Not a whole lot has changed with our winter fishing here in NC. There were a few new wrinkles during the "mini-summer" at the end of January, but that was about all. The water did warm up dramatically, but is cooling again as we return to more seasonable temperatures. Look for most fishing to remain pretty much the same for another month or so. There may be an occasional local burst, but until the weather warms and stays warm don't expect too much.
Some red drum are still holding in the marshes and creeks for those who are willing to take the time to find them. A few speckled trout are being caught in Davis Canal and Wildlife Creek at Southport and Oak Island, along with a few from the Banks Channel bridges and Masonboro Inlet jetties at Wrightsville Beach. Farther north, they are mainly in the nearshore ocean. During the warm spell, at the end of January, there were several really good days in the Hatteras area.
The striper activity continues to be very strong at Manns Harbor. This is a special management area, with its own season and limits, so verify everything before you go. At Oregon Inlet, everything inshore of the bridge is inshore waters, while everything outside of the bridge is ocean waters. Good numbers and some big stripers are being caught in the ocean both north and south of the inlet. This is the month that the really big stripers should arrive. Different regulations apply in the ocean and you should know them before you go fishing. The NC Division of Marine Fisheries Web Site is at www.ncdmf.net and the striper regulations are on a sub-page. Other striper hotspots include the Neuse River, near New Bern, and the Pamlico/Tar River, near Washington. These areas have much less restrictive regulations and limits. Check the current striper regulations at www.ncdmf.net before you head out fishing.
Surf and Pier
Most of the ocean piers have closed for the season. It would be wise to call ahead before making plans.
A few large drum and pretty good numbers of stripers have been caught in the Outer Banks surf. The heavier concentration of drum is from Avon to Cape Point, while the stripers are thickest farther north, around Oregon Inlet.
Bluefin tuna fishing is hot. There has been excellent bluefin action between Morehead City and Hatteras. The fish are in Raleigh Bay, with good concentrations spread from Morehead City to Hatteras. Every now and then, a few even show up off Topsail and Wrightsville Beach. Live bait is the hot ticket when you can find it, but chunking and trolling are producing numerous hookups.
There have been some good catches of smaller speckled trout along the jetty at Cape Lookout. Just before this last cold front, some larger specks had been caught for a day or two. Maybe they will return.
Large stripers (over 20 pounds) are being caught at Oregon Inlet, Hatteras Inlet, and along the beaches of the Outer Banks. Captain Dave Deitzler reports that there are also some stripers around Cape Lookout.
Sea Bass and grouper are biting well from around 80 feet of water on out. Along the offshore edges, some kings are also still being caught. The most productive areas are off Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear. At the end of January, there was an awesome king mackerel bite, between Drum Inlet and the Chicken Rock. There were lots of larger kings, including at least one in the mid-50's. If that eddy of warm water returns, so should the kings.
When the weather has allowed, there have been some scattered yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and kings being caught around the Steeples, Big Rock, and at The Point. Bluefin tuna have been scattered all the way from just off the beaches to the inshore edges of the Gulf Stream.
Potential Record Catches
On New Year's Eve, Captain Bruce Pollock and Barry Heller landed a potential State Record Thresher Shark on the Wave Runner, out of Morehead City. They were bluefin fishing and the big shark (Est. 400 pounds) dumped the spool on a 130 class International. Unfortunately for the fishermen, they didn't take the time to weigh it. They were more worried about cleaning it properly to make the most of its excellent meat. There is a picture at the Wave Runner web site at www.waverunnerfishing.com and it is pretty obvious that this shark would have easily surpassed Jack Cagle's current 145 pound State Record.