Merry Christmas to all. Peace on earth, good will towards men, and may the fish you seek be biting. As you celebrate, hopefully with friends and loved ones, please remember the reason for the season and say a prayer for those who are working, deployed, or living elsewhere and cannot be with friends and family.

Our roller coaster weather is forecast to warm back up to seasonable temperatures and even a little above for the Christmas weekend and most of next week. Even the wind will give us a little break, especially Monday and Tuesday. There should be some good fishing and with the daytime temperatures in the mid 60s and overnight lows only dropping to around 50, it should be pretty easy to get up and get going.

We are officially in winter now. It came rolling in on Wednesday and will stick around until March. Let's hope the weather is mild and spring starts knocking on the door early. I don't mind one snowstorm and wonder if it will happen during one of the boat shows like it usually does?

There is still warm water at the Gulf Stream, but the cold of the past week has taken a toll. All the inshore and ocean (out to about 20 miles) Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program (CORMP) stations are reporting water temps have dipped about 5 degrees in the past week. You can check these daily by visiting www.cormp.org.

There is a little more sunshine in the forecast and that is good. It will help warm the water and it seems to improve the disposition of fish, much like it does with fishermen. I won't say fish never bite on the first day of sunny weather after a cloudy cold snap, but the bite typically begins to improve a little on the second day, then gets a little better on the third day and may continue to improve marginally after that, especially if the water is warming.

When the water temps fall under 50, it really affects the fish. They have been gradually slowing as it cooled, but their activity and need to feed drops off greatly once the water drops into the 40s. This is when baits that smell good and look good stopped or barely moving shine. They help get cold and lethargic fish interested enough to bite. The bite may be a weak peck and fishermen have to pay close attention, but they get the fish interested.

Several really good fishermen said they have mainly been catching trout and puppy drum on hard lures for the last week or so. A couple of them really sang the praises of suspending lures, especially the MirrOlure MirrOdine in the MR 17 size. They said to let the lure drift with the current and only twitch it every 15 to 30 seconds and then to twitch it very lightly. They said this was effective in water from about 2 to 6 feet deep.

Several fishermen that said they had caught specks and pups on soft plastics said they were either moving them extremely slowly across the bottom or jigging them a foot or so as vertically as possible and then letting them sit for 10 to 15 seconds when they land. I prefer shrimp shapes when I'm fishing soft plastics this slowly and several, like the Betts Perfect Sinker, DOA Shrimp, Savage Shrimp, Vudu Shrimp, and Z Man ShrimpZ, look good and natural fished this way. I slather them up with Pro-Cure Scent Gel too.

The cooler water has slowed the action, but there are still specks and pups in the area. There were also a few flounder caught this week, but don't count on seeing them. Look for areas, like the back of creeks, where the water doesn't completely change during a tide cycle. This allows it to retain heat and sometimes as little as a half a degree is the difference between fish biting and not. In cold water, fish will also gather in places they don't have to deal with current.

The weather and sea conditions weren't favorable this week, so this info is a week old, but there were still a few large red drum along the beach east of Cape Lookout and around the artificial reefs off Southport. A bucktail, with or without a trailer, or a 4 or 5 inch soft plastic will usually draw strikes and is easy to remove.

It's difficult to get too excited about gray trout with their limit of a single fish, but there have been good numbers of gray trout for a while. Grays are being caught on all the artificial reefs around the Cape Fear River mouth and from the Turning Basin, out Beaufort Inlet, along Shackleford Banks, and up to the old sub nets and holes off the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty. Speck rigs and metal jigs will both catch well.

I don't want to say no one is fishing the surf, but the numbers are small and there haven't been many reports. Expectations are there should be a few sea mullet, red and black drum, trout and bluefish in the surf zone, but fishing has been slow. When in doubt of where to fish, around the inlets are usually good spots to begin.

