Since Thanksgiving will come before my next column, I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have good things to give thanks for and get to spend quality time with your families and friends. Thanksgiving is the last tourist weekend of any size at the beach and after this, people will winterize their beach houses and probably not visit again until about Easter. Beginning in early December the coast will have a deserted winter look and that's my favorite time to be here.
When the air cooled so quickly and the water temps nosedived about two weeks ago, there was concern our fall fishing might suffer. However, as we have seen with several weather related incidents this year, the fish are pretty resilient and last week was one of the best weeks for fishing yet this year. If we could get the wind to lay out for any extended period of time the fishing would probably move from very good to excellent, but, as one fisherman said, "It certainly ain't bad."
We warmed a little over the weekend and into the early week as a front was moving our way. Even the water warmed a couple of degrees and was up to 64 degrees Wednesday morning at Bogue Inlet Pier. I was wading in it at Camp Lejeune and it didn't feel that warm, but my feet didn't turn blue, so it probably was.
We are looking at weekend high temps that should barely make it into the 60s, but the sun will be shining. The early forecast is for winds that will be shifting, but should begin dropping out on Friday afternoon and be nice through Monday. With the way the fish have been biting, just put on a jacket and go fishing.
There were a few days this week that were calm enough to head offshore and several boats took advantage of the opportunity. For those who went all the way to the Gulf Stream and trolled, wahoo were the main fish they caught. Some blackfin tuna, a dolphin or two, a few amberjack, some kings and barracuda were additional catches.
Those fishermen who stopped a little short of the break found the bottom fish biting well. They caught grouper, snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish and grunts. The red snapper and beeliners (vermilion snapper) had to be released. Red snapper season is closed indefinitely along the Atlantic Seaboard and beeliners have entered their annual November 1 to March 31 recreational closure.
King mackerel are still biting good, just a little farther off the beach and to the east of Cape Lookout. While there haven't been a lot of reports of big kings in a week or so, there have been lots of them. The reports listed most of the rocks and ledges from about 20 miles offshore and farther out. The good news is the kings are feeding hard and attacked fishcicles (frozen cigar minnows) as well as live baits. The plus with dead baits is being able to troll a little faster and cover more area. Oh yeah, they're easier to handle too. Fishermen in the N.C. King Mackerel Championship hope to land some big kings again beginning Friday.
False albacore, which are a favorite of fly fishermen, made a return appearance off Cape Lookout and across the shoals east of the cape. They have returned in good numbers for those wanting to have their string stretched.
While the piers usually close on Thanksgiving Weekend, the pier fishing is chugging along. There were a surprising number of red and black drum caught with some flounder, sea mullet, speckled trout, bluefish, blowfish and a few spots being caught too. Most of our N.C. piers close on the Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend and others are usually within a week or so. That means you've only got another week to enjoy a pier fishing outing this year and the fish are biting right now.
Boaters are still catching a few spots in various places around inlets and in the Intracoastal Waterway, but that run has likely done most of what it is going to do. It's probably time to switch to trying to catch something else. I like a good spot fry as much as anyone, but I'd gladly "settle" for flounder, whiting or trout.
The speckled trout numbers continue to increase. It is amazing how they have increased from barely being caught to being wide open in only a few weeks. Most are still the young of the year and averaging about 12 to 13 inches, but there are enough larger trout in the mix to make it interesting and invite a few home for dinner.
I had my own speck experience recently and it was nothing short of amazing. I was at Camp Lejeune on Wednesday for my weekly Wounded Warriors Fishing Club outing, and we were allowed access to a small creek behind one of the ranges. The range was closed for mowing and maintenance, but we still had to have Range Control open a gate and let us through. At the end of the road was a small creek, with a boat house to house their patrol boat, a short dock and about 50 feet of open bank. The creek was narrow enough I could cast across it with a 1/8 ounce jig head.
The specks were there and hungry! I looked at the creek and figured we would catch some puppy drum and maybe a few specks, but I guessed wrong. We never saw a drum, but caught a bunch of specks. We didn't keep count, but the number was easily 40. Most were those 13 inchers, but there were some that were barely legal and a few really nice ones. We decided we would release anything close enough it needed to be measured and still kept five for dinner, with the smallest being 17 inches.
As I say every week, the best trout bait is a live shrimp. Generally I fish them suspended under a cork, but occasionally on a Carolina Rig or impaled on a jig head right on the bottom. Unfortunately the local shrimp that can be caught for bait are about gone for the winter. Buying some shrimp, or switching to minnows and peanut pogies, is the option for continuing with live bait.
If you can't find live baits or choose to fish with lures, the soft plastic grubs, especially the bio-scented ones, are a good choice for most folks. The paddle or shad tail ones give a vibration in the water and seem to attract well. We used these, with some being bio-baits and some not and saw roughly equal catches with both. These lures can be retrieved at a steady pace or with a bouncing retrieve. In water without too many snags, the suspending MirrOlures (14 MR, 17 MR and 27 MR) can be fished similarly. Both will also catch puppy drum and flounder if they are around.
