If you didn't think that winter was upon us, the snow of early December should have driven the point home. There will be some good fishing over the next few months, but it won't necessarily be consistent. Weather will also become a major factor. During the spring, summer, and fall, you can occasionally take a fishing trip on a marginal day. During the winter, everything needs to be close to perfect or the trip can rapidly wind up as miserably unforgettable rather than fantastically unforgettable.
Bluefin tuna are the biggest thing going right now. The concentration is in Raleigh Bay between Cape Lookout and Hatteras Inlet. They were in about 40 feet of water for the last week or so, but have moved off to 60 to 80 feet in the last week. Some are also being caught at the eastern end of Onslow Bay, off Morehead City. The southernmost catch that I have heard about was from the Horseshoe, just south of Frying Pan Shoals off Southport.
Some large menhaden are still in the Drum Inlet and Ocracoke Inlet area. These are excellent baits for the bluefins. These are also very strong baits and you can troll them up to several miles an hour. Diving Gannets usually mark these baits and may denote the presence of bluefin tuna. Chunking butterfish and menhaden has been effective too, once you locate a school. Rigged horse ballyhoo has also been drawing strikes well.
The 2000-2001 Tag-A-Giant program started on December 2 off Morehead City. If you hook one of these giants, call the tagging boat on VHF channel 5, 8, or 80. They may want to put a pop-off satellite tag on your fish.
Yellowfin tuna have shown lightly around the Steeples and a little heavier around the Big Rock. Off Hatteras has been fairly good, but The Point has been the most consistent spot. There are also some bigeye tunas at The Point. Trolling and chunking have both been producing well.
There are some king mackerel around still, but it will require a run to warmer water. You should start finding them when the surface temperature passes 66 to 68 degrees. Live bait, dead natural bait, frozen bait, and lures have all been producing. Off Hatteras, the Smell Wreck is a good starting spot. At Morehead City, the Atlas Tanker is the place to begin. Off Southport, the kings had been at the Horseshoe, but the recent cold has pushed them out to around Frying Pan Tower.
From Corolla to Ocracoke, there are stripers in the surf and inlets. Some good catches of 15 to 35 pound fish have come from Diamond Shoals in the past week. The stripers haven't yet started gathering around Cape Lookout, but they should show up at any time. Stripers will hit bucktails, bucktails with trailers, most larger swimming plugs, and an assortment of other lures. Last year, some really large ones were caught on horse ballyhoo that were rigged for bluefin tuna. Much like with bluefin tuna, diving gannets are a good sign of striper activity.
Some schools of gray trout are moving along the coast. Many of the nearshore artificial reefs are holding some. Surf fishermen have also been catching them well at times. Don't overlook other nearshore locations such as the Dead Tree Hole, John's Creek, and the WOFES.
Speckled trout fishing has not been as strong as last year, but there are specks around to be caught. Some of the guides in the lower Cape Fear River, such as Captain Bruce Haas and Captain Jimmy Price have been doing very well. It will be interesting to see how this latest cold snap has affected them.
Some red drum are still around also. There are scattered reports of puppy drum from all along the coast. The surf between Avon and Cape Hatteras has had several good large drum runs. If this recent cold weather wasn't too severe, there may be another run or two.
Good Fishing and Happy Holidays