I hope everyone had a great Christmas and is planning for an excellent 2004. I would like to wish you all my best for a safe, healthy, and wealthy year.

Unless something really out of the ordinary happens, this will be my last fishing forecast until sometime around Easter 2004. That should be about when the water starts warming and the fish start biting again. However, if something big happens between now and then, I will do my best to find time to get it posted here.

Right now, the big word is bluefin tuna. They are off Cape Lookout in good numbers, Cape Hatteras in fair numbers, and a few have been encountered as far south as off Topsail at Dallas Rock. The season is tag and release only for properly permitted boats with NMFS approved tags aboard.

A very short General Category bluefin season has been approved by the NMFS for January 2 and 3. The anticipation is to easily fill the transferred 11.6 metric ton of quota in the 47 hour season, from 12:30 AM, January 2 to 11:30 PM January 3.

There has been some excellent fishing along the NC coast over the past week. Stripers are biting well from the NC/Va State Line to Cape Hatteras with a few also at Ocracoke and Cape Lookout.

An excellent king mackerel bite broke out on the east side of Cape Lookout, beginning December 23. One group had 4 over 50 pounds with several more over 35. The problem here is that the bluefins are in the same general area and occasionally a bluefin eats a bait that was intended for a king. When this happens, reels scream loudly and line disappears quickly. Carry some extra line if you go.

There is also an excellent king mackerel bite off Frying Pan Tower. There are plenty of sardines and cigar minnows around the base of the tower for bait and the kings are hungry. They aren't quite as large as the kings off Cape Lookout, but they are around in big schools and are very willing biters.

Black sea bass, grouper, and beeliners are along most of the state for the ocean bottom bouncers. The sea bass start at about 60 feet deep, while the others are somewhat deeper.

Speckled trout are biting at the Cape Lookout Jetty, in the Topsail Island surf, at the Masonboro Inlet Jetties, and in Wildlife Creek at Southport. After live shrimp, Mirrolures and curl tail grubs are the best baits.

Some red drum are also being caught in the marshes, around the inlets, and offshore. The offshore reds are big fish, over 30 pounds, that are hitting grouper baits and surprising many fishermen, especially from off Wrightsville Beach to the south. The reds around the inlets will pick up cut bait and an assortment of lures, as will the schooling reds in the marshes.

This is a great report/forecast to end the year. Only a few weeks ago, it looked much bleaker. Hopefully, when we return in the spring, the fishing will be as good or better.

Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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