The first thing I want to do this week is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. In these troubled times I hope things are going well for you. May you have the opportunity to spend some quality time with friends and family during the holiday season.

While it didn't look so early in the week, a cold low moving in from the south is keeping the possibility of a white Christmas alive for us. The exact track of the low will determine exactly what happens, but I've talked with a lot of folks who are excited. A White Christmas is extremely rare in southeastern NC and that really is a good thing.

As I noted last week, I vividly remember the white Christmas of 1989 and it wasn't everything you would think. Donna said I also needed to remember we were living in an old farm house at that time and, while it served us well over the years, there was minimal insulation and in spite of our getting a space heater for the bathroom our pipes froze solid.

Once again I'm talking about weather at the beginning of this column and that means it isn't particularly good. While we will be cold and windy for the next several days, we aren't looking at snow or sleet except for that possibility Christmas Day, but there are some threats of rain in the forecast, so be careful driving when the temperature is at and below freezing--especially at night.

Not many folks braved the weather last week to go fishing either. The wind has just been too strong for fishing the ocean and, while the inside waters are more protected, that strong wind makes for some cold wind chills and even the hardiest fishermen can only handle it for short periods.

One night last week I had a conversation with a lady who strongly believes the teaching and timings of the Farmer's Almanac are a good guide. That is difficult to debate as the Almanac is right as much, if not more, than the weathermen. One of the teachings of the Almanac is that the wooly worm's coat will tell us how the winter is going to be.

This year the wooly worms have been dark on the ends and light in the middle. This is supposed to indicate the winter will be cold early and late and mild in the middle. They sure got the cold early part right and now my question is, "Since winter started so early this year, how long before we get to the middle?"

While none of our recent nights have been warm, a few were exceptionally cold. There was ice along the edges in places that are considered salt marsh and some light ice back in many creeks and a couple of marinas. I keep hearing rumblings of some fish kills from fish freezing or otherwise succumbing to the cold, but I haven't verified any large incidents so far. I have been told of a couple of small freezes that killed a few panfish and pogies and had them floating, but as of my last conversation with the folks at N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, there has not been an incident significant enough to report. One of my friends went to North River, which was the site of one of last year's freeze kills, and said the creek had ice, but he didn't see any floating trout.

It would be wishful thinking to hope the water temperatures had risen any last week. The truth is they have fallen a little and the reporting stations at Ocean Crest Pier and just off Sunset Beach had slipped to 46 degrees Monday Morning. In the Cape Fear River, the reporting station at Zeke's Island was even colder at 44 degrees. The temperature is usually significantly warmer at the weather buoy out near Frying Pan Tower but that was only showing 62 degrees, which I guess is actually significantly warmer. However, this area is usually 70 or warmer through December.

The cold water is slowing our fishing and the cold windy weather is slowing our fishermen. There are a few fish around and biting, but there aren't many fishermen out chasing them and the reports are pretty slim. What we can honestly expect to catch in inshore waters and along the beaches is red drum, a few speckled trout and an occasional black drum and this is all totally weather dependent.

In the nearshore ocean, there are some black sea bass at the WOFES and Lighthouse Rocks and there may be a few gray trout in about 40 feet of water off Shackleford Banks and up towards the holes and old sub net anchors off Cape Lookout and around the WOFES and the nearshore artificial reefs off Cape Fear, but this water may even be too cold for them.

Your questions that led to my comments on gray trout last week apparently caught people's attention. I was told that my explanation of the situation was correct and that we should soon see an amended limits sheet that will list the limit at 1 gray trout per person regardless of the location. I checked the NC Marine Fisheries website this morning and it has already been changed. You can verify this at www.ncdmf.net.

Everyone is watching and waiting for any reports of bluefin tuna and it is always a shame when we head something has happened to one and it wasn't used. The Ocean Isle Fishing Center reported an 80 inch bluefin tuna washed up on the beach at Fort Fisher over last weekend, but there hasn't yet been one landed off Cape Fear. All along the N.C. Coast, the fishermen who are battling the wind, rain and cold to go are reporting all the signs are there, but they aren't getting any strikes. A few are being landed off Morehead City and Hatteras, but the bite is not hot by any means.

I have a special note to anyone chasing bluefins; the current limits are a little different than usual and will be in effect through December 31. Under the current limits, a boat fishing with an angling permit (recreational or private, non-commercial boat) may keep one fish per day between 27 and 59 inches. Boats fishing recreationally under charter/headboat permits may keep two fish per day. One can be 27 to 47 inches and the other can be 47 to 59 inches. Recreational fishermen cannot currently keep a bluefin longer than 59 inches. Boats fishing commercially under general permits may keep three fish per day with a minimum length of 73 inches. This is through December 31 and will change on January 1.

In the marginal weather of the past week, I did not get a report from anyone who went offshore as far as the Gulf Stream. At our last report, there were some wahoo and blackfin tuna biting and they should still be around.

I had a fisherman who loves to chase grouper and usually gives me good reports tell me he had been waiting a while for a nice day to make a trip. He said the conditions had been too rough to make the trip on many days and on the marginal days the conditions were still tough enough it would be difficult to feel light strikes. He said he wanted to make a trip or two before the grouper season closed on January 1, but was concerned he wouldn't. He said he thought the fish would be hungry if he could just get to them. He said in addition to grouper, there would be snapper, black sea bass, porgys, grunts and triggerfish. The red snapper and beeliner season is already closed, so they must be released.

