I hope everyone enjoyed a very Merry Christmas. My first item here isn't fishing, but it was so much fun I wanted to share it with everyone. Over Christmas, I was fortunate enough to be invited to spend a couple of days duck hunting at Cape Hatteras. Even though we had bluebird weather, we were hunting from a curtain blind on the reef behind Hatteras and had surprisingly good action with pintails, redheads and even a few brant. This was my first experience with a curtain blind and being mainly below water level in the middle of the decoys was certainly a novel experience--that I will try again. I believe it will become a feature story in a magazine in the near future.
I am very appreciative of my friend, Capt. Rom Whitaker, and his family, who invited me up and made this possible. Rom doesn't guide hunts commercially, but is a very prominent and successful charter fisherman who hunts ducks with a passion during the days he isn't booked. If you are interested in a charter in the Hatteras area, check out his website (www.hatterasrelease.com). He does everything from mackerel to marlin and has an excellent reputation. The tuna are biting right now if anyone is interested.
While the Cape Lookout bluefin action slowed around Christmas, the first one of the year was landed at Southport by Captains Wally Trayah and Greer Hughes. Several more shorts were also caught and one brute that reportedly took 900 yards of line before breaking off is still swimming somewhere. Maybe they will turn back on and bite hard at the end of this year and to begin 2010. While they have moved, these big fish continue to be reported, so hopefully the bluefin action is about to get real good.
While the water has cooled significantly in the past two weeks, there are some fish around and well may continue to be for a while. Red drum, black drum, a few specks, an occasional lost flounder, some black sea bass, grunts, king mackerel and a few bluefin tuna should be around for chasing. The exact mix and locations will be heavily dependent on the weather and with good weather the fishing should also be better.
Looking back at the past year, the fishing was actually pretty good, especially the billfish bite, but there were way too many species that had limit reductions or closures. Several more closures are still pending.
There is also a suit pending from the Karen Beasley Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital in regards to turtles that have been entangled and harmed or killed in N.C. gill nets. Sea turtles are either endangered or protected species, depending on the species, even though many fishermen dispute the reports of their low numbers. I haven't heard the exact details of the suit, but the ultimatum date was December 18 and it has passed. This date was for removal of all gill nets from N.C. waters and the suit would not be filed. The nets were not removed, so the next move will be from the folks at the turtle hospital.
North Carolina saltwater anglers set five state records during 2009. Two of them were increases to existing records and three established the initial state records for those species. Amazingly enough, one of the existing records, Paul Bailey's 125 pound amberjack, had stood for more than 35 years since being set in1973. Another of the records would have also been a world record had the rod not been passed. Certainly there was enough variety to keep things interesting throughout the year.
The first record to fall was the amberjack. Michael Krantz of Wilmington switched plans during a tuna trip on March 31 and landed a 126 pound, 7 ounce amberjack while fishing at the Swansboro Hole. Switching from trolling to jigging, Krantz landed the big jack on a 9 ounce Abyss jig on a Shimano 5 1/2 foot jigging rod mated with a Shimano spinning reel spooled with 80-pound braid. This fish was 1 pound, 7 ounces heavier than the standing record and was quickly established as the new record weight.
The next record fell to a young man that was playing hooky from school. Usually that's not good, but not only did he get by with this one, he was rewarded--and that's unusual. Even his principal congratulated him.
On April 29, Michael Hall of Hampstead was fishing offshore with his father, Mike Hall, and their friend Bill Collins. Trolling in the area of the Same Ole wasn't producing so the fishermen moved inshore to a piece of bottom that was showing good fish marks on the fishfinder. They began jigging 7 ounce Roscoe Jigs with Penn rods, Shimano reels and 80 pound line.
Collins was the first to hook a fish and passed the bouncing rod to the younger Hall. It turned out to be a large, brown grouper with orange-yellow spots and markings that no one could identify. The next morning it weighed 43.99 pounds on the scales at Tex's Tackle in Wilmington and was identified as a yellowfin grouper. A quick check showed the weight was heavier than the existing world record, so it was carried to Island Tackle and Hardware in Carolina Beach to be weighed on an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) certified scale. On the IGFA scale, it weighed 42 pounds, 10 ounces, which was heavier than the current record of 40 pounds, 12 ounces that had been caught off Texas in 1995.
While Hall was awarded the state record, the world record was not allowed because Collins set the hook and then passed the rod to Hall. Interestingly enough, this makes the N.C. record for yellowfin grouper heavier than the world record. This should make a good fishing trivia question someday.
On June 14 Steven Chadwick of Harkers Island went fishing with Capt. Marty Moore of Top Water Charters of Beaufort. They fished at a wreck off Hatteras where Moore had caught five spadefish heavier than 10 pounds the week prior, but he had cleaned them before he realized the state record was only 9 pounds, 1 ounce.
On the record trip, they caught eight large spadefish of which three exceeded 10 pounds. The heaviest was a hefty spade of 11 pounds, 3 ounces that was caught by Chadwick. It was weighed and certified at Teach's Lair Marina in Hatteras and easily displaced the 9 pound, 1 ounce existing record set by Spencer Smith of Sanford at Yaupon Reef off Oak Island in 2001.
Incredible as it may seem, North Carolina also didn't have a vermilion snapper (beeliner) record until Todd Helf inquired about the 6 pound, 9 ounce monster he caught on August 17 approximately 60 miles off Ocean Isle Beach. Helf's fish was weighed on the certified IGFA scales at Ocean Isle Fishing Center and weighed a mere 10 ounces less than the world record. The huge beeliner was quickly established as the initial N.C. record.
