This morning it was snowing just a few miles inland and not for the first, second or third time this year. Thankfully it didn't stick and this storm is moving quickly. There is another front forecast to push by quickly Friday and it is supposed to be offshore. After that the forecast for the next week has lots of sunshine and temperatures warming into the high 50s and 60s. Maybe that groundhog knew what he was doing when he didn't see his shadow? I sure hope so.
The winter winds won't quite go away, but are supposed to fall out some later Friday afternoon and stay at 15 knots or less until sometime Monday. The good news is they will be primarily northerly, so those folks who want to take advantage of the weather can fish along the south facing beaches even in smaller boats.
Beach water temperatures have been holding in the 46 to 47 degree range for a couple of weeks. The temps will probably climb another degree or two next week if we actually receive the warmer weather and sunshine that is forecast and that should make the fish a little more active.
Puppy drum and stripers, with an occasional black drum, are the primary fish being caught in nearshore and inshore coastal waters. The pups are scattered along some of the beaches, primarily those that are uninhabited, and in the coastal creeks and bays. While there are some pups in the inside waters around Morehead City, the most consistent action in that area has been with scattered schools in the surf along Shackleford Banks and around the jetty at Cape Lookout. There have also been some caught along the jetties in Beaufort Inlet at Fort Macon.
Several fishermen said these fish were showing a definite preference for baits that had some scent and flavor. Shrimp were popular with the fishermen along the Fort Macon Jetty, while mud minnows and bio baits were preferred at Cape Lookout and along the surf.
In the Swansboro area, Captains Jeff Cronk and Mike Taylor said the reds had moved back inshore and were holding along the mud flats of local creeks. They also said scented grubs and shrimp were the best baits.
Farther south, from Carolina Beach down to Bald Head, Capt. Jeff Wolfe said the drum had moved from the pockets in the backwaters and were in a little deeper water closer to the mouths of the creeks. He said it was almost opposite of what it was in most years, but this year has been the coldest he could remember in quite a while. He likes paddletail grubs and said regular ones often caught as well as bio baits.
From Cape Fear to the S.C. line, Capt. Mark Dickson said the reds were biting well in most of the pockets in the marsh and sometimes also along the edges of the Intracoastal Waterway, especially near the mouths of small creeks. Dickson said he was having good luck with bio baits and once the fish started feeding they would readily hit regular grubs.
Numerous fishermen have reported seeing schools of speckled trout, but said they were moving slowly and were not feeding. These reports have come from several locations along the coast, so some have survived the frigid cold and will continue faring better as the water warms.
The ocean striper bite has picked back up off Oregon Inlet, but there was another incident last week with a commercial trawler dumping huge numbers of excess catch and culls that were dead. This incident was close in and even though it was a rough day and no recreational boats were out, the carnage was photographed and filmed. When decomposing striper carcasses began washing up on area beaches, it became even harder to deny.
The ocean stripers are hitting Mojo rigs, Umbrella rigs, diving plugs and jigs. They have been pretty consistent, though one boat did report the average size was 15-20 pounds and not the huge fish everyone wants to catch. Another report said there were enough 35 to 45 pound fish in the mix to keep fishermen happy.
While it varies from day to day and between fishermen, there have also been some good catches of stripers in the rivers. The river stripers aren't as large, but are still fun to catch. Mixed striper catches have been reported in the Albemarle Sound and in the Tar/Pamlico, Neuse/Trent and Cape Fear/Northeast Cape Fear Rivers. One good method for catching the river stripers is trolling diving swimbaits along vertical structure, like bridge pilings. Fishermen who prefer casting are also catching them using soft plastic grubs on jig heads or fished weedless on worm hooks.
The fishermen off Cape Hatteras had another good weekend with tuna. The catches included blackfins, bluefins and yellowfins. The action and mixture created excitement among the fishermen and they are hoping the action continues. I would be excited too to catch a tuna slam.
Fishermen should be aware that for waters south of Hatteras Light the recreational season for black sea bass will close on Saturday, Feb. 12 and not reopen until June 1. The season is still open north of Hatteras Light, but fishermen must leave and return from an inlet that is also above Hatteras Light. The only N.C. inlet in these waters is Oregon Inlet.
In addition to black sea bass, red snapper season is closed indefinitely, vermilion snapper (beeliner) season is closed until April 1 and shallow water grouper season is closed until May 1. The only bottom fish that can be caught and kept are grunts, porgys and triggerfish. That isn't bad as they all taste good, but it's a long ride just for them.
Amendment 17B to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan became effective January 31, 2011. Among other things, this amendment closes bottom fishing in waters 240 feet and deeper out to 200 miles offshore for harvest and retention of snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper, and silk snapper. While originally designed to protect Warsaw grouper and speckled hind, which are prohibited catches in all federal waters (3-200 miles offshore), this amendment effectively eliminated fishing for all bottom species in these waters. Electronic copies of the final rule may be obtained from the e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at www.safmc.net.
The public hearings and scoping meetings regarding fisheries management measures, including Annual Catch Limits, proposed for several federally managed species, including those within the snapper grouper management complex, dolphin (fish), wahoo, golden crab, and octocorals within the South Atlantic region have ended, but the SAFMC is also accepting written and email comments until 5:00 p.m. on Monday, February 14. Copies of the public hearing and scoping documents, with details on how to submit written comments, will be posted on the Council's web site at www.safmc.net and will be available by contacting the Council office at 843/571-4366 or 866/SAFMC-10.
The winter Marine Fisheries Commission meeting begins Thursday in Atlantic Beach with a public comment period and then continues into a business session on Friday. Among the items on the agenda are discussion on closing the speckled trout season, the issues with the commercial trawling for striped bass and approval of the Southern Flounder Fisheries Management Plan. A complete agenda can be found at www.ncdmf.net.
The Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet on February 22, 2011 at 6:00 P.M. at the NCDENR Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information contact Sean McKenna at Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or 1-800 338-7804 or visit www.ncdmf.net.
The Albemarle/Roanoke and Central/Southern Advisory Committees will have a joint meeting on February 24 at 5:30 P.M to discuss the N.C. Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan. The Albemarle/Roanoke Committee will meet at the Chowan County Agricultural Extension Center in Edenton and the Central/Southern Committee will meet at the NCDENR Regional Field Office in Washington. The meetings will be connected by conference call. For more information contact Charlton Godwin (Charlton.Godwin@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-338-7805) or Katy West (Katy.West@ncdenr.gov or 1-800 338-7805) or visit www.ncdmf.net.
A Fishermen's Rally is scheduled for February 25 at the National Marine Fisheries Southeast Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Fla. This rally will be similar to the one held in Feb. 2010 in Washington, D.C. with the purpose of protesting the use of flawed and outdated data for fishery stock assessment and management decisions, which lead to closing the seasons when fish stocks are actually healthy. For more information on this event, visit http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=199040643444088.
There is not a boat show in N.C. this weekend. The closest is across the border in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It is the Grand Strand Boat Show at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and runs from Friday through Sunday, Feb. 11-13. For more information visit www.grandstrandboatshow.com.
There is a pair of fishing schools scheduled for this weekend. Captains Jimmy Price and Jerry Dilsaver will be hosting a fishing school for the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department on Saturday, Feb. 12. For more information call 910-279-6760 or visit www.captjerry.com. Also on Feb. 12, Fisherman's Post magazine will hold a fishing school at the Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington. For more information visit www.fishermanspost.com.