Fishermen are getting antsy and from the reports I've gotten the past couple of weeks, it is obvious they are ready for the wind to lay out so they can go fishing. There have been a couple of fishable days offshore since last week's report and the big water fishermen caught some nice fish. Lighter winds also make it nice in protected waters.
While there was an unexpected spike in nearshore and surf water temps early in the week, that passed, but the water has not cooled to where it was after that cold weather interruption of a couple of weeks ago. Thursday morning, Bogue Inlet Pier was reporting 61 degrees and the nearshore temperature monitors of the Carolinas Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System (Carolina RCOOS, http://carolinasrcoos.org) were agreeing within a degree in most places.
Fishermen are reporting seeing mid to high sixties in the coastal creeks and I even heard one fellow say his temp gauge showed 70 in one creek. I know this isn't exactly warm yet, but fish begin getting active at about 60 degrees and most really get going once the water hits 70. I saw some kids swimming in the ICW Sunday afternoon, so it definitely is getting warmer.
There are scattered reports of puppy drum, speckled trout, flounder, black drum, bluefish and flounder in the inshore waters from Hatteras to Calabash. Two hotspots are the Cape Lookout Jetty and the Turning basin at Morehead City. Lots of puppy drum, plus a few trout and flounder are being caught along the jetty. Out at the end and just off, bluefish are showing, with some of them large and there are a few increasing reports of false albacore just a little offshore.
The fishing in the Morehead City Turning Basin improved noticeably this week. The bite area also extended along the edges of the channel out to Beaufort Inlet. The prevalent fish are sea mullet, but some gray trout, black drum, and even a few flounder have been caught. Most fishermen are drifting and jigging speck rigs or Stingsilvers. Tipping the speck rigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp really helps with the sea mullet.
Pier fishermen saw some good catches this week. The best reports included coolers full of sea mullet. The fishing seemed to be best in the late afternoon into the evening. A few black drum, plus some blowfish and bluefish are also being caught.
Weather windows to get offshore are widely scattered, but fishermen who make the trip are finding fish. The offshore action begins with kings and bottom fish in the 90 to 110 foot deep range. Check the regulations on the bottom fish at www.ncdmf.net and only keep those that are legal. A word of advice is black sea bass and grouper seasons are closed. Check on the others. Non-stainless steel circle hooks are required for bottom fishing once beyond three miles offshore.
I have mentioned the new circle hook regulations several times since they became required in early March and have received numerous calls and e-mails about them. First and foremost; please don't shoot me about this, I'm only the messenger! I checked and this is what I was told.
I would suggest posing any questions you have on this to someone at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (www.ncdmf.net), or better yet, someone at the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (www.safmc.net). Unfortunately, what they told me may not matter if the interpretation of the enforcement officer checking your catch is different. My recommendation is to ask your questions in writing, save the answers and print a copy to take with you.
In general, I was told that circle hooks are required when using any natural or synthetic bait that can be ingested by a fish and when fishing in waters inhabited by any of the 72 species covered in the snapper-grouper complex and three miles or more offshore. Three miles offshore is measured from the nearest point of land and is shown on most fishing charts. A word to the wise is that sheepshead and spadefish are among the 72 species in this group and sometimes we catch flounder on several spots that may be three miles offshore. S.C. has adopted this regulation in state ocean waters also. Dr. Daniel of NC DMF said N.C. has not adopted this in state waters and there are no plans to.
Fishermen making the run to the eddies along the edge of the Gulf Stream are finding some wahoo and blackfin tuna when trolling. Several boats even caught a few dolphin during the past week, so it is possible to run into an early school of them also. Stopping over structure and jigging can add amberjacks and cobia to the fish box. A few yellowfin tuna have been caught off Cape Lookout, but the larger schools are still off Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet.
Speaking of Oregon Inlet, I received a notice Monday morning that the Coast Guard was planning to close Oregon Inlet this week due to shoaling so severe a dredge can't keep up with it. Since then, this has been clarified that the closure is for larger vessels, which means it will primarily affect the commercial fishermen. Larger vessels had been using the inlet only near high tide for several months, while hoping additional dredging funds would be allocated.
A little over a week ago I was invited to join Capt. Ricky Kellum of Speckled Specialist Charters (www.speckledspecialist.com/) for a trout tagging trip. Ricky is from Jacksonville, but regularly fishes from the Neuse River to Southport. On this trip, we targeted one of the creeks off the New River near Jacksonville.