Like Michael Hall, Thomas Cutler is a teenager, but didn't have to skip school to catch his state record tripletail. Cutler was fishing on Ocean Crest Pier late on the afternoon/early evening of September 4 when he spotted the huge 27 pound, 7 ounce tripletail floating near the pier.
Cutler ran and got his king outfit and tossed a strip of flounder belly in its direction. Cutler said the fish never hesitated, but struck as soon as it saw the bait. He said the worst part of the fight was trying to get the big fish into the landing net. He said it was too large to easily fit between the support lines and it took him several tries to get it far enough into the net it would stay as the net was raised.
Pier operators weighed the fish and immediately called the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to ask about the state record. Even though it was Friday evening of Labor Day weekend, an enforcement officer was sent to verify the species and weight and the rest is now history.
The week prior to Christmas, I was invited to spend a day at Fort Bragg with one of the soldiers I met during the Military Appreciation Day (MAD) fishing program held at Oak Island during October. My new friend, Carl Bowling, is a member of the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion, which is part of the Airborne Special Operations group stationed at Fort Bragg.
I had hoped to see a jump, but we had to shift the date a couple of days as they are preparing for a spring deployment to Afghanistan. A jump had been scheduled on our initial date, but not the re-schedule. However we went by several ranges where they were practicing with different caliber weapons and did a general tour of the huge base.
The day got a little serious as we were in the parking lot of a gas mask testing area and a gust of wind pushed a little gas our way one time when the door was opened to allow a new squad to enter. All I got was a little dry throat and a hint of nausea, but it really made me appreciate the soldiers that were entering the room, removing their gas mask and then putting it back on and re-sealing it.
After having lunch at one of the facilities on base, we went to downtown Fayetteville and visited the Airborne and Special Operations Museum. I found this to be very interesting and the exhibits were all extremely well done. Unfortunately the Motion Simulator was undergoing some maintenance that day and was not open. On my next trip, I will have to experience it.
While I enjoyed seeing everything at the base and visiting the museum, I was most impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of all the soldiers I met. Many of these are young folks who are considering the military for a career, not just a job for a few years. Their dedication and willingness to serve must be seen to be appreciated. God bless our service men and women.
The original purpose of the MAD program was to show any military personnel that were interested that there were many fishermen who supported them and appreciated their sacrifices. What has happened is friendships have been built that will last far more than a day or two of fishing. I never thought of myself as extremely patriotic, but I'm really looking forward to the MAD events of 2010.
I thought I appreciated what these fine folks did before becoming involved with the MAD program, but that appreciation has been ramped up many notches after meeting some of the young soldiers. I am genuinely thrilled to be a part of this program and have made some great friends that are protecting our freedom to do the things we enjoy. I heartily recommend checking out the MAD program at www.militaryappreciationday.org and becoming involved.
Unfortunately, there has been nothing but a string of bad news (closures and other restrictions) coming from the federal fishery managers in the past few months. Many fishermen believe these closures are based on an inappropriate interpretation of the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) and flawed science--and I agree. To show support for appropriate fisheries reform based on proper science, the United We Fish fishermen's march on Washington D.C. is planned for February 24, 2010.
The cause for the march has been enjoined by the Recreational Fishing Association (RFA, www.joinrfa.com), whose director, Jim Donofrio, has heralded this as an event that will unite recreational and commercial fishermen in a common cause. More information on this event can be found at the RFA website. I have already heard from fishermen as far away as Florida who plan to be there.
Many congressmen, including N.C.'s Mike McIntyre have signed onto a bill to clarify the provisions in the MSA and others say they support it. Bills are currently working in both federal houses. The legislation (HR 1584 and S 1255) is titled the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. More information is available at www.govtrack.us.
Some folks are saying bluefin tuna should be listed as an endangered species and hope to have it happen during the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meetings in March 2010. Many fishermen and fishery managers believe the catch reductions imposed at the recent International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting are sufficient to allow bluefin tuna to recover and that listing them as endangered is not necessary. A petition has been started on-line to prevent bluefin tuna from being listed as endangered. Supporters of the petition believe allowing bluefin to be listed as endangered will mean an end to all bluefin fishing. The petition is available for review at www.petitiononline.com/tuna09/petition.html.
Tournaments have all but ended for the year. The Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Tournament began October 1 and will run through January 31. This tournament features overall winners and monthly prizes for specific weight fish. The current leader is Tom Holland with a very nice 8.32 pound gator trout. The special weight for December is 2.97 pounds. For more information, visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
If you are looking for a smart way to spend some of the cash you received as a Christmas gift, I may have the answer. Capt. Jimmy Price and I will be giving some all day fishing schools across N.C. at the end of January and through February. These schools are all on Saturdays and will begin at 8:00 and last until approximately 4:30. They are sponsored by Sea Striker and Star Rods. The dates and locations are: January 30 in Southport; February 20 in Greenville and February 27 in Greensboro. Contact Capt. Jimmy Price at 910-443-1211 or me at 910-279-6760 for more details or to purchase tickets.
There are a series of Fishing Expos scheduled for N.C. and Va. in January and I will be among the knowledgeable fishermen presenting seminars at these events. The Fishing Expos will be January 8 to 10 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, January 15 to 17 at the Richmond Raceway Complex in Richmond and January 22 to 24 at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro. For more information, visit the show website at www.ncboatshows.com.
Happy New Year and Good Fishing