Our weather is a changiní. We have had a couple of weeks of exceptional weather, but with the arrival of the cold front and rain on 12/12/12 we will be returning to more seasonable temperatures for a while. I hope you have found a few opportunities to take advantage of the great weather of the past few weeks and got in a few fishing trips. The weather has been so nice, I had to swat mosquitoes a couple of afternoons. However, I was so happy with the sunny warm weather, I didnít let those mosquitoes bother me.
We are looking at some lower nighttime cooling with the daytime highs only making the low 60s most of the next week or so. Sunday and Monday may see 70, but the overall temperatures will be cooler. This is about where the temperatures should be at this time of year. There will be more days with chances of showers, but we need the water too.
I think I might be getting swept up in the wave of interest surrounding Mary Lee, the great white shark that was tagged off Cape Cod in September, but has been visiting the Carolina Coast for the past few weeks. She now has a 2,200 pound friend(?) named Genie (that I hope I donít dream of), who has joined her off Hilton Head, S.C. and Tybee Island, Ga., at the S.C./Ga. border. Mary Lee has become very popular and somewhat of a celebrity and having Genie join her in the same general waters is even more intriguing.
I am very happy that Ocearch (www.ocearch.org) is letting us view the shark tracker on their website to follow Mary Lee and now Genie. I hope they learn a lot about great white sharks by tracking them. It is especially interesting to me that Mary Lee visits the surface often and usually sends a ping at least daily, while Genie spends days and weeks at a time without surfacing long enough to send a ping.
Someone who read last weekís report asked me over the weekend if I was worried and I answered no. It really is because of the busy Christmas season that I havenít been surfing or fishing in the ocean in my kayak. The fact that I know there are a couple of adult great white sharks cruising the Carolina Coast has nothing, well OK, not a whole lot, to do with it.
Actually, Mary Lee has very little to do with it as I can check the tracker and know about where she is. As I am writing this, she is spending a few days off the S.C./GA border and has been joined by Genie, a 2,200 pound adult female great white shark, who pinged Sunday in the same area. Genie was also tagged off Cape Cod in September, but didnít show any pings other than in that area until she pinged off Tybee Island, Ga. on Saturday. I have to admit that being able to follow Mary Lee and now seeing Genie this far south have made me wonder a little about where their family and friends might be.
There still hasnít been a bluefin tuna caught, but fishermen are trying. There were a few more hookups and missed strikes reported and hopefully someone will land one soon. Iíve heard several reports the conditions are very similar to when bluefins have bitten in the past and there is a lot of bait and some whales, which are also good signs. Maybe the cooling temperatures this week will be what is needed to trigger a serious bluefin bite and bring some catches to the docks.
Several fishermen said they were heading out early with heavy gear and if the conditions looked good they would troll for bluefins early. If they werenít successful after a few hours, of in the conditions didnít look good, they were heading a little farther offshore and catching king mackerel during the late morning and afternoon. This makes for a long day, but allows putting something in the boat and having a small payday, rather than just expenses. The fishermen say there are good numbers of kings, especially in the general area around Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear.
Fishermen in inside waters continue to sing the praises of catching speckled trout. The mild winter last year allowed most of the young of the year to survive and those trout are 16 to 19 inches long now. The 10 to 13 inchers are this yearís hatch and hopefully they make it through the winter with no issues. If so, there will be even more trout around next spring and fall.
Fishermen and tackle shops tout live shrimp as the best bait for specks. There are some shrimp still in the marshes, but most have moved to deeper holes or have left for the winter. Fishermen who have taken the time to learn to fine tune their fishfinders can mark shrimp on the bottom in the deeper holes and catch them. Most fishermen are buying theirs and Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasiní Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach and Capt. Tommy Rickman at The Tackle Box in Southport said their stores will continue to carry live shrimp through at least Christmas, as long as they can get them.
For fishermen looking for lures to catch specks, scented soft plastics have generally been producing best. Soft plastics, with scent added, are also catching pretty well. There is a general feeling, but with no established testing, that some of the suspending and diving hard baits, such as MirrOlures, Rapalas, Yo-Zuris and Bombers are catching larger trout than the soft plastics, but not necessarily catching as many trout.
The speck fishing that has been so hot in the Atlantic Beach surf had slowed during the nice weather. Fishermen reported seeing them swimming through the waves, but not biting with any frequency. There were a couple of small surges when the weather clouded and cooled last week and fishermen are hoping this cooling weather will fire them up again. Live shrimp were the top baits.
The Cape Lookout Jetty is a fish magnet all year, but especially during the fall and winter for specks. Fishing reports from there have varied greatly over the last week. Some folks caught them and some didnít. Several fishermen said live shrimp were the key. Others said it wasnít that simple and that trout were holing up at a few places, rather than feeding up and down the jetty. One thing most agreed on was that the trout at the jetty didnít care for mud minnows, but the puppy drum loved them and there were lots of pups around the jetty.
