Fishing should be changing as you are reading this. We were fortunate that Tropical Storm/Hurricane Maria turned well offshore, but the cold front we are feeling now is one of the big reasons. Weathermen are predicting highs in the low 70s on Friday, then only warming to the high 70s by the end of the weekend. Anyone or anything that thinks fall is not pushing its way in is mistaken and the arrival of fall is a good thing.
Unfortunately the cool weather this weekend will also be accompanied by the first little mullet blow of the fall. The winds are forecast to blow from the northeast at up to 25 knots and while that is good in the long run, it won't be the best for this weekend's fishing.
The gusting winds have prompted the postponement of the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament. The tournament has been rescheduled for next weekend. At that time it will be a Saturday and Sunday fishing event, rather than the Friday and Saturday of the original format. Bluewater Promotions has a policy that their tournaments will not be held when the forecast includes a small craft advisory and one is expected for this weekend. Check their website at www.bluewaterpromo.com for more information.
The weather will also affect the fishermen in the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) Redfish and Kayak Tournaments scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Surf City. At least the IFA fishermen will be in inside waters and protected some from the wind. In talking with several of these fishermen, they are excited about the cooler weather and hope it will stimulate their action. Some of the IFA fishermen are already in town and are carrying some of the Camp Lejeune Wounded Warriors fishing on Thursday as they pre-fish. Details on their tournaments are available online at www.redfishtour.com and www.ifakayakfishingtour.com.
There is some good news for fishermen and businesses on Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands. Ocracoke opened to the public last Thursday and Hatteras opened to the public this Thursday. There is still not road access from the north and the towns of Waves, Salvo and Rodanthe remain closed to the public. Public access to Hatteras Island is by ferry from Cedar Island or Swan Quarter to Ocracoke and then another ferry across Hatteras Inlet to Hatteras Village, Frisco, Buxton and Avon. Reports are the fish are biting, but the lines at the ferry will probably be very long.
The action for large drum in the lower Neuse River and Pamlico Sound is still very good. Many charter operators are reporting double digit catches most afternoons. With the approaching cold front, this may slow, but shouldn't end just yet. If the winds blow as forecast, they could be a little too strong to go this weekend. If you plan a trip, proceed with caution and be prepared to postpone it.
Puppy drum have been biting well in the sounds and marshes. They are already fired up and this cold snap is expected to slam them into high gear. A few finger mullet are already migrating to the inlets and along the beaches and by this time next week the line of mullet along the surf may appear almost unbroken. The fish know this and will be feeding. Several nice pups have already been caught by fishermen along the jetties at Fort Macon.
Citation size drum (longer than 40 inches with a witnessed release) are being caught around the jetties at Little River Inlet. These larger drum like to eat corncob size mullet and pogies up to about eight inches long. Supersized Carolina rigs and a rod and reel combo that will handle several hundred yards of 20 pound line will handle this well.
There was good news on trout this week too. Several fishermen said they caught lots of specks, but many were too small. Other fishermen caught limits of keepers. Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah's Ark Charters in Harkers Island said his clients caught limits of nice specks and gray trout on several days this week.
The limit on gray trout is one per person, with a minimum size of 12 inches, so it isn't too difficult to fill if they can be found. The limit for specks is currently six fish with a minimum size of 14 inches and only two may be longer than 24 inches. Lynk said he had found some grays and specks averaging several pounds.
The fishery management plan for speckled trout is currently under review and biologists with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries said to expect changes during the November MFC meeting. State law requires ending overfishing within two years of determining it and rebuilding the stock within 10 years, plus adopting a plan with a 50 per cent chance of success.
The information on specks is currently going to advisory committee meetings (a list of dates, times and places of remaining meetings is father down) and the option that meets the requirements is dropping the limit to two fish longer than 14 inches recreationally and a 50 pound trip limit, also with a 14 inch minimum size, commercially. More details are available at the DMF website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
Flounder are also biting well. Several fishermen said they had moved off the nearshore reefs and were gathered around the inlets. This is an unusual move, but they are fish and have tails and can move around. They may have moved to get to the mullet minnows moving out the inlets and along the beach as some fishermen are catching flounder in the first slough in the surf. Flounder are also being caught at creek mouths, under docks in creeks and along the Intracoastal Waterway and laying along the wall at the Morehead City State Ports.
Sheepshead are also biting along the State Port Wall, around the pilings on bridges and on inshore rocky structure wherever it is found. Sandfiddlers, also known as one-arm bandits, are a favorite bait for sheepshead, but Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors said they like sea urchins even better. Chasin' Tails has sea urchins in stock and will show how to put them on a hook.
