Eligibility Board will meet September 18 at 10:00 A.M. at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Ann Bordeaux-Nixon at 910-796-7261 or Ann.Bordeaux-Nixon@ncdenr.gov.
* The Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet September 18 at 6:00 P.M. at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. For more information contact Trish Murphey or Chris Stewart at 252-808-8091 or 910-796-7215 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. An agenda for the meeting will be available in the public meetings section of the MFC/DMF website at www.ncdmf.net.
* The Sea Turtle Advisory Committee will meet September 26 at 6:00 P.M. at the Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office in Morehead City. For more information contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov. An agenda for the meeting will be available in the public meetings section of the MFC/DMF website at www.ncdmf.net.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) will meet September 16 to 20 at the Charleston Marriott Hotel in Charleston, S.C. An agenda and briefing book materials are posted in the Council Meetings section of the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net. A highlight of the meeting is an Informal Question/Answer Session that will be held with Dr. Roy Crabtree and several of the SAFMC members on September 18 at 5:30 P.M.
A Public Comment Session will be held September 19 at 4:30 P.M. Public comments are being sought on Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 14, Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 5, Coral Amendment 8, Coastal Migratory Pelagics Amendment 19, Coastal Migratory Pelagics Amendment 20, and Coastal Migratory Pelagics Framework. Details on these amendments are available in the briefing book materials available at www.safmc.net.
If you had a good time at the Morehead City Military Appreciation Day (MAD) on June 1 and would like to do it again, the next round will be in Southport on Sept. 21. The Southport MAD 8 will be held at Southport Marina and registration is open for volunteers and participants. This is an all volunteer event to show support for active duty service members from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy.
Historically the Southport event is smaller than the Morehead City event. 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.
The Oregon Inlet Billfish Roundup began on September 12 and will continue through the 14th from BB Boatworks in Manteo. This is a billfish tournament with two categories that may be entered separately or together. One is for the most billfish release points and the other is for the largest blue marlin. For more information visit www.oregoninletbillfishroundup.com.
The Atlantic Beach Saltwater Classic will be held from Atlantic Station and McCurdyís Restaurant in Atlantic Beach September 12 to 14. This tournament features a guaranteed first place prize of $20,000 and proceeds will benefit the Atlantic Beach Fire Department. This is the fourth tournament in SKA Division 1. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
Also this weekend, the Carolina Beach Inshore Challenge will be held from Inlet Watch Marina in Carolina Beach on September 14. This is the final of five tournaments in the Fishermanís Post Inshore Challenge Series and several fishermen are hotly contesting for Top Angler Honors for the series. This will be a flounder tournament, with red drum as a secondary species. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.
Next weekend the Southeastern King Mackerel Club will host a pair of flounder tournaments. The Carolina Fall Flatfish Tournament at Kure Beach Pier will be held on September 21 and the Carolina Beach Pier Flounder Tournament, which was rescheduled from June 9, will be held September 22 from Carolina Beach Pier. For more information visit www.southeasternkingmackerelclub.com.