Some trout are still around, but as the water cools they are harder and harder to get to bite. The principal ingredient for making that happen is having some warming water. Many fishermen believe the fishing is better the second and third day of a run of sunny weather and I agree. The water may only warm a degree or so, but it triggers the fish to feed. They are still moving slow, so presenting your bait slowly is also important.

Trout fishermen should be aware that on November 30, the speckled trout limits in coastal waters changed. The new regulations allow for a bag limit of six specks. The minimum size is 14 inches and only two can be longer than 24 inches. This change was just for those waters designated "Coastal Waters."

The Wildlife Resources Commission did not change the limits in inland waters and fishermen there can keep 10 speckled trout with a minimum size of 12 inches. This can be verified in the regulations part of the website at www.ncwildlife.org. To take advantage of this difference in the limits, the fisherman must launch and retrieve his boat, and fish, in inland waters. I was told this would also be changing before too long, but, as of this morning, it had not.

Even in the cold, puppy drum are the most active of the inshore fish. I received several reports of pups from the surf along Shackleford Banks, Bear Island, Browns Island and Lea-Hutaff Island and well up toward the backs some of the longer coastal marsh creeks along the entire coast. This water doesn't always move completely out of the marsh on a tide change and may be a degree or two warmer than water in the river or even farther out toward the mouth of the creek. This is especially true if the creek has a dark bottom.

Even though this water may be a little warmer, slowing the bait down or fishing it "dead stick" style is the key to getting strikes. Some fishermen even switch to chunks of cut bait to allow the scent of the bait to work its way through the water and convince the fish to bite.

I mentioned the stripers around downtown Wilmington a couple of weeks back and there has been a surprising amount of interest in them. I can only assume it is because they are the one local inshore fish that becomes more active in cold water. In fact, these fish don't even begin showing up well until the water begins to cool. These stripers are in the Brunswick, Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers

The striper bite around New Bern is going off pretty good. Capt. Gary Dubiel has been reporting many good trips and a lot of fish being caught at the artificial reef just downriver of the Highway 17 Bridge. More stripers are being caught inshore around the bridges at Manteo and a few are showing in the ocean out Oregon Inlet.

Last week I reported that sea turtles were having difficulty in the cold water and Karen Sota of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach said turtles that are in obvious distress can use our help. Sota said to take turtles that were in obvious distress to a semi-warm area like a garage or laundry room to begin warming up and to call the Turtle Hotline at 252-241-7367. My suggestion was to call the turtle hospital immediately so you are on record as helping an endangered species.

I don't thing you can make stuff like this up, so I am assuming it is true. In the December 16 edition of the MINA (Macedonian International News Agency) On-line there was a story about Dragan Stevic of Serbia becoming a new Egyptian hero for killing a shark that had terrorized tourists at the Egyptian Resort, Sarm El Sheikh.

The shark was huge and supposedly injured four tourists and killed one. Stevic was too drunk to remember the feat, but Milovan Ubirapa, a friend of Stevic, explained it for the Egyptian media, who proclaimed Stevic as "Shark El Sheikh."

After a long day of drinking, Stevic and friends went to the beach and found a diving board used earlier in the day.

"Dragan climbed on the jumping board, told me to hold his beer and simply ran to jump," Upirapa said. "There was no time for me to react or to try to stop him, he just went for it. Dragan jumped high and plunged down to the sea, but didn't make as much splash as we thought he would."

The reason Stevic didn't make a big splash was because he jumped right on the shark's head and killed it instantly. Local officials assumed the shark was lurking near the beach waiting for its next victim.

The local media celebrated the feat and thanked Stevic for saving their tourist season. He was awarded a free vacation and drinks for his feat, but will have to wait until he recovers to use it.

I'd never thought of it, but obviously there are Serbian Rednecks. Why else would Stevic ask his friend to "Hold his beer and watch this?" Those are famous last words in much of the south and now we know they reverberate worldwide. Thankfully this time it was not the person who died.

The Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge is ongoing through January 31 in Atlantic Beach. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors said there have been some very nice trout caught in the past week, with a couple of changes in the top five of the tournament. However, none were large enough to upset the current leader, which is the 8.69 pound speck caught two weeks ago by Douglas Gorchess. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

With the exception of the Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge in Atlantic Beach and the year long, N.C. Saltwater Tournament and Citation Program run through the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the 2010 tournament season is about over. The 2010 N.C. Saltwater Tournament and Citation Program runs through the end of December and the Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge runs through the end of January. For more information on the N.C. Saltwater Tournament and Citation Program, visit www.ncdmf.net

Here's a reminder not to plan too much for New Year's night. This is a good time for all as even those who overdid it on New Year's Eve should be over their folly. WWIL, TV Channel 10 (Channel 5 on Oak Island cable) will be showing a special based on the film Redfish Can't Jump at 7:00 P.M. According to Capt. Seth Vernon, who is one of the driving forces behind the film, it is an hour feature on redfish and Redfish Can't Jump, with some new footage and more. I don't know about everyone else, but by 7:00 on New Years night, I will be so ready for something other than football.

Good fishing and Merry Christmas
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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