As I'm writing this, it is pretty cold, but not quite as cold as it is going to be Friday and over the weekend. I spent Wednesday afternoon on the water curing my land sickness and chasing some puppy drum and it was tolerable while we were fishing, but cold running to and from each spot. It's even colder today and we have an arctic blast rolling in, so it's going to get a lot colder before it warms again.
With the cold blast coming our way, the winds will stay primarily northerly over the weekend. There is a little southwest in the forecast for Sunday, when we warm back up into the high 40s (That just doesn't seem right does it--a high in the 40s?), but it will spin right back around for the beginning of the week. Unfortunately the wind will be above 15 knots for most of the weekend, so bigger boats or protected waters--or the recliner in your den--is the order of the day.
I'll start this week's report with bluefin tuna, as they are literally, and figuratively, the biggest thing going right now. The bluefin bite isn't hot by the standards of past years, but there are several being caught most days. Some of the more knowledgeable bluefin fishermen believe this cold snap will spur the bluefin activity into a higher gear. We all surely hope so.
The better bluefin bite continues to be across Cape Lookout Shoals to the east. Several of the popular fall king mackerel spots, such as 30 Minute Rock and 1700 Rock, have been mentioned often. A growing bluefin bite is also underway down at Cape Fear. There the bite appears to be concentrated on the west side of Frying Pan Shoals near the Knuckle Buoy.
The Tag A Giant crew is in Morehead City and using the Sensation, with Capt. Dale Britt, as their tagging boat. If you have a bluefin you are planning to release, give them a call on the VHF and transfer it to them to be tagged and studied. They reported last week they placed an archival tag in a bluefin more than 100 inches long. It was the second largest fish they have ever tagged. This study is to learn more about the migration and spawning movements of these huge fish.
I didn't speak with anyone who had gone king mackerel fishing this week, but the king bite had been hot. The king bite is offshore in warmer water and it is a long way to run, but they have been really consistent so far this winter. This weekend isn't shaping up as a good time to try, but when the wind calms, look for 67 degree or warmer water and good signs of suspended bait. It is probably going to be at around 100-115 feet of water.
Several of the Hatteras boats reported catching blackfin tuna again a couple of days this week. Some are trolling for them, but others are running to 50 fathoms or deeper and jigging for them with butterfly jigs. The blackfins caught jigging are generally larger and many are heavier than the 20 pound minimum for citations.
I didn't hear from any offshore bottom fishermen this week, but the grouper and sea bass had been biting well and there hasn't yet been a significant change in the weather. Hopefully the arctic blast headed our way on Friday won't be enough to shut this bite down.
Last week I reported the National Marine Fisheries Service was about to announce the approval and Final Rule on 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. The announcement was made on January 13 and published in the Federal Register that day. The provisions in the amendment become effective on February 12. The amendment may be viewed by visiting http://www.regulations.gov and typing Amendment 14 in the search bar.
One of the MPAs proposed in Amendment 14 is off N.C., offshore of Frying Pan Tower, and another is off northern S.C., near the N.C./S.C. border. Both are situated along the continental shelf.
The speckled trout bite picked up again this week and some large specks were caught at night. I am hearing that the trout are definitely showing a preference for live bait and mud minnows are the most widely available live bait right now. Scented grubs and MirrOlures are also catching some specks. Although there are some specks in the coastal creeks and bays, the better catches have been at ocean jetties. The Cape Lookout Jetty and the Masonboro Inlet Jetties have been the hotspots, with some specks also being caught along the Fort Macon Jetties, at the little jetties near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
A lot of people don't appreciate black drum, but they are a good cold water fish. They will often be mixed with trout or puppy drum. Blacks don't hit lures often, but will usually readily hit shrimp. They fight well and taste really good.
I was out Wednesday afternoon off Wrightsville Beach chasing some puppy drum and saw water temperatures in a few places up to 54-55 degrees. The pups aren't exactly what I would call aggressive, but they are feeding. We didn't carry any live bait and caught ours on a variety of soft plastics. They were biting inside and in the first slough along the ocean beach.
The reports from Oregon inlet are the stripers are slowly making their way down the beaches and the bite is getting better. If this cold snap really chills the water, they may move down as far as Cape Lookout. We haven't seen a good striper run at Cape Lookout in a couple of years and it would be a welcome visit if they came. In inside waters, fishermen at Manns Harbor near Manteo, on the Tar Pamlico River near Washington, on the Neuse River and its tributaries around New Bern and in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers at Wilmington are catching stripers.
I've got a little good news for you tournament fishermen. Mako and Sea Craft this week announced they will be providing ways to earn up to $7,000 in extra earning for winning tournaments. The offer, which is in conjunction with Mercury Outboards and Bass Pro Shop, also extends to several other boat brands in the Sea Craft boat family and into fresh water tournaments. For more information, visit www.Tournament-rewards.com.
There were some mixed, but generally favorable, reviews from the Bass and Saltwater Expo at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh last weekend. Many boat dealers reported lots of interest and several reported fair sales. Most of the tackle and accessory vendors at the show reported sales were just a little better than they had expected. Most agreed the attendance appeared to be very close to past years.
The Henry's Tackle Company Annual Dealer Show was held last week in Greenville, S.C. This show has grown from an event that began in the warehouse at the Henry's location off Hwy 24 near Broad Creek to filling a huge convention center. Reports were also mixed from this show, but almost everyone reported lots of new fishing lures and accessories were on display. Look for many new items in your favorite local tackle shop later this winter and in the spring.
This weekend the Bass and Saltwater Expo is at the racetrack complex in Richmond, Va. The Bass and Saltwater Expo shows include boats and tackle for sale, plus numerous fishing seminars. The next N.C. Bass and Saltwater Expo will be next weekend (January 23-25) in Greensboro, at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. For more information, visit www.ncboatshows.com. The first boat show in the new Raleigh Convention Center will be January 23 to 25 and it promises to be big. For more information, visit www.raleighconvention.com/boatshow.
The first of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) public hearings regarding proposed changes in fishing (fresh water) and hunting regulations for the 2009-2010 seasons have been held and it appears most sportsmen are not in favor of many of the changes. 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 began 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.