Fall has arrived and it feels like it might be here to stay this time. The long range forecast includes several days with highs that might not make it into the 50s during the weekend and coming week. There are also several days with good chances of rain, but none appear to be as significant as the downpours of the summer and early fall. Periods of gusty wind come with these changes, so check the forecast before heading out.
The water temperature has fallen quickly over the past two weeks and now it is fluctuating. Early in the week the water temperature along the surf was 62 degrees. That had climbed back to 65 by mid week, but with the cold front rolling in, it won’t hold. The two offshore weather buoys in Onslow Bay and the one at Frying Pan Tower were reporting 70 degrees Thursday morning, so there is warmer water offshore and inshore of the Gulf Stream.
I believe king and Spanish mackerel fishing from the pier ends is over for the year. The kings have moved offshore to warmer water and the Spanish are heading south for the winter. However, there still may be some large red or black drum caught by pier fishermen, but it looks like things are shifting into the puppy drum, sea mullet, trout, black drum and puffer mode.
There has been sporadic good sea mullet (whiting, Va. mullet) action in the surf along most of the state. There have also been scattered catches of speckled trout and red drum just beyond the breakers. Another bonefish was caught in the surf at Hatteras last week. That fish’s internal compass must have been in a spin. This makes the third N.C. bonefish I’ve heard of this year and two have been in the past several weeks.
Flounder, bluefish and black sea bass are biting at the nearshore artificial reefs and hardbottoms. Some of them were eating minnows fished on the bottom and some were hitting metal jigs and speck rigs jigged vertically. The popular jigs were Jig Fish, Stingsilvers and Hopkins. Several fishermen said there were so many gray trout and short black sea bass that must be released they switched the standard treble hooks on these jigs to single J-hooks to make it easier to release them.
The cooling water has spurred the Spanish mackerel to head south for the winter. There were a few caught this week, but they were several miles off the beach. The cooling water has also pushed the king mackerel off the beach. Fishing for kings is good, but the action typically begins about 25 miles offshore. The best king reports this week came from rocks and wrecks in approximately 100 feet of water. The kings are hungry and are hitting live baits, frozen baits, spoons and some lures.
There are still false albacore off Cape Lookout, but the cooling water pushed the bait offshore and they followed it. Several king mackerel fishermen said they were mobbed by false albacore at Northwest Places and around Big 10 and Little 10 Rocks.
Offshore bottom fishing is good, really good. There are some gag grouper and scattered bottom fish beginning at about 60 to 70 feet, but there are a lot of short black sea bass at that depth and they are aggressive and beat most of the larger fish to the bait. More of those black sea bass are keepers out at around 100 feet, plus there are beeliners, triggerfish and other species of grouper. The key to finding them is structure and I prefer fishing hard bottoms and natural structure, but there are fish on the wrecks too.
The offshore wahoo bite continues to be really good. They are along the temperature breaks and rips at the edge of the Gulf Stream and over structure at the edge of the Continental Shelf. This is a long run and making the trip is very dependent on having good weather, especially in smaller boats. In the past week more fishermen have found good numbers of blackfin tuna too.
Inshore fishing has been good, but will probably change again with the cold moving in. The barometer is dropping and the water will cool and neither is a big plus for fishing. When the bite is slow, it often helps to slow down your fishing. Don’t move your lures as fast and switch to lures that don’t appear to be moving fast.
After reporting on Tommy Craddock’s large flounder last week, I had a guide call me and tell me a story about another huge flounder that apparently wasn’t carried to a weigh station. He said he was fishing a tournament and watched a lady land a huge flounder from the bank of the Intracoastal Waterway. It got the best of him and he eased over and offered to measure and weigh it for her. It was 33 inches long and weighed 13 pounds on his Boga Grip.
He said he told her she could get a citation for it and told her where to go, but she seemed more interested in getting it home to be the guest of honor for supper. I called around to several weigh stations and couldn’t find anything that large, but did find a few five to eight pounders. This makes me wonder how many other large fish are not weighed, but taken straight home to eat?
Even with the water cooling, some nice flounder have been caught. They have been moving and some have been in deeper water in channels and are headed towards the inlets. Most of the flounder have eaten live baits, but some have been caught using soft plastics.
Speckled trout were another inshore bright spot last week. I received a lot of good reports from all along the coast and several that were really good. The reports include a lot of 2 to 4 pounders and some citation size (5 pound minimum) specks.