Puppy drum are responding to the cooling water by trying to eat everything in sight. While they were usually eating machines in warmer water, the cooling temperatures have really fired them up. Pups are usually patrolling the edges of creeks and along oyster rocks looking for the last baitfish in the creek. A mixture of drum from about 12 to 33 inches are around right now. Remember the slot to keep one for dinner is 18 to 27 inches and the limit is one. Pups will hit live baits, soft plastics and hard baits. I try to avoid using anything with treble hooks so I can release them easier and quicker.
Some big drum were caught earlier this week around Shark Island on the Cape Lookout Shoals. It takes a shallow draft boat and calm seas to get where these fish are, but the fishing is exceptional when you do. They will hit the same lures as the smaller pups. Some may even exceed the minimum size of 40 inches for a release citation.
There are still some flounder in the creeks and marshes, but the cooling water is pushing them towards the ocean. Live mullet minnows are generally considered the best flounder baits, but they will also hit mud minnows, peanut pogies, small pinfish, spots and croakers, belly strips and some lures. In the cooling water they are more aggressive and while fewer may be caught, their size is usually larger.
In a letter dated Oct. 27, Amendment 17A to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic was approved by the Secretary of Commerce. That letter said the amendment would be posted in the federal register by mid-November. Once published in the federal register, congressional intervention is the only way to override it. Amendment 17A will extend the red snapper closure for a 35 year rebuilding plan and close approximately 5,000 square miles of ocean between Georgia and central Florida to all bottom fishing.
This is the last week to comment on Amendment 17B to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region. Comments must be written and received by November 22, which is Monday.
Amendment 17B establishes annual catch limits (ACLs), accountability measures (AMs) and specifies management measures to address overfishing for many species of snapper and grouper and prohibits harvest and retention of other species of snapper and grouper. Electronic copies of Amendment 17B may be obtained from the e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov, or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at http://www.safmc.net.
Comments may be submitted electronically through the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, http://www.regulations.gov, by entering ANOAA-NMFS-2010-0091" in the keyword search, then check the box labeled ASelect or by mail to Kate Michie--NOAA Fisheries Service--Southeast Regional Office--Sustainable Fisheries Division--263 13th Avenue South--St. Petersburg, Florida 33701 or by fax attention of Kate Michie at 727-824-5308.
NOAA Fisheries has also introduced the concept of catch shares as their latest concept of fishery management. However, this is not a conservation measure, but an attempt to force fishermen to purchase the right to harvest shares of the total allowable catch of each species. Catch Shares has the probability of allocating all of the catch to commercial or charter operators and not allowing any for independent recreational fishermen. It could also force small commercial operations out of business and not allow entry of new fishermen.
Congressman Walter Jones has filed a request to block funding of the program to implement catch shares from being in any fishery that includes North Carolina Fishermen.
"Fishermen in Eastern North Carolina and many places across the country vehemently oppose catch share programs as nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to get fishermen to leave the business and to destroy fishing communities," said Congressman Jones. "The reality is that to the extent that solid science demonstrates that reductions in catch in any given fishery are necessary, there are far better options than catch shares for achieving those reductions. The bottom line is catch shares are not wanted in North Carolina. The last thing the federal government should be doing in these economic times is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to expand a program that will put even more Americans out of work."
We should all contact our elected officials and make sure they understand our desires to support viable fisheries in reasonable manners, but not allow federal agencies to manage in an unreasonable manner. A list of federal congressmen and their contact information is available at www.usagov.gov and a list of state congressmen and their contact information is available at www.ncleg.net.
The Navy and Marines want to expand their BT-9 and BT-11 bombing ranges at the Mouth of the Neuse River and edge of Pamlico Sound. BT-11 is the first to be openly discussed and it is located in Rattan Bay on the Carteret County side of the Neuse River. At first, the concern was primarily with unnecessarily closing public trust waters to the public, but after meetings with the military and responses to questions raised regarding the expansion, there are other issues to consider.
One of the foremost issues is the amount of lead introduced into the land and bottom of the sounds and bays. In a response to Rep. Alice Underwood, the military said they fired bullets that would add to 19,000 pounds of lead into this range during 2009 and that would increase an additional 13,000 pounds if the range was enlarged. There are also issues of wetlands and shorebird nesting areas being destroyed.
The public comment period for the proposed expansion at BT-11 is open through next week. One release states Nov. 25, which is Thanksgiving and another states Nov. 26. It is time to write the Army Corps of Engineers and request this expansion be denied. While we support out military, it is time that the environmental concerns are addressed. A complete Environmental Impact Study should be required as a prerequisite of the continued use or expansion of this range.
Comments should be mailed to: Richard Spencer, Project Manager for Military Bases, 69 Darlington Ave., Wilmington, NC 28403 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The two-volume Final Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore ORV Management was released November 15 and is available on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/caha. A limited number of hard copies, CDs or Executive Summaries of the Final Plan/EIS will be available on request from the Superintendent, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954, or by phone (252) 473-2111 x 148. Copies will be provided to local libraries in Manteo, Kill Devil Hills, Hatteras Village, and Ocracoke.
