Now that the doldrums of winter have just about passed, we are staring to see a few changes in the fish that are present and the fishing that is available. There have been enough good days recently to generate a good dose of "fishing fever" and the only way to cure "fishing fever" is to go fishing. There will be some days of good fishing over the next few weeks, but it won't necessarily be very consistent. While there have been a few bright spots and some early catches, we are still a month or so away from the best part of spring fishing.
While the count is increasing slowly and steadily, there are still not a lot of boats out fishing on any given day. With the reduced amount of boats that are out fishing, it becomes even more important that someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return. The weather has not yet settled out and bad weather and exposure can ruin a fishing trip very quickly. The odds of someone happening by and helping you out of a jam is seriously reduced. The Coast Guard refers to making sure someone knows your plans as filing a Float Plan. This is a good idea at all times and can be a life saver. With a little luck, this will be like an insurance policy and you will never need to use it.
The bluefin tuna fishing for this season has ended. There may still be a couple of them around, but the odds of catching one are pretty slim.
Yellowfin tuna have shown lightly around the Steeples and a little heavier around the Big Rock. It is not consistent fishing yet, that is still roughly a month away. You may go out and catch a few or you could just as easily go fishless. A bait trailed behind a planer or trolling sinker might just get the attention of a wahoo and add some spice to the trip. The area around The Point, between Diamond Shoals and Oregon Inlet, has been the most consistent spot so far. The commercial boats have been doing well on a surprisingly regular basis. I guess green stick rigs and long lines are just more effective than an 8 bait trolling spread.
There are some king mackerel around, but it will require a long run to warmer water to find them. Even though the surface temperatures are still a little low, there have been some pretty consistent reports of school kings from approximately 100 feet of water. There are locations off Morehead City (210 Rock and 240 Rock) and Hatteras (Smell Wreck) that are usually fairly productive, but the area just offshore of Frying Pan Light Tower, off Southport, has been amazingly consistent and given up a few very impressive catches. Spoons, sea witches with strips, swimming plugs, and cigar minnows have all been catching these smaller kings.
The fishing for ocean stripers has been sporadically good all winter. There were days that the schools were hard to find and days that they bit like they were trying to take revenge on something. That is about over now. The water is trying to warm up and that will send them back northward. If you have to make an ocean striper trip, the waters above Cape Hatteras are your best bet and the longer you wait the slimmer that chance becomes.
The smaller stripers, in the 2 to 7 pound range, have been hitting extremely well along the Manns Harbor Bridge. This is the Highway 64 and 264 bridge between the mainland and Manteo. Several fishermen have referred to this action as "world class", with numerous catches of 100 to 200 fish daily. The Albemarle Sound "Keeper" season is currently open with possession of 2 stripers of over 18 inches allowed on certain days. This is a very closely monitored fishery that is subject to regulation changes made by proclamation. North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries managers post the regulations, with the dates, size limits, number limits, and any other pertinent information, on their Web Site at www.ncdmf.net. You can also call toll free at 1-800-338-7805 or 1-800-682-2632. It would be wise to check the up-to-date postings before you went fishing
It shouldn't be very much longer before the stripers start moving up the Roanoke River and put on their annual spring showing there.
The puppy drum have been the inshore bright spot for the past month or so. With the changing weather they have been biting well one day and overcome with lockjaw the next. There have been some caught with cut bait around the inlets, but the upper reaches of the coastal creeks all across the state have been the hotspots.
In most cases this is sight casting to a feeding school of fish. Shallow water access is a must. Being quiet is also a must. A "clunk" in a boat resonates far across a shallow water flat or creek. Try some soft plastics in yellow, brown, or gold. Cast past the fish and retrieve your bait back past them. This is catch and release fishing at its finest. NC regulations do allow you to keep 1 red drum per day, between 18 and 27 inches in length.
Speckled trout fishing has not been as strong as last year, but there are some specks around to be caught. The best reports that I have been getting have come from the jetty at Cape Lookout and the creeks off the Neuse River between Oriental and New Bern.
Sea mullet (whiting, Va. mullet, kingfish) should begin to show along the coast in the next few weeks. A little later, they will move into the surf and inlets. Fresh shrimp will go a long way towards enticing them to bite.
To put it bluntly-----The sea bass are biting! For the past week or so there have been some great catches in around 70 to 100 feet of water. These are large and jumbo size sea bass. There are even some of the big "humpheads" being caught. A morning or afternoon over a rock filled with hungry sea bass can go a long way towards curing the "fishing fever". Almost any cut bait, squid, and a surprising number of lures will draw some serious strikes from hungry sea bass.