Brrr, it took a while but when the temperature started dropping late Sunday night, it didn't merely get cold, but dropped to freezing and below in many areas. We have been fortunate to have enjoyed a mild winter so far and this cold spell appears to be going to ease off by the weekend. I enjoyed being outside in short sleeves several days between Christmas and New Years, but that might be past for a while now. Let's just hope the weather doesn't turn severe and the fish get over this shock pretty quickly.
I hope you like football because with these temperatures and the wind, it has been easier to stay inside and watch the college bowl games. Many have been good too; remaining in doubt until the final play or into overtime. Hopefully by the time all the games are over the weather will have stabilized in a normal pattern and the fish will have recovered from the shock of the quick cooling and will be feeding again.
It isn't good yet, but more bluefin tuna were caught during the past week. Many experienced fishermen are saying this cold snap should bring them in and get them going. Let's hope so. There were reports early in the week of some bluefins only a mile or so off Virginia Beach and maybe this weather will help usher them on down the coast to off the Carolina Capes.
Several fishermen got in their last grouper trips before the closure on Sunday and said the grouper were biting well. They said their biggest issue was getting far enough offshore to be beyond the black sea bass. Their reports were the black sea bass were big, hungry and aggressive and beating the grouper to the baits. It required moving to deeper water or playing catch and release with the closed species (black sea bass, beeliners, red snapper) until they allowed the grouper to get to the baits. Grouper season was added to the closed list at 12:01 A.M. on New Years Day.
Some fishermen took advantage of the few days of light winds to head to the Gulf Stream and were rewarded with wahoo and blackfin tuna. North of Cape Hatteras there were also some yellowfin tuna caught.
Some of the grouper fishermen also put out light lines and caught king mackerel, while others trolled for them in roughly the same depths. East of Cape Lookout Shoals in Raleigh Bay there were more kings than west of the shoals. Off Cape Fear, the kings were clustered around Frying Pan Tower, which is pretty much straight off the end of Frying Pan Shoals. Most of the kings ranged from barely legal to about 15 pounds, but there were some larger ones caught also. The kings hit any live bait put out, frozen cigar minnows, spoons and sea witches rigged with strip baits.
Prior to the cold running in on Sunday night, fishermen were still finding good numbers of speckled trout and red drum. The trout were in the ocean along the beaches and at Cape Lookout Jetty, Masonboro Inlet Jetties and Little River Inlet Jetties. They were also in most of the creeks along the Intracoastal Waterway and off the coastal rivers. The bite slowed dramatically as the cold rushed in, but fishermen are hopeful that warming temperatures towards the weekend will have the fish feeding again.
Having live shrimp for bait is about over for the year. You may find some at your favorite tackle shop, but it is unlikely and would be wise to call ahead. You should be able to get some mud minnows and they work surprisingly well at times.
When the water is this cold, I rely heavily on scented soft plastic baits. They have a soft texture and some taste and smell. This helps attract fish and keeps them from letting go as quickly as otherwise. If your favorite soft plastic doesn't come with scent, there are several you can buy and add. My favorite is Pro Cure in the shrimp and mullet flavors.
Expectations are the drum will become active again a little quicker than the trout. Puppy drum are usually a little easier to convince to bite, but sometimes they get lockjaw as bad or worse than trout. Pups typically are in water a little shallower that the trout holes and they warm up and feed a little quicker. Areas with little or no current and dark bottoms tend to warm quicker and get the drum going sooner. When the water is really cold, I switch from fishing slowly to alternating with dead sticking, which is pausing a bait and letting scent work its magic.
Pups have been in the surf in the first slough along many beaches. Drum don't like lights and the beaches without houses and lights usually are holding more fish. Porpoises feed on drum and trout during the winter, so if a pod of them shows up your fishing will end for a while.
There are good reports of stripers in the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern even in the cold. Fishermen who were willing to wrap up kept catching them and they should continue to bite as the weather warms this weekend. Stripers are also being caught around Manteo, in the Tar-Pamlico River around Washington and in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington.
Speaking of stripers - the Cape Fear Riverwatch Invitational Striper Tournament will be held next weekend, Jan. 13 and 14, in Wilmington. The banquet is on Friday night and is open to all. Slots in the tournament are limited and anyone interested in participating should contact Cape Fear Riverwatch immediately. This tournament is held annually to gather information on the status of stripers in the Cape Fear Basin and to raise funds to help clean the river and help rebuild the once thriving striper, shad and sturgeon fisheries in the river. For more information visit www.cfrw.us.
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.
Many area tackle dealers will be in Raleigh next week looking at all the new fishing tackle and accessories at the 2012 Henry's Tackle Dealer Show. As much as we all would like to visit this show and see the new goodies, it is a wholesale show for the dealers and we will have to wait until the new stuff arrives in their stores later in the winter to begin drooling. The word is there are some really nice items that will be unveiled there. If I can find a way in, I will have a sneak preview in the next few weeks.
The Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge ended on Dec. 31. Rick Best caught an 8.58 pound speck a couple of weeks before Christmas that held up to be the winner. Frank Plisko finished in second place with a 7.24 pounder and Jason Yates scaled a 5.49 pound speck to finish third. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The annual saltwater tournament run by the Division of Marine Fisheries (www.ncdmf.net) has re-set for 2012. It will take a while for all the 2011 entries to arrive and be entered into DMF computers. I'll have those results when they are tabulated. The DMF Tournament is for the whole state and has no entry fees. Fish can be weighed and paperwork submitted at any tackle shop with a weigh station certified by NCDMF.
Several fishing events will be happening in the coming week. The first is the Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo at the State Fairgrounds this Friday through Sunday. Jan. 6-8. There will be lots of booths with the latest in tackle and accessories, some boats and lots of seminars. For more information visit www.ncboatshows.com.
Dr. Mitchell Roffer of Roffer's Offshore Fishing Forecast Service (ROFFS) will be giving a seminar on interpreting and using the information available in seawater thermal imaging at Radio Island Marina in Beaufort on Thursday, Jan. 12. The seminar will begin at 7:00 P.M., with a social hour before and a question and answer period following. For more information call 252-247-7580.
The Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series will be making a stop in New Bern on Jan. 14. This seminar features a mix of national and area fishermen. The location is the New Bern Convention Center. For more information visit www.nationalseminarseries.com.