Except for a brief escape last Saturday, it appears we are now firmly in the grasp of winter and will be staying there for a while. As I am writing this, there has been snow and sleet across much of N.C., from just inland of the coastal plain into the mountains. This is the second time somewhere in N.C. has seen snow since Monday, with the Nags Head to Elizabeth City area getting enough on Monday the kids built small snow men.
As it stays cold, the water temperatures continue dropping. It isn't rapid any longer, but a couple of degrees since last week have been noted. Some think this is good, especially those from Cape Lookout northward who are hoping the cooling water entices the stripers to return.
The forecast for the weekend and coming week is another cold one. If you haven't already, you might want to get out your snuggies.
Using Morehead City as a central coastal point, the highs Friday and Saturday should be in the 50's, after overnight lows in the 30's. The cool down begins again on Sunday and Monday, with projected highs only in the 40's and lows in the 20's. The cold peaks on Tuesday and Wednesday, with lows right at 20 and the highs only reaching the mid-30's. Hopefully this begins to break on Thursday when the highs should make it back to the high 40's.
The weekend is again forecast to be fairly windy. Winds well into the 20's on Friday will drop to the teens by Sunday, but build again Monday in front of the approaching cold. With clouds also in the forecast, it might be a good time to get your fishing gear ready for spring or knock a few "honey-do's" off your list.
Even with the windy and cold conditions, some nice catches of fish have been reported. The fishermen also talked about battling the cold and noted thermal underwear and gloves were the uniform of the day.
A few bluefin tuna were reported, but the bite continued to be scattered. The General Category (commercial) bluefin season closed on January 31, so no more bluefin tuna may be sold. Boats with General Category permits may continue to fish as catch-and-release or catch-tag-and-release only. The Angling Category (recreational) season remains open and permitted boats may keep two bluefins per day between 47 and less than 73 inches and one per year over 73 inches.
There is still hope the cooler water temperatures will congregate the bluefins and spur them into feeding heavier. This will definitely make them easier to find and with the commercial season closed, most fishermen will be ready to turn over their larger fish to the Tag-A-Giant (TAG) crew.
The TAG crew has been working off Cape Lookout for several weeks. They are monitoring the VHF radio and would like to be notified of any large fish in the area that will be released. The TAG team is continuing their research of these fish and need larger adults to fit with electronic tagging devices.
The striper catches along the northern Outer Banks are already improving, so perhaps the dropping water temperatures will bring them farther down the coast. For the past two weeks, fishermen at Oregon Inlet and to the north have been reporting improving catches of stripers and a couple of 50 pounders highlighted this week.
The inshore striper bite continues to be pretty good at several places along the N.C. coast. From north to south, these include Manns Harbor, the Tar/Pamlico River around Washington, the Neuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern and the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers around Wilmington.
Not a bunch of folks went after trout and red drum in the last week, but there were a few pretty good reports. Most of the reports came from inshore creeks and marshes, but a few were from the surf. The best reports were of fish that were over mud bottom in shallower water and trying to use the head of the sun and mud to warm up. A few large schools of drum were reported, but some were spooky and wouldn't bite and the others were just nibbling.
The reports from farther offshore were mostly of wind and waves, but a good king mackerel bite has been going on off Cape Lookout and Cape Fear for a while. The cold and winds have probably pushed them out a bit, but any water over 66 degrees and holding bait is a possibility. Off Cape Lookout, this is probably from the 210 and 240 Rocks on off and off Cape Fear it is probably from Frying Pan Tower to the south and east.
I received a few more reports of false albacore this week, but this time they were from some folks out trolling the 65 to 68 degree water for kings. This happened several places off Cape Lookout in water of 100 to 115 feet deep.
I didn't get an offshore report this week, except from Oregon Inlet and there are still good numbers of yellowfin there when the weather allows the trip. In the prior week, a few wahoo, and mixed tuna were caught south of the Big Rock and at the Steeples.
Making these trips is very weather dependent, but, when you can go, the good offshore bottom fishing just keeps hanging in there. You will still find some schools of black sea bass and a few grunts within 10 to 15 miles, but most of the groupers, snappers and beeliners have moved to water around 100 feet deep or deeper.
Believe it or not, there is not an N.C. boat show this weekend. The Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series (www.nationalseminarseries.com or 1-800-448-7360) will be at the Odell Williamson Auditorium of Brunswick Community College in Supply on Saturday.