The warmer than usually winter continues, with just being interrupted by some short cold snaps. Forecasts for the weekend and week have varied some, but all are for very mild temperatures over the weekend and into next week. Several have daytime highs reaching the high sixties and low seventies on a couple of days and fairly good fishing continues.
We may have just passed the winter equinox before Christmas, but I can already tell the days are getting longer. It isn't much yet, but it is enough to notice. With the warm days coming up, maybe a few folks will take advantage of that extra little bit of daylight and get in an afternoon fishing trip.
This warm weather reminds me to mention that fish get active on the second and third day of nice weather after a cold snap. We had a cold snap last weekend, then again on Thursday, so, with the warming trend, Saturday and Sunday should be good days to wet a hook.
The winds have blown this week and there weren't any reports from offshore. Prior to this there has been pretty consistent action with wahoo and blackfin tuna and I expect more will be found offshore when the wind takes a break. Several of the species are closed to harvest right now, but offshore bottom fishing has been good too.
Don't keep any red snapper, grouper, beeliner or black sea bass, but grunts triggerfish and porgies are biting well in the depths around 100 feet. These fish actually are a challenge to catch right now because so many of the protected species are beating them to our baits. It's catch and release fishing much of the time simply because the fish with closed seasons beat the ones with open seasons to the baits.
For fishermen heading out after any of the bottom species, this is a fishing trip that easily combines with king mackerel. Kings have been caught in the general area of 100 to 120 feet deep from Diamond Shoals Tower down to Frying Pan Tower all winter. Some folks fish the bottom first and then troll a while for kings while others reverse that order. You can also put out a light line while bottom fishing and see if the activity attracts any kings. Both are in the same depths. There may be other surprises on the light line.
On the inshore side of things there have been speckled trout and red drum caught in the surf and in many of the shallow coastal bays and creeks. The water in the shallow areas warms a little quicker from the sunlight, especially if they have dark bottoms, and this gets the fish a little more active and in a feeding mood.
One accepted method for catching winter pups and specks is to fish slowly. Sometimes this even extends to dead sticking, which means allowing the bait to sit in one spot for a while and then only moving it a little before resting it again.
When fishing this slow, scent can be a valuable addition. Many soft baits are available with scent. There are also several companies that make scent products to be added to baits.
Capt. Jimmy Price recommends putting your soft baits in a zip lock bag and spraying them with scent, then sealing the bag. He said this allows the scent to be on them for a while and they are ready to go whether you are fishing tomorrow or next week. Capt. Jimmy catches enough fish it is hard to question his tactics. By the way, the scent Capt. Jimmy likes is Jack's Juice. Get it at your favorite local tackle shop.
I use Pro Cure scent, which is a gel. I add it to soft plastics, hard baits and spoons while I am fishing. I think it works well, but my hands smell like fish from handling the baits and smearing it on. I think that is a small price to pay for fishing success. Besides, I hope to get my hands fishy smelling from taking fish off the hook.
When looking for winter fish, typically puppy drum will be in shallower water than specks. Sometimes they are in water so shallow you can see wakes when they move. They are usually feeding when they are shallow enough you see their wakes.
Occasionally specks will move in to eat some of what the pups root up and you will catch them together, but the specks usually stage just a little deeper.
When you find pups and specks in the surf, they are usually both inside the most prominent bar. They stay in this slough next to the beach to stay away from porpoises and dolphins. Dolphins and porpoises eat fish and often turn to specks and pups during the winter when other fish are scarce. The pups and specks stay very shallow to avoid them. When fishing in the surf, always work your lure until it hits the sand. Many times strikes come in the last few feet.
The weather hasn't been cold enough yet to push a lot of stripers down from the Chesapeake Bay to off Oregon Inlet. There are a few stripers around, but not in the numbers they were last year. That may come later if the water continues to cool.
On the other hand, stripers have been biting well in many rivers. Striper reports have been very good from the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern and the Tar/Pamlico River around Washington. Stripers are also being caught in the Roanoke River around Plymouth and in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers at Wilmington. The Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers are closed to possession of stripers, so if you want one to eat, visit one of the other rivers.
In a press release dated Jan. 17, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries announced the approval of 14 grants, totaling $1.99 million from the revenues of the N.C. Marine Resources Fund, which receives money generated by the sale of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses.
The grants are sorted into three focus areas of People, Fish and Habitat. Grants that fall under the People focus area include public education and public water access projects. Grants that fall under the Fish focus area are fisheries research projects. Grants that fall under the Habitat focus area include projects that enhance, protect or research fisheries habitat.
The 14 grants approved for 2012 include:
People -- Total of $857,369;
Take a Kid Fishing -- $25,000. One-year funding for a multi-year grant to provide disabled and disadvantaged youth an opportunity to go saltwater fishing while teaching them about ethical fishing practices, conservation and the ocean environment.
Long Bay Artificial Reef Association -- $220,622. One-year grant to place reef material on Artificial Reef 430 off Brunswick County to enhance the effective and responsible development of artificial reefs for long-term fishery enhancement.
N. C. Division of Marine Fisheries' Saltwater fishing Tournament -- $25,727. Year-one funding for a multi-year grant to enhance and support the program, which produces citations that recognize recreational anglers for exceptional catches of marine finfish common to North Carolina.
Friends of the N.C. Maritime Museum -- $28,620. Year-one funding for a multi-year grant to develop and implement a public exhibit with related educational materials centered on North Carolina's recreational fisheries.
Wildlife Resources Commission's Brick Landing Road Boating Access -- $350,000. One-year grant to design and construct one new concrete ramp, floating docks, 24 paved parking spaces and Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, features.
