Merry Christmas to everyone.
For those of different faiths or ethnic backgrounds, please take this as my best wishes to you in your beliefs. If you in return wish me a Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza, Holiday or whatever, I will be appreciative and thank you.
If I ever decide to grow up, I want to be a weatherman. Itís the only job I know where being correct occasionally is good enough. Iím saying this after they predicted our weather becoming more seasonable to cooler last week and it has stayed in the high 60s to around 70. Now they are saying it will cool off beginning Friday after a front that is supposed to push through Thursday night. You might want to be prepared as this could be the time they are right. Thankfully the predicted cooling is only to seasonable temperatures.
I get hung up on weather because it affects fishing all year, but most dramatically during the winter. Even during the cold of winter, several sunny warm days together will usually get the reds and trout moving and feeding a little. The action is usually better on the second nice day and improves again on the third day. Check this out sometime this winter. Apparently even fish feel better and start feeding when the sun breaks through after a cold spell.
Donít get too busy in the hustle and bustle and forget about Mary Lee and Genie. Mary Lee began moving Sunday like she had some where to be. She had been holding just offshore of the S.C./Ga. state line for the past week or so, but when she decided to move she was up at Bulls Bay, just south of Cape Romain, in a day and continued on to off Bald Head Island late Thursday. This is the second time she has been off this area in the past few weeks and she made good time getting there when she decided to move. Wonder what it is that attracts her to there?
Genie popped up just off the beach near the S.C./Ga. state line On December 9 after last marking off Cape Cod prior to it. Genie either has a defective signal unit or just doesnít come to the surface very often as she didnít send a locating ping on her trip down from Cape Cod and hasnít sent a locating ping in the week since she registered off the mouth of the Savannah River.
I admit it, I am hooked and will be following these great white sharks, and any others that are tagged and move into our waters, for a while. For those interested, the website is www.ocearch.org. Once it opens, select the shark tracker and then choose the shark or sharks of your interest. There are tagged sharks you can monitor all over the world.
The sea conditions havenít been very conducive to heading offshore during the past week. There werenít any reports of missed strikes or bluefin hookups from anywhere off the N.C. coast this week. Several fishermen said the water temperature is right and there is a lot of bait in the water out by the Knuckle Buoys at Cape Lookout Shoals and Frying Pan Shoals. They think some of the big tunas could show here at any time. Theyíll have to get their act in gear if they are going to put in an appearance before Christmas.
Unfortunately the sea conditions into the weekend donít look particularly inviting to be headed out prospecting for a bluefin. If the tuna were here and biting, fishermen would be heading out after them in marginal conditions because of the financial rewards. However, itís tough to take that beating and shoulder the expenses of the trip in marginal conditions when none have been caught and you know the odds are against you.
The same marginal fishing conditions that will keep the bluefin fishermen at the dock will keep king mackerel, offshore bottom and Gulf Stream fishermen at the dock. There are enough of these fish being caught to keep going in nice weather, but not to head out when the weather is already marginal and expected to get worse.
Several boats headed offshore on the couple of nice days last week and had mixed results with their efforts. There are still wahoo and blackfin tuna on some of the temperature breaks along the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream. Most of the time they are on the warm side of the break, but if the water is cleaner on the cooler side, sometimes they will be in the cooler water as long as it is 68 degrees or warmer.
The folks that headed offshore after king mackerel didnít have to run as far as those after wahoo and tuna and most found better fishing. The kings were found in their usual late fall/early winter haunts is around 100 feet of water. The key is to find something in water 65 degrees or warmer that is holding bait. The kings were feeding and were hitting lures, dead bait and live bait. Unfortunately, the sea conditions were only good enough to make the trip a couple of days.
Last week also was not a good time for offshore bottom fishing. There was a very strong current running and it was difficult to get anchored properly and to get baits down to the fish. Several fishermen said at their favorite grouper holes the current was running so strong, 24 ounces of weight would barley hold the bottom. Closer in the current wasnít as strong and fishermen caught porgys, grunts and triggerfish.
Speckled trout are still the most talked about fish in inside waters, with puppy drum running a not-too-distant second. Unfortunately, many of the reports last week were of smaller fish. Several fishermen said they had to catch more than 20 specks to find a limit of four that were large enough to keep. Iím pretty happy to hear they are catching 20 specks even if most are too small to keep. Those 12 and 13 inch trout will be keepers next spring unless we have a nasty cold winter.