Capt. Mat Lamb at Chasin’ Tails Outdoors on the Atlantic Beach Causeway said customers had been weighing a lot of nice trout and the top nine fish in their Speckled Trout Challenge were all heavier than 5 pounds, with the tenth place fish at 4.99. Live shrimp or minnows have been the preferred baits and fishing them suspended under a cork has been the preferred tactic.
Puppy drum fishing has been good, but they acted a little finicky at times last week. That isn’t normal, but with the temperatures rolling up and down and the barometer a bit unstable, the fish are confused. Hopefully the approaching cold weather stabilizes what is bothering them and they get back to feeding heavily this week.
Regulatory Amendment 14 will:
* Change the current fishing year for both commercial and recreational sectors of greater amberjack from May 1 through April 30, to March 1 through the end of February.
* Change the current commercial fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to January 1 through December 31.
* Change the current recreational fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31, to April 1 through March 31.
* Specify a 300 pound gutted weight commercial trip limit for black sea bass using hook-and-line gear from January 1 to April 30. From May 1 to December 31, the trip limit is 1,000 pounds gutted weight for hook-and-line gear.
NOTE: Black sea bass pots are prohibited from November 1 through April 30. From May 1 to October 31, the trip limit for black sea bass caught with pots is 1,000 pounds gutted weight.
*Revise the black sea bass recreational accountability measure to have NOAA Fisheries announce the length of the recreational season for black sea bass annually in the Federal Register.
*Reduce the commercial trip limit for gag from the current 1,000 pounds gutted weight, to 500 pounds gutted weight, when 75 percent of the gag commercial quota is reached.
*Implement an in-season closure for vermillion snapper if the recreational catch limit is reached, and an overage adjustment (payback) in the event that the recreational catch limit is exceeded.
For more information on the final rule for Regulatory Amendment 14, please follow this link to the Frequently Asked Questions section at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/reg_am14/index.html.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comments on a proposed rule to list Nassau grouper as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule filed in the Federal Register on September 2, 2014 (79 FR 51929). Currently, harvest and possession of Nassau grouper is prohibited in all U.S. waters, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, some countries have restrictions on harvest, including size limits and seasonal closures.
The proposed rule is based on key conclusions from a Biological Report and the Extinction Risk Analysis conducted by NOAA Fisheries. The results of the comprehensive status review are as follows:
(1) The species still occupies its historical range made up of a single population over a broad geographic area, (historical range means areas where Nassau grouper were typically found);
(2) The species possesses life history characteristics that increase vulnerability to harvest;
(3) The species forms large spawning aggregations, (spawning aggregations are areas where large numbers of fish come to reproduce); spawning aggregations are declining in size and number across the species' range;
(4) Current regulations and/or lack of law enforcement throughout the species' range are not effective in protecting Nassau grouper or their spawning aggregations;
(5) The combination of vulnerability to harvest, life history characteristics, and a lack of regulations and/or law enforcement indicate that the species is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.
For more information on the listing process, please visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/listing_petitions/faqs/index.html.
Written comments on the proposed rule must be received by no later than December 31, 2014 to be considered by NOAA Fisheries. Electronic copies of the proposed rule may be obtained from the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office's website. The biological report is also available at the same webpage.
Comments may be submitted electronically by visiting the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and entering docket number NOAA-NMFS-2012-0235 into "Search" box. Select the appropriate title, and click "Submit a Comment," which will display the comment web form. Attachments up to 10 MB will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
Comments may also be submitted by mail to: Jason Rueter – NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office – Protected Resources Division – 263 13th Avenue South – St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505.
Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. - Public Meeting, Nov. 20 at 9 a.m. - Business Meeting, Nov. 21 at 8:30 a.m. - Business Meeting, Hilton Garden Inn, Kitty Hawk, Contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.
December 8: NC Marine Fisheries Commission Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, 6:00 P.M., DENR Regional Office, Washington,
Agendas for all public meetings are posted on the NC Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net under the Public Meetings tag on the home page.
Tournaments, Seminars, Club Meetings
September 1 to Dec 31: Chasin’ Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasin’ Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
October 18 – November 29: Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament, Speckled trout, The Reel Outdoors, Emerald Isle, www.emeraldisle-nc.org.
November 14 and 15: Lowcountry Redfish Cup Championship, Red drum, St. Johns Yacht Harbor, Charleston, S.C., www.lowcountryredfishcup.com.
November 22: Jacksonville Rotary Speckled Trout Shootout, Jacksonville Landing, Jacksonville, www.jacksonvillerotaryclubnc.org.
November 22 and 23: Cool Water Surf Fishing Classic, Multiple species, Topsail Island, www.coastalanglermag.com.