Finally'a week that stayed warm and sunny most of the week. We made it from last Friday until Wednesday with sunshine every day and we've still got fairly warm temperatures. The highs may fall back to the high 50's and low 60s for some of next week, but that sure beats the low 40s. Even the water temperatures have risen three or more degrees. If we can stay warm and sunny, we could be back to near normal by Easter or shortly after.
The water temperature rose to 50 plus just about everywhere but the northern Outer Banks this week. That was more than five degrees in many places. Spring is knocking on the door, but no one has answered yet. We should get ready to heed the call; there is only another week until spring is scheduled to arrive.
It won't really add an hour of sunshine to the days, but will add an hour of sunshine to our schedules when Daylight Savings Time begins Sunday morning, March 14. Thankfully the days are getting longer too. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel and work better when there is daylight after getting off work.
Unfortunately, this weekend isn't shaping up to be the best to enjoy the outdoors. The forecast is for scattered thunderstorms through Saturday, with showers on Sunday. The front line moving with these showers has been rather strong crossing the Midwest and could be retaining some of that energy left when it get here. Hopefully the thunderstorms and showers aren't too bad and we should begin pulling out of it by Monday.
There is also a lot of wind and waves in the weekend forecast, so it appears to be a good time for something other than fishing. A Small Craft Advisory is on tap through Monday from Topsail to the north. The conditions are marginally better, but certainly not good, south of Topsail. Waves averaging higher than five feet and winds pushing 20 knots are a good reason to stay home and knock out a few items from the "honey-do" list.
There was some good news from offshore during this run of good weather. Several fishermen have ventured offshore with pretty good results. Along the southern and central part of the coast, wahoo have been the primary target of trollers, with a few tuna, mostly blackfins, in the catch also. This week there were good numbers of king mackerel and some yellowfin tuna caught. It has been a few years since there was a strong yellowfin run south of Cape Hatteras, so many fishermen are hopeful this is a sign of change.
From Cape Hatteras to the north, the big offshore news is bluefin tuna. This is recreational bluefin season and most boats from Hatteras and Oregon Inlet are returning with one of the medium/school bluefins. These fish are still averaging more than 150 pounds. The Outer Banks boats are also catching some yellowfin, blackfin and bigeye tuna.
Offshore bottom fishermen have been reporting some good catches of large black sea bass. There are also some grunts and porgies, but beeliner (vermilion snapper) season is closed until April 1 and grouper season is closed until May 1.
Red snapper season is closed through early June by emergency order and that closure will likely be renewed for another six months. However, at their meeting last week, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) changed their preferred option for Amendment 17A for managing red snapper after the emergency closure expires. Their previous primary option closed the ocean to bottom fishing in a zone that ran from northern Florida to the N.C./S.C. border and included waters from 98 to 240 feet deep. The most recent proposal does not extend the closed area as far to the north. In this proposal the closure ends at roughly the Ga./S.C. border.
The SAFMC is soliciting input on this proposal. Comments may be sent to the SAFMC by internet, mail or fax. Electronic Submissions must go through the: Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. The docket ID for this proposal is NOAA-NMFS-2010-0035 and it must be entered in the search box.
Comments may also be submitted by mail to: Kate Michie'NOAA Fisheries Service'Southeast Regional Office'Sustainable Fisheries Division'263 13th Avenue South'St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505. The fax number is 727-824-5308 and comments should be sent attention of Kate Michie.
As the water warms, red drum are one of the first inshore fish to become active. There are schools of feeding drum along much of the N.C. Coast. Numerous reports of drum have come from along Cape Lookout Shoals and Shackleford Banks. There were also reports of drum along the beaches east of Cape Lookout up to Drum (Ophelia) Inlet and down the coast as far as Masonboro Island. The word is these fish range from mid-slot to overslot in size and haven't been overly spooky.
With the sun shining and the water warming, there were a few more reports of speckled trout and black drum this week. The black drum may be mixed with the reds or with the specks. The reds are generally is only a couple of feet of water, while the specks may be nearby, but in water a little deeper. All have been most active around low tide and after the sun has shone on the water for several hours. Mud minnows have been the best live baits, but the specks and drum also hit soft plastics and MirrOlures.
Bogue Inlet Pier is opening for the 2010 season today, March 12. This is the earliest pier opening for the year, but it is timed to coincide with the 19th Annual Emerald Isle St. Patrick's Festival. Other piers should be opening over the next few weeks, with all being open by Easter Weekend.