The hot speck fishing in the surf has slowed dramatically. It doesnít appear to quite be over, but the consistency has faded. There have been reports of a couple of small surges when the weather clouded and cooled last week. Maybe they will fire up for a few days when the weather cools beginning Thursday.
The Cape Lookout Jetty is usually a speck hotspot, but reports from there have been rather spotty. When you find them the fishing is good, really good, but when it isnít happening it is nearly dead. Fortunately there are a couple of schools of puppy drum swimming around the jetty and they bite with much more regularity than the trout right now. It will be interesting to see what a few cold days do for the pups and the specks.
Most of the puppy drum reports this week also mentioned underslot or barely legal pups. All the big ones couldnít have disappeared that fast. Iím pretty sure they just found some bait and followed it to somewhere else or moved a little farther back in the creek. Cooling water does cause them to move deeper into the creeks where they plan to winter.
Live shrimp are the best bait for both pups and specks and pups will also hit mud minnows. Specks will begin feeding on mud minnows at some point, but there are obviously still enough shrimp around they havenít made the switch yet. Soft plastics, especially the scented ones or ones with scent added and suspending or diving hard baits are the best lures for specks and pups. I like MirrOlures for my suspending baits, but have friends who also catch them on Bombers, Rapalas and more.
Fishermen are catching a lot of black drum while fishing for specks and pups. While they arenít particularly pretty, black drum taste good. When growing up, we never kept them when the water was warm, but once the water cooled they were fair game. Black drum hit just about all the natural and live baits specks and pups will. They will occasionally also hit lures, but are far more likely to hit a soft bait than a hard lure.
It hasnít been a hot bite, but dedicated fishermen are catching some tautog along the wall at the Morehead City State Port and on the jetties in the area. If more people got to sample some tautogs, there would be more fishing for them. They are good.
One place not often considered to be a hotspot for specks and pups is the Radio Island Gas Docks and the drop on the Turning Basin side of the island. Schools of both, plus some black drum, have been moving through this area pretty regularly.
The striper action in the rivers around New Bern and Wilmington has been improving and many fishermen believe it will continue getting better, especially if the weather cools. The stripers are hitting hard plugs, soft plastics and live or natural bait.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted on Friday to approve Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden. The Amendment establishes a 170,800 metric ton (MT) total allowable catch (TAC) beginning in 2013 and continuing until completion of the next benchmark stock assessment, which is scheduled for 2014. This TAC represents a 20% reduction from the average of landings from 2009-2011 and an approximately 25% reduction from 2011 levels. This has been a contentious issue, with a complete reversal from just several years ago when the position was that menhaden werenít overfished or undergoing overfishing.
North Carolina got ahead of the curve on this last spring when the Marine Fisheries Commission and state legislators both voted to remove purse seines from state waters. This covers inland waters and out to three miles in the ocean. There has not been a menhaden reduction plant in N.C. since Beaufort Fisheries closed in Beaufort in 2005, so any menhaden being caught in N.C. waters were being transported elsewhere for processing.
Many newcomers and younger persons will not remember when the menhaden fishery was a significant part of the economics of Beaufort and Southport. I grew up in Southport during the 1950s and 1960s and menhaden fishing was very important to the local economy.
The pogy boats used horn blasts to signal the processing plants and family regarding the quantity of their catch. As a kid, it was a thrill to hear and count the horn blasts as the pogy boats returned from a day of fishing. The more horn blasts the better the catch and kids would rush to the riverfront to see the (hopefully) heavy laden boats pass. Some days the decks were barely above water.
Once the boats were unloaded the reduction process began. The menhaden were cooked and then filtered to separate the oil and fish meal. In Southport the predominant summer sea breeze pushed the odor from the cooking towards town. Most of the Beaufort processing plants were on the north or east side of town, so the summer breezes carried most of the odor away from town. However, when the cooling northeast winds began in the fall, the odor came to town.
The odor from the cooking was pungent and unpleasant to many. I wasnít thrilled with it, but learned at a young age not to say it smelled bad. I can remember numerous times my dad reminding me that was the smell of money. Most of my friends heard something similar too.
It may have smelled funny, but those were the good old days.
Merry Christmas and Good Fishing to all.