The effects of the late fall and generally mild winter are teaming up with a stretch of extra warm weather from the end of February to the present and making for some very productive and interesting days on the water.
The water temperature had really taken a dip during and right after the snows, but it has rebounded well. Along the Carolina coast it is already back into the high 50's and 60's everywhere but above Cape Hatteras. Once you get north of Cape Hatteras, the cooler Labrador Current has more influence on the coastal waters than the Gulf Stream or sunlight.
The warming water has gotten the fish hungry too. Starting inshore, there are speckled trout biting all the way from Sunset Beach to Stumpy Point. As with any good fishermen, the exact locations and baits were kept quiet, but there were generally good reports along most of the state. While I know some fishermen who can dance a Mirrolure so seductively that a trout just can't refuse it, most anglers will do better with soft plastics. My favorite soft plastic trout bait is a 4-inch curltail grub. Color is often a matter of personal preference, with greens, whites, yellows, and clears taking up the most space in my tackle bag.
There is a report from Rose Bay, in Hyde County, of a speckled trout that was heavy enough to be a new State Record. Unfortunately, there is not a record of the trout being weighed on certified scales and recorded. The Division of Marine Fisheries is aware of the report and is trying to find a record of it from certified scales. The report is that it weighed just over 15 pounds. That is over 2 pounds heavier than the current record. Maybe it will become a record, not just a rumor.
Puppy drum are also active along the entire coast. They are being caught inshore and in the surf. Several recent reports from Cape Point, at Buxton, were talking about very good numbers. For the inshore drum, shallow water over grass beds have been an excellent place to fish. Texas rigging a curl tail grub will let it move up in the grass to get noticed and then dart back down as you retrieve it.
Gray trout and sea mullet (whiting) should be showing up at any time. Hotspots along the coast run from McGlammery Reef, off Oak Island, to the surf around Frisco Pier. Both of these are excellent fish to catch and eat. Leftover rumblings from late last fall, had some huge gray trout on the WOFES Reef, off Bald Head Island, and some huge sea mullet coming from the Dead Tree Hole and AR315, off Atlantic Beach. The expectations are that the spring might just take over where the fall left off. That would be real good wouldn't it?
King mackerel have been sporadically caught around many of the offshore structures for most of the winter. The most consistent spot has been the reefs, ledges, and wrecks around Frying Pan Tower. These have not been large fish, but they have been there and hungry. A similar situation is occurring around Diamond Shoals Tower, near the northern end of the coast. Up there, most bluefin or yellowfin tuna trips have been including some kings also. Don't complain, just know where to go if you want some king mackerel.
This is really the time to be catching yellowfin tuna. While there occasionally are some larger fish, the springtime yellowfins typically run from 20 to 30 pounds. These tuna are usually on the edges of the eddies and rips that spin off from the Gulf Stream. While the hot spots are rarely right over the structures, the Steeples, the Big Rock, and the Rock Pile are well known underwater rock formations, that disrupt the Gulf Stream flow and create the eddies and rips. Seawater thermal charts, like prepared by C2C Sports, will help you locate the thermal edges before you leave the dock.
There are also a few wahoo moving about the offshore rips as well as a few dolphin. There should be more of these guys around every day. Several early billfish have also eaten some baits that were intended for tuna. As the water warms and the prevalent winds move more to the south, the offshore catches should continue to increase.
Except for a couple of weeks, this past winter was not particularly cold. Long stretches of warm sunny weather in February and so far this month have helped push the fishing just a little ahead of schedule. The long range forecast doesn't show any problems, so with no surprises, it looks like we may be well on our way to an excellent spring.