If last weekendís weather didnít get you excited and out fishing, you might better make a doctors appointment and make sure you are OK. The first taste of the break in the wind and cold was Friday and it was pretty nice. However, Saturday was nicer, Sunday even better and Monday was even warmer until the rain came. When you have sunshine, light winds and daytime highs in the seventies during November that is Mother Natureís way of telling you to quit wishing and go fishing.
Unfortunately, this weekendís weather forecast has as much wind and cold as last weekend had calm and warm. Not many fishermen will be out this weekend.
Now, back to last weekendÖ. With the break in the wind, many fishermen that had been dealing with blue water fever and deep water depression headed offshore. Those who found the fish said they were biting, but apparently there werenít fish everywhere.
King mackerel were the closest to shore and some fishermen found them within 20 miles of the beach and in water as cool as 66 degrees. The key for catching the closer in kings was finding an area that was holding bait. If there was food for them, they would stay in cooler water, but trolling around a rock or wreck in cool water that wasnít stacked with bait only resulted in burning fuel.
The king bite improved as fishermen moved offshore and the water warmed to the high sixties and low seventies. This generally started at about 30 miles offshore in 80 to 100 feet of water. There were good king bites at many of the rocks and wrecks just east of both Frying Pan and Cape Lookout Shoals.
King fishermen are still finding schools of menhaden for bait along the ocean beaches, rivers and sounds. With the cool mornings, the menhaden have been holding deep until the sun shines on the water for a little while. When they are holding deep, they obviously arenít flipping on the surface and can be difficult to find.
Two fishfinders will help you find menhaden that are holding deep. The fishfinder on your boat should mark schools in a thick dark red. Donít bother throwing your cast net until the screen is mostly red. They arenít thick enough until then. The other fishfinder is that pelican or few pelicans circling high over the same area and not moving away. The pelicans have spotted the menhaden and are circling while they wait on them to get close enough to the surface to catch.
There was a mixture of grunts, porgys and a few grouper at about 80 feet deep. There were also good numbers of black sea bass and beeliners, but those are catch and release only for a while. Grouper fishing improved as fishermen moved offshore.
Offshore trollers reported catching some kings and a few wahoo around the rocks and wrecks in 100 to 120 feet of water. The wahoo and blackfin action improved another 10 to 15 miles offshore as fishermen found the first temperature breaks and weed lines at the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream. Several fishermen reported finding pods of dolphin and adding some mahi to the fish box.
Probably the most intriguing part of the offshore bite was the billfish action. Boats from well below the Blackjack Hole off Cape Fear to the Point, east of Cape Hatteras, reported seeing an amazing number of billfish, especially for mid November. The majority of the billfish were sailfish, but some boats also landed (and released) white and blue marlin also. There were several locations many boats returned with lots of billfish laundry flying from the outriggers.
The fishing for fat Alberts has been good off Wrightsville Beach and Atlantic Beach. False albacore are voracious feeders and ferocious fighters. Most fishermen consider their table quality pretty low, but enjoy playing catch and release with them. One of the keys to catching false albacore is matching the size of the forage fish they are eating. Another is to retrieve the lure quickly, like a minnow that is fleeing for its life.
There are gray trout biting on many of the nearshore rocks and wrecks along the entire N.C. Coast. The negative with this is the limit on grays is a single fish. Stingsilvers. Jig Fish and speck rigs, jigged vertically for a foot or so off the bottom have been producing well. Grays will also readily eat live shrimp.
If you use the Stingsilver or Jig Fish, I would suggest switching the standard treble hook to a single hook. You may miss a few strikes, but it will be much easier to remove the hook on any fish you plan to release. Holding the fish out of the water for a shorter time and getting the hook out easily should help the fish recover also.
Pier and surf fishermen are catching red drum, black drum, speckled trout an occasional gray trout, a few flounder and some scattered spots. We havenít given up yet and keep hoping the big spot run will happen. There are just enough moving through to make a showing in the beach gill nets, but they just havenít been consistent or in good numbers for hook and line fishermen. Piers are preparing to close for the winter and usually are closed by Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
Puppy drum and speckled trout fishing is going well in the creeks and bays. Fishermen are catching a few inside flounder too. The calmer days over the weekend allowed fishermen to cover a lot of area and the report was that there are good numbers of fish. Unfortunately many fishermen reported their trout as being barely legal to about 19 inches and most of the pups were just a little too short to keep. Flounder sizes were mixed, but with enough keepers to carry home a flounder dinner.
Tim Barefoot of Fish For Tomorrow said the South Brunswick High School Aquaculture class would be doing their annual flounder release this Friday, Nov. 16. The time is 9:30 to 10:00 into Big Davis Canal at SE 40th Street at Oak Island. This is the only hatchery supported flounder release in N.C. waters. This year the students will release approximately 300 southern flounder the have grown to a size of six to nine inches long.
At their meeting last week at the Crystal Coast Convention Center, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) voted 8-1 to amend the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan. The sole nay vote was by Commissioner Mikey Daniels of Wanchese, who holds one of the commercial seats on the commission.
After their early fall meeting, the MFC had sent the Shrimp FMP out to their advisory committees for input on whether to retain the same plan parameters for another five years or to amend them. A report that had been published in late fall had raised a huge public outcry. The report showed the bycatch for inshore shrimp trawling was killing a huge number of juvenile fish, some of which were on the depleted and threatened watch lists. Some of the advisory committee meetings had been quite intense during the public comment periods.
According to Dr. Louis Daniel, Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), amending the Shrimp FMP will require somewhere between a year and 18 months. Daniels said the amendment would require establishing a Shrimp FMP Advisory Committee that would examine options to reduce bycatch and make recommendations to the MFC. Individuals interested in serving on this committee should contact Daniel at the DMF offices on Arendell Street in Morehead City.
Once the MFC is satisfied there are workable options, the list of options will be sent to the standing advisory committees for comments and then back to the MFC for the final decision. Daniel said this would be a thorough process, involving DMF biologists on the advisory panel and no options were off the table at this point.
Some of you regular readers may remember that at the early fall MFC meeting the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG) highlighted the report cited above and asked that otter trawls (one type of shrimping gear) be removed from inside waters to eliminate bycatch. That stance has softened a little, but the CFRG still believes reducing bycatch is a must for shrimping in state waters. At last weekís MFC meeting, the CFRG presented a five point plan that would still allow smaller boats to continue to shrimp in inside waters, but would have strict regulations on net size, trawl times and opening and closing seasons trying to limit bycatch.
Where this goes has potential to be very interesting. In addition to a complex problem, the recent election changed the makeup of N.C. Government and the MFC will be working through this under a new state administration that did not appoint any of the current MFC commissioners and is considering merging the MFC and the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Tournaments are winding down for the year. Only one tournament is on tap for this weekend and the small craft advisory has probably ended it early. The Martiniís Fall Hook A Hoo Rodeo began on Nov. 2 and is scheduled through Saturday, Nov. 17. This span of time includes two full weekends and Saturday of this weekend. Fishermen could choose one of the 16 days to fish based on weather, their schedule, or whatever was the deciding factor. Scales are located at South Harbor Village Marina in Southport and Motts Channel Seafood in Wrightsville Beach. The Shrinersí Childrenís Hospitals will receive all net proceeds from the tournament. For more information visit www.hookahoo.com.