Wow, it sure was cold earlier in the week, but is warming up some now. Who would have thought we would have snow at the N.C. Coast in mid-November? I know it was only a dusting, but it was a measurable amount and set a record for the earliest measurable snowfall on record. It slowed the fishing for a day or so, but that seems to be picking back up.
The wind that has been howling for a while is forecast to back off for the weekend. Itís supposed to blow back up on Monday, but will give us a break on Saturday and Sunday. That break comes with a chance of showers, but the other good news is the temperature is warming and I can handle showers when it is warm and with light winds. I expect to hear of some really good catches, both offshore and inshore.
A quick check of the weather map shows no tropical systems and none anticipated to form. While the 2013 hurricane season ends on November 30, many experts believe that for all practical purposes the 2013 hurricane season is already over and I agree. Itís difficult to think of any tropical weather heading your way when there has been solid ice in the dogís water bowl for several mornings in a row.
The thing to watch now is those cold weather systems rolling across the country every few days. They can make conditions too nasty to fish, just like the tropical systems and are as dangerous, if not moreso in some ways. Fishermen should always be extra cautious when heading out during colder weather, especially windy colder weather. It is much wiser to miss a day of fishing now and go several days in nicer weather later than to push the issue and have something happen. The water temperatures have dropped pretty seriously in the last week or so and are reaching levels where they are cool enough to impair swimming and thinking ability.
The wind affects everything and it begins with making running offshore tough to near impossible. Offshore bottom fishing is as good as it has been in the past five years, but getting there is always a question. Feeling a bite in 4 to 6 foot seas is difficult too.
This fall the black sea bass allocation was more than doubled and the season didnít have to close in August like the past several years. There are lots of nice sea bass waiting for us to drop baits on their home rock. Beeliner season didnít close this fall either. For a handful of years, there has been a beeliner closed season from November 1 through the end of March. Their numbers have rebounded also and this closure has been eliminated. Add grouper, grunts, porgys and triggerfish to this mix and there is a variety of offshore bottom fish for when we can get to them.
Offshore trollers have also been having a great fall. As usual, wahoo catches have been very strong, with many double digit days. Yellowfin tuna are primarily being caught off Oregon Inlet, but there are good numbers of blackfin tuna along the rest of the state and they have been pretty healthy so far this fall. Dolphin and sailfish are all but gone for the year, but it isnít a surprise to hear several boats found a pod of dolphin and had a good catch, plus fought and released a late sailfish.
Closer in, king mackerel are biting well. The kings got a small break for a week or so with the windy weather and numerous fishermen in Biloxi, Mississippi for the SKA National Championship. Still there were reports of some really big kings, including one in the low sixties from east of Cape Lookout and those fishermen who went to Biloxi for the SKA Championship are all home now and waiting for a weather window. There should be some good catches of kings in the next few weeks if someone finds the switch to turn off the oceanís fan.
False albacore have been biting well and are generally within sight of the beach off Atlantic beach and Wrightsville Beach. A few have been caught from the Atlantic Beach surf, especially around the inlets, and some have also been caught from the piers. Fat Alberts are usually feeding on smaller baits, like glass minnows, so small shiny baits that are retrieved, stripped or trolled pretty quickly get their attention best.
Two weeks ago it looking like the spot run might be firing up, but it was short-lived. There are still some being caught, but it isnít a large run like past years that we had hoped for.
Pier fishing slowed a little from the heyday of a couple of weeks ago, but those fishermen willing to brave the cold air and wind to fish in the 58 degree water are catching a mixed bag of red drum, black drum, bluefish, speckled trout, flounder, sea mullet and more. If the water warms a few degrees with the warmer air this weekend and next week, the pier action could get strong again. Remember the piers typically close for the winter around Thanksgiving.
Inshore fishing continues to be good from the surf to the backs of the creeks. The primary catches are red drum, speckled trout, black drum and flounder. In the Atlantic Beach area, there has been good trout action in the surf at times. There are also sheepshead and gray trout around the high-rise bridges and sea mullet and gray trout along the edges of the Morehead City Turning Basin. There are also some sea mullet, usually called whiting or Virginia mullet there, in the lower Cape Fear River at Southport.
