Ho, Ho, Ho everyone!  I’m going to take next week off so this will be my last update before Christmas.   I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope that you get together with family and have an excellent time.  As you enjoy your families and the joy of the season, please take care to remember the reason for the season and give thanks in our own personal way.  Please also say a prayer for our service men and women deployed around the world and all others unable to be with their families.

Once again the great majority of the dockside and tackle shop talk has been on bluefin tuna and speckled trout.  Puppy drum have been biting well too, but specks and bluefins have been the topics of most talk.

Bluefin action has slowed over the past week or so.  There are still a few being caught, but the water warmed and they either got finicky or moved to cooler water. 

I can’t remember exactly which year, but the bluefin action started similarly one fall about 10 or so years back.  As fishermen were beginning to wonder what had happened, the bluefins fired back up and fishing was excellent all of January.  History is known to repeat itself and hopefully this will be the repeat of that year. 

If you set out to chase bluefins, remember this is specialized fishing that requires top notch heavy duty equipment and proper permits.  Information on the permits and regulations is available at the NMFS Permit Shop at https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/default.asp

This is a great fishery to book a charter and take advantage of fishing with an experienced crew and the proper equipment.  There is a lot to be said for showing up at the dock with your lunch, going fishing and then stepping off the boat at the end of the day with fish to take home while the crew cleans the boat.  The bluefin action has been close to shore and I understand there are some deals because of this.  If you’re interested in making a bluefin trip, you should check this out.

The other fish that has anglers’ attention is speckled trout.  Specks are at the other end of the tackle and effort spectrum and are lots of fun on light tackle.  They can be caught from the surf, piers and small boats, even kayaks.  The knowledge required for success is to know where they are and what they like to eat.  For the past month, the answers to those questions seem to be almost anywhere and almost any small live bait and a lot of artificial.

Specks are being caught from the surf to well up the coastal rivers and creeks.  There has been a good speck bite all the way up the Cape Fear, New and Neuse Rivers to Highway 17 this week and the speck action has been almost to Highway 17 on the Pamlico River and along Albemarle Sound.   

The trout season closure from last winter was tough then, but most biologists and fishermen credit it as the primary reason there are so many trout being caught this fall.  A bunch of trout made it through the winter and spawned prolifically this spring and summer.  The numbers are excellent and the sizes range from spikes to almost 10 pounds. 

While research shows larger trout consume a lot of fish in their diet, the hot live bait is live shrimp.  Live shrimp are difficult to find right now, either in the water or in bait tanks at your favorite tackle shop.  Minnows are a good substitute and there have been some large trout caught on mud minnows this fall.  The preferred method for fishing live bait is to suspend it under a cork.

Trout are also hitting a lot of artificials.  One that has been mentioned a lot this fall is the Billy Bay Halo Shad from Betts Tackle.  One fisherman went so far as to say that if you can cast and reel it back in, you can catch trout on a Halo Shad.  That might be an oversimplification, but Halo Shad have been productive and have been selling well enough they have been hard to find at times.

I like shrimp shapes in soft plastics and there is a Billy Bay Halo Shrimp that catches well.  So do Vudu Shrimp, Savage Shrimp, Salty Bay Shrimp, Z-man Shrimpz, DOA Shrimp, Gulp shrimp and more.  Many fishermen also catch trout well with paddletail and curlytail grubs.

MirrOlure MirrOdine suspending lures are the most often mentioned of the hard baits.  These lures suspend between a foot and two feet deep, depending on the salinity of the water, and come in 14MR, 17MR and 27MR sizes, with the higher numbers indicating larger lures.  I believe the middle size 17MR is the best all around. 

A growing number of fishermen like the MirrOdine lures so much, they are adding weight to get them to sink so they can use them in deeper water.  Storm makes Suspend Strips and Suspend Dots that are weighted and stick to the underside of the lure to get it to go deeper.  MirrOlure also makes this in a Heavy-Dine (MR 18) that is the middle size and sinks on its own.

Red drum are biting well, but just aren’t drawing the enthusiasm of speckled trout right now.  Pups are also scattered from the backwaters to the surf, plus some overslot reds are holding on the shoals around the capes and nearshore wrecks and artificial reefs.  Red drum will hit the same baits and lures a speckled trout, plus gold spoons and chunks of cut bait fished on the bottom.

There are gray trout just off the beach at Cape Lookout, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Oak Island.  One of the focal points for grays is the nearshore artificial reefs.  There are black sea bass mixed with the gray trout on the artificial reefs.  Most of the black sea bass are shorts, but an enterprising fisherman might sort through enough to find a limit.  Gray trout and black sea bass with readily hit Jigfish, Stingsilvers and other jigs worked vertically.  Black sea bass will eat pieces of squid and cut bait fished on bottom rigs.

