With calm weather early in the week, we were able to do a little fishing. Then a front is to come through on Friday before the wind falls out again on Saturday for a while. Monday looks to be the start of another stretch of nice weather and then Tuesday will be the end of a surprisingly mild January.
Speckled trout and red drum are biting. They back off some during the cold days, but pick back up as soon as the weather warms again.
Specks and reds have been making appearances in the surf at many places along the N.C. Coast. When they are in the surf, they are usually in the first slough off the beach. This is where any baitfish usually are and this slough also offers some protection from schools of marauding porpoises that turn to the specks and reds for winter food.
Many folks don't want to believe this, but trout and drum are a staple in the winter diet of porpoises. They trap them in the surf and in coves, creeks and marinas in inside waters. The attacks are so fierce in some marinas that wakes from the porpoises rock the boats enough the rigging clanks.
Even more surprising is that trout and reds will feed while being herded by porpoises. This is especially so in the surf. Sometimes a school of porpoises that is 50 to 100 yards offshore and not moving up or down the beach has corralled a school of drum or trout. Fishing between the porpoises and the beach will usually draw strikes.
Drum also move into shallow bays to warm a little in the sunshine. The water in the shallow bays warms in the sunshine and especially so if the bay has a dark bottom and low tide is in the afternoon. When the water warms the drum get active and begin to feed. Once a school is located, they will stay in that same general area until disturbed badly.
Specks will occasionally move up into the shallow water to feed, but they are often in the first channel, hole or deeper slough off the shallow bay. They are usually near the bottom and are feeding slowly. This means you should fish slowly. Keeping a bait in front of a fish for as long as possible is a key to getting it interested and eating it. Scented baits are at their best during the winter.
Striper fishing is pretty good in the N.C. rivers. Capt. Richard Andrews reported several excellent days on the Roanoke River around Plymouth, with catches of 50 and more commonplace. Capt. Gary Dubiel also reported excellent days on the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern, with some specks mixed in also.
Capt. Jot Owens said the fishing on the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington is good too. Owens didn't report numbers of fish like the other rivers, but everyone should remember the Cape Fear River system is rebuilding and the numbers overall aren't as good. The Cape Fear River system is closed to possession of stripers from below the Jordan Lake Dam to the ocean.
Stripers are managed regionally by the river system and are subject to different regulations including stipulations on hooks and lures. If you head out after stripers it would be wise to check the regulations at www.ncdmf.net or www.ncwildlife.org.
With the mild winter, only a few stripers have been caught in the ocean off Oregon Inlet and Nags Head. The fishermen at Oregon Inlet are finding a few, but they are well north of the inlet and surf fishermen at Corolla and Duck are catching a few.
A new Virginia state record of 74 pounds was caught last weekend while I was in Richmond at the Richmond Fishing Expo. It was brought to the show and displayed on Saturday and Sunday. Congratulations to Cary Wolfe for his impressive catch. Rumor is that fish was headed to the NC Outer Banks for some R and R and nearly got away –twice. One fish tale said the line broke as the fish was being netted, but it slid into the net rather than getting away.
The commercial quota has been reached (and maybe exceeded) for the early 2012 bluefin tuna season. The commercial season was closed by proclamation on Sunday, Jan. 22 and will not reopen until June 1. The bite spiked late last week in Raleigh Bay and with earlier catches from Oregon Inlet and Virginia Beach, federal fishery managers determined the quota would be reached, maybe even exceeded slightly, by Sunday night.
The recreational bluefin season remains open. Recreational anglers may keep a single bluefin per vessel per day with a minimum size of 27 inches to a maximum of less than 73 inches. Recreational boats may also keep one bluefin tuna per year that is longer than 73 inches. Bluefin tuna catches require a special permit and must be reported before the fish can be removed from the boat. For more information or to purchase a permit, visit www.nmfspermits.com.
The other good offshore news this week is that early in the week some boats headed offshore and found wahoo and blackfin tuna were still there in pretty good numbers. The wahoo and tuna were holding in areas where warm eddies passed over the ledges and structure along the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream.
Offshore bottom fishing is good too, for those with the inclination to go. The problem isn't a lack of fish; it is being inundated with fish that can't be kept. Several fishermen reported that black sea bass, beeliners and grouper were thick and feeding heavily and were a nuisance since their seasons were closed. They said once you found an area where the grunts were large and aggressive enough to get to your baits first, it was game on. Grunts, triggerfish and porgies are legal now, while beeliners, grouper and black sea bass seasons will open on April 1, May 1 and June 1 respectively.
King mackerel are being caught offshore along much of the state. This is a prime time for commercially catching kings as they school in roughly 100 feet of water and feed ravenously. The primary commercial lures are Drone spoons and sea witches and the kings usually clobber them. The break just offshore of Diamond Shoals Tower down to Frying Pan Tower is a good place to look. These are primarily smaller kings, but occasionally a few big ones are caught.
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 Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will be hosting a saltwater fishing school on January 28. This will be an all-day event focusing on inshore and nearshore fishing, with a session on throwing cast nets at the end of the day. Captain Jimmy Price and I will be the featured speakers. For more information call 910-278-5518.
The Greenville Recreation and Parks Department will also offer a saltwater fishing school featuring the same format and Captain Price and I on Saturday, February 18. It will be in the auditorium at the River Park North Nature Center. For more information call 252-329-4560.
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.ncfrs.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/specialevents or call Al Baird at 704-293-5524 or Johnnie Mercer's Pier at 910-256-2743.
Several things are happening in Raleigh prior to next week's column. First is a public hearing conducted by the Joint Legislative Marine Fisheries Review Committee on Thursday, Feb. 2 in Raleigh. This meeting, scheduled for 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building, is the only one of four scheduled meetings for this committee where public comment will be allowed. For more information visit www.ncleg.net and click on the calendar link.
The Southern Farm Show will be at the State Fairgrounds from Wednesday through Friday, February 1 -3. This is supposed to include exhibits on aquaculture. For more information visit www.SouthernFarmShow.com.
The Raleigh Convention Center Boat Show will be at the Raleigh Convention Center Thursday through Sunday, February 2-5. There will be lots of boats and related accessories for sale. For more information visit www.raleighconvention.com.