Live baits are getting scarce for fish and fishermen and their value is increasing. The drum that may check out a soft plastic jerkbait, but not commit, will usually jump all over a frisky finger mullet. Trout are the same too, but they usually hold out for a live shrimp.
Before too long all the live bait will be gone and fish will have to try to eat soft plastic baits and hard lures. I like shrimp shapes in soft plastics, but also fish paddletails and swim baits. Right now the fish are active and you can usually fish at a fair pace. If the fish arenít biting at one of your favorite spots, try slowing your retrieve. Many times they get sluggish with a weather change and slowing down your presentation helps convince them to bite. Switching to smaller lures often helps too.
Red drum are the most robust of the inshore fish and may be anywhere in the marsh, plus along the edges of rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway. They generally feed in shallower water, but may be deeper occasionally. The water temperature is about perfect for red drum and they are feeding, which means they will hit just about any bait or lure. If the bite slows, slow your retrieve and add some scent.
Speckled trout are in many of the same areas a drum, but out towards the middle of the creeks in deeper water and in sloughs along the banks and around oyster bars. Inshore areas with varied terrain are good places to find them along the entire coast. The word this week is that some specks are already gathering around the Cape Lookout Jetty and the jetties at Masonboro Inlet. One of the techniques I find helps catch them is to cast just upcurrent of the hole they are using and let the current push your bait or lure into the hole. This is a natural presentation and sometimes makes all the difference in the world.
Black drum are usually caught incidental to fishing for specks and reds. They will eat all the same live baits, plus they also like pieces of shrimp and cut bait fished on the bottom. Black drum will occasionally hit lures, but not often. I have had my best lure response from them while fishing soft plastics that are scented.
There are still flounder in the marshes and creeks, but they are slowing down. Many have already moved towards the ocean and will be caught in the inlets and surf. At this time of year, finger mullet are generally considered the best flounder bait.
Flounder will also hit small pogies, croakers and spots. With these baits that are usually a little larger, it is very important to allow the flounder time to turn and swallow the bait. Flounder will readily hit soft plastics and spinnerbaits. I have also caught them on gold spoons bounced along the bottom and MirrOlures fished slowly just above the bottom.
This week finds one of the great white sharks that have spent time in our area very active and the other not so much. Lydia has been southeast of Newfoundland along the Continental Shelf for several weeks and seems to be enjoying it. She is coming to the surface and pinging her location more often than at any other time in the 10 months she has been tagged.
On the other hand, Mary Lee has suddenly decided to spend time under the water again. This is a little unnerving as her last locating ping was last Saturday and she was only a few miles offshore of Kiawah Island, S.C. Her tendency to swim the beaches or head inside an inlet definitely makes one wonder where she may be. Hopefully she comes to the surface and pings her location sometime soon. You can follow the travels of Mary Lee and Lydia, plus other tagged sharks around the world by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
Friday, November 15, is the last day the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) will receive public comments on issues they would like to see addressed in an upcoming amendment to the stateís hard clam and oyster fishery management plans. It is also the final day to apply to serve on the Hard Clam and Oyster Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee.
Individuals interested in serving on these advisory committees should have backgrounds in one or more of the following areas:
* Commercial harvesters using mechanical methods;
* Commercial harvesters using hand methods;
* Shellfish leaseholders and shellfish Aquaculture Operation Permit holders;
* Recreational harvesters and Under Dock Oyster Culture Permit holders;
* Clam and oyster dealers; and
* Scientists with expertise in clam and oyster biology and shell bottom habitats.
Individuals interested in serving as an adviser may not have had a significant fisheries violation in the past three years, plus should be willing to attend meetings at least once a month and participate in the committee process, which includes reviewing scientific documents and issue papers to make recommendations on management strategies. These are volunteer committees and there is no compensation except that advisors will be reimbursed for travel and other expenses incurred in relation to their official duties.
Applications are available online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/mfc-advisory-committees or at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheriesí offices or by calling 252-808-8022 or 800-682-2632. Applications must be returned by Nov. 15 to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, NC 28557, Attention: Lauren Morris or to Lauren.Morris@ncdenr.gov.
