After those hot days last week, I was wondering if I was ready for another summer. Heat and humidity are a tag-team that kick and punch even the most fit people to near submission. With gradual exposure we somehow recondition ourselves to them each spring and keep going, even enjoying it. Several days last week were a little primer to remind us and I was happy to see the weekend weather cool a few degrees.
However, the Arctic blast that came with the front that blew up the Carolina Coast on Wednesday was a little much. The weekend is supposed to warm a little and I'm looking forward to it. However, the weather man can't decide exactly where the wind might be coming from, so it could still be cool, especially in the mornings. The good thing is the forecast doesn't show any stiff winds beyond Friday and then only along the southern coast. There is some swell in the forecast for Sunday and Monday, but maybe it won't be too bad without much wind.
The big news around Cape Lookout this week has been cobia. They arrived early, with appetites and many were heavier than the 40 pounds required for a citation and the 33 inch minimum length required for a release citation. Capt. Matt Lamb at Chasin' Tails Outdoors reported weighing many in the 50 pound range and one that weighed 80 pounds. Someone will probably boat a 100 pounder soon.
Currently three cobia hotspots have been identified. They are being caught as they move through Beaufort Inlet, in the hook at Cape Lookout and east of Cape Lookout, just beyond the breakers cruising the beaches. Fishermen have been sight casting to the cobia east of Cape Lookout and in Beaufort Inlet. Big bucktails and big bucktails with large plastic grubs or plastic eels have been the productive casting lures. Chunks of fresh menhaden soaking on the bottom have worked well for fish not seen.
Big bluefish have also begun teasing and thrilling pier end fishermen from Atlantic Beach to Sunset Beach. Numerous bluefish from eight pounds and up have been caught by pier fishermen. The blues are fun to catch and keep fishermen's attention as they wait for a king or cobia to bite.
Last week I reported the first king had been caught from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. A couple more were caught over the weekend from Carolina Beach Pier, which is about the same distance north of Cape Fear.
The early reports got pier fishermen primed for last weekend and then Mother Nature began playing games with the wind. Even with the wind, pier fishermen caught lots of smaller blues and whiting, plus a few Spanish, spots, croakers, flounders, blowfish and more.
More big news is that after being closed for four months, grouper season opened on Sunday. Many headstrong fishermen ignored the gusting winds and headed offshore and caught them very well. Several of the grouper fishermen reported six to 15 pound kings picking at live and dead baits drifted behind the boat while sending grouper baits to the bottom. The grouper fishing is hot! It's a matter of finding good conditions to head out after them.
Wahoo and blackfin tuna are offshore and more dolphin are arriving each week. The temperature breaks along the edge of the Gulf Stream are good places to target. Most of the time, the warmer side is the place to be, but it is wise to always give the cooler side a try before moving on.
More and more kings are showing, mainly in the 60 to 100 foot deep range. Several grouper fishermen reported catching them on light lines while grouper fishing and then trolling for them after filling their grouper limits. Big 10 Fathom Rock has been mentioned off Cape Lookout and the Horseshoe has been mentioned off Cape Fear. Wherever you find them, the kings are hungry and readily hit both live baits and frozen cigar minnows.
Spanish mackerel aren't thick yet, but their numbers are increasing. Over the weekend, numerous boats were trolling just offshore of the piers and catching Spanish and bluefish. I have a couple of suggestions for this type of fishing and fishing around piers. It is imperative to stay a respectable distance from piers. 750 to 1,000 feet is about right. If someone there has a big fish running out, you can cut it off by being any closer. If you are trolling and catching a lot of bluefish, you should be able to speed up a little and increase your percentage of Spanish. The Spanish feed at a faster speed.
I saw several pictures of impressive bonito catches from last weekend. While some were caught around Cape Lookout, especially in the cleaner water on the east side of the shoals, the bonito hot spot began at about New River Inlet and went south to Wrightsville Beach. Bonito don't like the dirtier water around the mouths of inlets with a lot of flow.
In addition to being caught from the piers, sea mullet are still biting in the Morehead City Turning Basin and out the channel to Beaufort Inlet. Another inshore location producing lots of sea mullet (called whiting there) is the channel for the Southport -- Fort Fisher Ferry. They are also scattered along the beach at Shackleford Banks in 25 to 40 feet of water and up to the deep water off the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty. Double-drop bottom rigs or speck rigs tipped with small pieces of fresh shrimp are usually the best for whiting. This is one time the bottom rigs with the small squid-shapes near the hooks seem to help a little.
