Get ready to welcome winter.  It doesn't officially arrive for almost two weeks, but it's practicing cold and even a little dreary to be sure it's ready when the time comes.  We were dreary before and between the rains earlier in the week and it looks like more of that will be on the way in the coming week.  Maybe that forecast will change and send the rain to western N.C. and Tennessee where they need it, but probably not.

Cold temps are returning too.  Just like for the past several weekends, we've got another cold weekend in store.  This one began with dropping temps Thursday that were forecast to reach near freezing Thursday night and not make it back into the 50s until Sunday afternoon.  The weathermen keep changing the forecast a few degrees, but the lows should be right around freezing - maybe below, depending on exactly where you are.

There's some wind in the forecast too.  It isn't supposed to howl, but there are some 15 to 20 knot days that would be uncomfortable during warmer weather and have deadly potential in colder weather.  If you want to fish offshore, watch the weather windows closely.  Right now there appear to be small ones Sunday and Tuesday.  I suggest checking www.saltwatercentral.com and opening their Reefcast forecast.

Fishing has remained pretty good this week, but the inshore water has cooled to the mid 50s and fish are moving slower.  That means fishing slower and not everyone gets it.  Hopefully the water temp will hold, but I have some concerns with how this weekend's cold weather will affect it.  Hopefully the water doesn't cool much more.

One guide told me he found a pretty big school of trout after the rain stopped, but couldn't get them to bite anything but a barely moving MirrOlure.  He said several times they followed it to where he could see them and didn't bite until he quit reeling.  It's hard to do, but sometimes it's really effective.

Puppy drum have been acting much the same as trout, but in smaller numbers.  When you find black drum and will use shrimp, cut bait, or a heavily scented soft bait, they are biting better than either the specks or reds.  Don't make the mistake of considering them an also-ran, as black drum taste pretty good.  Pups and specks have been in the most of the marsh areas from Calabash to Manteo.  Stripers are beginning to bite in the Cape Fear, Neuse, Tar/Pamlico Rivers and in Albemarle Sound.

 I only heard a few reports of flounder catches this week, but there were some excellent sea mullet catches along the state.  The best sea mullet reports were along the edges of the Beaufort Inlet Channel to the Turning Basin and out front along Shackleford Banks up to Cape Lookout.

 There were also gray trout in the Morehead City area, especially along the bridges and in the ocean with the sea mullet along Shackleford Banks up to Cape Lookout.   There were also some gray trout around the Radio Island bridge and trestle.  There are enough gray trout on the nearshore artificial reefs around Southport they are as bad a nuisance as the short black sea bass.  Still, we should be happy as they bite and give us some pullage.

I prefer to fish gray trout and sea mullet with speck rigs.  Sea mullet like a small piece of shrimp or something tipping the jigs on the speck rigs, while gray trout hit them well without.  I prefer speck rigs made with real bucktail jigs, but sometimes they can be hard to find.

There weren't many surf fishing reports this week either.  There are still a few sea mullet, drum, trout and bluefish in the surf zone, but it has been inconsistent.   

The water temp rises to 69 degrees about 20 to 25 miles offshore and the fishing is good.  Once in the warm water, many of the rocks and wrecks are holding bait and therefore fish.  Bottom fish are spread pretty well along the entire state.  There are king mackerel along the entire state, but the best fishing the past couple of weeks has been off Hatteras. 

King mackerel and a mixture of mostly short black sea bass and various grunts and porgys are the closest in.  The kings respond well to trolling and frozen cigar minnows catch almost as well as live baits.  Some of the larger kings have been holding out for live baits, but not all.  Many have hit spoons trolled behind planers.

Bottom fish are biting best in the 80 to 120 foot depths.  They will hit pieces of bait and jigs.  If you are using jigs, a single hook allows removing fish easier and quicker, especially the shorts that must be released.  If you are releasing fish, they should be released with the best chance possible to survive.

Wahoo and some nice blackfin tuna are biting over the break and along rips and temperature changes at the edge of the Gulf Stream along the entire state.  There are a few yellowfins and an occasional bigeye in the catch north of Hatteras.  These blackfin are larger than they were in the spring through early fall and many will make the 20 pound minimum for a citation.  Blackfin and true albacore tuna are white meat tunas.  We don't see many albacore (not false albacore), but we catch a lot of blackfins.

Flounder Season Has Not Closed
Flounder season did not close on October 16 as had been previously scheduled by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.  I still am asked about this several times a week and am glad that folks are checking the regulations before going fishing.  There was a suit filed by two groups representing commercial fishermen and the judge granted an injunction to keep the season open.  There will be a final hearing, but the timing on it is not yet known, so keep catching with the limit the same at 15 inches minimum size and a limit of 6 per person per day.  More information is available at www.ncdmf.net.   

Amberjack and Hogfish Seasons Close
The recreational seasons for greater amberjack and hogfish (hog snapper) closed on November 30 as the annual catch limits had been met.  Hogfish season will reopen on January 1, 2017 and greater amberjack season will reopen on March 1, 2017.  More information is available at www.safmc.net.