Offshore fishing has been good along all of N.C. when the sea conditions allowed making the trip comfortably.  Around Cape Lookout, many fishermen have been stopping short to fish for bluefins from the trawler out to the Knuckle, but those making a longer trip have been catching well.  The offshore action begins will good bottom fishing for grouper, beeliners, grunts and black sea bass that begins at about 60 or so feet and improves as you get deeper.  Grouper season will close for four months on January 1, so if you want some, you should make a trip soon.

King mackerel fishing has been real good.  The area around Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear has been a hotspot for several weeks.  Kings are holding over structure in 80 to 125 feet of water.  The depth varies with the amount of bait and the temperature.  When the water warms and the bait moves in, so do the kings and when the water cools and the bait moves out; they move offshore again.  Look for surface temperatures of 67 to 68 and structure holding bait.  Kings are hungry and feeding and haven’t been picky.  They have been hitting live baits, frozen cigar minnows and a variety of lures.

Wahoo and blackfin tuna are biting well at the edge of the Gulf Stream.  A few yellowfin tuna have also been caught from Cape Lookout to the north, with the best yellowfin action north of Cape Hatteras.  They feed along the edges of eddies and temperature breaks and hard temperature breaks or temperatures around 72 are good places to begin.  There have also been some blackfin closer in and feeding with the bluefins.  

NOAA Weather Buoy 41036 to be Removed
It has been brought to my attention that at some point in January 2015 the National Weather Service (NWS) and National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) will no longer support weather buoy 41036.  The buoy, which is located at 34.12.25 N and 076.56.56 W or about 40 miles east of Wilmington in Onslow Bay, is not part of the NOAA/ NWS federal backbone system even though it has a NDBC number and a link from their website.

Buoy 41036 is one of the buoys deployed by the Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program and its maintenance was funded by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  There was talk of shutting this buoy down when UNCW ceased funding this buoy in 2013.  The buoy was threatened with immediate removal at that time, but was left in place as NOAA did not have the funding to remove it.  A news release from NOAA said they have not been able to secure another sponsor.

Current concerns are that the buoy is at risk of breaking free from its mooring and becoming a hazard to navigation.  It is still broadcasting current weather information.  Many boaters and fishermen in Onslow Bay said the current conditions broadcast from 41036 are their go/no go information on a daily basis and not having it will create a safety hazard by requiring boaters to go through the shallow inlets in Onslow Bay to know the current sea conditions.  This will affect all boaters and fishermen who use Onslow Bay and it extends from Carolina Beach to Harkers Island. 

A link to Buoy 41036 on the NDBC website is http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=41036.  There is a link on the buoy’s page to the removal notice from the NWS that was issued on December 2. 

The call for removing the buoy seems to be all about funding for its maintenance.  There are numerous groups talking among themselves about resolving the funding issue.  This is very last minute, but the NWS budget is stressed to the point I don’t believe they are chomping at the bit to send a buoy tender to remove this buoy.  They have been running several months behind in servicing buoys that are funded.  Perhaps several of the groups looking for funding to keep Buoy 41036 on station could get together and adopt the buoy or find a way to cover the maintenance costs.   

NOAA Fisheries is Seeking Information on River Herring
NOAA Fisheries is conducting a voluntary survey of individuals who have harvested river herring (alewives and blueback herring) commercially, recreationally, or for personal use at any point in time over the past 20 years. The goal of this survey is to gather first-hand observations to help understand alewife and blueback population trends and help the efforts to restore these fish populations along the U.S. east coast.  Commercial, recreational, and personal use harvesters have detailed knowledge of the fish in their local areas, such as changes in fish run timing, distribution, and individual fish size and species composition and NOAA seeks to document some of this local knowledge in order to better understand river herring and their habitat.

NOAA intends to use the information obtained from this survey to cross-reference scientifically collected data to better understand trends and changes in river herring populations coast-wide. This information can help NOAA identify opportunities for additional research and restoration.  The survey is ongoing through the end of January.  To learn more about the survey or to participate, please contact Dan Kircheis (dan.kircheis@noaa.gov) or Julia Beaty (julia.beaty@maine.edu).  Information is also available at www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/stories/2014/surveykickoffonRiverHerringinaugust.html.

Pending Legislation/Regulations
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comments on a proposed rule to list Nassau grouper as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule filed in the Federal Register on September 2, 2014 (79 FR 51929).  Currently, harvest and possession of Nassau grouper is prohibited in all U.S. waters, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, some countries have restrictions on harvest, including size limits and seasonal closures.

The proposed rule is based on key conclusions from a Biological Report and the Extinction Risk Analysis conducted by NOAA Fisheries.  The results of the comprehensive status review are as follows:

(1) The species still occupies its historical range made up of a single population over a broad geographic area, (historical range means areas where Nassau grouper were typically found);

(2) The species possesses life history characteristics that increase vulnerability to harvest;

(3) The species forms large spawning aggregations, (spawning aggregations are areas where large numbers of fish come to reproduce); spawning aggregations are declining in size and number across the species' range;

(4) Current regulations and/or lack of law enforcement throughout the species' range are not effective in protecting Nassau grouper or their spawning aggregations;

(5) The combination of vulnerability to harvest, life history characteristics, and a lack of regulations and/or law enforcement indicate that the species is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.

