After the very warm weather of last weekend and earlier in the week, the drop to the fifties for the weekend will have us thinking winter has returned. Well, the truth is that winter hasn’t quite surrendered to the exceptionally good weather and this is another of its attempts to be dominant. Relax though, this too will pass and we’ll return to the warmer weather we have been enjoying.
A positive thing with the cooler weather over the weekend is the wind falling out some. The forecast has it dropping out to around 10 knots and less Friday night and not getting above the 10 mark again until Tuesday afternoon.
The water temperature has really jumped this week. The inshore CORMP (www.cormp.org) reporting stations have all been showing readings in the low 60s. The surf has been in the 60s also and surfers have been enjoying some waves in spring suits this week. I’ll have more later, but earlier this week I fished in a bay that was 66.5 degrees at high tide and warmed to 68 as the tide fell. This is abnormally warm and will most likely cool back to more seasonable levels, but shouldn’t get cold again.
There have been several eddies that have spun off the Gulf Stream in the past couple of weeks and have brought warm water inshore. One came right in along Cape Lookout Shoals to the hook at Cape Lookout and another pushed warm water in to just a few miles off the beach north of Cape Hatteras. All the sunshine and warm temperatures were helpful too.
The ocean water continues to warm in other locations too. The Onslow Bay CORMP reporting stations are in the low to mid sixties and the offshore station south of Cape Hatteras has reached 71. The temps near Frying Pan Tower are in the mid sixties. You can check the these water temps and sea conditions before leaving home by visiting the Carolinas Offshore Research and Monitoring Program (CORMP) website at www.cormp.org).
As it has been for several weeks, the majority of fishing reports are still coming from inshore. Speckled trout and red drum are biting in the creeks, marshes and bays and a collection of sea mullet, pigfish, bluefish and puffers are being caught in the surf and along the sides of the ship channel between the Morehead City State Port and just outside Beaufort Inlet. There have already been sea mullet caught in the lower Cape Fear River too. This is early for these fish, but no one is complaining.
The sea mullet, puffers and pigfish are hungry and biting well when you find a pod. Most fishermen are drifting and lightly jigging a double drop bottom rig or speck rig tipped with small pieces of shrimp or Fishbites bloodworm strips. I believe I catch more fish consistently using a speck rig with real hair bucktails. However they will readily hit plain rigs and some fishermen really like the double drop rigs with the little squids dressing the hooks.
The bluefish have already arrived at Cape Lookout and are as voracious as if it was much warmer. Some are being caught casting Got-Chas, Jigfish, Hopkins, Stingsilvers and some are taking bottom baits intended for sea mullet, pigfish and puffers. Most of the bluefish have been in the inlets and just off the beach in the ocean, but they were in the Hook at Cape Lookout too.
There are also a few reports of false albacore just off Beaufort Inlet and Cape Lookout. AS usual, they like smaller shiny lures retrieved quickly.
Even though the water has warmed, the specks and pups are still holding in the marshes, and in creeks. They are biting pretty well once found, but aren’t widespread. They sometimes are slow to take a bait, like the water is still cool, so don’t be too anxious to set the hook and miss.
Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah’s Ark Fishing Charters (www.noahsarkfishingcharters.com) in Harkers Island is one of the newest members of the Hobie Kayaks Fishing Team and has been exploring some areas that are too shallow for his boat by kayak. He has been telling me just how shallow some of these fish, especially puppy drum, have been holding and this week he invited me to see for myself.
Capt. Noah has never steered me wrong before, so I met him one morning and we struck out in our kayaks. He made me travel for a while, but when we slipped into a little creek, I could see bait stirring and fish feeding. On the high tide there was enough water to float in, but after fishing the falling tide for several hours we had to wade part of the way out pulling our kayaks.
The fish were biting too. Capt. Noah said the action was a little slow compared to what he has been seeing, but we caught (and released) at least 30 puppy drum and it could have been 50. We caught them on a variety of baits and lures too. They liked everything from Cajun Sleigh spinner spoons through a variety of soft plastics to live and cut baits.
The creek opened into a small bay and the water temperature was 66.5 on the high tide heading in and rose a couple of degrees as the tide fell and the sun shone on us. Still the pups weren’t very aggressive. They bit well and fought well, but were a bit slow and tentative on the strike. In water that warm, I was thinking the shallow water made them a bit cautious.