There isn't a lot of offshore fishing right now either, so reports are sketchy. There have been some mentions of bluefin tuna, but not a report of a catch. A bluefin, estimated at 200 pounds, washed up on Wrightsville Beach Wednesday afternoon, so it appears there are bluefins off the N.C. coast. The conditions are about right for them to be here, but with the commercial fishery closed until January 1, there isn't much effort.

Recreational bluefin season is open with the exception that the trophy category (73 inches and larger) is closed. All bluefin seasons will reopen as of 12:01 A.M. on January 1. For more information visit www.hmspermits.noaa.gov.

King mackerel, offshore bottom fish, wahoo and blackfin tuna were all biting a week ago and there is no reason to think they will not be when the sea conditions calm and fishermen head offshore again. The water temp at the ILM and LEJ CORMP reporting stations about 20 miles offshore has cooled from 70 to 65, so the kings will most likely be a little farther offshore. Offshore bottom fishing had already moved to the 80 to 120 foot depths and should be good there still. Fishermen should remember that grouper season closes at midnight on December 31.

The water temps at the CORMP buoys off Diamond Shoals and Frying Pan Tower have cooled too, but only into the lower 70s. This should make the temperature breaks at the edge of the Gulf Stream more pronounced and easier to find. The temp breaks should be holding wahoo and blackfins.

Flounder Season Has Not Closed
Flounder season did not close on October 16 as had been previously scheduled by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission. I still am asked about this several times a week and am glad that folks are checking the regulations before going fishing. There was a suit filed by two groups representing commercial fishermen and the judge granted an injunction to keep the season open. There will be a final hearing, but the timing on it is not yet known, so keep catching with the limit the same at 15 inches minimum size and a limit of 6 per person per day. More information is available at www.ncdmf.net.

Joint MFC Advisory Committee Meeting on Inshore Trawling set for January 17
Five MFC advisory committees will meet jointly at 12:30 P.M. on January 17 at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, 203 South Front St., New Bern. The Finfish, Shellfish/Crustacean, Habitat and Water Quality, Northern Regional and Southern Regional advisory committees will listen to public comments, have their own discussion, and comment on the petition for rulemaking submitted Nov. 2 by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. The petition calls for habitat protections that would impact shrimp trawl fishing in most North Carolina waters.

The petition asks the MFC to designate all coastal fishing waters (including the ocean out to three miles) not otherwise designated as nursery areas as special secondary nursery areas; establish clear criteria for the opening of shrimp season; and define the type of gear and how and when gear may be used in special secondary nursery areas during shrimp season. Specific requests of the petition include:
* Limiting shrimp trawling to three days a week in the daytime only in special secondary nursery areas;
*Limiting the total trawl head rope to 90 feet (which will limit the size of the net) in all state waters;
* Limiting tow times to 45 minutes in special secondary nursery areas;
* Opening shrimp season once the shrimp count in Pamlico Sound reaches 60 shrimp per pound, heads on;
* Implementing an 8-inch size limit for spot and a 10-inch size limit for American croaker;
* Requiring all fishermen to use two Division of Marine Fisheries-certified bycatch reduction devices when trawling in state waters.
The commission will discuss and vote on the petition for rulemaking at its February business meeting.

Public comment will be accepted at the meeting. To accommodate as many speakers as possible, there will be a 3 minute time limit on each comment.

Written public comments will be accepted from December 20 through January 20 by sending an e-mail to NCWFPetition@ncdenr.gov or by mail to:
NCWF Petition - Marine Fisheries Commission Office - N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries - PO Box 769 - Morehead City, N.C. 28557.

A copy of the petition is available on the Marine Fisheries Commission website at www.ncdmf.net. For more information, contact Nancy Fish, division liaison to the Marine Fisheries Commission, at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.

ASMFC Releases Cobia PID for Public Comment and Meetings
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissionís South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board has released the Public Information Document (PID) for the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Cobia for public comment. As the first step in the FMP development process, the PID provides stakeholders with an opportunity to inform the ASMFC about changes observed in the fishery and provide feedback on potential management measures, plus any additional issues that should be included in the Draft FMP. Specifically, the PID seeks comment on the management unit; goals and objectives of the plan; commercial and recreational measures; coastwide, regional or state-by-state measures; and other issues.

