Last week it looked like we might be working our way into winter and this week it seems fall has returned or spring has arrived early. The forecast for the next week has daytime highs varying from the high 60s to the mid 70s and only cooling into the 50s overnight. That's pretty sweet for mid December.
The warming trends seemed to also have stopped the water from cooling. The surf got to around 60 in last week's colder weather and has rebounded to 63 in places. With the warm week ahead, it is doubtful the water will cool any more for a while and some fishermen think it may warm another degree or two.
Even better than the warmer temperatures, it appears the wind and rain will cooperate next week too. The wind is forecast to be around 10 knots for the next week except for when a low passes on Monday. This low also brings a good chance of thunderstorms. That's right, thunderstorms! The weathermen are saying it will be warm and with enough energy in the atmosphere there is a high probability of thunderstorms.
The sea conditions have been better than predicted this week and that's good. Some folks in outboards have been chasing big fish in the ocean - and they've been catching them. Capt. Mark "Microwave" Chambers returned to the dock one day with a pair of bluefins tied to his center console. You know they're big when you can't get them in and have to drag them in. One was more than 100 inches long and cored at more than 500 pounds.
Bluefin fishing isn't red hot, but there are bluefins in the Cape Lookout area and they are feeding. It's a great opportunity for commercial fishermen to make some Christmas money and it's a good time for those recreational fishermen who want to tango with a bluefin to get their wish. As I mentioned last week, there are some boats offering bluefin charters at reasonable rates and that's the way to be introduced. Chasing these beasts on your boat with marginal to inadequate equipment is a recipe for disaster. I can say that with firsthand knowledge because 19 years ago I did it and am here to tell the story. One day we helped prevent another small boat from sinking.
The weather conditions allowed getting offshore a few days this week and the forecast looks like there will be a lot of good offshore days next week for anyone inclined to make the trip. Offshore fishing is good. King mackerel will be the first fish encountered and they are holding off all three N.C. Capes. Kings will be around structure that is holding bait. Live baits are good, but the kings are feeding hard as the water cools and will hit frozen baits and lures too.
Offshore bottom fishing is really good and the cooling water has the fish feeding even more aggressively than usual. Most will readily hit chunks of cut bait or squid. Sometimes grouper hold out for pieces of menhaden or cigar minnows and they go nuts over live pinfish and cigar minnows. Remember that grouper season closes for 4 months beginning January 1, so if you want some to put in the freezer for the winter, it's time to get them. Other bottom fish catches include beeliners, triggerfish, black sea bass, grunts and porgys.
I suggest always having a light line drifting in the current while bottom fishing offshore. You never know what might hit that line and it sometimes is even better than the bottom fish. King mackerel, wahoo, amberjack, cobia, dolphin and sharks are all possible additions to the fish box courtesy of a light line.
The wahoo bite may have slowed some from a few weeks ago, but they are still biting. Wahoo are Gulf Stream fish and may be on a temperature break, color change or along a rip or weed line. There have been blackfin tuna mixed with the wahoo all fall and now many of those blackfins are big. I've heard of a lot of 30 and 35 pounders and that's a big blackfin. There are still a few dolphin and sailfish moving along the Gulf Stream too.
There were lots of false albacore just off the beaches around Cape Lookout this week. Someone said that might be what the bluefins are eating. I haven't heard of that and thought the bluefins liked to consume tons of menhaden, but they're darn sure big enough eat falsies if they want. The falsies like small shiny lures that are moving quickly. There were also big schools of falsies off Wrightsville Beach.
There are some bluefish, a few late flounder and lots of undersize black sea bass on the nearshore artificial reefs. The false albacore occasionally cross them too.
Speckled trout, plus a few red and black drum, are holding at the Cape Lookout Jetty. There are also gray trout in the deeper water off the end of the jetty.
The reports of red drum, black drum and speckled trout in the surf are scattered, but they are being caught. Bait fishermen are also catching a few sea mullet (Va. mullet or whiting).
Several days this past week sea mullet fishing was excellent in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the channel to Beaufort Inlet. Several fishermen filled coolers of nice size sea mullet and caught a few gray trout, hogfish and croakers too. The hot technique has been to drift the edges of the channel and lightly jig speck rigs tipped with the freshest shrimp to be found. Some fishermen like larger hooks than the speck rigs and use double drop bottom rigs, especially the ones with the small squid skirts above the hooks. They use size 4 Eagle Claw series 072 (bronze) or 066 (silver) hooks and bait them with shrimp.
