After being warm early in the week and holding warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt through Wednesday, our temperatures did a nosedive overnight on Wednesday and the forecasts don't show significant warming through the middle of next week and maybe beyond. In fact, there are several days with highs projected only into the high 40s. I believe it might be time to get out the wool socks, snuggies, winter coats and gloves.
At least the water temperature hasn't dropped drastically yet. Thursday morning several of the surf temperature monitors were still reporting 59.5 to 61.4. We've got to expect the water temperature to drop some during the cool of the coming week, but with no sudden drops the fishing should remain good for a while.
The big news this week is the first bluefin tuna of the fall. I have had some rumors and reports of some being seen at Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, but there hadn't been a catch until this week. Two were caught around Cape Lookout Tuesday and many more boats were changing equipment to be able to go as soon as the weather allows. It was a good year for bluefins in the Northeast; maybe it will be good here also.
Several fishermen took advantage of good weather several days last week to head offshore. Some went to the Gulf Stream to take advantage of the excellent wahoo bite and some stopped a little closer in for bottom fishing. The wahoo bite has been excellent all fall and spiked a bit last week. Those fishermen who made the trip found the turbocharged cousins of king mackerel snapping. Many nice wahoo, including several that exceeded 80 pounds were caught. I didn't get to go, but one of them was nice enough to bring me some for dinner one night, provided I didn't tell anyone -- and it was good! Blackfin tuna are also biting well.
The grouper bite was excellent also. Grouper season will close for four months beginning January 1, so fishermen are trying to take advantage of every weather window to stock the freezer before then. I also received an early Christmas present of some grouper and I appreciate it. There was enough I had a fresh meal and froze some for later. The big sea bass were also biting well and many folks overlook them because they are "easy" to catch. A word to the wise is simple -- don't.
Red snapper season remains closed indefinitely and beeliner (vermilion snapper) season closed for five months beginning Nov. 1. Don't keep any of them regardless of how many you catch. They must all be released.
King mackerel are holding 20 to 25 miles offshore and on out. The key to catching kings seems to be finding water that is 67 or warmer and some structure that is holding bait. There was a nice little temperature break offshore of the Atlas Tanker for a couple of days and the water around Frying Pan Tower has remained warm. The fishing at these spots has been very good. The kings are hungry and are feeding. Those fishermen who carry live bait may have a little advantage, but they are also eating frozen cigar minnows, spoons and lures.
I visited a couple of piers over the weekend and the fishermen were bundled up, but staying warm catching some sea mullet, blowfish and an occasional flounder, trout or drum. Most of the piers closed for the season Sunday afternoon. Wherever you are, if you want to fish from a pier, I would suggest calling ahead to be sure it is open and expect it not to be.
On the inshore side of things, the speckled trout numbers continue to increase. Most are still those young of the year that are barely too short to be keepers, but they sure are fun to catch. I continue to be amazed at how the trout numbers have increased from almost none in mid-October to being so many now. I sure hope we don't have another freezing winter and most of these make it through. If they survive to spawn next spring and summer, we could have an incredible number of trout for fall of next year and in 2012.
While most of the trout being caught are smaller, there are some large ones mixed in. This is a tournament story, but it is so good I have to tell it now to emphasize this. The Capt. Kyle's Thanksgiving Inshore Classic is a speckled trout tournament held from Ocean Isle Fishing Center the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year. This year, with the forecast for a windier day and temperatures to drop, only nine boats entered. There may have been a shortage of larger trout for some fishermen, but not for the winning boat. They set a mark that will not be eclipsed for quite a while.
Brandon Sauls and Clay Morphis chose to fish the tournament to the south in the Calabash and Little River area. As good trout fishermen, all they would say is they were in Hushmouth Creek. They won the tournament with an incredible three trout aggregate weight of 23.7 pounds. This included trout that weighed 9.0, 8.5 and 6.2 pounds. They also had another trout slightly heavier than six pounds. Several fishermen suggested they should now quit trout fishing as nothing will ever top that day and they will be disappointed when they compare other days to it.
With weights that were much closer to the range expected, Robert Hughes and Brian Richards aboard the Lil' Bro finished in second place with an aggregate weight of 8.5 pounds. They also fished the Little River/Calabash area. Third place went to Mike Fields and Jason McDowell aboard the Split Rail. They caught three specks that weighed 8.4 pounds while fishing in the Lockwood Folly/Holden Beach area. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
My trout story this week involved a lot of trout, but nothing anywhere near this large. I am working on a series of articles that will be featured in the 2011 North Carolina Sportsman Magazines on different areas along the coast and a double handful of fishing spots in each area. I caught Capt. Matt Lamb of Chasin' Tails Outdoors with a day off, so he and I did the legwork and took the pictures for the segment on the Morehead City and Atlantic Beach area.
We went from Hoop Pole Creek to Core Creek and caught trout everywhere we went! There were trout even in a few places we went specifically for other species. It was a great day on the water with good company and lots of trout to stretch my string.
As I say almost every week, the best trout bait is a live shrimp. Sauls and Morphis had several float rigs for suspending shrimp on rods in their racks when they returned. Shrimp will also work impaled on a jig head and fished along the bottom. When catching trout this size, $5to $6 a dozen sounds like a bargain. Shrimp should be available for a few more weeks, and then switching to mud minnows is the primary option for fishing with live bait. Thankfully, the trout seem to start liking minnows when the shrimp are all gone. As a note, Capt. Matt said Chasin' Tails would have shrimp as long as they could find or buy them.