Gray trout are also biting well in the Turning Basin and have been caught pretty well from Emerald Isle Piers. They are also mixed with the sea mullet along Shackleford Banks. Remember the limit for gray trout is one, so you can limit out pretty quickly.
Inshore and nearshore fishermen have been catching puppy drum, speckled trout, flounder, whiting, black drum, bluefish and flounder. Last week there was a surge in flounder catches and it continued in a few places. Several excellent reports came from the nearshore artificial reefs and rock outcroppings in 20 to 40 feet of water. On some of the artificial reefs, the black sea bass are so thick it is difficult top get a bait down to the flounder.
The good early numbers of flounder seem to indicate they are responding to some of the new management practices. Puppy drum numbers seem to be increasing over the past few weeks also. Speckled trout season is still closed in Coastal and Joint waters, so take a picture and let them go.
As of Thursday morning, House Bill 353, the bill to give gamefish status to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass, had not been scheduled for debate and a vote in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development, where it was sent on March 22. Some time has lapsed since the bill was filed and several studies have been distributed to the committee members and other representatives. Word from some of the supporters is that the bill will become a priority now that the budget bill has been delivered. That needs to happen quickly.
If I understand the legislative proceedings correctly, any bill to be considered by both houses this session must be returned from committee and approved by its house of origin and sent to the other house by May 12. I've been assured this can happen in two days, but there is only a week remaining. If this is to be considered this session, it must be approved by the full House and forwarded to the Senate by next Thursday. The House Commerce and Job Development Committee convenes by call from the chairman, who is a co-sponsor of this bill. The expectations are there will be movement to report next week -- if not it will be next legislative session.
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.
Consider this a call for those fishermen who would like to work within the system to try to straighten it out. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has several committee seats open and is looking for interested qualified people to fill them. There is one seat on the Golden Crab Committee, eight seats on the Snapper-Grouper Committee, two seats on the Wreckfish Sub Committee and ten seats on the Spiny Lobster Committee. For more information on these committee openings, including an application, visit the SAMFC website at www.safmc.net.
The Marine Fisheries Commission will meet May 11 through 13 at the Sheraton Atlantic Oceanfront Hotel in Atlantic Beach. The first evening, Wednesday May 11, will begin with a session for public comments. This will begin at 6:00 P.M. There will also be some more time for public comments Thursday, May 12, between 9:15 and 10:00 A.M.
This meeting has potential to become contentious as the Spotted Sea Trout and Southern Flounder Fishery Management plans, plus HB 353 (Game Fish Designation) and HB 136 (Clarifying Amendment to Improving Success of FMPs) and an update on the Section 10 (Incidental Take of Sea Turtles) Permit and the Sea Turtle Settlement Agreement are among the many topics scheduled for discussion.
For more information, contact the Marine Fisheries Commission Office at (252) 808-8022. A copy of the agenda is available on the meetings page of the Division of Marine Fisheries website at www.ncdmf.net.
NOAA Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)/Amendment 10 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Spiny Lobster in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. The DEIS became available April 15, 2011 (76 FR 21345) and there are 10 actions in the DEIS. Written comments must be received by June 1, 2011. Copies of the DEIS and directions for commenting may be obtained from the NOAA Fisheries Service Web site http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SpinyLobsterAmendment.htm , the e-Rule Making Portal http://www.regulation.gov, the Gulf Council's Web site http://www.gulfcouncil.org, or the South Atlantic Council's Web site at http://www.safmc.net.
On April 20, 2011, NMFS filed with the Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to revise the National Standard 10 Guidelines and is requesting public comment on potential adjustments to the Guidelines. National Standard 10 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act states "Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, promote the safety of human life at sea." The National Standard 10 Guidelines are the primary source of NMFS guidance for the consideration of safety issues in fishery management.
A public meeting will be held May 19th, 2011, from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. at the NOAA Science Center, 1301 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD. Additional public meetings may be scheduled around the country during the comment period. Comments must be received by July 20, 2011. You may submit comments on-line via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (Identifier "0648-BA74"), by Fax, attention Debra Lambert, at 301-713-1193 or by mail, attention Debra Lambert, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13403, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
The Eric Powell Redfish Tournament was held Friday and Saturday, April 30, from New River Marina/Power Marine Outfitters in Sneads Ferry. On Saturday, there was a barbecue dinner, raffle and auction during the weigh-in and awards. 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. He was diagnosed just before Christmas with rapid onset ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease). With support from local and national companies, his friends organized this tournament in his honor and to help offset some of his medical expenses.