We didn’t catch any on this trip, but the speckled trout and black drum have been biting too. A few folks have also caught flounder, but that is the exception and not consistent. Black drum like live and cut baits, but will also sometimes hit soft plastic. Trout like live baits, but will also hit soft plastics and hard lures. The few hungry flounder that wake up and decide to feed have been hitting a little of everything.
There is also a little bit of action in the surf, with a mixture of sea mullet, bluefish, trout and puffers. The best action has been around the inlets and especially the few inlets with jetties, like at Beaufort Inlet and the Fort Macon Jetty at Atlantic Beach.
Striper fishing is good in most of the coastal rivers. You can’t keep them in the Cape Fear, but the season is open in most other places. The regulations vary by the body of water, so check the regulations before keeping one. Stripers are hitting cut baits, jigs, soft plastics and hard baits. There are a few specks and pups mixed with the stripers in some places so don’t be surprised if you hook a few.
The shad bite is good and building up many of the coastal rivers too. The shad are farther upstream than the stripers. One of the easy places to check the shad bite is where Hwy 70 crosses the Neuse River in Kinston. There are often fishermen lining the bank if the bite is strong. Shad have been hitting darts and small spoons. The shad run has both the smaller acrobatic hickories and the larger, bullish American shad.
There have been mixed reports from the few fishermen that have headed offshore lately. There have been some straggler bluefins in Raleigh Bay close to Cape Hatteras, but the larger group of bluefins is farther up the coast off Oregon Inlet. Other tuna are running too and fishermen from Hatteras to the north have returned with early yellowfins. There are blackfin tuna around too.
Some fishermen have headed out to the break around the Steeples, Big Rock, and Rock Pile and have found wahoo. The numbers are as good yet as they will be in another month, but there are some wahoo there. Wahoo are biting high speed lures and lures sweetened with ballyhoo and trolled slower.
Inshore of the wahoo, fishermen are catching a variety of bottom fish and some king mackerel. Grouper season is closed, so they must be released, but bottom bouncers are bringing in some nice black sea bass, beeliners, triggerfish, grunts and porgys. There are some kings over the same structure that is holding bottom fish and drifting a light line back in the current is a good way to add a king mackerel to the catch.
There are some kings in the general area of 100 to 125 feet deep. These kings will hit spoons and sea witches trolled behind planers and will also hit frozen baits slow trolled behind downriggers. These are mostly school kings of 5-10 pounds, but occasionally a big one rolls through and gets hungry. Look for surface water temps of 65 degrees plus and pods of suspended bait.
Flounder Limit Drops to 4 Fish
In a press release dated February 22, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries announced that effective March 1 the recreational bag limit for flounder will decrease from 6 to 4 flounder per person per day. The recreational size limit will remain at 15 inches.
DMF states the bag limit reduction is necessary to comply with requirements of Addendum XXVIII to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan. In August 2016, the ASMFC approved an approximate 30 percent reduction in catch limits for both the commercial and recreational summer flounder fisheries in response to a 2016 stock assessment update, which indicated the resource is experiencing overfishing but is not overfished.
Failure to implement the reduced bag limit would result in default management measures of a 20-inch size limit, a two-fish bag limit and a fishing season from July 1 through August 31. Because North Carolina manages its recreational fishery for all species of flounder with the same size and bag limits, the changes will apply to all recreational flounder fishing in all estuarine and ocean waters. For more information, contact Chris Batsavage at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov.
Marine Fisheries Commission Sets 2017 N.C. Cobia Season
While NOAA Fisheries closed the 2017 cobia season in federal waters on January 24 and it isn’t scheduled to reopen until January 1, 2018, North Carolina fishermen will enjoy cobia season, at least a limited season, during 2017. The big difference is that N.C. state waters extend out to 3 miles off the beach, while federal waters begin at 3 miles off the beach and extend to 200 miles offshore.
The 2017 N.C. Cobia season will open on May 1 and run through August 31. The limit will be one cobia per person per day, up to a maximum of four cobia per boat. The season will be open to all fishermen every day of the week during this time.
