As I was putting last week's column together, there was the threat of snow in the forecast for early this week, but those always disappear before they get here, so I didn't put much faith in it. Well, this time the weather prognosticators got it right! There wasn't an abundance of snow anywhere along the coast, but several places got a couple of inches and there was more inland. Needless to say, the freezing temperatures and threat of black ice and slick roads forced some school cancellations and late starts. They also forced the rescheduling of some fishing trips.
This weekend looks to be a little nicer weather, with warmer temperatures and winds holding at less than 20 knots. Friday and Saturday will be noticeably warmer, with highs near 60, but the colder weather should return for Sunday and the first of the week. Drizzly rain is also in the forecast.
Again I'll start this week's report with bluefin tuna. While it still hasn't reached the numbers of past years, the bluefin bite improved this week. Apparently they like the colder weather. Some of the more knowledgeable bluefin fishermen predicted the bluefin bite would get better with the cold and they were correct.
The better bluefin activity 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. Most of the bluefins caught in past week had been longer than 90 inches, but some smaller fish were caught this week. It seems strange to call 80-inch long fish small, but compared to the really big ones, they are.
The bluefin bite off Cape Fear slowed this week. There is some debate if those are the smaller fish that showed off Cape Lookout this week or if they have moved locally and the smaller number of fishermen just haven't found them again yet.
With several days of catching more than 20 fish, the Tag-A-Giant crew was more excited this week than earlier in the year. They are still here 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.
The bluefin study is to learn more about the migration and spawning movements of these huge fish. There is some information on their blog at www.tunaresearch.org and Dr. Barbara Block taped an interview with Bill Hitchcock that is available on-line from a link in the Tag-A-Giant blog.
I didn't get a king mackerel report again this week. The weather prohibited most folks from making the trip. Several very knowledgeable king fishermen said they thought the colder air temperatures would also cool the water and push the kings farther offshore. They had been in the 100-115 feet deep range. They said the water needs to be about 67 degrees at the surface and the area should be holding bait.
Because of the wind and cold, I didn't hear from any offshore bottom fishermen this week either. Grouper and sea bass have been biting well and shouldn't be affected by the cold as much as fish that live farther up in the water column. Grouper and sea bass should be waiting and hungry once the weather allows making the trip out to them.
I heard mixed reports on speckled trout this week. I haven't yet heard of any fish kills from the cold, but many inland creeks had thin sheets of ice across them. One of the better reports was that the cold had pushed many trout out to the surf. The jetty at Cape Lookout and the jetties at Masonboro Inlet have been hotspots at various times and have histories from past winters.
When you can get them, mud minnows are as close as you'll get to a sure thing for cold winter specks. Scented grubs and MirrOlures are also catching specks, but it is important to fish them slowly.
There are also still some schools of puppy drum around. They are mainly in the surf, but there are some that show on inshore flats during the lower stages of the tide. While they are biting the reds are moving slow and need to be fished slowly. Sometimes you have to tease or aggravate them into biting. Again, live mud minnows are probably the best bait, but they will also hit a variety of soft plastics.
Some black drum are also mixed in with the specks and pups. Black drum like structure, so you should find them along the wall at the Morehead City State Port, plus the jetties at Radio Island, Shackleford Banks, Fort Macon, Cape Lookout, Masonboro Inlet and Bald Head Island Marina. Black drum are a hard fighting and good tasting cold water fish. Blacks really prefer live or natural baits, but will occasionally hit soft plastics--especially the ones that are scent impregnated.
The Oregon Inlet striper reports were better this week and the cold weather is a plus for them. Maybe some will find their way all the way down to Cape Lookout. Fishermen on the Neuse River and its tributaries around New Bern and the Tar/Pamlico River around Washington are catching good numbers of mostly smaller stripers.
Wednesday night I attended the Public Comment section of the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting in Carolina Beach. Several interesting comments were made, but the ones that got most folk's attention and spurred much conversation after the meeting were from a newly formed group called the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG). This group is headed by Dick Hamilton, former Executive Director of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Joe Albea, host of the Carolina Outdoor Journal television show on UNC Television, and Dean Phillips, a charter fisherman from Surf City.
The CFRG expressed concern for many facets of Marine Patrol Enforcement, Revenues from the saltwater fishing license, managing marine fisheries through science-based rules and several items of new legislation including a law to prevent harassment of fishermen and a proposed rule change for the taking of speckled trout.
The CFRG presented a Petition for Rulemaking to the MFC requesting restrictions on taking speckled trout. The proposed amendment included restrictions for recreational and commercial fishermen. The three main points of the CFRG petition include:
An immediate closure by proclamation of the season for taking speckled trout using nets and gigs in all designated nursery area of joint and coastal waters from now until April 1, 2009.
Closure of the season for taking speckled trout using nets and gigs in all designated nursery area of joint and coastal waters from October 1, 2009 through April 1, 2010 and similarly in subsequent years.
A reduced recreational creel limit for speckled trout beginning October 1, 2009. The limit would be reduced from 10 fish to 6 fish a day, with a slot limit that included a minimum size of 14 inches and a maximum size of 22 inches. One fish per day may be retained that exceeds the 22 inch maximum size.
The justification for the proposal is to protect the spawning speckled trout in N.C. waters and allow them winter sanctuary in deeper inland creeks.
Representatives from several other conservation groups spoke in support of the CFRG proposals as did several guides. The MFC meeting was continuing after my deadline, but next week I hope to have a report on their discussion of these proposals.
This weekend the Bass and Saltwater Expo is at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro. For more information, visit www.ncboatshows.com. The first boat show in the new Raleigh Convention Center will also be this weekend. The Raleigh Convention Center is much larger than the old one and many more dealers are attending, including several from Carteret County. For more information, visit www.raleighconvention.com/boatshow. Both of these shows run Friday through Sunday.
The snow and freezing weather forced the postponement of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) public hearings scheduled for New Bern on January 21 and Edenton on January 22. The New Bern meeting is now set for Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Craven County Courthouse and the public hearing in Edenton will be held the following night, Jan. 29, starting at 7 p.m. in Swain Auditorium.
These meetings are to solicit public comments regarding proposed changes in fishing (fresh water) and hunting regulations for the 2009-2010 seasons 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 29. 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.