For more information on the listing process, please visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/listing_petitions/faqs/index.html.  

Written comments on the proposed rule must be received by no later than December 31, 2014 to be considered by NOAA Fisheries.  Electronic copies of the proposed rule may be obtained from the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office's website. The biological report is also available at the same webpage.

Comments may be submitted electronically by visiting the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and entering docket number NOAA-NMFS-2012-0235 into "Search" box.  Select the appropriate title, and click "Submit a Comment," which will display the comment web form.  Attachments up to 10 MB will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

Comments may also be submitted by mail to: Jason Rueter – NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office – Protected Resources Division – 263 13th Avenue South – St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces the final rule to implement Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP) was published in the Federal Register on December 2.  Most of the management measures in the final rule will take effect January 1, 2015, but some measures will be delayed until either June 1, 2015, or January 1, 2016. 

This action is necessary to meet domestic management objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act as well as the objectives of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) and obligations pursuant to binding recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).  NMFS takes these actions to reduce and account for bluefin dead discards in all categories; optimize fishing opportunities in all categories within the United States' quota; enhance reporting and monitoring; and adjust other management measures as necessary.

 The final rule to implement Amendment 7 will affect commercial fishermen using pelagic longline gear, handgear, or purse seine gear to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore, recreational fishermen using handgear to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore and dealers who trade Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore.  The final rule may be found at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/documents/fmp/am7/index.html.


The final measures are expected to meet the main objectives of Amendment 7 by: * Preventing overfishing and rebuilding Atlantic bluefin tuna;

* Continuing to achieve optimal yield for HMS fisheries;

* Minimizing bluefin bycatch to the extent practicable;

* Reducing and accounting for bluefin dead discards in all categories;

* Enhancing reporting and monitoring;

* Adjusting other management measures as necessary.

The proposed measure that would have allowed pelagic longline vessels to fish under General category rules in the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area (Alternative B 1d in DEIS) is not being implemented.  The proposed  measure that would have allowed limited conditional access to the current pelagic longline closed areas (Alternative B 3b in DEIS) is not being implemented, the two proposed pelagic longline gear restricted areas were modified based on public comment and additional analyses and the proposed Individual Bluefin Quota program (Alternative C 2) was also slightly modified based on public comment and additional analyses.


After much public comment, NMFS also modified the Purse Seine start date from June 1 to a range from June 1 to August 15.  NMFS will publish a Federal Register notice with the start date.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on Amendment 29 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.  NOAA Fisheries is also seeking public comment on the proposed rule to implement the management measures in the amendment.

Amendment 29 proposes to:

* Update the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's (Council) acceptable biological catch control rule for determining catch levels of unassessed species.

* Adjust the acceptable biological catch value for 14 unassessed snapper-grouper species.

* Revise the annual catch limits for three species complexes and four snapper-grouper species.

* Establish a minimum size limit for gray triggerfish in federal waters off North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia for both the commercial and recreational sectors.

* Revise the commercial and recreational minimum size limit for gray triggerfish off the east coast of Florida.

* Establish a commercial split season for gray triggerfish.

* Establish commercial trip limits for gray triggerfish.

The Council submitted Amendment 29 to NOAA Fisheries for review, approval, and implementation.  The comment period for Amendment 29 ends on January 23, 2015.  The proposed rule published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2014 and the comment period ends on January 7, 2015. All comments specifically directed toward the amendment or the rule will be addressed in the final rule.  For more information on Amendment 29, please visit the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Web site at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/am29/index.html.  An electronic version of the amendment and proposed rule is available at that Web site or from the e-rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov.

Comments may be submit comments by Electronic Submission via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0132 and click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.  Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.  Comments may also be submitted by mail to:  NOAA Fisheries - Southeast Regional Office - Sustainable Fisheries Division - c/o Karla Gore - 263 13th Avenue South - St. Petersburg, Florida 3370-5505.

For more information on Amendment 29, please click on the Frequently Asked Questions link found at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/am29/index.html.  

Fishery Meetings
December 19: N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Coastal Recreational Fishing License Committee, 1:00 P.M., N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Beth Govoni at 252-808-8004 or Beth.Govoni@ncdenr.gov.

Tournaments, Seminars, Club Meetings and Events
September 1 to Dec 31:  Chasin’ Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasin’ Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com

December 28 and 29:  Mid-Atlantic Rockfish Shootout, Striped bass, Virginia Beach Fishing Center at Rudee Inlet and King Creek Marina in Cape Charles, Va., www.midatlanticrockfishshootout.com.  

January 16 and 17:  StriperFest, Informational weekend and striper tournament, Coastline Convention Center, Wilmington, www.capefearriverwatch.org.

January 24:  Johnnie Mercer’s Pier Annual Dogfish Tournament, Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, Wrightsville Beach, www.ncfps.com.  

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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