Lesser Amberjack, Almaco Jack, and Banded Rudderfish Seasons Reopen
 The season for recreational harvest of the other jacks complex (lesser amberjack, almaco jack, and banded rudderfish) in federal waters of the South Atlantic reopened on December 2, 2016.  NOAA Fisheries closed recreational harvest of the other jacks complex on August 9, 2016 as it was projected the catch limit (267,799 pounds whole weight) would be reached by that date.  However, a landings update indicates the catch limit for the other jacks complex has not yet been met and the recreational season was reopened.  More information is available at www.safmc.net.

 ASMFC Releases Cobia PID for Public Comment and Meetings
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissionís South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board has released the Public Information Document (PID) for the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Cobia for public comment.  As the first step in the FMP development process, the PID provides stakeholders with an opportunity to inform the ASMFC about changes observed in the fishery and provide feedback on potential management measures, plus any additional issues that should be included in the Draft FMP.  Specifically, the PID seeks comment on the management unit; goals and objectives of the plan; commercial and recreational measures; coastwide, regional or state-by-state measures; and other issues.

The ASMFC released the PID in response to a request by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) for the ASMFC to consider joint or complementary management of cobia in light of the significant overage of the 2015 recreational annual catch limit (ACL) and the impact of those overages to state management.  Recreational landings of the Atlantic Cobia Migratory Group in 2015 were approximately 1.5 million pounds, which is 145% over the ACL, resulting in a June 20, 2016 closure of the fishery by NOAA Fisheries. Commercial cobia landings in 2015 were 83,148 pounds, 38% over the ACL.

Widely distributed throughout the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, cobia are managed as two distinct groups Ė the Gulf Migratory Group and the Atlantic Migratory Group.  The Atlantic Migratory Group, which range from New York to Georgia, is managed by the SAFMC.  The east coast of Florida falls under the Gulf Migratory Group. The SAFMC manages the east coast of Florida sub-ACL which is set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

The 2016 closure, which was in response to the 2015 overage, created concerns in states whose recreational seasons would have been significantly reduced by the closure.  Two states, North Carolina and Virginia, developed alternate management strategies to reduce economic impacts to their state fisheries which resulted in differing regulations for federal and state water fishing.  An intent of a complementary Cobia FMP is to provide the states the flexibility to respond to changes in the fishery and stock that meet their state fisheries needs without impacting federal fishermen while meeting the goals and objectives of the FMP.

Stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The PID can be obtained at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/CobiaPID_PublicComment.pdf or via the Commissionís website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input.  Public comment will be accepted until 5 PM (EST) on January 6, 2017 and should be forwarded to Dr. Louis Daniel, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at ldaniel@asmfc.org with the subject line: Cobia PID.

North Carolina will hold two hearings in December so the issues and comments from the meetings can be discussed by the Management Board at the Commissionís February 2017 Winter Meeting.  The Management Board will review and consider the public input and provide direction to ASMFC staff for items to be included in the Draft FMP.

One of the N.C. meetings was last night in Atlantic Beach and the other will be December 15 at 5:00 P.M. at the Dare County Government Administration Building in Manteo.  For more information contact Michelle Duval at 252-808-8011.

Menhaden Draft Amendment 3 PID Released for Public Comment and Hearing
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissionís Atlantic Menhaden Management Board has released the Public Information Document (PID) for Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden for public comment.  As the first step in the amendment process, the document seeks input from stakeholders and those interested in Atlantic menhaden about changes observed in the fishery/resource and potential management measures.

Draft Amendment 3 was initiated following Board review and acceptance of the 2015 Stock Assessment and Peer Review report, which found the menhaden resource in good condition - not overfished nor experiencing overfishing.  The PID outlines a number of issues in the fishery and solicits feedback on how the resource should be managed.  In addition to the specific issues identified in the PID, commenters are welcome to provide input on all aspects of the fishery and resource, including recommendations for future management.

The PID can be found at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/AtlMenhadenAmend3PID_PublicComment.pdf or via the Commissionís website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input.

The North Carolina public hearing was November 30, but stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID by sending written comment.  Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 P.M. on January 4, 2017 and should be forwarded to Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org with the subject line: Menhaden PID.               

The Management Board will meet at the Commissionís 2017 Winter Meeting, February 2-4 in Alexandria, VA. to review and consider public comment and provide direction to staff for items to be included in the Draft Amendment 3.

WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host Ongoing Fishing Programs
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across N.C. and offers a variety of fishing and outdoor education programs. The closest of the education centers is the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  Others are at the Centennial Campus Center at NC State University in Raleigh, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla, and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest.  For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab.  The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page. 

The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head.  The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is local and others are at Fort Fisher and Manteo.  For more information on the Aquariums and their programs, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select your preferred location.

Fisheries Meetings
December 12-15;  Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Royal Sonesta Harbour Court Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, www.mamfc.org.

December 15:  N.C. Cobia PID Public Hearing, 5:00 P.M., Dare County Government Administration Building, Manteo, www.ncdmf.net.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
September 1 to December 31:  Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

October 16-January 31:  Intracoastal Angler Speckled Trout Tournament, Intracoastal Angler, Wilmington, www.intracoastalangler.com.  


Good fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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