Last weekend I was working a pro-staff gig in the Overton's tackle display at the Eastern North Carolina Boat Sale and fishermen were buying a lot of lures for shad. The most popular were the lighter shad darts and 00 and 000 size spoons from Nungesser. Several fishermen said they had already caught some nice shad in the Neuse River and the creeks off it. They also said the run shouldn't peak for another several weeks.
Stripers have also been biting well and the slight warming trend has turned them on again. Terry Smithwick of Park Boat Company in Washington said there had been lots of fishermen catching rock along the Washington waterfront. A similar bite has been going on around New Bern in the Neuse and Trent Rivers. There have also been good striper reports from the Albemarle Sound, Roanoke River and Cape Fear River.
Good reports of ocean stripers continue to come from boats fishing through Oregon Inlet. When fishing in the ocean, be certain to remember that striper season is closed beyond state waters, which end at three miles off the beach. Ocean fishermen have been catching stripers well with a variety of jigs and Mojo rigs.
Stripers are managed regionally and the limits may be different in different rivers. There are even some rivers where the season is closed. Striper regulations are subject to change on short notice and it would be wise to visit www.ncdmf.net and check the latest regulations while planning a fishing trip.
A little bit of temporary bad news should lead to a better good in a couple of months. The Wildlife Ramp behind the Crystal Coast Welcome Center on U.S. 70 in Morehead City has been closed for renovations. The renovations are expected to take until approximately mid-May and the ramp will be reopened then.
I was told the ramp under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge in Wilmington was also closed for renovations. This is a municipal ramp and is very popular with fishermen after stripers and catfish in the Cape Fear River. It is also expected to be closed for several months.
Unfortunately the political issues with fishing and our fisheries just will not stop. The most recent is a decision not to allow input from recreational fishermen or related businesses into the formulation of a new management strategy for the U.S. Oceans and Great Lakes. This policy will be formulated by the newly formed Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and a final draft is expected within 30 to 60 days.
The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force members were appointed by President Obama in 2009 and charged with developing a national policy for conserving and managing the United States ocean territory and the Great Lakes. The policy will govern ocean and Great Lakes resource management and coordinate efforts among the many federal, state and local agencies that oversee a significant portion of our nation's waters. With no directives to address recreational and commercial fishing as independent activities, they have been lumped together, even though the use of the resources and effect on the economy are vastly different.
The White House is in the final stages of developing the final report, which must balance sustainable uses with ocean and Great Lakes conservation. It is important that the administration recognizes and promotes the economic and conservation contributions of outdoor recreation, including recreational fishing and boating. Without such recognition, decisions made under this national oceans and Great Lakes policy could be used to close saltwater and freshwater recreational fishing areas.
Anglers and boaters are the original stewards of our environment. Taking them off the water will cost the country a vital element in the conservation of our fisheries and water resources. Outdoor recreation is a part of the American way of life and we must ensure it remains an option for all Americas.
Please visit www.keepamericafishing.org and take a minute to send a letter to President Obama and other key policy makers urging the Task Force to include recreational fishing and boating in the national policy. By using the form on this website, a coy of the letter sent to President Obama will automatically be sent to your Congressmen.
Another proposal that continues to meet disapproval from fishermen is Catch Shares, which are also sometimes called Individual Fishing Quotas. NOAA Fisheries has drafted a catch share policy for public review and comment, and is seeking input on its draft policy from interested commercial and recreational fishermen, communities, state and local governments, tribes, businesses, associations, non-governmental organizations and the general public. The public comment period will end on April 10, 2010.
Comments may be submitted by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; by fax to (301) 713-1940, Attn: Catch Shares; and by mail to the Office of Policy, NOAA Fisheries Service, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The catch shares proposal may be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/domes_fish/catchshare/index.htm. Comments may also be registered from this link.
This weekend the N.C. Aquariums Fishing School will be held at the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Unfortunately, if you haven't already registered, it is too late. According to the aquarium's website, all the seats are taken.
This is the weekend of the ACC Basketball Tournament. With the less than perfect weather forecast, that may be a good thing to keep fishermen occupied. Certainly there is parity in the ACC this year, and while Duke has to be the favorite, there is the possibility that any team could put together a run and win the tournament.