The ASMFC released the PID in response to a request by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) for the ASMFC to consider joint or complementary management of cobia in light of the significant overage of the 2015 recreational annual catch limit (ACL) and the impact of those overages to state management. Recreational landings of the Atlantic Cobia Migratory Group in 2015 were approximately 1.5 million pounds, which is 145% over the ACL, resulting in a June 20, 2016 closure of the fishery by NOAA Fisheries. Commercial cobia landings in 2015 were 83,148 pounds, 38% over the ACL.

Widely distributed throughout the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, cobia are managed as two distinct groups Ė the Gulf Migratory Group and the Atlantic Migratory Group. The Atlantic Migratory Group, which range from New York to Georgia, is managed by the SAFMC. The east coast of Florida falls under the Gulf Migratory Group. The SAFMC manages the east coast of Florida sub-ACL which is set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

The 2016 closure, which was in response to the 2015 overage, created concerns in states whose recreational seasons would have been significantly reduced by the closure. Two states, North Carolina and Virginia, developed alternate management strategies to reduce economic impacts to their state fisheries which resulted in differing regulations for federal and state water fishing. An intent of a complementary Cobia FMP is to provide the states the flexibility to respond to changes in the fishery and stock that meet their state fisheries needs without impacting federal fishermen while meeting the goals and objectives of the FMP.

Stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The PID can be obtained at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/CobiaPID_PublicComment.pdf or via the Commissionís website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input. North Carolina held two hearings earlier in December and public comment will be accepted until 5:00 P.M. (EST) on January 6, 2017. Comments should be forwarded to Dr. Louis Daniel, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at ldaniel@asmfc.org with the subject line: Cobia PID.

Menhaden Draft Amendment 3 PID Released for Public Comment and Hearing
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissionís Atlantic Menhaden Management Board has released the Public Information Document (PID) for Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden for public comment. As the first step in the amendment process, the document seeks input from stakeholders and those interested in Atlantic menhaden about changes observed in the fishery/resource and potential management measures.

Draft Amendment 3 was initiated following Board review and acceptance of the 2015 Stock Assessment and Peer Review report, which found the menhaden resource in good condition - not overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The PID outlines a number of issues in the fishery and solicits feedback on how the resource should be managed. In addition to the specific issues identified in the PID, commenters are welcome to provide input on all aspects of the fishery and resource, including recommendations for future management.

The PID can be found at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/AtlMenhadenAmend3PID_PublicComment.pdf or via the Commissionís website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input.

The North Carolina public hearing was November 30, but stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID by sending written comment. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 P.M. on January 4, 2017 and should be forwarded to Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org with the subject line: Menhaden PID.

WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host Ongoing Fishing Programs
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across N.C. and offers a variety of fishing and outdoor education programs. The closest of the education centers is the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville. Others are at the Centennial Campus Center at NC State University in Raleigh, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla, and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest.

There will be three Intro to Flyfishing and one Advanced Flyfishing programs offered at the Pechmann Center during January and February. For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab. The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page.

The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jeanette's Pier in Nags Head. The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is local and others are at Fort Fisher and Manteo. For more information on the Aquariums and their programs, visit www.ncaquariums.com and select your preferred location.

Wildlife Commission to Conduct Public Hearings in January
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will conduct nine public hearings in January 2017 on 39 proposed changes to WRC regulations related to wildlife management, fisheries and game lands for the 2017-18 seasons.

Three proposed regulations would redefine youth as anyone under 18 years old and allow them to participate during the youth either-sex deer hunts, Youth Deer Hunting Day, and Spring Youth-only Wild Turkey Season (H2); Youth-only Delayed Harvest Trout Water Season (F9), and any youth hunts on game lands (G2). These proposal would not change any license requirements.

