I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and was able to spend some quality time with family, friends and loved ones. Unfortunately the weather doesnít look particularly inviting for fishermen for the next week or so. There are several days forecast to make the fifties for a daytime high, but the forties are far more prevalent.
There is precipitation in several of the forecasts too and that adds to the discomfort when on the water. The lone weather bright spot is several days have light winds in the forecast. If you can handle the cold and rain, these might be the days for you to go fishing. If you head out trying to snag a few fish, be careful, these weather conditions are not forgiving.
This will be my last post of 2013 and I wish each and every one of you the best for health, happiness and prosperity in the coming year. However you ended 2013, I hope things improve during 2014. Everyone should have some New Yearís resolutions they can keep. The two Iím sure I will keep are ďSpend more time fishing,Ē and ďSpend more time fishing with friends.Ē
Since it is the end of the year, a quick look back at some key things from 2013 is appropriate. We were fortunate and didnít have even glancing encounters with any tropical storms or hurricanes, but the weather has been a bit unusual.
The most obvious unusual weather was the deluge of rain during the spring. Prior to this spring, we had been in some degree of water conservation or drought for almost three years. This spring there was so much rain several of the larger N.C. rivers reached flood stage for the first time in several years and all the debris that had gathered in the flood plains during that time was flushed downriver.
The overabundance of rainwater runoff kept the water cool well into the summer and pushed baitfish and shrimp out of typical nursery areas. It also pushed a lot of brackish water fish farther downriver than they usually go. Eroded sand and silt were carried downstream by the increased currents and covered the bottom once the rivers widened enough the flow slowed. It was a tough spring and summer for baitfish, crabs, shellfish and more.
Not only did the water temperatures stay on the cool side, but so did the air temps. I would have liked seeing the water warm those last few degrees to its typical summer levels, but it sure was nice to enjoy a cooler summer. The air temps reached scorching a couple of times, but only for a few days at a time and it made for a surprisingly temperate summer.
Once the weather settled out in late summer, fishing began to come around. Looking through the rearview mirror, 2013 couldnít be called a great year, but thankfully it wasnít an awful year either.
The only state fishing record set this year was the 46.0 pound golden tilefish caught by Rex Bunting off Cape Hatteras, but fishermen saw several unusual visitors.
While there may have been more that werenít reported, I know of three bonefish catches and three permit catches. The bonefish were caught at Swansboro and Topsail Beach, while the permit were caught at Surf City and Oak Island.
There are some tripletail caught in the lower Cape Fear River, between Southport and Carolina Beach, most years, but this year it held quite a few from late July until October. Catches of 8 to 10 tripletail arenít customary, even in south Florida where they are common, but they happened on the lower Cape Fear River several times during August and September.
The odd weather continued well into the fall and one large example was Subtropical Storm Melissa that formed southeast of Bermuda just before Thanksgiving. This is very late for tropical weather and the latest I can remember since 2001.
We also had the earliest recorded dusting of snow in early November that was followed three days later with record high temperatures at several coastal cities. The week before Christmas, I fished one morning with a thin sheet of ice in a coastal creek and was down to shirtsleeves the following afternoon.
Iím almost afraid to find out what the coming winter holds. One of the things Iím hoping for is a prolonged visit by lots of bluefin tuna. With the recent changes to menhaden regulations, there is an abundance of food for them. The table is set, so letís hope they decide to take us up on their invitation.
While the weather remained pretty good through Monday, not many people were fishing. There were a couple of popular creeks that were crowded, but fishermen looking to get away from the crowds did it easily. The temperatures began dropping Monday afternoon as a wet cold front swept across the state and nothing has pushed through yet strong enough to override its influence.
Over the past week or so, the abundance of fishing reports came from fishermen in inside waters. The sought after species are speckled trout, stripers and red drum and fishermen are finding some of all of them. They are also finding black drum and even a few late flounder.
Fishermen have chased speckled trout the most this week. While a few specks have been caught along the Cape Lookout Jetty and in the surf at Bogue Banks and Topsail, most have been caught inside the inlets. Just about every area had specks in the marshes and creeks, but most were small and it required releasing quite a few shorts to fill a limit.
The trout are still moving and arenít always at the same places, so they must be found again when you return a few days later. One tip heard a lot was to check in the warmer water toward the backs of creeks.
Donít forget to check both speckled and gray trout for tags. The red spaghetti tags are worth $100. That kind of cash is excellent incentive for calling trout tags in. The yellow spaghetti tags earn a reward too, just a little smaller.
Red drum seemed to be schooling on some days and not on others. This latest cold front should have them gathering. Puppy drum have been as confused as the fishermen most of this fall and have been found deep in creeks one day and in the surf the next. They should be in many of the same places as specks, but on shallow flats, especially mud flats, instead of in the channels.