Live shrimp and all of the lures mentioned will also catch puppy drum and there are good numbers of pups around too. While trout will move up into shallower water to feed occasionally, they generally prefer being in the deeper sections of the creeks. On the other hand, puppy drum will swim and feed in water shallow enough their backs and tails are occasionally exposed. Many times these areas are just a few feet from the holes holding specks and it is possible to catch both of them and flounder at the same time in the same place.
The numbers of flounder are down, but there are still some around that are mixed with the drum and trout. I feel like I catch more "accidental" flounder while fishing for pups and believe that is because I am usually fishing shallower and along the bottom. However, I have had flounder swim up in the water column to eat a bait or lure that was intended for a trout. This is never a surprise and is always welcome.
There were more reports this week of tautog on the jetties, bridges, port wall and other vertical structure around the Morehead City Turning Basin. If you have never caught tautog, this is an opportunity to catch some feisty and tasty fish we only see in N.C. during the winter. The togs have been mixed with some small, but keeper, sheepshead.
With the cooling water, the striper action in the Albemarle and Croatan Sounds at Manns Harbor, the Neuse and Trent Rivers at New Bern and the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear and Brunswick Rivers at Wilmington has really been picking up. The cooler weather should help this fishing too. The stripers are hitting hard plugs, soft plastics and live or natural bait.
Offshore fishing has been very good for king mackerel and bottom fish, but rather hit and miss for wahoo and blackfin tuna. The water temperature is below 60 degrees at the beaches and rises to around 70 degrees at approximately 100 feet deep. The key for catching kings has been heading off to this depth and finding some structure that is holding bait. The kings sense the approaching winter and are actively feeding. They are hitting spoons, sea witches with strips, frozen cigar minnows and any live baits that can be found.
Just beyond the kings, the grouper, triggerfish, grunts and porgys are biting on the bottom. Grouper season will close for four months on January 1, 2013, so if you want some to freeze for the winter, you better get to them in the next few weeks. Black sea bass, beeliner and red snapper seasons are already closed.
Wahoo, blackfin tuna and some occasional surprises are holding along the temperature breaks and weed lines at the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream. Unfortunately, the characteristics and location of the inshore edge are changing daily and the fish are not always at the same place. Some days, a few miles can make the difference between spending a long day switching washed out baits or staying busy catching.
Wahoo and tuna move up and down the edges of warm currents and stop to feed when they find baitfish. The open water pelagics also prefer clean water. While blue water is preferred, they may move into green or blended water if there is food, but they rarely tolerate milky or cloudy water.
Friday, Dec. 14, is the last day the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is accepting applications from people interested in serving on the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee. Applications for the Shrimp FMP Advisory Committee are available online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/mfc-advisory-committees, at DMF offices or by calling 252-808-8022 or 800-682-2632. Applications must be returned by closing time to the Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557, Attention: Lauren Morris.
The committee will assist the DMF in drafting an amendment to the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan that focuses on bycatch and associated issues. Scientists and persons with experience in commercial or recreational shrimping are preferred. The committee will meet at least monthly and members must actively participate in the committee process.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) had a busy meeting in Wilmington last week. One thing they did was to reopen the commercial red snapper and gray triggerfish seasons from Dec 12 to 19 as the quota had not been caught. There is no minimum size for either off N.C. during this season, but red snapper will be limited to 50 pounds per trip (gutted weight).
The recent stock assessment update for vermilion snapper (beeliners) determined they are not overfished or experiencing overfishing and the SAFMC began working on a regulatory amendment, which is expected to be implemented next summer, that would increase the total vermilion annual catch limit by about 240,000 pounds or 25 percent. This could result in doing away with the recreational season closure for beeliners and/or increasing the bag limit. The commercial beeliner quotas are expected to increase from about 300,000 to about 400,000 pounds.
Fishermen were against requiring all commercially permitted snapper-grouper vessels to be equipped with vessel monitoring systems (VMS) that would allow federal law enforcement and fishery officials to track vessels at all times, but it was approved by SAFMC to go to public hearings during 2013. This would also be required for charter boats and headboats that sometimes operate under commercial permits.
The SAFMC gave final approval to Snapper-Grouper Amendment 28, which would establish procedures to allow for a limited red snapper fishery until the next stock assessment can be conducted in 2014. Amendment 28 will establish a red snapper Annual Catch Limit (ACL) and short recreational and commercial fishing seasons (minimum three days) that would begin in July. The recreational season would be weekends to allow more fishermen to participate. There will be no size limits and the recreational limit would be 1 fish, while the commercial limit would be 75 pounds per trip.
SAFMC received word that the black sea bass stock assessment is on schedule to be completed for mandatory Science and Statistical Committee review in April and their consideration in June. SAFMC would have to implement an emergency action in June to allow a catch increase in time to affect the 2013-2014 black sea bass season.
SAFMC approved Regulatory Amendment 15, which would remove the requirement to close the commercial shallow water grouper fishery when the gag grouper quota is met. This will allow black, red and scamp groupers to be managed under their own separate commercial quotas. For more information on the SAFMC meeting, visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.