Fishermen who choose to fish with lures have been having good luck with the bio-scented soft plastic grubs and suspending MirrOlures. In the soft lures, shrimp shapes work well fishing very slow and paddle or shad tail grubs give a vibration in the water and work well for fishing a little faster. For the MirrOlures, I prefer the 17 MR size, but other folks are also catching well with the smaller 14 MR and the larger 27 MR. All of these suspend about a foot to 15 inches below the surface.
Effective at 12:01 A.M. on November 30, the speckled trout limit changed. The new regulations allow for a bag limit of six specks. The minimum size is 14 inches and only two can be longer than 24 inches.
While overshadowed a bit by the growing trout bite, puppy drum are also very active in the cooler water and are feeding steadily. We found some pups in inshore waters last week, but there are many reports of upper to just over slot drum in the surf, especially around the inlets. Drum are rarely choosy and will hit live baits, soft plastics and hard baits.
Fishermen are finding gray trout around the area bridges, along the channel from the Turning Basin to Beaufort Inlet and a half mile or so off the beaches at Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout. On the southern end of the state they are at Sheepshead Rock, the WOFES, McGlammery Reef and Yaupon Reef. Gray trout limits have been reduced to a single fish per day, with a minimum size of 12 inches.
Just to show there are still some flounder in the creeks and marshes, Capt. Matt and I caught a few last week. However, the cooling water temperatures are pushing them towards the ocean. Live mullet minnows are generally considered the best flounder baits, but they are becoming hard to find. They will also hit mud minnows, many small fish, belly strips and some lures. Flounder are more aggressive in the cooler water and while fewer may be caught, their size is usually larger.
Early stripers are also being caught around Oregon Inlet, in the Neuse River around New Bern and in the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear and Brunswick Rivers around Wilmington. The regulations for stripers vary by the location, so check before keeping any. The Cape Fear River and all its tributaries are closed indefinitely.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Seafood and Aquaculture (JLCSA) met Tuesday at the Pine Knoll Shore Aquarium to discuss and vote on the clarifying amendment requested by the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to exempt the Amendment to the Spotted Sea Trout Fishery Management Plan (FMP) from having to meet the requirements of SL 2010-13. SL 2010-13, which became law in June, requires any changes in fishery management plans to end overfishing within 2 years, restore the fishery to viable within 10 years and have at least a 50 per cent chance of success. By the admission of the MFC and Division of Marine Fisheries, the amendment under consideration for the speckled trout will not meet these requirements. They stated they did not expect the bills for the new law to pass so quickly and thought they would have this FMP Amendment approved before the bills became law.
When the law passed and the amendment had not yet been approved, MFC Chairman, Rob Bizzell, sent a letter to the JLCSA requesting the exemption of this Speckled Trout FMP Amendment from the law. Congress was not in session at that time and this is the first meeting of the JLCSA since then. By a voice vote, the JLCSA passed the request and will recommend to the N.C. Congress that convenes in January to grant the exemption. If the congress does not pass this before adjourning, the Speckled Trout FMP Amendment must be redone to meet the requirements of SL 2010-13.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will meet December 5 through 10 at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Bern. This will be their final meeting of 2010 and a copy of the overall and committee agendas is available at the Council's website, www.safmc.net. Two sessions of importance are an informal question and answer session on Dec. 8 at 5:30 P.M. and an open public comment period on Dec. 9 at 1:45 P.M. The meeting may also be viewed live on-line at www.safmc.net by following the appropriate link(s).
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, but as of the morning of December 2 it had not yet been posted. Information on Amendment 17A may be found at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Web site at www.safmc.net and on the Federal Register at www.federalregister.gov when posted.
Once published in the federal register, Amendment 17A will become law in 30 days and 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. 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.
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, but needs support to help prevent the adoption of catch shares. 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 two-volume Final Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for 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.
As noted earlier, Capt. Kyle's Thanksgiving Inshore Classic was held on Saturday from Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach. The results were very impressive and are above in the part of the report about speckled trout. For more information visit www.oifc.com.
The 8th Annual Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament began Oct 23 and concludes this Saturday, 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 holds the lead headed into the final days, but some fishermen believe the cold may spur the lunker trout to bite. Parker's leading speck was 22.5 inches long and weighed 4.23 pounds. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
Many Fishermen thought Carl Edwards' 8.37 pound speck might hold through December and January to win the Chasin' Tails Outdoors Speckled Trout Challenge. After all, it was larger than the trout that won the first two years. However, Douglas Gorchess wasn't one of them and took the lead this week when his 8.69 pound trout was weighed. Capt. Matt said the big trout are just beginning to bite well and the lead could change many more times before the end of January. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
With the exception of a couple of ongoing long-term speckled trout tournaments in Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle and the year long, N.C. Saltwater Tournament and Citation Program run through the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the 2010 tournament season is winding down. There are a few more weeks in the 2010 N.C. Saltwater Tournament and Citation Program and then it the 2011 tournament will begin on January 1, 2011.