Well, Easter weekend has come and gone--and we have survived. The gusting winds and occasional showers made it difficult to plan much outside, but a surprising amount of folks braved the elements and did some things anyway. It definitely was a "hold onto your hat" time and your raingear or shelter should have been nearby, but we saw the first beach crowd of the season and mostly things went pretty good. Even sunrise services were chilly Easter morning, but it warmed into a cooler but nice day.
Unfortunately the broken record calling for wind is still stuck on the turntable. Friday is blustery, which returns during the day Sunday and Monday looks to be gusty too. However, like those few good notes you hear when a broken record skips, there currently is a little weather window in the forecast for Saturday. I'm writing this a few days out, but right now Saturday looks pretty good. There will be a leftover swell in the ocean, but the winds should be down around 5-10 knots and from the west.
That forecast is for sunny Friday and mostly sunny Saturday, with warmer daytime highs. On Sunday the isolated thunderstorms return, with thunderstorms on Monday. The good news is we are about caught up on the drought.
The water temperatures have climbed a little since last week also. The water at Bogue Inlet pier had dropped to 57 degrees, but has now rebounded to 60. The creeks had cooled a little too, but are now returning to the mid to upper 60s. This is good as fish feed better in the warmer water.
Bogue Inlet Pier is reporting excellent catches of sea mullet. Fishermen have been catching them by the cooler. That's a good thing as they are one of many fishermen's favorite panfish. I think they taste as good as trout and the meat is firm. They also freeze well and taste good several weeks (or months) later. I recommend freezing fish covered in water so they can't freezer burn or using a vacuum sealer to get all the air out of the package.
Other fish caught from the piers include black drum, red drum, pompano, blowfish and spots. The bluefish have been at the nearshore artificial reefs and some of the southern piers already and should be spreading across the state at any time.
Fishermen off Wrightsville Beach reported the first bonito and Spanish mackerel this week. That is great news and they will spread across the state in the next week or so.
Usually I get a few calls or e-mails every time I mention bonito positively. I am talking about Atlantic bonito, Sarda sarda, not false albacore, which many fishermen also mistakenly call bonito. While both are cousins in the tuna family, Atlantic bonito are excellent table fare and may be prepared in any way you would use yellowfin or blackfin tuna--yes, even as sashimi or sushi. On the other hand, false albacore have red meat and tend to be a little strong for most palates. Learn to tell the difference; you'll be glad you did.
Speckled trout and puppy drum are getting very active in the creeks along the Intracoastal Waterway, and up the coastal rivers. The water has warmed, some baitfish have moved into these areas and the fish are feeding pretty regularly. There were good reports of upper and over slot size reds being caught in the Haystacks this week. The pups are also feeding along the beaches and show a definite preference for uninhabited areas. Fishermen at Ocracoke have been landing a lot of pups and big drum in the surf. A variety of soft plastics and swimming lures will work for catching both of them.
Some of the flounder that wintered inshore are waking up and feeding also, plus a few flounder are moving back inshore from the ocean rocks and reefs where they spent the winter. A few folks are targeting them specifically and catching enough to be worthwhile, but many are being caught by accident while fishing for something else.
In spite of the gusting winds, the bite in the Morehead City Turning Basin has improved again this week. The fish are getting a little larger and the numbers are growing also. Sea mullet lead the catches, but some gray trout, black drum, bluefish and a growing number of croakers are also being caught. The best results have come by vertically jigging speck rigs tipped with small pieces of "fresh as possible" shrimp. Some fishermen are also doing well tipping their jigs with the synthetic Fishbites, Blurp and Gulp strips in shrimp or crab flavor.
That doggone wind is making heading offshore really tough for smaller boats and a bumpy ride for the big boys, but there have been fish to be caught when the trip is made. Offshore trips are producing some nice wahoo, plus blackfin tuna, dolphin a few yellowfin tuna and some king mackerel.