Proposed regulation (D1) would establish guidelines and set standards for the Commission to carry out the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (WVC). The North Carolina General Assembly adopted the WVC in 2008, which creates a way for member states to: (1) Promote compliance of hunting, fishing, and trapping regulations in their respective states; and (2) Provide for the fair and impartial treatment of persons committing wildlife violations in member states. The WVC requires the Wildlife Resources Commission and Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt rules necessary to carry out its purpose.

Among the wildlife management-related proposed changes is one that would eliminate the use of paper Big Game Harvest Record sheets (H7). Hunters would report their big game harvest either by phone or Internet. This proposal would complete the conversion of big game harvest reporting from paper to an electronic registration system, which began with turkey harvest reporting in 2003.

Four game land proposals would add nearly 7,300 acres to the Commissionís Game Lands Program. If passed:
* 156 acres would be established as the new Hill Farm Game Land, which borders the Dan River in northwestern Stokes County and would be designated a permit-only area (G7).
* 2,400 acres of the 3,170-acre Rendezvous Mountain State Forest in Wilkes County would be enrolled in the Game Lands Program as a three-day-per-week game land with bear hunting prohibited, as requested by the N.C. Forest Service, which owns the tract (G9).
* 2,818 acres of the newly acquired Voice of America tract in Beaufort County would become a permit-only area (G13).
*1,925 acres would be established as the new William H. Silver Game Land in Haywood County, which would be a six-day-per week game land with an introductory either-sex deer season (G14).

More information on all of the proposed regulations to the agencyís wildlife management, game lands, fishing and other agency regulations for the 2017-18 seasons can be found online at www.ncwildlife.org. Comments on the proposed regulations and changes will be accepted through February 1, 2017. Comments may be submitted at the public hearings during January, online, emailed to regulations@ncwildlife.org, or mailed to: Rules Coordinator - N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission - 1701 Mail Service Center - Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1701.

The WRC will meet on February 7 to review the public comments and vote on the proposals. Approved proposals will become effective August 1, 2017.

Public hearings will begin at 7:00 P.M. at:
* January 10: Bladen Community College Auditorium, Dublin;
* January 11: Southern Alamance High School, Graham;
* January 12: Stanly County Agri-Civic Center, Albemarle;
* January 17: Haywood Community College Auditorium, Clyde;
* January 18: Western Piedmont Community College, Leviton Auditorium, Morganton;
* January 19: Elkin High School, Elkin;
* January 24: Chowan County Public Safety Center, Edenton;
* January 25: Craven Community College, Orringer Auditorium, New Bern;
* January 26: Nash Community College, Brown Auditorium, Rocky Mount.

Fisheries Meetings
January 9: Marine Fisheries Commission Shrimp Bycatch Reduction Industry Work Group Workshop 3, 10:30 A.M., New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, New Bern, Contact: Kevin Brown at 252-808-8089 or Kevin.H.Brown@ncdenr.gov.

January 10-26: Wildlife Resources Commission Public Hearings, 7:00 P.M. at various locations across N.C., See above or visit www.ncwildlife.org.

January 11: Public Hearing on Proposed Shellfish Bottom and Water Column Leases, 6:00 P.M., Hyde County Courthouse, Swan Quarter, Contact: Steve Murphey at 252-808-8046 or Steve.Murphey@ncdenr.gov.

January 17: Joint MFC Advisory Committee Hearing on N.C. Wildlife Federation Inshore Trawling Reduction Petition for Rulemaking, 12:30 P.M., New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, New Bern, Contact Nancy Fish at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.

January 18: Public Hearings for Shellfish Leases, 6:00 P.M., DMF Central District Office, Morehead City, Contact Marla J. Chuffo at 252-808-8048 or Marla.Chuffo@ncdenr.gov.

January 30-February 2: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Winter Meeting, Westin Alexandria, Alexandria, VA, www.asmfc.org.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
September 1 to December 31: Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge, Chasin' Tails Outdoors, Atlantic Beach, www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.

October 16-January 31: Intracoastal Angler Speckled Trout Tournament, Intracoastal Angler, Wilmington, www.intracoastalangler.com.

Merry Christmas and Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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