This is a very restrictive document that appears to be the groundwork for closing even more of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to ORV use, fishing and even pedestrians. I would suggest looking at it long and hard and then letting your elected official know how you feel. A list of federal congressmen and their contact information is available at www.usagov.gov and a list of state congressmen and their contact information is available at www.ncleg.net.
Last week I reported that the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) had met the previous week in New Bern and approved the first amendment to the Spotted Sea Trout (speckled trout) Fisheries Management Plan and they had scheduled another "emergency" meeting to re-hash means for the commercial interests to meet the required 28.5 per cent reduction in catch. At this meeting they will also discuss reopening state waters south of Cape Lookout to commercial menhaden harvest, even though there is not a menhaden reduction plant or menhaden boats operating in N.C.
The meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 22, at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City. It will begin at 1:00 P.M. and will include a time for public comments. Rob Bizzell, who is the chairman of the Marine Fisheries Commission, requested all interested persons attend the meeting. Bizzell will also take comments from those who cannot attend at email@example.com. For more information visit www.ncdmf.net or call 1-800-682-2632.
While I'm not a fan of NC State, I want to give a congratulatory shout out to their bass fishing team, the Bass Pack. The NC State University team of Jeff Bumgarner of Wade and Will White of Raleigh won the National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Division Regional Championship on Jordan Lake with a three day total of 47 pounds, 6 ounces. They claimed the top prize of $50,000, which includes a Ranger boat and outboard wrapped in school colors and $25,000 for NCSU. They also qualified for the National Championship on Kentucky Lake.
Another NCSU Team, Ben Dziwulski, Woodbine, Md., and Kevin Beverley, Fuquay Varina, placed third with 30 pounds, 15 ounces and won $11,000, plus a spot in the national championship. Joe Kinchen, Mooresville, and Tyler Teer, Charlotte, fished for UNC Charlotte and finished second with 31 pounds, 3 ounces to pocket $25,000 and also claim one of the spots in the national championship. NCSU is a previous winner of the national championship and either of these teams would love to claim that honor again.
The 19th Annual Swansboro Century Club Friendly City Speckled Trout Tournament was held Saturday, Nov. 13, from Casper's Marina in Swansboro, with 38 boats participating. The tournament is based on the aggregate weight of three trout and proceeds are used for various civic projects in Swansboro.
John Thomas Moore of Team Skinny Water from Morehead City won the tournament with three trout that weighed 14.92 pounds. His largest weighed 5.14 pounds and was good for second place in the Largest Trout TWT. Moore won $1,404 for his day of fishing.
Second place overall went to Jake and Buddy Gainey of Hubert, for 11.08 pounds, which included third Place in the Largest Trout TWT at 3.88 pounds. Mike Phillips and David Moore of Swansboro finished third with 9.92 pounds. Robert Hall and Thomas Jones of Hubert won the Largest Trout TWT with a 5.44 pounder.
The largest flounder of the tournament was the 4.04 pounder caught by Jason Humphrey and Stukie Payne of Swansboro. Chris Sewell had the next largest flounder at 1.8 pounds. A special prize was awarded to the participant catching the largest tour from a boat with a motor of 60 horsepower or less. That prize went to Jimmy Kellum, Jr., of Jacksonville, for a trout that weighed 3.08 pounds.
The ladies and youths got into the action also with some nice specks. Betty Fairchild, Swansboro, was the Top Lady Angler with a 2.7 pound speck. Charles Kellum, Jacksonville, was the Top Youth Angler with a trout that weighed 2.64 pounds. For more information visit www.swansboro.nc.och.schoolinsites.com.
The 8th Annual Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament began Oct 23 and will run through December 4. It is being conducted by the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Department, with a weigh-in station at The Reel Outdoors. The tournament pays three places based on weight, plus there is a prize for the largest speck caught from a pier, a mystery weight prize and prizes for the first and last fish weighed in. David Parker assumed the lead this week with a 22.5 inch trout that weighed 4.23 pounds. While the state minimum size for speckled trout is 14 inches, the tournament has a 15 inch minimum size. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
The N.C. Kingfish Championship began Saturday, Nov. 13 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 21. Participants pick two of the nine days to fish and there are weigh stations at Town Creek Marina in Beaufort and Hatteras Landing Marina in Hatteras. This is an aggregate weight event, with fishermen weighing their largest fish each day. The tournament is open to all fishermen and entry is open through Nov. 19. The fish caught through the middle of the week were not as large as had been expected, but the tournament continues through Sunday. The early leader is the Open Wide, with Capt. Benson Ybanez and crew. Their first king weighed 19.05 pounds and they have an opportunity to add another. For more details or to register, visit www.oifc.com.
The Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge continues through January 31, but Carl Edwards has set the early mark pretty high with his 8.37 pounder that is currently the leader. Monthly special weight prizes are also being awarded. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The Fall Tackle Box King Mackerel Tournament will be held this Saturday, Nov. 20. Participants may register at the Tackle Box on the Atlantic Beach Circle. For more information call 252-342-6100.
I may not have a report next week because of a hectic schedule and the holiday, so let me take time right now to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.