Speckled trout are being talked about a lot and some of the talk is good and some bad. There are good numbers of small specks in lots of places, which is good. However, many of them are barely too short to keep and that isn't good. The trout are hitting lures and soft plastics, but many fishermen feel live shrimp give them the best shot at catching larger trout. Some fishermen believe using live shrimp only makes the smaller trout more aggressive. I don't know. It seems like there are a lot of small trout regardless of what bait or lure I use.
Just when you thought the water was safe, there were numerous complaints of pinfish eating trout baits this week. Most of us thought the water had cooled enough to move them on for the winter, but they have returned with the warmer water this week. Several fishermen said they couldn't catch trout on live shrimp because ravenous pinfish beat them to the shrimp and live shrimp are too expensive to feed to pinfish.
Red drum numbers are slowly improving and some upper slot reds are making an appearance. While this is a good thing, many fishermen are openly wondering where they have been since spring. This is a bit of a mystery a lot of fishermen would like answered as the number of 24 to 27 inch red drum has been noticeably lower than usual since the early summer. The water temp is just right to make the drum aggressive and they have been feeding hard when found. They have been hitting a variety of soft plastics and lures, plus live and cut baits.
Stripers are biting in many of the coastal rivers. Several places mentioned often are New Bern, Plymouth and Wilmington. Check the regulation before you keep any. They vary in places and all the Cape Fear River system is closed. There are also some specks and pups feeding with the stripers in places. Soft plastics have given the most consistent striper results and catch the pups and specks too.
The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville will offer Basic Fly-Fishing Clinics on January 2, 16 and 30. The Clinics, which are designed for anglers with little to no fly-fishing experience, will begin at 9:00 A.M. and run through 3:00 P.M. The clinics will provide instruction on the Joan Wulff method of fly-casting, as well as instruction on fly-fishing equipment and knot tying. There will be an on-the-water segment of the course where participants will learn how to land a fish using a fly-rod.
Basic Fly-Fishing Clinics are suitable for participants 13 years and older; however, students 15 years and younger must be accompanied by an adult. Each clinic is limited to 40 participants on a first-come, first-serve basis. Participants are urged to register in advance and the clinics are popular and fill early. There is a registration fee of $5, payable on the day of the event. For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org and open the "learning" tab.
Great White Shark Washes Onto Wrightsville Beach
Like any good fish story, this shark has grown since it washed up. It was first reported as 7 to 8 feet, then grew to 11 feet on Wednesday and several Thursday news reports had enlarged it to as much as 13 feet. I need those reporters to tell my fish tales.
December 14: NC Marine Fisheries Commission Coastal Recreational Fishing License Committee Meeting, 1:30 P.M., N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Wayne Johannessen, 252-808-8004 or Wayne.Johannessen@ncdenr.gov.
December 14 to 17: South Atlantic Fishery Management Council SEDAR 41 Assessment Workshop (red snapper/gray triggerfish); NC Division of Marine Fisheries, Morehead City, http://sedarweb.org/sedar-41.
December 17: The NC Marine Fisheries Commission Sea Turtle Advisory Committee Meeting scheduled for December 17 at 4:00 P.M. at the DEQ Regional Office in Washington has been cancelled. For more information contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov.
January 4: NC Marine Fisheries Commission Oyster and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee Meeting, 6:00 P.M., DEQ Regional Office, Washington, Contact Tina Moore or Stephen Taylor at Tina.Moore@ncdenr.gov or 252-808-8082 or Stephen.Taylor@ncdenr.gov or 910-796-7289.
Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
January 6: North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association Cape Fear Chapter Monthly Meeting, Hook, Line and Paddle, Wilmington, www.nckfa.com.
January 8 to 10: Bass and Saltwater Expo, NC State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, www.ncboatshows.com.
January 8 to 10: Big Rock Sports Dealer Show, Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, Registered retailers only, www.bigrocksports.com.
January 12, 16 and 30: Basic Fly-Fishing Clinics, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, www.ncwildlife.org/learning.
January 15 and 16: Striperfest, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.cfrw.us.
January 16: Cape Fear Riverwatch Striperfest Invitational Striper Tournament, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.cfrw.us.
January 30: Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School, Oak Island Recreation Center, Oak Island, http://oakisland.recdesk.com.
January 30: N.C. Fishing Pier Society Dogfish Tournament, Johnnie Mercer's Fishing Pier, Wrightsville Beach, www.ncfps.com.