The division is beginning a mandated five-year review of the stateís hard clam and oyster fishery management plans that were adopted by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission in 2008. It is anticipated that amending both plans will be necessary as management issues concerning harvesting with mechanical gear and administration of the shellfish lease program have already been identified.
Written comments will be accepted until Nov. 15 and should be addressed to Tina Moore or Mike Marshall, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557 or sent by email to Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or Mike.Marshall@ncdenr.gov.
The Marine Fisheries Commission began their fall meeting on November 13 and will be wrapping up Friday. This meeting has been at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Atlantic Beach. Several important issues were on the agenda and I look forward to a report from the meeting.
Those wishing to comment on NOAA Fisheries Amendment 27 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region must do so by Monday, November 18. The Notice of Availability for Amendment 27 published in the Federal Register on September 18, 2013, (78 FR 57337). Amendment 27 Contains the Following Actions:
* Extending the South Atlantic Councilís management responsibility for Nassau grouper to include the Gulf of Mexico.
* Increasing the number of allowable crew members on dual permitted vessels (vessels that have both a federal South Atlantic Charter/Headboat Permit for Snapper-Grouper and a South Atlantic Unlimited or 225-Pound Snapper-Grouper Permit) from three to four crew members.
* Allowing captains and crew of for-hire vessels with federal South Atlantic Charter/Headboat Snapper-Grouper Permits to retain bag limit quantities of all snapper-grouper species.
* Allowing routine changes of catch limits to be modified quickly through an abbreviated process.
* Removing blue runner from the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.
Copies of Amendment 27 may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2013/am27/index.html or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Councilís Web site at www.safmc.net.
Comments on Amendment 27 may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0085 and click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments, or by mail to NOAA Fisheries Ė Southeast Regional Office Ė Sustainable Fisheries Division, c/o Kate Michie, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701. NOAA Fisheries will accept anonymous comments. Attachments to electronic comments will only be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats.
The Southern Kingfish Association National Championship was held November 8 to 10 from the Golden Nugget Casino and Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi, Mississippi. Actually fishing was shortened to only November 9 due to strong winds and high seas. Last week I said that N.C. teams own more SKA championships than fishermen from any other state and when the McMullan family from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center was crowned the Open Class Champion for the third time, another N.C. championship was added to the list. Led by Capt. Brant McMullan, Team OIFC caught kings of 56.28 and 48.82 pounds for a 105.10 pound aggregate to claim the win by 11 pounds.
Team Choice of Two, with Corey Bellamy and crew from Calabash were second with 94.82 pounds that included the largest king of the tournament at 58.44 pounds. Henry Tillett and the Windy Conditions team from Morehead City finished in third place with 91.86 pounds. In the Small Boat Class, the top N.C. boat was the Miller Time, with Capt. Brent Gainey of Carolina Beach and crew who totaled 78.84 pounds. For more information visit www.fishska.com.
Rennie and Shannon Clark of Carolina Beach Traveled to Beaufort, S.C. over the weekend and won the Lowcountry Redfish Cup Championship. The tournament fished November 8 and 9 and combined the weight of two fish per team per day. Shannon Clark also caught the largest fish of the tournament, a 22 inch redfish that weighed 5.08 pounds. The slot in S.C. is 15 to 23 inches. For their efforts the Clarks won an 18 foot Shallow Sport boat, motor and trailer package valued at $40,000. The Crews Chevrolet team of Ashley Lowder and Reed Simmons were second and the Monster/Natural Light team of Ronnie Pitts and Jamie Hough finished third.
The first Annual Cool Water Classic Surf Fishing Tournament will be held at Topsail Island on November 16 and 17. There will be categories for speckled trout, flounder, black drum and whiting and a TWT for red drum. For more information call 910-264-5487
The Red Drum Tournament will be held from Jeanetteís Pier in Nags Head on November 30. The tournament will feature multiple species in a 7:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. format with hot chili served at the awards shortly after 1:00. Jeanetteís Pier is now part of the N.C. Aquarium and has numerous similar events. For more information visit www.jeanettespier.net.
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver