Damn, winter arrived late, but it sure came in with a bang.  I believe Mother Nature doesn't understand the calendar or else she is ticked off.  Daylight Saving Time snuck in Sunday morning and I believe this is the first time it has ever snowed on the first day of Daylight Savings Time.  Spring is supposed to arrive Monday, but it doesn't appear it will be the arrival we were expecting. 

The 30 degree drop in air temperature was bad enough, but the 10 degrees of drop in water temperature is awful.  Surprisingly enough, all the fish didn't get lockjaw, but it still isn't a good fishing report or forecast this week.

Thankfully the ocean temps farther offshore haven't dropped as severely.  The CORMP Buoys (www.cormp.org) in Onslow Bay were still holding in the mid 60s late Thursday and offshore reporting stations were several degrees warmer.  If the wind ever lays out enough to head offshore, that should be good news.

The cooler temperatures have put a kink in fishing and the wind that arrived with them has put an even worse kink in fishermen going fishing.  Some fishermen have braved the elements and headed out and been blessed with some fish, but there haven't been crowds.  Perhaps the reports would be better if more fishermen were out.  There certainly would be more reports.

A surprising number of dedicated inshore fishermen have caught fish this week.  Their numbers have been down some and they aren't finding the fish in the same spots they were when the water was warmer, but it's good to hear they are still finding fish.

Many of the better catches have been in protected areas that are exposed to sunshine and out of the wind.  Just being out of the wind is a big plus and when you add the warmth of the sunshine, this has been significant.

Up the creeks has been a good place to fish.  Puppy drum have been feeding in the shallows.  Trout generally prefer a little deeper water, but have been close to the shallows and black drum have been mixed with both. 

Most of the coastal rivers are still holding stripers.  The bite is good, but the season closed in the Cape Fear River.  The limits vary, so check before keeping any, but stripers are also biting in the Neuse, Tar/Pamlico, and Roanoke Rivers.  There are still shad in all of these rivers too.  The shad are primarily inland of U.S. 17 and downriver from I-95.

There have been sea mullet in the Lower Cape Fear River and between Beaufort Inlet and the State Port at Morehead City. 

Ocean fishing begins in the surf and there have been a few fish caught there.  Some sea mullet, blowfish, bluefish, plus red and black drum, trout and even a few early flounder have been in this mix.  A double drop rig, with pieces of shrimp or cut bait, a heavy coat and some patience are all you need.

Several piers are open and reporting catches of sea mullet, blowfish, dogfish, and more.  More piers will be opening in the next several weeks.  There is bad news from Oak Island Pier.  The Town of Oak Island has closed the pier indefinitely pending settling with their insurance company and FEMA for pier damages from Hurricane Matthew last fall.  The pier operator is trying to find a compromise that will allow opening at least part of the pier, but no agreement has been reached.

There were some red drum and false albacore along Cape Lookout Shoals last week.  I think there should also be some red drum along Frying Pan Shoals, but they aren't fished as heavily as Lookout Shoals and there hasn't been a report.   The fat Alberts were busting in deeper water and liked small shiny lures retrieved quickly. 

The wind has kept most fishermen from heading offshore for the past week, but a few went early all along the coast and found the wahoo biting.  They also caught some blackfin tuna.  There were reports of even a few surprise yellowfin tuna off Cape Lookout, but they were biting better from Cape Hatteras up towards Oregon Inlet.  Hopefully this wind will lay out soon so we can see what fish are patrolling the edge of the Gulf Stream.

It has been a while since there was a report, but king mackerel were biting roughly 30-40 miles offshore at Cape Fear and Cape Lookout and expectations are they are still there.  These are primarily smaller school kings, but they are hungry and feeding and when you find a school the action will be on. 

Offshore bottom fishing has been good whenever the weather allowed going.  Check the regulations to see what is open and verify the limits, but a mixture of black sea bass, triggerfish, beeliners, grunts, porgys and more.

There are still reports of bluefin tuna between Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet.  The schools of blackfin and yellowfin tuna are in the same general area as the bluefins and many days this is within just a few miles of The Point.  The recreational medium and trophy (73 inches and larger) fishery for bluefin tuna is scheduled to close on March 20.  More details are below.

NOAA Fisheries Solicits Comments Regarding Cobia Season
NOAA Fisheries is soliciting comments on a proposed rule to implement Framework Amendment 4 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Region (Framework Amendment 4).  The measures for Atlantic cobia in the proposed rule for Framework Amendment 4 would:
•Increase the recreational minimum size limit from 33 to 36 inches fork length;
•Reduce the recreational bag limit to either 1 fish per person per day or a boat limit of 6 fish per day, whichever is more restrictive;
•Establish a commercial trip limit of 2 fish per person per day or 6 fish per boat per day, whichever is more restrictive.
•Modify the recreational accountability measure so that if the recreational and total catch limits (commercial and recreational combined) are exceeded, NOAA Fisheries would reduce the vessel limit, and if necessary, shorten the following season.

These proposed actions are expected to reduce the likelihood of exceeding the recreational and commercial Atlantic cobia catch limits in future years.  The Federal Register name and number for this action is 82 FR 11166, published February 21, 2017.

The comment period is open through March 23.  Comments may be submitted electronically or by mail.  Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

To submit comments via the internet go to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0167-0001 and click on the "Comment Now!" icon, then complete the required fields and enter or attach your comments.  Mail written comments to Karla Gore, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Southern Atlantic Recreational Trophy Bluefin Season Closing March 20
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) Angling category (recreational) fishery for large medium and giant “trophy” BFT (measuring 73” or greater) will close in the southern area effective 11:30 P.M. local time, Monday, March 20, 2017, through December 31, 2017.  The southern area is the area south of 39°18’N (approximately Great Egg Inlet, NJ), excluding the Gulf of Mexico.

Based on reported landings from the NMFS Automated Catch Reporting System and the North Carolina Tagging Program, NMFS projects that the codified Angling category southern area trophy BFT subquota will be reached by March 20, 2017, and have determined that the trophy fishery should be closed in that area.  Retaining, possessing, or landing large medium or giant BFT south of 39°18’ N. lat. and outside the Gulf of Mexico by persons aboard vessels permitted in the HMS Angling category and the HMS Charter/Headboat category (when fishing recreationally) must cease at 11:30 P.M. local time on March 20, 2017. 

The intent of this closure is to prevent overharvest of the Angling category southern area trophy BFT subquota.  The annual Angling category trophy limit of one large medium or giant BFT per vessel remains in effect for vessels fishing in the northern area and in the Gulf of Mexico area.  The Angling category fishery for BFT measuring 27 to less than 73” is open except in the Gulf of Mexico.  Catch-and-release fishing is permissible as described below.

This closure applies to all vessels permitted in the HMS Angling category and the HMS Charter/Headboat category fishing in the southern area.  Fishermen may catch and release or tag and release BFT of all sizes, subject to the requirements of HMS catch-and-release and tag-and-release programs. 

NMFS regulations require that all BFT that are released be handled in a manner that will maximize their survival, and without removing the fish from the water.  For additional information on safe handling, see the “Careful Catch and Release” brochure available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.  HMS Charter/Headboat and Angling category vessel owners are required to report the catch of all BFT retained or discarded dead, within 24 hours of the landing(s) or end of each trip, by accessing www.hmspermits.noaa.gov or by using the Android or iPhone app.  

For more information on BFT fishing regulations, including recreational size and retention limits, go to www.hmspermits.noaa.gov or call (978) 281-9260. 

Beat The Winter Cold at Boat and Fishing Expos and Fishing Schools
This hasn't been a winter that required a lot to beat the cold, but winter arrived in force about a week ago and that changed.  There are a few things that stand out on the list of boat and fishing shows, expos and seminars for the next few weeks.  Heck, even experts can benefit by picking up a few tips on catching more fish.  There is a list of all known upcoming events for the next several weeks at the end of this, but these are a few that stand out and deserve special  mentions.

This weekend, March 17 to 19 will be busy.  It starts on Friday with the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo (www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com) in Fayetteville.  This event relocated for 2017 from the Wilmington Convention Center to the Crown Coliseum Complex in Fayetteville.  The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores will also hold their Get Hooked Fishing School on March 18.  For more information visit www.ncaquariums.com and select Pine Knoll Shores.  There will be a Project Healing Waters Marathon Fly Tying Marathon at the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium in conjunction with the Get Hooked Fishing School on March 18.  For more information visit www.projecthealingwaters.org.  There is also an introduction to kayak fishing seminar on March 18 at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  For more information visit www.ncwildlife.org and open the Learning tab.    

Fishermen and hunters should also check out the specialty programs offered by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  There are several open to all and the weekend of March 31-April 2 is geared to women only in their becoming an Outdoor Woman program.  All are highlighted below.

WRC and N.C. Aquariums Host Ongoing Fishing Programs
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission operates four education centers across N.C. and offers a variety of fishing and outdoor education programs. The closest of the education centers is the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville.  Others are at the Centennial Campus Center at NC State University in Raleigh, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla, and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Pisgah Forest. 

There will be their ongoing and regularly scheduled programs through March and on April 8 the Pechmann Center will host a Kayak Fish and Float Day that combines free fresh and salt water fishing seminars with an extended lunch that includes a selection of kayaks for fishermen to try on Lake Rim, which is directly across the street.  For more information on the centers and their programs, go to the Wildlife Resources Commission website at www.ncwildlife.org and open the "Learning" tab.  The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center also has a Facebook page. 

The North Carolina Aquariums offer fishing and other outdoor programs through their aquariums and Jennette's Pier in Nags Head.  The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is local and will host the Get Hooked Fishing School and Project Healing Waters Fly Tying Marathon on March 18.  The other aquariums are at Fort Fisher and Manteo.  The aquariums website is www.ncaquariums.com.  

BOW Outdoor Weekend Scheduled for March 31-April 2 in Wilkes County
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will host the 20th annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Weekend Workshop, March 31-April 2, at YMCA Camp Harrison at Herring Ridge in Wilkes County.  The workshop is open to women 18 and older on a first-come, first-serve basis to the first 100 registrants.  Pre-registration is required at www.ncwildlife.org/BOW and the registration fee is $225.  This covers instruction, two nights cabin lodging at the camp, seven meals, a T-shirt, and all equipment needed for each course.

Participants can choose from more than 30 outdoor-related courses, such as Game and Outdoor Cooking, Basic Shotgun, Ropes Course and Climbing Wall, Decoy Carving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Basic Fishing, Wildlife Digital Photography, Native Pollinators, Wilderness Survival Skills and more.  A complete list of courses, including times and descriptions, is available on the website.

Sessions are outdoors and hands-on.  Participants should bring tennis shoes and/or hiking boots, insect repellant, sunscreen, rain gear, water bottle, flashlight and sunglasses.

There is financial assistance available through the Mel Porter Scholarship Fund, which is supported by contributions from previous BOW participants.  Preference is given to first-time workshop participants who are full-time students, single parents of young children, and members of low-income households. The deadline for scholarship applications is March 15.

"Our Becoming an Outdoors-Woman weekend workshops have been extremely popular and tend to fill up very quickly," said BB Gillen, the outdoors skills coordinator with the Commission.  "This workshop is tailored to women of all skill levels, from beginners who would like to improve their skills to those who have a lot of outdoor experience but would like to learn new skills."

For more information on the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman weekend workshop, visit the WRC website or contact Gillen at 919-218-3638 or bb.gillen@ncwildlife.org.  

KingFish Cup Coming to Southeast N.C.
Registration opened on Wednesday, March 15, for the Kingfish Cup and the 100 boat field filled that day.  The Kingfish Cup is a limited entry series that will take place within three king mackerel tournaments in southeastern N.C.  and one just across the state line in S.C.  There will be a championship tournament at Ocracoke in the late fall for the top 25 teams and any teams that win one of the four qualifying events.  The tournaments included in the series are the East Coast Got-Em-On in Carolina Beach, the Jolly Mon and Fall Brawl in Ocean Isle Beach and the Rumble in the Jungle in Little River, S.C.  For more information visit the Kingfish Cup website at www.kingfishcup.com.

Fisheries Meetings
April 11-13:  Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meeting, Icona Golden Inn, Avalon, N.J., www.mafmc.org.

Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
March 17:  Cape Lookout Flyfishers Monthly Meeting, Cox Family Restaurant, Morehead City, www.capelookoutflyfishers.com

March 17-19:  Cape Fear Wildlife Expo, Crown Coliseum Complex, Fayetteville, N.C., www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com.    

March 18:  Get Hooked Fishing School, N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, Pine Knoll Shores,  www.ncaquariums.com.   

March 18:  Project Healing Waters Fly Tying Marathon, N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, Pine Knoll Shores,  www.projecthealingwaters.org.    

March 20:  First Day of Spring - 6:28 A.M.

March 25:  Eastern Carolina Winter Trout Series Tournament Three, New River Marina, Sneads Ferry, www.facebook.com/Eastern-Carolina-Winter-Trout-Series-388293288189463/?fref=ts.  

March 25:  Triangle NC Safari Club International Banquet, Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, www.ncsci.com.     

March 25-26:  Ocean Isle Fishing Center Spring Kickoff, Ocean Isle Fishing Center, Ocean Isle Beach, www.oifc.com/kickoff.  

March 31-April 1:  Cape Fear Flyfishers Ladies Only Seminar, Wrightsville Beach, N.C., www.capefearflyfishers.com.

April 1:  Pogies Redfish Series Tournament 1, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.  

April 2:  Pogies Kayak Redfish Series Tournament 1, Pogies, Swansboro, www.pogiesfishing.com.

April 8:  Kayak Fish and Float Seminars and Demo Day, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, N.C., www.ncwildlife.org/learning.

Good Fishing
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver


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