The Atlantic Beach Sheraton Pier has not reopened and there are reports it won't, at least not this fall. Fishermen on the other piers are catching a mixture of panfish, including some spots. They are also catching bluefish, Spanish mackerel, black drum, red drum, pompano and more.
Nearshore ocean fishermen are catching lots of Spanish mackerel and some are large, with a few reaching the six pounds required for an outstanding catch citation. They are also catching bluefish. Many Spanish and blues are being caught on Clarkspoons trolled behind planers or trolling sinkers, but the larger ones are being caught using live finger mullet and peanut pogies for bait.
I was reminded again that Lookout Shoals were dramatically changed by Hurricane Irene and fishermen should be especially cautious crossing them. Capt. Dave Dietzler said Shark Island is gone and a broad shallow flat is where it was. The shoals are sand, so they have probably shifted elsewhere also. The only marked passage is around the end.
Capt. Mike Webb of Pelagic Sportfishing reported the offshore wahoo bite was heating up. The fall wahoo bite can produce double digit days for wahoo, plus add some tuna, dolphin and more. The primary tuna right now are blackfins, but there is hope some yellowfins will arrive soon.
Offshore bottom fishing has been good also. Grouper are everyone's favorite and the blacks, gags, reds and scamps are biting well. Black sea bass are in big numbers in many places, but must be 12 inches to keep. Other offshore bottom fish include beeliners, pinkies, grunts, porgies and triggerfish.
The full moon was Monday night. This week I have seen many fishermen after redfish and marsh hen hunters taking advantage of the full moon high tides. Archery season for deer opened on Saturday, but I have difficulty concentrating on deer when mosquitoes and gnats are buzzing around me. However, many hunters live for these first few weeks each year. Other hunting season that are open include dove and resident Canada geese.
MAD 6 OI was held Saturday, Sept. 10, in Oak Island. MAD is an acronym for Military Appreciation Day and the 6 is to designate this is the sixth year the organization has been planning these events. MAD is headquartered in Charlotte and many organizational details are available at www.militaryappreciationday.org.
MAD events began in the Atlantic Beach and Morehead City area and started six years ago. The fall MAD event was added in Oak Island in 2008 and this is the fourth year for it. Beginning in 2010, an agreement to allow use of the MAD name and some help with organizing and executing the event allowed a MAD event to be held in Panama City, Fla. That event grew this year in its second year and is slated to continue.
MAD events include a day of fishing for any active duty military personnel. Some of the events also have non-fishing activities for family members while the troops are fishing, but the Oak Island Mad does not, at least not yet. If participation continues to grow, family events may be added in future years.
While registration and attendance fluctuate for MAD events, there were 119 members of the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy registered to fish during MAD 6 at Oak Island. Because of stepped up operations during the days approaching September 11, there were some cancellations. Still, approximately 100 of these servicemen and servicewomen arrived in the pre-dawn hours Saturday morning to go fishing. There were 50-some anxious boat owners and operators who had volunteered to take them fishing that were hoping it would also be a day of catching.
The servicemen and fishermen were paired according to what type of fishing they wanted to do. The range ran from backwater inshore to nearshore and all the way out to the Gulf Stream. For the most part the weather cooperated, but there was a mid-morning push of wind for an hour or so, but it laid out until roughly mid-afternoon
The big fish was a 45 pound wahoo caught aboard the Big Mama, with Wayne Cohen of Indian Trail. They also caught some skipjack tuna and pulled the hook on a white marlin.
The fish cleaners said they worked on numerous limits of offshore bottom fish, plus some kings, dolphin, tuna and three wahoo. On the inshore end, many fish were released, but lots of fresh flounder and redfish fillets will be eaten this week.
I fished MAD 6 with a pair (actually a trio) of Marines from Camp Lejeune. I did the official day on Saturday with two Marines and on Friday, Christopher Minish and I took another Marine who couldn't come on Saturday. We caught some nice reds and flounder on Friday, but the hooks we were using turned to rubber on Saturday and had difficulties holding fish all the way to the boat. I believe Christopher may have caught his largest ever slot drum on Friday, yet was gracious enough to release it to thrill someone else at a later date. My Marines on Saturday were gracious and appeared to really enjoy the day, even with the abnormal number of premature releases.
The coordination for this event is complex and crosses from Oak Island to Southport and back. It involved a captain's meeting Friday Night at Plaza Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant, Parking and check-in Saturday morning at Bill Smith Park, a shuttle to and from South Harbor Village Marina, using the fuel dock at South Harbor Village Marina to board and disembark the boats and the fish cleaning facilities to prepare the catch to be taken home, plus a hot dog and hamburger cookout at the Oak Island Moose Lodge.