This tagging trip was part of a speckled trout tagging program run by N.C. State, through the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City. The program, which is coordinated by Tim Ellis, is studying the habitat use and movements of speckled trout in N.C. waters. Ricky said some of the trout venture quite a ways and some tags have been returned from as far as Va.
The tags have rewards for being returned and one of the first things to note is that you do not have to keep the trout to return the tag. If you can get a quick length measurement of a fish to be released, that is appreciated, but cut the tag off and call the toll free number. They ask that you cut the tag off and mail it in rather than trying to get the number and releasing the trout with the tag intact.
Yellow tags, which are used more often, are eligible for a reward of $5, a tagging program hat, or a tagging program t-shirt. Some fish may have two yellow tags. Red tags are eligible for a $100 reward. The number to call (1-800-790-2780) is printed on the tags. You can also use this number or email email@example.com for more information about the trout tagging project.
On our trip, we only tagged four trout, but all were healthy and swam off well. Two of the fish received yellow tags, one received double yellow tags and one received a red tag with a $100 reward. The tags are just behind the pelvic fin and are locked to the fish with a toggle in the stomach cavity. Do not try to pull the tag free; it will seriously injure the fish. The tags must be cut off.
Our trip was on the morning after the last cold front and we slipped on ice getting in the boat and returned to the ramp that afternoon with just light jackets. It was quite a change and a nice trip, even if we didn't catch a bunch of trout to tag. We hoped the sun and warming day, with a rising barometer, would spur them to feed, but the action was only marginal. Other fish kept us on our toes and provided periodic excitement. We also caught a dozen or more puppy drum that were all released and one, not-quite-legal, flounder that woke up early and hungry.
I would advise keeping a sharp eye out for tagged trout. One of those red $100 reward tags would buy gas for another fishing trip or two. Once we get to June 15, you can keep the trout for dinner too. No matter how you argue it, that's undeniably a win-win situation.
House Bill 353, the bill to give gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass, is currently waiting in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Business and Labor for several studies to be returned before being scheduled for discussion and a vote. Several sponsors said they were gathering economic information and being sure the wording was correct.
Fishermen are urged to contact their local legislators and the members of the committee to express their feelings regarding this bill. The bill, with information on its sponsors and its progress, plus a list of state legislators, their committee assignments and contact information, is available at www.ncleg.net.
Rep. Frank Iler introduced HB 421, entitled Fuel Tax Refund for Marinas. This bill would allow marinas to get a quarterly refund of the excise tax for gas delivered to tanks marked for boat use only or something similar that designated it was not use in licensed road vehicles. Several marina owners have stated this would allow marinas to refund the excise tax of approximately 16 cents per gallon to boaters and fishermen at the time of the sale, but the bill does not state this. This tax is currently available for annual refund to boaters and other off road users, but only if they keep records and file for it. For more information, view HB 421 at www.ncleg.net and use the links there to let your legislators know if you support this bill.
HB 187, which requires gas pumps dispensing ethanol blended products to be marked as whether they dispense ethanol at 10 per cent or less or at more than 10 per cent, became Session Law 2011-25 when Governor Perdue signed it on Thursday, April 7. This law is a bonus for boaters (and others using small engines that don't handle ethanol well and owners of vehicles older than 2002) as most marine and other small engines can tolerate ethanol up to a 10 per cent mixture, but no more. The law was to become effective when signed, so the stickers should begin showing on gas pumps at any time. This is necessary because the EPA approved ethanol at 15 per cent for use in cars and trucks. For more information on this bill/law, visit www.ncleg.net.
The Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) is soliciting comments regarding matching the regulations for Inland Water Gamefish with the regulations for those fish in Joint and Coastal Waters through May 2. The WRC held four public meetings on this during March and this is to allow fishermen that couldn't attend one of the meetings to comment by mail or e-mail. Comments should be mailed to the WRC at 1721 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1721 or e-mailed by visiting the Commission's website, www.ncwildlife.org, and clicking on the "Proposed Fishing Rule Changes Submit Comments" link on the right side of the page.
