While the wind was a little more than forecast, last weekend was the first really nice weekend in a few weeks and quite a few fishermen took advantage. Even better, for the most part the catches were pretty good also.
Unfortunately this weekend sees the weather leaning back towards its old ways. There are forecasts of blustery winds beginning Friday afternoon, then peaking late Saturday, before returning to a manageable, but breezy, level for Sunday afternoon and Monday. There is also the threat of rain in the forecast. The weathermen aren't talking about rainouts, but the opportunity for showers and thunderstorms is present from Saturday through Monday. At least the temperatures have warmed back up from the cold snap at mid-week.
This is Easter weekend and we should see the first big beach crowds of the year. While the economy still hasn't turned around, at least gas prices are back to a more reasonable point and shouldn't be as large an obstacle as last summer to traveling and fishing. On this morning's news, there was a report from AAA that gas prices have stabilized for a while and they don't foresee any significant price increases in the near future.
With that crowd comes some lines at places we haven't seen them in a while. Allow a little more time at the boat ramp, fuel dock, supermarket and restaurants. Remember both on land and water that a little bit of good old-fashioned common sense and courtesy goes a long way.
The cold snap this past week not only brought cold temperatures, but some strong winds and it even cooled the water a little. Last week Bogue inlet Pier was reporting 58 degrees and that had dropped a degree this week. If we get more sunshine than originally forecast, the water could easily warm back to that point and maybe even beyond.
I got into some backwaters Sunday afternoon and saw some of the warm temperatures there for myself. I saw 64 to 65 degrees in several creeks and found two that were 67 to 68 right at the low tide. The fish are active in these spots and if you locate fish, they should bite.
There have been some good fishing reports this week. I ran into Wally from the Sheraton Pier one day at lunch and he said they had been catching a lot of nice black drum. He said several were as large as five pounds. He also reported a few sea mullet and bluefish.
The report from Bogue Inlet Pier is similar. Their catch was a mixture of black drum, sea mullet, croakers and blowfish. If we get the wind forecast for Saturday, a pier may be a good place to soak some bait and kill some time.
One day I also had lunch with Doug Leister, who used to run Fort Macon Boat Sales in Morehead City and supplied a lot of fishing reports to this column. Doug is undertaking a new endeavor with a unique printing process and some of his fishing and beach photography. If you are in one of the Beaufort/Morehead City area restaurants or coffee shops and see something you like, check it out. It may be one of Doug's unique photos.
There are some speckled trout back in the creeks, up Core Creek and in the creeks off the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. The water has warmed to the point they are feeding pretty regularly and that makes them easier to catch. A variety of soft plastics and swimming lures will work for catching specks. Many are small, but there are some larger fish mixed in.
I have to mention here that the MirrOlure MR17, MR19 and MR27 series of suspending twitchbaits have become some of my favorite lures for catching specks and more--and they keep surprising me. I am constantly telling folks that these lures will almost instantly make fishermen better on most inshore species and it's true.
Sometimes they will even catch when they shouldn't. I was drifting Sunday afternoon to catch some bait and just threw a MR17 out the back and put the rod in a rod holder, so there was something in the water while I was catching bait. Well, danged if it didn't hook a trout while I was standing on the bow with the cast net. After I caught some live bait, I fished in the same area with live bait and the MR17 and only caught on the MirrOlure.
Later, at a small mud and oyster flat where I usually find a few puppy drum, I decided to throw the MR 17, as it was all I had a strike on so far. On the first cast I caught a 16 1/5 inch flounder and further increased my fondness for this little MirrOLure. Oh, the flounder was invited home to be the guest of honor for dinner that night. It went real well with a baked sweet potato.
Obviously a few flounder are waking up also. The flounder catches aren't running rampant yet, but I usually hear of a few every week. Most are caught by accident while fishing for something else.
Puppy drum are moving around also. The water is warm enough for them to be getting more active and they have been caught in a variety of places. Flats in the sounds and shallows in the creeks are the primary places inside, but don't be surprised to pull one out of a trout hole too. They are in the surf along many beaches. For whatever the reason, uninhabited beaches, like Bear, Browns, Lea and Masonboro Islands, plus Ocracoke, Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout, the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and the east beach of Bald Head Island are all good places to catch them.
More fish were caught in the Morehead City Turning Basin again this week and the numbers are improving. Most folks are doing well with sea mullet, but there seem to be pods that are small and pods that are large. Some gray trout, black drum and bluefish also being caught. The hot ticket is vertically jigging speck rigs tipped with small pieces of "fresh as possible" shrimp.
Capt. Dave Dietzler (Cape Lookout Charters, www.capelookoutcharters.com, 252-240-2850) said there had been some excellent catches of gray trout and bluefish at night under the lights of the bridges in the area. He said the fish caught at night were usually larger and more aggressive. On warm nights, it's a great way to beat the crowds and fill a cooler.
There is similar action with whiting (the local name for sea mullet along the southern N.C. Coast), black drum and bluefish on the shoals and beside the ship channel at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Southport.
That gusty wind hasn't yet relented enough to head offshore regularly in smaller boats. However, there are fish to be caught when the trip is possible and the reports are getting better. Offshore trips are producing some nice wahoo, plus blackfin tuna, dolphin and a few yellowfin tuna.
An early sailfish was caught off Oregon Inlet by John Ward of Elizabeth City. Congratulations! The numbers of bluefin tuna off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet dropped some this week as more yellowfin tuna arrived. Catching those juvenile bluefins is fun, but I prefer to take a yellowfin loin home to eat. I believe most folks would agree.
They haven't moved any closer in, but there are still good reports of king mackerel. With the exception of the schools around Frying Pan Tower, the kings are holding over bait pods in 90-100 feet of water. At Frying Pan Tower the shoals stick out farther and the kings are in 50-75 feet of water. Water warmer than 67 degrees seems to be holding the most bait and therefore the most kings. The Atlas Tanker and Chicken Rock have been good spots east of Cape Lookout, with 210 and 240 Rocks holding kings west of the cape and Frying Pan Tower being a major hotspot off Cape Fear.
I'm still hearing of good catches of big sea bass, beeliners and some grouper. The sea bass are the closest in, with many nearshore sea bass being shorts and the ratio of keepers rising as you head offshore. The grouper and beeliners have begun creeping inshore a bit, but rocks and wrecks in 80-100 feet of water are still the best bet.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament announced this week they are renaming the Big Rock Ladies Tournament in honor of Keli Wagner. Wagner, the wife of former Big Rock President and current V-P Casey Wagner, was an avid supporter of the tournament and fished it for 11 years before succumbing to a long bout with cancer this past October.
The Keli Wagner Big Rock Lady Angler tournament will highlight its first year (tournament's 12th year) as the namesake of this popular tournament with a new logo designed by Wagner's 13-year old son Cole. The new logo may be seen at www.thebigrock.com along with various ways to support the tournament and its causes. Proceeds from the tournament will be donated to the Raab Oncology Clinic in Morehead City, where Wagner received treatments.
One of the first N.C. tournaments, Martini's Hook-A-Hoo Tournament, is underway at Ocean Isle. The tournament runs from April 4 through 12 and is currently being led by a huge 87.88 pounder landed early in the week by the Hooyah.
Also of special note is the fact that three N.C. towns have received US Fish and Wildlife Service Boating Infrastructure Grants (BIG) from the Department of the Interior. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in cooperation with Morehead City, New Bern and Plymouth will receive more than $1,257,000 to increase public waterfront access through construction of docks and boat slips.