The fishing over Thanksgiving weekend was good and continues to be eve though the weather has cooled. Fish are biting from the backs of the creeks all the way to the Gulf Stream. This was one of those times it wasn't just a fishing trip, but was a catching trip.
When weather and sea conditions allow, many fishermen headed offshore and the fish have been biting. The wahoo bite has not slowed. I heard many good reports from around Swansboro Hole to south of the Steeples. There was also an excellent sailfish bite in this area and some were large.
There are a few internet postings that a potential state record sailfish was caught (and released) near the Steeples. In the roughly 25 years since Buddy Grooms set the current 100 pound state record on sailfish, they have become fish that are almost always released, so a new record may have been caught, but not brought in to be weighed. I don't know that a possible new record was caught and released, but I had several experienced fishermen say they have seen several sailfish that would scare the record during the last few weeks. That's pretty impressive for this late in the fall.
The other offshore fish being caught regularly is blackfin tuna. These smaller cousins of yellowfins and bluefins are often treated somewhat like red headed stepchildren and that isn't right. They can be prepared any way you would fix yellowfin. I have had some sashimi on board shortly after they were landed and it was excellent as were the steaks on the grill later that night. Blackfin tuna may be smaller, but don't allow their size and lack of culinary reputation to lead you to overlook or underestimate them.
Several king mackerel fishermen gave excellent reports too, especially around Frying Pan Tower. For the most part, kings have been holding in roughly 100 feet of water, but they have been hungry when located. Numerous fishermen reported filling their limits in less than an hour.
A few king fishermen said they took the time to catch some bluefish or stop and jig some live bait, but it really wasn't necessary. The kings were readily hitting frozen cigar minnows. One of the tips for fishing with frozen cigar minnows is to troll until you mark a pod of bait on the fishfinder and then put the motor in neutral to allow the baits to sink to the fish. If they don't bite on the drop, they almost always will hit when the motor is put back in gear and the baits appear to be swimming away.
There were a few rumblings of sharks holding around the schools of kings and occasionally munching on one that was being fought. This became a roar by Wednesday when a video was posted on FaceBook and YouTube of an 18 foot white shark circling a boat off Wrightsville Beach. The fishermen said the shark really got their attention when it bumped the boat several times. Ya think?
Offshore bottom fishing is a good trip to pair with kings and Capt. Mike Webb of Pelagic Sportfishing (www.pelagicsportfishing.com) said the action has been excellent. He said grouper fishing and adding some kings has been a popular option for the last few weeks.
Several fishermen said the toughest part of catching a limit of grouper was getting the bait to the bottom by all the endangered black sea bass. The better bottom bouncing action seems to begin at about 80 feet and is good out to about 120 feet. The species that can be kept include gag, red and black groupers, pinkys (red porgy), grunts, porgies and triggerfish.
There was another push of false albacore along the beaches earlier this week. They were spotted several hundred yards off the piers.
I spoke with several fishermen who were very excited to see the false albacore close in to the beach, but not necessarily for catching them. They said the last time this happened was several years ago and a good bluefin tuna bite developed in the weeks following the sightings of the fat Alberts. There has already been one reported as caught east of Cape Lookout during a king tournament a few weeks back, so fishermen are gearing up and hoping.
Speaking of bluefins, some good news for area commercial fishermen came from the National Marine Fisheries Service this week. The annual commercial season begins again on Jan. 1 and usually temporarily closes on Jan 31. Now some allocation has been shifted from the harpoon fishery and the early part of the season will be extended to the end of March or when the allocation is filled. The daily limit was increased also. See www.nmfspermits.com for more information.
I hope this will be a good winter for catching bluefins. They create a lot of excitement, even with fishermen who haven't had one peel out line with the drag set so high a fisherman can't pull line off the reel freehanded. The indicators are lining up like they have in past years when the bluefin fishing was good. Everyone should keep their fingers crossed.
Moving into the inshore waters, the fish everyone is talking about is speckled trout. While a high percentage of the trout are shorts and must be released, there are trout to be caught and they are in many places. Most of the trout being caught are 10 to 13 inches and are young of the year. There are enough keepers mixed in to take home dinner, but you have to release a lot on the way.
There are some large trout around too and a few are being caught every week. While no one sent any pictures this week, I had calls and e-mails about a few trout that exceeded 25 inches. That is roughly about 5 pounds, so some nicer trout are in the mix and those numbers appear to be increasing.
Many fishermen are using live shrimp as their preferred trout baits and the trout prefer them too. Unless you pop them off the hook with an aggressive cast, live shrimp are bringing a strike per cast. Other than the good news with so many trout, the other good news is most of the pinfish and bait thieves have moved on for the winter and a high number of the strikes are fish you want to catch.
Trout are biting from the back of creeks to the surf from the Outer Banks to Sunset Beach. While many are just a little too short to keep, the past few weeks have been some of the best trout fishing I can remember.
Puppy drum are also biting well now. They are in many of the same locations as the specks, just farther up towards the bank or on the shallow flats rather than in the holes and channels. Pups will hammer a live shrimp intended for a trout, but typically aren't as picky and will readily hit spoons, soft plastics and hard lures.
Pups often begin gathering in schools by now, but the water is warm enough they can't decide whether to school or stay split up. Saturday afternoon I saw a small school forming on a shallow flat near the entrance to a popular section of marsh. We weren't expecting to see them there and spooked them, but I hope to go back and ease up on them before long.
Capt. Jeff Cronk of NC Charter Fishing (www.nccharterfishing.com) said he was seeing schools of red drum in the surf from Bogue Inlet down towards New River Inlet. Fishing them requires a calm day or one with offshore winds.