With excellent weather, the fishing was only hampered by a persistent wind and most fishermen found ways to escape from it or use it to their advantage. Powell's friends turned out in numbers and a North Carolina record 63 boats participated in the tournament. Tournament competitor and close friend of Powell, Ricky Kellum, said the fish cooperated too, in fact almost too well. He said his biggest problem was finding fish in the slot. Most of what he caught were too large.
Capt. Rob Koraly and Dustin White continued their winning ways, but just not on the same boat. Koraly and White partnered to win the Savannah event in the IFA Redfish Tour but separated here to fish with other friends. Koraly and Joey Cartwright caught both the Heaviest Redfish and the Heaviest Aggregate. The big fish weighed 6.78 pounds and the two fish weight was 12.18 pounds. White paired with Adrian Tyndall to finish second with 10.47 pounds.
The third place boat was Danielle Norris, Jordan Norris and Curtis Trexel. They caught two redfish that weighed 10.04 pounds, but the good news didn't stop there. This included Danielle Norris' 6.00 pounder that won the Top Lady Angler award and Curtis Trexel's 4.04 pounder that won the Top Youth Angler award.
The second Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) Professional Kingfish Tour event was held in Sarasota, Fla. on April 29 and 30, but there were many Tar Heel connections. Carolina fishermen have a history of performing well in SKA competitions and one of them came through for the win in this one. Capt. Stacy Wester, of Wilmington, and the Big Bad Wolf crew worked hard in the Gulf Coast waters and returned with a pair of kings that weighed 85.03 pounds to secure the win. Crockett Henderson, of Swansboro, fished with his dad, Mark, on the Liquid Fire and won Top Junior Angler honors. The Liquid Fire finished in 13th place overall. SKA pro events are two fish aggregates.
The Martini's Hook a 'Hoo Rodeo Fishing Tournament was held from April 22 through May 1 in North Myrtle Beach. The tournament serves as a fundraiser for the Shriner's Children's Hospitals in the Carolinas. In an attempt to make the tournament as easy for smaller boat fishermen as possible, the fishing time spans 10 days of which each boat is allowed to fish one.
Capt. Jimmy Moore and the crew of the Island Girl set the pace in the tournament, by catching the largest wahoo at 44.80 pounds and also topping the tuna category with a 16.64 pound blackfin tuna. Moore and crew pocketed a cool $10,040 for their day of fishing.
The In Deep, with Capt. John Marnell and crew, caught a 40.56 pound wahoo to finish second. Capt. Danny Juel led the Sea Screamer crew to third place, with a wahoo that weighed 38.08 pounds. The Pirate Watch, led by Capt. Bobby Hall, caught a 17.72 pound dolphin to win the dolphin division. For more information visit www.hookahoorodeo.com.
A couple of late season boat shows remain for the spring. This weekend, the Greenville Boat Show and Sale will be held at the Greenville Convention Center on May 7 and 8. The Crystal Coast Boat Show will be in downtown Morehead City on May 21 and 22.
The Rebel King Pier Tournament begins Friday morning from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island. I'll have the results next week. This is the earliest pier king tournament of the year in N.C. and is scheduled to try to coincide with an annual run of large kings up the beach at Oak Island. On some years the bite is exceptional and hopefully it turns back on.
The Reelin' for Research Tournament will be held in Morehead City on Saturday, May 7. There is still time to register at Friday night's Captains Meeting at Chefs 105. The weigh-in and Awards will be at Jack's Waterfront Bar on Saturday. Reelin' for Research is an annual bluewater tournament to honor Tony Montana. The tournament proceeds are dedicated to NC Children's Promise, the fundraising arm of NC Children's Hospitals in their search for cures for cancer. For more information on the tournament, visit www.reelinforresearch.org.
The Carolina Yakfish Tournament Trail is at Fort Fisher, this Saturday, May 7. Usually a fresh water series, the decision was made to add a salt water tournament for the 2011 season and this is it. The format for the tournament is catch, photograph and release, with flounder, redfish and speckled trout being the targets. Registration through weigh-in (turn in pictures) will be held at the Federal Point Wildlife Ramp at Fort Fisher and participants can register until 7:00 A.M. Saturday morning. For more information visit www.carolinayakfish.com.