After it got so warm during the middle of this week, the rains will be followed by a cold front that will drop our temperatures down into brrr territory for a couple of days. The forecast has us returning to the high 50s for Sunday and back into the 60's for Monday, but Friday and Saturday will be cold and only range from the mid 30s to the low 50s.
Friday looks a little blustery too, with winds of 20-25 knots that are forecast to lay out as the afternoon progresses. Saturday looks the most fishable right now, with northeast breezes of only 10-15 knots that add a little and turn to the east for Sunday, then swing to the southeast and get calmer to go with the warmer for Monday.
My biggest concern with the cooler weather is dropping water temperatures. The water temperatures have been hovering around 50 most of this week and in many places the bite has slowed. The water must be cold; the bite has even slowed for those folks with live bait.
A few folks made it offshore again and there were some fish to be caught. Wahoo were the primary catch, with some nice blackfin tuna joining them. There were dolphin last week, but I didn't hear of any of them this week. Some yellowfin tuna are still being caught off Hatteras and farther north. Apparently they are holding near where the Gulf Stream and Labrador Currents are colliding.
The good grouper bite continued and some boats stopped a little closer inshore and had good mixed catches of grunts, black sea bass and beeliners. Consistent good catches such as these make it difficult to believe these fish could be as overfished as the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) feels they are.
The SAFMC met last week in Wilmington. The press release they sent after the meeting is confusing to many. One of the species they discussed was beeliners (vermilion snapper). From their own report, which noted the suspected problem was not as severe as originally though, the statistics show beeliners are not currently overfished, but are subject to overfishing. Still their proposal is to reduce the recreational limit from 10 fish to five per person per day and set a cap on commercial catches.
What is unfortunate is this isn't as bad as it seems. Their plan going into this review was to reduce the recreational catch to 4 fish per person per day. The original commercial cap was to be 566,179 pounds, but it was increased to 960,350 pounds.
King mackerel limits, both recreational and commercial, were left unchanged for 2009 and the species listed as viable. There was a discussion to close or severely limit red snapper season, but action was not taken at this meeting. Red snapper will be addressed again in early 2009 and an Interim Rule to close or severely limit fishing for them may be requested.
The SAFMC has already requested an Interim Rule to close grouper fishing from January 1 until May 1, plus reduce recreational limits and sets a cap on the commercial catch when the season reopens. NOAA Officials informed the SAFMC the Interim Rule for grouper is still under review. In addition to this, Senator Elizabeth Dole has written a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez asking him to step in and override the Interim Rule if it is approved. For more information, visit the SAFMC web site at www.safmc.net.
There were several more bluefin tuna caught this week, but the bite remains slow compared to the good years. One of the tough luck stories from this week is of Capt. Pete Zook and his angler, Gray, on the Energizer, who were hooked up to a big bluefin for 10 hours and pulled the hook.
Several folks said they found 70 degree water at the Atlas Tanker and several other of the better known big king mackerel hotspots east of Cape Lookout. Several nice kings were caught, and the fishermen said taking the time to find live bait was well worth the effort. Even with the kings biting well, it seems more folks are interested in using any break in the weather to go bluefin tuna fishing.
Even in the cooling water, the puppy drum bite is still hot. The best action seems to be in the surf, but there are drum scattered from the back of the creeks to the ocean. Several exceptional reports have come from the surf along Shackleford Banks, Bear Island and Lee Island. There are various schools feeding in the surf and they are a variety of sizes. One may be smaller fish and the next could be all over-slot reds.
The speckled trout bite also remains good and especially so if you have live bait. Live shrimp are becoming hard to get and mullet minnows are also getting scarcer. Unless it gets real cold, mud minnows should be available all winter and the trout will shift over to them also.
I'm a fan of soft plastics for trout, but had a great day last week throwing MirrOlures. The new suspending twitchbait, in both the 17 and 27 sizes was the hot ticket.
Folks drifting through the Morehead City Turning Basin are still catching a few gray trout, sea mullet, bluefish, pigfish and black drum. The fish are moving a little slower and several fishermen recommended using double-drop bottom rigs with shrimp as bait or speck rigs tipped with shrimp to get enough scent to convince them to bite.
Some gray trout are also being jigged on the nearshore rocks and artificial reefs in the ocean. Grays and specks, plus bluefish, are being caught at night under the lights of many coastal bridges. The bluefish can be a real nuisance at times.
I had an excellent fishing trip on the Cape Fear River this week with Capt. Stuart Caulder of Gold Leader Guide Service (www.goldleaderfishing.com). He was headed out to locate some stripers upriver of Wilmington and asked if I would like to go along. Naturally as soon as I cleared my schedule I replied yes and boy was I glad I did. Before the day was over, I had recorded a winter slam catching a striper, a speckled trout and a red drum. The fish were really biting and I wouldn't have been too surprised if we had also caught a flounder.
Sure, this particular trip was on the Cape Fear River at Wilmington, but similar opportunities exist on the Neuse, near Havelock and New Bern, the Pamlico, near Washington, the Albemarle, from Manteo to Edenton, and many more places. I think we need to promote this as a growing winter fishery. It sure was fun catching them and not knowing what might be next made it even better.
The week long king mackerel tournament organized by the Ocean Isle Fishing Center ended on Saturday, December 6. Fishermen could fish any two days of the time period, but had to declare their days before fishing. The tournament standings were based on each boat weighing their heaviest fish each day for a two fish aggregate weight. The Ocean Isle Fishing Center Fishing team, with Capt. Brant McMullan, won with a pair of kings that weighed 53.35 pounds. Their larger king weighed 31.75 pounds.
The first annual Cape Fear River Watch Invitational Striper Tournament was held Saturday in downtown Wilmington. Fourteen anglers and seven guides caught and released 78 stripers in the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers during the day. Forty-four were tagged before being released. Captain Jot Owens and his crew of Duane Auman and Bob Kester were the winners of both the aggregate length and single longest fish categories. Their aggregate length was 52 inches and Auman's longest fish was 26.5 inches.
The 2008 NC Saltwater Fishing Tournament, run by the Division of Marine Fisheries, continues through the end of December. This is a multiple species tournament, with no entry fee. Fish just have to meet minimum weights and be weighed at one of many certified weigh stations along the N.C. coast. For more information, visit www.ncdmf.net.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) has announced a series of public hearings regarding proposed changes in fishing (fresh water) and hunting regulations for the 2009-2010 seasons. Some of the proposals are very different from current regulations. The changes involve seasons, limits and manner of taking fish and game. A complete list of all the meeting dates, times and locations statewide, plus all of the proposed regulations changes can be found on the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org.