The numbers of bluefin tuna off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet dropped when the weather warmed two weeks ago, but rebounded in the cool of the past week. We don't know how long this may last, but catching those juvenile bluefins is fun and you might want to hurry if you want to do it this year. The bite was good enough the Tag-A-Giant folks sent Capt. Dale Britt and a crew up there for a couple of days and they tagged a bunch of fish.
While maybe not as exceptional as the catches of a few weeks ago, there are good numbers of king mackerel being caught all along the coast. With more baitfish arriving they are spreading out to more rocks and reefs, but they are still offshore. Except for the schools on the end of the shoals around Frying Pan Tower, the kings are holding over bait pods in 90-100 feet of water. While you might find them in water as cool as 65 degrees, 67 degrees and warmer water is holding more bait and more 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 area at the end of Frying Pan Shoals around Frying Pan Tower has been hot for a while.
Speaking of Frying Pan Tower, it has become unsold. The Shipwrecks, Inc. group that submitted the high bid at the federal auction has declined to pay without first performing an inspection. The terms of the auction were "Where is, as is, no inspection" and the government noted the reason for the "no inspection" part was because it was unsafe. I'm not surprised the government didn't relent on this, but apparently they are.
The option to buy the tower has been extended to the second highest bidder, a group known only by their bidding name of "Big Gun." They have 10 days to accept or decline and if they decline the auction will be conducted again.
The bottom fishermen continue with reports of good catches whenever they can get out. These include big sea bass, beeliners, an assortment of grunts and some grouper. The sea bass are the closest in and keepers may be found within sight of the beaches in some areas, but be prepared to release a lot of shorts while filling a limit. Grunts are the next closest and begin pretty well at about 15 miles offshore. The grouper and beeliners begin on the rocks and wrecks from about 80 feet deep on out.
Easter Sunday my phone rang with an invitation to go shad fishing the next morning and I accepted. It was from Captains Jot Owens (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jeremiah Hieronymous (email@example.com) of Wrightsville Beach and we would be headed to Lock and Dam Number 1 on the Cape Fear River. This is located near Riegelwood, about 25 miles above Wilmington, and I thought it would be a great place to hide from the wind for a day, so, needing a fishing fix, I gladly accepted.
It was another good decision. Within just a few minutes of launching at the Corps of Engineers ramp beside the lock (and just below the dam), we were catching shad. These were nice big shad and they were biting well also. They weren't too particular either, as we caught them on shad darts, Nungesser spoons, Pet spoons, speck rig jigs, curly tail grubs, crappie jigs and just about everything we tried.
About a dozen or so other boats were there right below the dam with us and all were catching fish. The fish would move up the river in waves and it was interesting to see the downstream fishermen begin hooking up and then watch that wave of bent rods move through the boats. There were also folks fishing from the bank and catching.
This week I received a call from Buxton that the National Park Service has already begun closing areas of the beach and saying it is related to nesting birds. That seems a little hard to believe when you are shivering as you hear it. All access to the point has been closed and this is three to four weeks earlier than last year. Folks should contact their congressmen and voice their concerns with this.
Last week I reported that the Hooyah was leading the Martini's Hook-A-Hoo Wahoo Rodeo at Ocean Isle Beach. The tournament ended Easter Sunday and to no one's surprise their 87.88 pounder held up for the win. Congratulations to the team of Lee and Nathan Frick and Jason and Jeremy Foster!
The Greenville Recreation and Parks Department will be presenting a two-night seminar on inshore and offshore saltwater fishing on May 12 and 13 at River Park North. The speakers for the seminars are Capt. Jimmy Price and myself. Jimmy will handle the inshore species, while I get the ocean species. The sessions are sponsored by Sea Striker, Star Rods and Overton's. Participants may attend either or both nights and more information is available by calling 252-329-4562 or 910-279-6760. Registration is $40 for both sessions or $25 for either individual session.