Red drum and specks are also in the surf in places. There has been a run of pups in the Outer Banks surf for the past week. One speck weighing over 6 pounds was caught at Atlantic Beach and weighed at Chasiní Tails Outdoors early in the week. Many times specks and reds are found close to the inlets, but nice sloughs will usually hold a few wherever they are.
There was a run of tautog at Atlantic Beach a couple of weeks ago, but I havenít heard of any number of them since. This cold front should move some in and they like structure. Check around the jetties and along the wall at the Morehead City State Port.
Stripers are putting in a strong showing in several coastal plain rivers. Stripers like vertical structure so look for them around the bridges and at AR 392 just down the Neuse River from the Highway 17 Bridge at New Bern.
There were only a couple of weather windows long enough to head offshore comfortably in the last week. Those fishermen who went found wahoo and blackfin tuna at the edge of the Gulf Stream, plus king mackerel and bottom fish a few miles back inshore at the edge of the Continental Shelf.
If you want any grouper for now or for your freezer, you might want to look hard for a weather window by Tuesday. The season for gag, black, scamp and red grouper closes at 12:01 on New Years Day and doesnít reopen until May 1. Any grouper you eat after about January 3, will be frozen, imported or both.
We had some good news this week from the tagged great white sharks. Katharine headed on by us and spent a day or two near Mary Lee around the S.C./ Ga. border before moving on to northern Fl., near where Lydia was tagged last winter. As Katharine approached, Mary Lee returned to the surface and pinged again. She is either still off the S.C./Ga. border or returned there before surfacing long enough to ping. It makes me wonder if Mary Lee could somehow sense Katharine near her and decided to make her presence known. You can follow the travels Mary Lee and Katharine, plus other tagged sharks around the world by visiting www.ocearch.org and opening the shark tracker.
There is some misunderstanding about why the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) is trying to change the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Actually the Spotted Seatrout FMP is scheduled to change to a recreational limit of 3 trout, with a 14 inch minimum size, plus a December 15 to January 31 closure and a commercial trip limit of 25 trout in February. This is not new. It has been in the current Spotted Seatrout FMP since it was adopted.
However, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) does not want to implement these regulations and voted to continue the current recreational limit of 4 speckled trout with a minimum size of 14 inches and the 75 fish trip limit for commercial fishing at their August meeting. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) the MFC cannot make this change without reviewing and amending the Spotted Seatrout FMP.
Once this was realized, the MFC directed the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) staff to prepare a draft supplement to amend the Spotted Seatrout FMP. The draft supplement prepared by DMF lists two alternatives to implementing these stricter fishing regulations. One of the alternatives in the draft supplement is to continue the current speckled trout regulations. This is the one it appears the MFC prefers as they voted to do this at its August meeting.
The other option included in the draft supplement would implement less stringent regulations. These would retain the 14-inch minimum size limit but increase the recreational bag limit to six-fish (with no more than two of the six fish greater than 24 inches) and eliminate the commercial trip limit. This option retains the provision for no commercial possession or sale on weekends (except licensed finfish dealers).
With Draft Supplement A in place, DMF is requesting public comment on the options. Comments can be made electronically and by mail until January 18.
The draft supplement examines the reasons for not implementing the stricter management measures as required by the current Spotted Seatrout FMP and provides the options for amending the FMP. A copy of Draft Supplement A to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan can be found online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/fmps-under-development. For more information, contact Chip Collier at 910-796-7291 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov. Comments should be sent to Chip Collier, 127 Cardinal Drive, Wilmington, N.C. 28405 or Chip.Collier@ncdenr.gov.
The SAFMC Snapper Grouper Committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is seeking interested fishermen to host Port Meetings in their communities as part of the SAFMC Visioning Project. The SAFMC Visioning Project is the latest project to develop long-term management for the Snapper Grouper fishery off the South Atlantic states. For more information on the Visioning Project and hosting a Port Meeting, visit the SAFMC website at www.safmc.net.
As we enter winter, the number of fishing tournaments dwindles for a few months, but they are replaced by boat, fishing, hunting and outdoor shows. The first of the 2014 shows will begin in the next two weeks. Itís hard to believe that two are scheduled for the same city on the same days, but they are.
The Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Expo will be held January 10-12 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. This show features a lot of tackle and accessory booths, plus boats. There will also be an abundance of fresh and salt water fishing seminars. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The Big Rock Sports Dealer Show will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center on January 10-12. This is a wholesale show for tackle dealers from across the eastern United States and is not open to the general public. Dealers will see all the current tackle and accessories, plus any new products that have been introduced since ICAST in July. This is where they will place their initial stocking orders for the 2014 tackle we will be using.
It would be wise to carry the cell phone number of your favorite tackle dealer so you can call him from the Bass and Saltwater Expo to be sure he orders some of the hot new lures and stuff you find there.
Happy New Year