I'm beginning to think this might be a little more like the winters we are accustomed to and many of you readers retired to our area to enjoy. There have been a couple of cold dips, like the one Sunday and Monday, but they don't last long and we warm back into the sixties pretty quickly. If you weren't paying attention, several days last week made it into the seventies. That's a far cry from the past two winters.
I'm sure we'll get some cold weather, we always do, but if we can avoid the sudden freezes and extended days in the thirties like the past two years, the fish will continue biting. I talked to a couple of fishermen this week who said they were still catching trout on topwaters. I don't remember ever being able to hear that this close to Christmas in years past.
The biggest news this week is bluefin tuna off Cape Lookout. On Tuesday five were hooked, but only one was landed. It went 92 inches and should bring a good payday. Several fishermen called and said they were headed there to give it a try before Christmas. The signs have been good for about two weeks, so maybe this bite is about to go off.
The fishermen who headed offshore last week were rewarded well. Those that went all the way to the Gulf Stream found the wahoo hungry and snapping. Most boats caught a half dozen or more and these were big wahoo. Several were reported in the fifties and sixties and a couple were 80 pound bruisers. Six of them in a fish box is a lot of meat.
The blackfin tuna were still there and a few false albacore too. Several of the fishermen reported they saw fish pushing water like bluefin tuna. They said they couldn't get close enough to make positive identification, but there was excitement in their voices as they said they would be looking for a weather window to go back and look. The arrival of bluefin tuna is good in many ways and I sure hope this was some fish and we have a good bluefin bite this year.
The king bite went off too. Several fishermen said there was some warm water that pushed in east of the Cape Lookout Shoals and some fish moved in as close as 80 feet of water. A ways to the south, there was also a really hot bite around Frying Pan Tower.
Fishermen in both places reported lots of 15 to 20 pounders and a good handful of kings that were in the thirties and forties. That's a pretty nice early Christmas present and I expect more fishermen will try to chase them over the holidays. The smaller kings were readily hitting spoons and sea witches, but the larger kings preferred natural or live baits trolled a little slower.
The offshore bottom fishing is good too. If you can find a place where you can get bait to the bottom through all those endangered black sea bass, there are hungry grouper waiting to feed. Seriously, there are places it seems the biggest danger to black sea bass is them eating everything in sight and then starving. Many fishermen said they were more of a nuisance than pinfish inshore during the summer.
Grouper season closes at 12:01 A.M. on New Years Day, so if you want some, you better get out and get them in the next ten days. It looks like the weather may cooperate. The grouper closure is an annual spawning season closure and they will reopen on May 1. I haven't received the notice yet, but received a letter warning the commercial grouper season would be closing early; probably on Dec. 21. Fishermen with commercial licenses should pay attention.
Fishermen continue to find good numbers of speckled trout in most coastal waters. In some places the trout are almost all young of the year and run from 10 to 13 inches, but there are some keepers and an occasional gator trout mixed in. Some big specks have been caught at the Cape Lookout Jetty and in the surf nearby.
The best way to guarantee catching trout is to fish live shrimp under a float. Live shrimp are all but gone from area creeks, but Chasin' Tails Outdoors, on the Atlantic Beach Causeway, and the Tackle Box at the ramp at Southport Marina have been stocking them and said they would continue as long as they could get them. Some fishermen are also using live mud minnows, but the trout don't seem to like them quite as well as shrimp.
Fishermen are also catching trout on a variety of soft plastics. A little scent seems to help seal the deal and the bio-baits like Berkley Gulp are doing well, while some fishermen are adding scents like Pro Cure to their less expensive soft baits.
Hard lures like the MirrOlure MR17 and Rapala X-Rap are also catching trout well. My concern is with their treble hooks and knowing there are so many small trout that will have to be released. I like the soft baits, with a single hook, that can be removed easily and quickly.
Trout are being caught in many places. There is no doubt the most popular trout spot in the state is the Cape Lookout Jetty. However, there are enough other locations to avoid the crowds if you would like. Specks are also being caught in the surf and in most creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway from the Alligator River all the way to Little River. Many of these are places that can be reached even when the wind is blowing.
Puppy drum are also biting well. Pups prefer water a little shallower than trout, but sometimes their territory overlaps. Pups will move into less than a foot of water and many times this is where the baitfish go to find a little warmth during cooler weather. Areas of low current with darker bottoms, warm a little around the low tides and baitfish and puppy drum seek them out. Many times they are well back up in the creeks, but sometimes these areas are in many of the same locations you will find specks, just farther up towards the bank or on the shallow flats nearby.
Pups are also being caught in the surf from Hatteras Inlet to the S.C. state line. The beaches without houses and lights, such as Core Banks, Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island, Lea Island, Masonboro Island and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area seem to be holding more drum, but there are some at most areas.
While the abundance of trout and puppy drum continues to hold everyone's attention, there are other fish that remain in the picture and some new ones coming in. The striper bite in the Neuse River around New Bern has been good for weeks and doesn't show any sign of slowing. There is also a growing striper bite in the Cape Fear and Brunswick Rivers at Wilmington.
Every word of good striper fishing makes us hope they will make it to Cape Lookout like they occasionally do. This seems to depend on something in the Chesapeake Bay forcing them out and down the coast. The fishing is also really good in the Chesapeake Bay right now, and might be worth the trip.
Last week I reported the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) met December 5 through 9 in Raleigh and the fishermen who attended the meeting were disappointed and frustrated. Two of the things they discussed were black sea bass and individual fishing quotas. Several fishermen said the new stock assessments for black sea bass were very good, but the fishery managers were not willing to relax the regulations. If fact, there are plans to increase the minimum size and retain the same allocation.
As for the Individual Fish Quotas (IFQs), the fishermen oppose them as a way of forcing small fishermen and operations out of the business. They see this as just another name for Catch Shares that no one wanted. Fishermen also see IFQs or Catch Shares as benefitting the fish houses and processors rather than the fishermen.
Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) presented an amendment for a fisheries bill to prevent any money from being spent working towards Catch Shares, but it was voted down a couple of weeks ago. Several fishermen said it is hard to believe the federal regulators are looking at the same data as they are. There is a brief summary posted on the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net, and more information is to follow.
I received a message early this week that is good news, especially for pier fishermen. It wasn't an official press release, but the word was that the Sheraton Corporation plans to rebuild the pier at their Atlantic Beach motel. The pier had suffered damages from several hurricanes; most recently Hurricane Irene this fall. The pier has always been open to the public and this is good news during a time when the number of N.C. piers has been declining. Word is the rebuilt pier could be open by mid summer.
Because of the Christmas Holiday, I am doing this report early this week. The fishing has been steadily improving for a couple of weeks and now bluefin have been added to the mix. The end of the year is shaping up to be excellent fishing and I hope every one gets a little taste
Saturday night the jolly old man will be dropping through chimneys across the land. I hope you have been good and will not awaken Christmas morning to find lumps of coal in your stocking. I also hope everyone will remember the real significance of the holiday. I don't consider myself overly religious and I'm often not quite politically correct, but I believe in the story I have been told since childhood that this was when God gave mankind the greatest gift of all.
I'll be taking next week off unless something so good happens I have to fire up my computer and report it.
In the meantime I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and my best wishes for a safe, healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.