Last week as I was writing this, the weather had chilled out a bit and, while there was a warming period in the forecast, no one was thinking it would get as warm as it did for several days. We were planning for the 60s and several places scared 70 on a couple of days. It's cooling again as I write this week, and the projected highs are lower again, so we may need to get those sweatshirts and windbreakers back out. We might even need heavy coats by the middle of next week.
The wind is a little confused as fronts quickly move across us. After a cooling northerly wind on Friday, it switches back to the south for Saturday and then back to the north on Sunday and south on Monday. In addition to the direction changes, the intensity is forecast to be enough to be uncomfortable on open water, even in a larger boat. This is a tough time of year and the forecasters missed the forecast last weekend and could again, so if you have a hankering to go fishing, just be ready. Their wrong could be your right.
While it hasn't yet gotten as good as it was in past years, the bluefin tuna bite has improved over the past week at both Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. Hopefully this is a sign the bite will continue to get better all along the coast.
If you would like to catch a bluefin, this might be a good time this year. Several charter boats are offering specials also. The basics of the specials are a reduced rate that drops to free if you catch a giant bluefin of saleable size and leave it with the boat. Most of the local tackle shops should have information on boats offering this option.
At Cape Lookout, the better bluefin bite has been across Cape Lookout Shoals to the east and, while they have been concerned with larger quarry, many bluefin fishermen have reported seeing schools of false albacore along the Cape Lookout Shoals and to the east. This could be a good opportunity for some fishermen to get in on a winter fat Albert bite. They aren't bluefins, but I think they are much more fun--especially on trout and puppy drum tackle.
The king mackerel bite continues to be hot. Remember it is January and you will have to run offshore a ways to get to them, but when you find them they are feeding. Off Cape Lookout, the Atlas Tanker and Chicken Rock have had 67-71 degree water and have been very productive with kings. Similar water temps have been reported in the waters around Frying Pan Tower off Cape Fear. For those not wanting to cross Cape Lookout Shoals, the water has been a few degrees cooler at 240 Rock, but it has been producing good numbers of smaller kings.
I've heard lots of good things about blackfin tuna this week. Most boats are catching them trolling, but some are jigging for them. The blackfins may be as close as the kings or they may be out on the temperature breaks along the Gulf Stream. While blackfins aren't large tunas (the state requirement for a citation is only 20 pounds), they are an excellent tasting white meat tuna and fun to catch, especially on lighter tackle. There is also the possibility of hooking a wahoo or stray dolphin or yellowfin.
The calmer than expected conditions over the weekend allowed bottom fishermen to head offshore and they found the fish biting. The reports were good on grouper, beeliners and black sea bass. Several fishermen reported catching some of the large "knothead" sea bass.
Last week I reported that the National Marine Fisheries Service did not approve the Interim Rule for Amendment 16 to close grouper season from January 1 to May 1 and severely reduce limits on grouper and beeliners. However, there is another move afoot. Most of us have forgotten Amendment 14 to the Federal Snapper/Grouper Management Plan. This was the proposal for eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in federal waters between N.C. and Florida that would be closed to bottom fishing.
One of the MPAs proposed in Amendment 14 is off N.C., offshore of Frying Pan Tower and another is off northern S.C. There were reports this week that an announcement is forthcoming that Amendment 14 will be approved and enacted in the near future. Some fishermen and advisory agencies are saying this may be a means to prevent future closures, such as those contained in Amendment 16. Information on both amendments is posted on the NOAA Fisheries website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm.
The speckled trout bite that had been so good for so long appears to have slowed. Some fishermen are blaming the warming water and others are blaming increased commercial netting. There are some specks around, but they are being difficult right now. I'm hearing better reports from those folks willing to fish at night. If the water cools a few degrees, maybe they'll fire back up. Live mud minnows have been good baits, with a variety of soft plastic grubs and shrimp shapes, and MirrOlures being the better choices for artificials.
Until the water is almost ice, puppy drum will generally feed at some time during the day. The trick is to be there when that happens. With the water as warm as it is now, that is pretty much just a matter of finding them. Occasionally a school of reds just doesn't want to bite, but it's rare. There are still good numbers of pups in the surf, but, with the warming water, many have moved back inside the inlets.
There have even been a couple of reports of late-season flounder. The Outer Banks striper bite got a little better this week. Some larger fish moved down from Virginia and the inside bite around Manns Harbor is good also. Fishermen on the Neuse River and its tributaries around New Bern and on the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington are also catching stripers.
Black drum are also a possible catch while casting live or natural baits for specks and pups. They rarely hit lures, but they do occasionally--mostly the new scented grubs.
How would you like to be rewarded for catching a tagged speckled trout? Rewards are being offered for returned speckled trout tags from a study done by N.C. State University in conjunction with the UNC Sea Grant and the Center for Marine Sciences and Technologies (CMAST).
The program requires cutting off the tags and calling 1-800-790-2780 to relay some information such as, the tag number and where the fish was caught. The yellow tags are worth $5 and the red tags are worth $100. Either is certainly worth a toll-free phone call and a few minutes to relay some information that will help the species proliferate. The tags are on the fish's side, in the upper belly, just behind the pectoral fins. Check both sides of the fish as the tags could be on either side and some fish have both tags.
Researchers with the tagging program hope to gather information about how trout move and feed. Several reports already in include the capture of a trout near the NC/VA state line only 1.5 weeks after it was tagged in the New River near Jacksonville and another trout tagged at Oregon Inlet that was caught in Slocum Creek, near Havelock, three weeks later. For more information on the program, contact Tim Ellis, CMAST, NCSU, 303 College Circle, Morehead City, NC 28557--800-790-2780.
January brings a series of boat and fishing shows across the area. The first is the Bass and Saltwater Expo at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on January 9 to 11. This show includes boats and tackle for sale, plus numerous fishing seminars. Similar shows will be held in Richmond, Va., at the Richmond Raceway Complex, on January 16 to 18 and in Greensboro, at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, on January 23 to 25. For more information, visit www.ncboatshows.com. The first boat show in the new Raleigh Convention Center will be January 23 to 25.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) has announced a series of public hearings regarding proposed changes in fishing (fresh water) and hunting regulations for the 2009-2010 seasons. Some of the proposals are very different from current regulations. The changes involve seasons, limits and manner of taking fish and game. The series of hearings begin on January 5 and continue through January 28. A complete list of all the meeting dates, times and locations statewide, plus all of the proposed regulations changes can be found on the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org.