Flounder are moving toward the ocean and the catches are slowing, but there are still flounder being caught. If you want to see just how many there are, bundle up well and spend a night gigging for them. It is certain you will be pleasantly surprised.
There are also some gray trout around, but the limit is a single fish per day, so they aren't a highly sought after species. Grays have been in the channels just inside Beaufort Inlet and along the beaches off Shackleford Banks, Masonboro island, fort Fisher and Bald Head Island. The spot for large grays is under the Atlantic beach and Radio Island high-rise bridges at night. These fish are larege enough they like live bait fished under the lights.
Surf fishing continues to be good, but primarily on the beaches that face east. Red drum and speckled trout are the more often caught species. For folks without four-wheel drive vehicles, the jetty at Fort Macon in Beaufort Inlet is a good starting point and not too far from the parking area. Before making a trip to the islands in Cape Lookout National Seashore, it would be wise to check with the ferry services there or at least check the website at www.nps.gov/calo.
I was invited to go on an inshore fishing trip Saturday morning with Tom Carpenter and Chris Hall from Fayetteville and gladly accepted. Tom is the founder of the Fayetteville Area Anglers Network (FAAN), www.fayettevilleanglers.com, and one of the fisheries instructors at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/EducationCenters/Pechmann.aspx, in Fayetteville. Chris is a member of FAAN and an aspiring saltwater angler.
We met at the ramp at Southport Marina and soon headed up a slick calm Cape Fear River to try to terrorize some specks and pups around some of the spoil islands above the Southport-Fort Fisher Ferry Landing. While everyone we spoke to sang the praises of fishing with live baits and suggested we buy some live shrimp, we decided to have a go with a variety of artificials.
It took us a little while to find some fish, but once we did, we began to pick at them pretty steadily. It may have been better fishing with the live baits, but we were plugging along fairly steadily. We only caught one trout that might have been a keeper and it was so skinny we didn't even measure it, but let it swim back to join its buddies.
The trout bait that worked for us was Berkley Gulp in the white (white, pearl, glow) family. Three and four inch shrimp, paddletails and curltails all produced. Even in water above 60 degrees, the trout bites were all light and may have gone undetected if we hadn't been fishing braided lines. Several times the bite was just a little tic that felt more like bouncing off an oyster rock than a bite. Several times the little trout picked up the baits and swam towards us so all we felt was a little extra weight.
Tom caught the lone flounder and said it felt more like dead weight or one of the many clumps of bottom grass we caught that day. It hit a paddletail.
Puppy drum were the most aggressive of the fish. If your cast landed near one, he had hit your bait and was swimming off in the time it took to close the reel's bail and reel the slack out of the line. A couple of times, the drum moving tightened my line faster than I was reeling it in. While all of the pups were stocky fish that represented themselves well, most were just below slot size. There were also a couple in the mid-twenties that stretched our strings a little better. All of the reds had an attitude and represented themselves well, regardless of their size.
One of the surprises of the day was seeing drum up in the grass making wakes and tailing. Behind one spoil island there were several big sections of flooded grass and the drum were in them like it was August or September. We hadn't taken wading gear and felt the day was just a little too cool to be wet, especially for the ride home.
However, one big tail, that was about 10 yards beyond casting distance and stayed in the same spot for several minutes, almost lured me overboard. In the end common sense prevailed, but with a change of clothes or some waders in the boat, I would have been marsh walking.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) will meet next week, December 5 through 9, in Raleigh. Two of the things they are to discuss are proposals on amendments 18A and 20A to the Snapper Grouper Management Plan. A series of public hearings on this have been held across the southeast during the past month and the final public hearing will be Dec. 6, during the SAFMC meeting. The information and comments gathered at the other public meetings will also be presented to the SAFMC at their December meeting. Information on the amendments and the schedule for the meeting are available at the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.
While it is a bit of a drive, there are a couple of programs coming up at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville that I feel are worth mentioning. On Saturday, Dec. 10, from 9:00 A.M. until 12:00 P.M. there will be a luremaking class about working with soft plastics. That afternoon, from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M., there will be a workshop on making fishing lanyards. This might be a good time to make the trip and get two classes.
To begin the new year, the Pechmann Center will offer three courses on basic flyfishing and one on advanced flyfishing. The basic courses will be offered on Jan. 7 and 21 and Feb. 4 and the advanced flyfishing class will be Feb. 18. The flyfishing courses are very popular and often fill in advance. For more information or to register, visit www.ncwildlife.org and click on the "Learning" box at the top right or call 910-868-5003.
The Gordy McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Tournament (www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd), conducted by the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Department, ends this Saturday, Dec. 3. The annual saltwater tournament run by the Division of Marine Fisheries (www.ncdmf.net) is ongoing through the end of December as is the Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge (www.chasintailsoutdoors.com) from Atlantic Beach.
The leader of the Gordy McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament heading into the final couple of days is Gary Mohorn, with a 3.68 pound speck that was 21.5 inches long. The tournament is presented by the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Department in cooperation with The Reel Outdoors. All trout must be caught on foot on Bogue Banks. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
The current leader in the 2011 Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge is Dennis Cochran, of Lexington, with a 5.30 pounder caught over last weekend. This is the first fish to surpass five pounds this year and the history of this tournament says the weight of the winning fish will increase several pounds in the next few weeks. Fellow competitors have until Dec. 31 to best it and may register until Dec. 26.
There is a special Wild Card Weight each month and for November that is 3.41 pounds. It isn't official yet, but appears that Steven Grantham will win the November Wild Card with a trout that weighs 3.42 pounds. The monthly wild card winners receive a new trout fishing outfit for that. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
Other than these ongoing events, there are no local tournaments again this week.