I hope everyone has a great Christmas planned and has good plans for the rest of the holidays. We're looking at some scattered sprinkly rain over the weekend, but the temperatures will be warm enough to handle it if the fish are biting--and the chances are good they will.

Unless I get particularly well motivated next week, this will be my last column of 2008 and I want to wish everyone my best for the coming year. There is no doubt this year has been a test for many of us and we will be tested more in the new year. Hopefully things will settle out and turn around faster than the economists we see, hear and read say. I don't like continually hearing about gloom and doom and believe constantly hearing about it predisposes folks to accept and prolong it.

In this spirit, I'm predicting great fishing and a turn around in the economy for 2009. Let's get together and make it happen!

Any time your weekend begins with a Thursday holiday, it has a tendency to be special. This one should be pretty good--at least as far as fishing is concerned. If you were nice and got a new rod and reel outfit for Christmas, you may get a good opportunity to use it. Our daytime highs might not be quite as warm as was first thought, but we should cool down much at night either. Temperature wise, it should be fairly easy to get going in the mornings.

The winds won't be awful, but will have some edges. Friday is forecast for the lightest winds, but they will be from the east and some folks believe that slows the fishing. I agree in the spring and summer, but have enjoyed some good fall and winter fishing with easterly winds. Saturday has a southerly flow that may be a little more blustery, but shouldn't be nasty and Sunday looks to begin a little puffy, but lay out some during the day. Perhaps some of us will be able to go fishing while others in the family check out the after Christmas sales and exchange presents that didn't fit?

With the fronts rolling through and the weather changing, the winds were blustery at times this week and fishing offshore was hampered by it. Those folks, who made the trip, reported some pretty good catches--especially for the time of year.

King mackerel are biting. The main requirement is having a weather window to get to them. The Atlas Tanker was reported as a hot spot east of Cape lookout, while 240 Rock had a hot bite on the west side of the shoals. Off Cape Fear, the kings have been holding just a little south and east of Frying Pan Tower. A few bluefin tunas, one big wahoo and some blackfin tunas have stolen baits intended for kings. Most of the blackfins and a triple digit wahoo were landed, but king gear is just not a match for bluefins.

Several fishermen reported seeing acre-size schools of false albacore east of Cape Lookout and hoping there would be bluefins feeding on them. The bite was slow, but a few bluefins were caught. Several fishermen said the water had warmed too much and they would be taking a holiday break and hoping for cooler water after the holidays.

Well offshore, the bite was primarily blackfin tunas, with a few wahoo. There were some yellowfin tunas caught, but that bite was well to the north, off Cape Hatteras and farther.

The best offshore bite was grouper and it remained very good. Some beeliners, black sea bass, grunts and a few red snappers were also caught.

Grouper fishermen received some good news this week. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decided not to support the Interim Rule for a four-month season closure and reduced limits requested by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC). These closure and limit reductions are in Amendment 16 to the Snapper-Grouper Management Plan and it could not begin until later in the year without the Interim Rule.

Most fishermen thought the closure sought by the Interim Rule was a forgone conclusion and it had been advertised as such. However, on Dec 19, NMFS sent a letter stating they would not approve the Interim Rule.

Amendment 16 was approved by the SAFMC and is undergoing a review by the Secretary of Commerce. It will most likely be approved and become effective later in 2009, but the extended season closure cannot begin until 2010.

A previously approved amendment prohibiting possessing more than a recreational limit and all buying or selling of grouper during March and April remains in effect. For more information, visit the SAFMC web site at www.safmc.net.

Inshore fishermen are still enjoying good fishing. There are puppy drum, speckled trout, gray trout, sea mullet and even some occasional flounder being caught. If you travel up the Cape Fear, Neuse, Tar/Pamlico or Albemarle Rivers, you can also add stripers to that list.

The puppy drum and speckled trout are scattered through the marshes and creeks out to the inlets and along the surf. As usual for this time of year, the Cape Lookout Jetty is a hotspot and arriving early is necessary to get a preferred spot. The warm weather of the past week has warmed the water also and the fish, while seemingly confused at times, have gotten more active and are feeding. Capt. Jeff Cronk reported seeing 58 degrees pretty regularly and some backwater areas with low tidal flow had warmed into the low 60s.

Specks can be a little finicky about what they like, but have been feeding on mud minnows pretty well. Several fishermen said they definitely caught more and larger speck on the live baits. They added the other species would also eat them if they were around. Soft plastics and MirrOlures are also catching specks, with dark MirrOlures being a good choice at night.

On the other end of the spectrum, pups aren't very particular about their food. If it looks or smells good, they'll probably eat it. Sure, live bait is good, but it isn't necessary. Many of the larger pups are being caught on larger artificials.

Sea Mullet and some gray trout are biting in the Morehead City Turning Basin and along the channel out to and through Beaufort Inlet. They are also scattered up the beach through the Dead Tree Hole and to the holes off the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty. Black drum are also a possible catch while jigging for grays and sea mullet.

There is almost a week left in the EJW Outdoors Big Buck Classic. It will run through the end of deer season on January 1. There is an entry fee required before registering a deer and several levels are available. Special categories are in place for bowhunters, muzzleloader hunters, ladies and juniors. Complete details are available at EJW Outdoors on Arendell Street, by visiting www.ejwoutdoors.com, or by calling 252-247-4725.

The 2008 NC Saltwater Fishing Tournament, run by the Division of Marine Fisheries, continues through December 31. If you catch a gator speck or a hog in another species, be sure to have it weighed at one of many certified weigh stations along the N.C. coast. This is a multiple species tournament, with no entry fee. Fish just have to meet minimum weights and be weighed at a certified weigh station. For more information, visit www.ncdmf.net.

The New Year brings a series of boat and fishing shows across the area. The first is the Bass and Saltwater Expo at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on January 9 to 11. This show includes boats and tackle for sale, plus numerous fishing seminars. For more information, visit www.ncboatshows.com.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) has announced a series of public hearings regarding proposed changes in fishing (fresh water) and hunting regulations for the 2009-2010 seasons. Some of the proposals are very different from current regulations. The changes involve seasons, limits and manner of taking fish and game. The meeting will begin at 7:00 P.M. A complete list of all the meeting dates, times and locations statewide, plus all of the proposed regulations changes can be found on the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org.

Good Fishing
Merry Christmas  and Happy New Year
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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