One special addition to the 2017 N.C. cobia regulations is that all cobia must be taken to a Division of Marine Fisheries certified weigh station to be weighed, measured and logged in. While this will be difficult for some, it is being done to generate actual landings data as opposed to projected and extrapolated MRIP data that was used to shorten and close the seasons in the past two years. Many fishermen and some fishery biologists believe the MRIP data isn’t accurate.
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.
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 and this weekend is shaping up to be particularly nice. However, 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.
March begins with the Dixie Deer Classic (www.dixiedeerclassic.com) on March 3-5, at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh. This is the largest show of its kind for several states and brings thousands of hunters from N.C. and neighboring states to Raleigh. There will be booths with all kinds of hunting and outdoor accessories, plus seminars from national, regional and local whitetail experts.
The weekend of March 17 to 19 will be busy. It starts on Friday with the Cape Fear Wildlife Expo (www.capefearwildlifeexpo.com), which has relocated from the Wilmington Convention Center to the Crown Coliseum Complex in Fayetteville and will run from Friday through Sunday. The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores will also hold their Get Hooked Fishing School on March 18. For more information visitwww.ncaquariums.com and select Pine Knoll Shores.
You should also check out the specialty programs offered by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and their Becoming an Outdoor Woman program that 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, plus a BOW (Becoming an Outdoor Woman) Flyfishing Seminar on March 11 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 on March 18. The other aquariums are at Fort Fisher and Manteo.
WRC To Offer “Ladies-Only” Flyfishing Workshop
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is offering a women-only fly-fishing workshop at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville on March 11, from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. The workshop, which is part of the Commission’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program, is open to women 18 and older on a first-come, first-serve basis to the first 40 registrants.
Participants will learn the basics of fly-fishing from experienced instructors. Among the topics covered during the morning session are casting, tying knots, assembling rods and tying flies. After learning the basics, participants will spend the afternoon fishing in the center’s ponds.
The registration fee is $20 and pre-registration is required by visiting www.ncwildlife.org/BOW. This covers rods, reels, all equipment and lunch. Participants should bring sunscreen, insect repellant, comfortable clothing and footwear. Sign in begins at 8 a.m.
“This workshop is a great way for women to learn how to fly fish in a fun, stress-free environment with instructors who are knowledgeable and patient,” said BB Gillen, BOW coordinator with the Commission. “The Wildlife Commission offers a variety of BOW programs throughout the year to help women develop hunting, target shooting, fishing, archery, canoeing and other outdoor-related skills.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
KingFish Cup Coming to Southeast N.C
The Kingfish Cup is a 100 boat 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., plus a championship tournament for the top 25 teams and any teams that win one of the four qualifying events. The tournaments included 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. The Kingfish Cup website (www.kingfishcup.com) has all the information on the series and advance registration will begin on March 15.
March 6-10: South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, Jekyll Island, GA., www.safmc.net.
March 9: Public Hearing on Proposed Shellfish Lease in Pender County, 6:00 P.M., Surf City Visitor Center, Surf City, Contact Mike Graven at 252-808-8048 or Michael.Graven@ncdenr.gov.
March 16: Commercial Fishing License Eligibility Board, N.C. DEQ Wilmington Regional Office, Wilmington, Contact Ann Bordeaux-Nixon at 910-796-7261 or Ann.Bordeaux-Nixon@ncdenr.gov.
Tournaments, Seminars, Boat/Fishing/Outdoor Shows, and Other Events
March 3-5: Dixie Deer Classic, N.C. State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C., www.dixiedeerclassic.com.
March 3-5: Marabou Madness Fly Tying Program, John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center, Fayetteville, N.C., www.projecthealingwaters.org.
March 4: CCA Fishing School and State of Our Fisheries Discussion, Flame Catering and Banquet Center, New Bern, www.ccanc.org.
March 11: Fisherman’s Post Fishing School, Overton’s Sporting Goods, Greenville, N.C., www.fishermanspost.com.
March 12: Daylight Savings Time Begins!
March 17: Cape Lookout Flyfishers Monthly Meeting, Cox Family Restaurant, Morehead City, www.capelookoutflyfishers.com.
March 17: Kayak Fishing Show & Tell, Cape Fear Flyfishers, Bill Smith Park, Oak Island, N.C., www.capefearflyfishers.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 25-26: 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.