Our year of odd weather continues.  It amazes me that we can be near freezing, warm to shorts and shirtsleeve weather and then drop back to temperatures that freezes the water in the dog’s bowl – all in a week’s time.  We’ve seen it this week and the forecast has a repeat continuing through next week. 

The winds are varying too.  After several breezy days this week, Friday is forecast to have light winds, then a bit breezy with rain for the weekend and falling out some early next week.  If you want to take advantage of the weather windows that are presenting themselves right now, you need to be flexible enough to be able to fish on weekdays.

The odd weather is still producing fog.  There is no other lost, like being lost in fog.  It is extremely disorienting.  If you get caught in fog, slow down, move cautiously and trust your electronics.

Many years ago, George Ensley of Ensley’s Radio Company in New Bern gave me some excellent advice about using radar to navigate at night or in fog.  He said it is important to know what the blips are on the radar screen and the only way you’ll ever be comfortable with that is to run the radar and pay attention to it in clear weather when you don’t need it.  That way you will have some experience to draw from and can be comfortable when you have to use it.  That advice has helped me numerous times.    

The week wasn’t a total blowout and fishermen headed offshore several days with high hopes.  Most of them caught fish.  The variety ranged from wahoo and tuna (mostly blackfin) at the Gulf Stream to an assortment of bottom fish and king mackerel in the 80 to 125 foot depths. 

While it varies from day to day and by location, there are fish in the surf.  With the Bonner Bridge still out on the Outer Banks, it’s time to look at spots like Bogue Banks, Topsail Island and the N.C. State Recreation Area at Fort Fisher.  Speckled trout are moving in and out of the surf and along the beaches.  I don’t know of anyone who has established a pattern, but I would suggest starting looking around the inlets. 

Surf fishermen are also catching some red drum, black drum, and a few sea mullet.  A few tautog have been caught around the jetties at Fort Macon on the east end of Atlantic Beach.  Togs are oriented to rocky structure, so around the jetties is the primary place to see them.  Togs have also been caught at the jetties at Cape Lookout, behind Shackleford Banks, at the corner of Radio Island and along the wall at the Morehead City State Ports.  Some occasionally show up along the jetties at Masonboro Inlet too.  The other fish move around as they feed and may be anywhere along the surf.  Look for holes and sloughs. 

Inside the inlets, trout fishing continues to be very good for those who put in the time to find the trout.  As I noted last week, there are still some large trout, but lots of smaller specks have joined the catch in the past few weeks.  Any creek or marsh has potential, but may need a thorough looking over to find the right spot. 

Red drum are also biting well when you locate them.  They are starting to gather into schools and concentrate on specific channels and flats in the creeks and marsh.  Black drum are mixing with both specks and puppy drum and can be a pleasant surprise.  I don’t care for them when the water is hot, but they taste good during the colder months.  A few flounder are also still being caught.  

There is good striper action in the Neuse River from roughly Havelock to New Bern, the Pamlico-Tar River from roughly Bath to Washington and the striper action is improving in the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear and Brunswick Rivers at Wilmington.  Stripers orient to vertical structure like the bridges and also chase schools of menhaden out in the middle of the rivers.   

There has been a lot of misunderstanding about some work on the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan.  A change is mandated to be made in February and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is soliciting public comments through January 18 for several alternative plans contained in a draft supplement to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  The current FMP requires implementing a recreational limit of 3 trout, with a 14 inch minimum size, plus a December 15 to January 31 closure and a commercial trip limit of 25 trout in February. 

The draft supplement lists two alternatives to implementing these stricter fishing regulations.  In August the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) voted to retain the current recreational limit of 4 speckled trout with a minimum size of 14 inches and the 75 fish trip limit for commercial fishing.  This cannot be done without changing the Spotted Seatrout FMP and the draft supplement was developed to allow keeping the current regulations.   

Another option included in the draft supplement allows the commission to implement less stringent regulations.  These would retain the 14-inch minimum size limit but increases the recreational bag limit to six-fish (with no more than two of the six fish greater than 24 inches) and eliminate the commercial trip limit but retains the provision for no commercial possession or sale on weekends (except licensed finfish dealers). 

The draft supplement examines the reasons for not implementing the stricter management measures as required by the current Spotted Seatrout FMP.  In addition, it provides the MFC with a pair of options to the existing FMP, one of which is maintaining the existing regulations, as the MFC voted to do in August. 

A copy of Draft Supplement A to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan can be found online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/fmps-under-development.  For more information, contact Chip Collier at 910-796-7291 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov.  Comments should be sent to Chip Collier, 127 Cardinal Drive, Wilmington, N.C. 28405 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) met in Wilmington last week and had a full agenda for the week.  Some of the most highly impassioned debate and numerous mail and e-mail comments were on Regulatory Amendment 17, which covers Marine Protected Areas. 

The SAFMC Snapper Grouper Committee reviewed the comments and looked at options for MPAs including modification of existing MPAs and/or development of new MPA sites.  The reasoning is for consideration to help reduce bycatch of speckled hind and warsaw grouper, but several biologists said there is no way to determine if existing MPA sites are actually helping as current regulations prevent much fishing at these depths. 

The options discussed include modifying existing MPAs and the addition of more MPAs from Cape Hatteras to Key West.  The committee was expected to approve the amendment for public scoping during January 2014, but that has been postponed until August.  A full report on the meeting is available at the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.

Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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