Wildlife Resources Commission's ADA Coastal Boating Access -- $140,000. Year-one funding of a multi-year grant to make all of the commission's coastal boating access sites ADA compliant.
Town of Oriental -- $67,400. One-year grant to enhance the Oriental Artificial Reef 396 by purchasing and deploying reef balls and other materials.
Fish- Total of $400,710;
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Acoustic Tagging of Southern Flounder -- $161,874. Year-one funding of a multi-year grant to evaluate the migration dynamics and within-estuary habitat use of southern flounder.
East Carolina University Cooperative Winter Tagging Cruise -- $238,836. Year-one funding of a multi-year grant to tag striped bass and Atlantic sturgeon in the Atlantic Ocean, and sample all species encountered, to assist in assessing fishing mortality on coastal migratory stocks of striped bass, including the Albemarle-Roanoke stock.
Habitat- Total of $732,266;
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries' Oyster Shell Recycling Program -- $28,000. One-year grant to increase public exposure to the program to increase participation and provide additional shell material that will be used to enhance fish habitat, reduce solid waste in landfills and increase awareness of the importance of a healthy oyster population.
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries' Inshore Fishing/Oyster Reefs -- $469,427. Year-one funding of a multi-year grant to increase easily accessible and high-quality angling opportunities by creating three coastal recreational fishing reefs in close proximity to coastal towns and public boat ramps.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Ecosystem Function of Oyster Shoreline Stabilization -- $87,501. One-year grant to study the impacts of oyster reefs on shoreline stabilization, specific parameters of oyster health and condition in created reefs, and the ecosystem benefit from oysters.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences, Defining the Critical Depth for Intertidal Oyster Reef Restoration -- $39,491. Year-one funding of a multi-year grant to evaluate restored oyster reef evolution and sustainability across various water depths and determine the critical elevation threshold at which future restoration will likely be most successful.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences, Acoustic Tracking of Adult Red Drum and Sheepshead -- $107,847. Year-one funding of a multi-year grant to track adult red drum and sheepshead to evaluate restored habitat function.
For more information on these grants or the Coastal Recreational Fishing License grant program, contact Tiffany Frazier, Coastal Recreational Fishing License grants coordinator, at 252-808-8004.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) is soliciting comments on Individual Fish Quotas (IFQs), new regulations on king and Spanish mackerel and cobia, limiting commercial effort for black sea bass, eliminating the 240' foot and out bottom fishing closure and changing the wreckfish ACL. For more information on these issues and how to file a comment electronically, by fax or by mail, visit the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.
The Cape Fear Riverwatch Invitational Striper Tournament was held Saturday, Jan. 14, in Wilmington. This is an invitational tournament to raise funds for Cape Fear Riverwatch programs to help clean the river and help rebuild the once thriving striper, shad and sturgeon fisheries in the Cape Fear River.
The fish were biting this year. Fishermen tagged a total of 52 stripers and 11 of them larger than 22 inches received sonic tags. The sonic tags will signal transponders and let fishery managers know when those stripers cross Lock and Dam Number 1 headed upstream to spawn. There are plans to tag an additional nine stripers before the spawning run begins. These tags and the transponders were purchased with funds from previous tournaments.
Dale Nixon and Buzz Miller fished with Capt. Cord Hieronymus and topped the Most Fish Tagged category with 13 and the Longest (2-fish) Aggregate category with 57 inches from fish of 29 and 28 inches. The Largest Striper was a 32.5 incher caught by Capt. Stu Caulder and crew. The Top Lady Angler was Kathy Jarrell, who fished with Capt. Travis Dent and the Top Junior Angler was Thomas Guinn, who fished with Capt. Jot Owens. For more information on the tournament or Cape Fear Riverwatch projects visit www.cfrw.us.
A unique tournament is coming up on Saturday, Jan. 28, in Wrightsville Beach. The Johnnie Mercer's Pier Dogfish Tournament will be held from 1:00 to 8:00 P.M. that day. This winter tournament is a fund raiser for the North Caroling Fishing Pier Society (www.ncfps.com) and the North Carolina Public Access Foundation (www.ncpaf.com).
In 2011 a record 136 fishermen participated in this event. The heaviest fish in the history of the tournament is a 12 pound spiny dogfish caught by Jeffrey McLaughlin in 2010. For more information on the event go to www.ncfps.com/Special_Events_LKM5.html or call Al Baird at 704-293-5524 or Johnnie Mercer's Pier at 910-256-2743.
A couple of fishing related events are on tap for this weekend and neither is particularly close. The Richmond Fishing Expo is at the Virginia Fairgrounds from Friday through Sunday, Jan. 20-22. Several area businesses and fishermen are participating. In addition to fishing tackle and boats for sale, there will be three seminar rooms going all weekend. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
The North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association will be hosting Kayak Fishing Day at Get:Outdoors in Greensboro on Saturday, January 21. The day will begin at 11:00 A.M. and continue through 4:00 P.M. with kayak fishing seminars and more. Get:Outdoors will also be offering a variety of discounts during the day. For more information visit www.nckfa.com.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department and the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department have announced a pair of saltwater fishing schools featuring Captain Jimmy Price and yours truly. Both will be all day events and will focus on inshore and nearshore fishing and end with a hands-on session on throwing cast nets. The Oak Island Fishing School will be Saturday, Jan. 28 and the Greenville School will be Saturday, Feb. 18. For more information call the Oak Island Recreation Center at 910-278-5518 or River Park North (Greenville) at 252-329-4560 or visit www.captjerry.com.