In addition to the fishermen providing and crewing the boats, volunteers also helped landside in all phases of the event. Some of the volunteers almost seemed to forget the day was for the troops and freely talked about how much fun they had while assisting. Several commented that MAD was one of those events that once you volunteered, you would begin marking it on your calendar for every year.
At one point I talked to a Marine who participates in the Morehead City MAD as a boat owner, providing his boat and offshore expertise. He came to MAD Oak Island as a military participant to spend some time fishing and learning about inshore fishing. According to him, MAD is a great experience for both the military and the volunteers. He should know: he has seen it from both sides.
I was impressed with how many local businesses strove to make the servicemen and volunteer fishermen feel welcome in our area. Several businesses offered discounts to participants over the weekend and Southport Marina offered free launching and slips for participating boats. Other businesses offered food, water, drinks and associated supplies for participant's meal.
Capt. Chris Franks of the Oak Island Police Department is the local contact for MAD OI and said he was grateful and very pleased with how the local businesses and communities open their arms to all the participants, whether they are military or civilian. Area, statewide and national sponsors all contribute to the success of the MAD events. For more information on MAD and this or any of their other events, visit www.militaryappreciationday.org.
If you have concerns regarding allowing LightSquared, a broadband wireless company, to operate on a frequency that is known to interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) signals, the comment period has expired and your only means for preventing this now is through your legislators. Detailed information regarding the issue is available at www.saveourgps.com. BoatUS will also be posting updates at www.BoatUS.com/gov. The contact information for our Senators and Representatives is available at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.
The Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting that was originally scheduled for August 10 to 12 in Raleigh, then rescheduled for August 30 through September 1 and delayed again until Sept. 7 to 9 finally happened last week. The commissioners discussed several items and made the decision to continue allowing trawling for striped bass, but with minor modifications to the overall Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan. The commercial hook and line striped bass fishery many were hoping for will also not happen this year, but will at least be discussed for the future.
The commissioners also discussed ways to meet the legal requirements of the speckled trout fishery management plan. Now that the Commission has met, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries will hold six public meetings this month in conjunction with MFC Advisory Committee meetings to allow the public to comment on the N.C. Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan and on achieving sustainable harvest in the draft N.C. Spotted Sea Trout Fishery Management Plan. Three of those meetings have already occurred. The dates, times and locations for the remaining meetings are:
* Sept. 20, 6:00 P.M., Central Regional Advisory Committee, DENR Washington Regional Office, Washington;
* Sept. 21, 6:00 P.M., Southeast Regional Advisory Committee, DENR Wilmington Regional Office, Wilmington;
* Sept. 22, 6:00 P.M., Northeast Advisory Committee, Dare County Administrative Building, Manteo.
More details will be available on the Commission website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/home.
There were no tournaments held over the past weekend, but the first trout of the 2011 Chasin'Tails Speckled Trout Challenge, that runs from Sept. 1 to Dec 31, 2011, was weighed in last week. There is a $50 registration fee and participants must be registered for five days before weighing a trout. There are monthly wild card prizes and overall prizes. Mac McIntosh weighed a 2.31 pound trout and took the initial lead. McIntosh doesn't expect to win with that trout, but should be in good shape as the closest to match the Sept. wild card weight of 2.48 pounds. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
As mentioned earlier, the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament scheduled for Sept. 15 to 17 in Atlantic Beach has been postponed until next weekend and will be held Sept. 23 to 25. This is a change from Friday and Saturday fishing days to Saturday and Sunday fishing days. The tournament will benefit the Atlantic Beach Fire Department and tournament headquarters will be under the big tent in the parking lot at Atlantic Station in Atlantic Beach. Weigh-ins will be at McCurdy's Restaurant on the Atlantic Beach Causeway on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
The Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) will be in Surf City Saturday for the final of three tournaments in the Atlantic Division of the IFA Redfish Tour. The tournament will be headquartered at Beach House Marina and feature live weigh-ins of two redfish per team. For more information visit www.redfishtour.com.
IFA Kayak Fishing Tournaments sponsored by Hobie follow the IFA Redfish Tour events by one day and Surf City will not be an exception. The kayak fishermen will register after the redfish tournament ends on Saturday and fish on Sunday. This is also the final of three kayak tournaments in the Atlantic Division of the IFA Kayak Tour. For more information visit www.ifakayakfishingtour.com.
The N.C. Flatfish Championship will be held Sept. 16 and 17 from Inlet Watch Marina in Carolina Beach. Proceeds from the tournament will benefit the Marine Tech Club at Cape Fear Community College. Prizes will be awarded on the weights of each participant's two heaviest flounder. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.