The NC Marine Fisheries Commission Blue Crab Management Plan Advisory Committee will meet March April 18, at 6:00 P.M. at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Field Office in Washington. For more information visit the NCDMF website at www.ncdmf.net or contact Sean McKenna at Sean.McKenna@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-338-7804 or Lynn Henry at Lynn.Henry@ncdenr.gov or 1-800-405-7774.
The first Annual Big Rock Fishing Tournament was held Saturday, April 9, in Weldon, N.C. While the cool front late that week slowed the bite a little, 39 boats with more than 100 fishermen participated and most weighed fish. The tournament was based on the aggregate weight of two fish and Steve Ciccarello won with 8.93 pounds.
Less than a half pound separated the top three places with John Hale finishing second with 8.74 pounds and Howard Tolbert placing third with 8.48 pounds. Josie Jones was the Top Lady Angler and Trevor Harrison collected Top Junior Angler honors. Plans are already underway for the 2012 tournament. For more information, visit www.historicweldonnc.com.
The 2011 Grifton Shad Festival is an annual event highlighting the shad run in Grifton, N.C. This year's festival began Tuesday (April 12) and is scheduled to continue through Sunday, April 17. For more information and a schedule visit www.griftonshadfestival.com.
The East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival will be held at the James Island Regional Park in Charleston, S.C. this Friday through Sunday, April 15-17. This is a major event that is presented by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission. There will be vendors with everything canoe or kayak and most manufacturers bring their demo fleet. There is a lake in the park and folks will be able to try and compare a variety of kayaks. There will also be seminars on a wide range of topics. A schedule and more information can be found in the special events section of the Recreation Commission website at www.ccprc.com.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Dept. will be hosting a kayak fishing seminar on April 20. The seminar will be held at the Oak Island Recreation Center and will begin at 6:30 P.M. and last approximately 2 1/2 hours. The seminar will cover selecting and rigging a fishing kayak, safety, inshore fishing for trout, flounder and puppy drum and launching through the surf for Spanish and king mackerel. The primary instructor will be Capt. Jerry Dilsaver. There will be several kayaks and accessories on display. The registration fee is $20 and registrations can be made at the Recreation Center. For more information call 910-278-4575 or 910-279-6760.
The Cape Fear River Shad Festival will be held at Cape Fear River Lock and Dam Number 1 on Saturday, April 23. Lock and Dam Number 1 is off Hwy 87, just a few miles above Riegelwood. The activities will include a shad tournament, food, many activities related to the lock and dam and shad fishing and an Easter Egg Hunt. The festival is sponsored by the Lower Bladen -- Columbus Historical Society. For more information call 910-685-6735 or 910-655-2801.
The Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department will hold their annual W.A.I.T. (Women Anglers In Training) ladies-only fishing school on Saturday and Sunday April 30 and May 1. Saturday will be a classroom day learning about tackle, equipment, knots and techniques for catching different species and Sunday will be a day on the water for the ladies to put all that information to use. Options for Sunday include pier fishing, inshore fishing from boats and ocean fishing from boats. For more information call 910-278-4747.
The Fayetteville Fly Tiers in association with the Fayetteville Area Anglers Network (FAAN) and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will hold a Fly-Tie-A-Thon at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville, N.C. on Saturday, April 30. Proceeds from the event will benefit the March for Babies program of the March of Dimes. In addition to the fly tieing exhibition and tutorial, there will be fly casting demonstrations, activities for the kids, items for sale, silent auctions, refreshments and more. For more information visit www.flytieathon.com.
I offer information on this tournament with a heavy heart. Eric Powell, who managed New River Marina in Sneads Ferry and is the son of Dale Powell who runs Power Marine Outfitters at the same location, was diagnosed just before Christmas with rapid onset ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease). He recently returned home after a lengthy stay at Duke Medical Center and his friends are organizing a redfish tournament in his honor and to help offset some of his medical expenses. The Eric Powell Redfish Tournament will be held April 30 from New River Marina/Power Marine Outfitters in Sneads Ferry. On the same day there will be a barbecue dinner, raffle and auction at New River Marina after the weigh-in.
Guaranteed prizes will be offered, including Lady and Junior Angler Awards. Unlike many redfish tournaments, participants will not be limited to two fishermen per boat and fishermen are welcome to carry their wives and children. For more information call Capt. Ricky Kellum at 910-330-2745.