If it’s true that time passes faster as you get older, I must be aging rapidly. Time has flown by this year. It’s hard to believe that 2022 is almost over, yet here we are a few days past Christmas with New Year’s Day rapidly moving in.
I hope everyone has great plans and aspirations for 2023 and that they include more time for fishing. Maybe this is the year that you begin visiting those fishing destinations you’ve only previously wondered about? I’d like to close out the current year by wishing all of you a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous new year.
I mostly enjoyed 2022 and hope y’all did also, but it could have ended without putting us in the deep freeze for Christmas. I know many folks were traveling and hope the big chill didn’t disrupt your plans. It definitely disrupted some of my fishing and hunting plans. Thankfully, we are warming back to more seasonable weather over the next few days and I expect the recent cold will help us appreciate our typical winter weather. It’s time to get back out and enjoy the outdoors and maybe even do some fishing.
This is the first of our winter monthly Scales and Tales and there are some good things to report. Unfortunately, the windy weather was around more since Thanksgiving than we would like and there aren’t many reports from offshore. The good news from offshore is there were hungry fish to catch when the sea conditions allowed making the trip. More fishermen stayed inshore, in protected waters, and most of the December reports are from there.
If (when) you go fishing, be careful. The water has gotten downright cold. It was still holding in the mid-60s at Thanksgiving, but had cooled to the lower to mid-50s before the big chill over Christmas. The CORMP (Coastal Ocean Research Monitoring Program) website (www.cormp.org) was reporting inshore and nearshore water temps dropped into the 40s over Christmas weekend. The coolest water in the CORMP stations Monday morning was 44 degrees on the Wilmington waterfront. Once we return to our typical weather, this should warm back up some, but it probably won’t gain all of its warmth back.
To expound on being careful, research has found that 50 degree water can disable even healthy people surprisingly quickly and once unable to swim or think clearly, they become much more likely to drown or die from exposure. This is explained in detail in the 1-10-1 Rule of Cold Water Survival. This states that once subjected to an emergency exposure to cold water, a person has one minute to stop gasping and get their breathing and thought process under control, then about 10 minutes where their muscles still work to allow swimming, crawling back into a boat or otherwise getting out of the water and then about one hour before irreversible damages from hypothermia set in.
This is the best example of why it is important to file a float plan, especially during the winter. A float plan is just a list of where you will be launching, where you will be going to fish and when you plan to return, with other details like what you are driving to the ramp or marina, a description and numbers of your boat, any medical concerns and your cell and home phone numbers. This is left with a responsible person that you check with when you return. Hopefully this is never needed, but it could be a lifesaver, especially when fishing or boating in cold water.
There will be many meetings in early 2023 to discuss issues and possible solutions in both the federal and state fisheries. State waters extend to three miles off the beach and federal waters run from there out to 200 miles. There will be opportunities to express your opinions in writing, both online and by mail, plus at the meeting. Multiple species are involved from inshore and in the ocean.
Information on what is being discussed, the meeting dates and times, and how to comment if you can’t attend is available by visiting www.ncdmf.net on the state level and www.fisheries.noaa.gov, www.safmc.net, www.mafmc.org and www.asmfc.org on the federal level. Several things we should be concerned with on the state level include flounder seasons and regulations for 2023, possible changes in speckled trout regulations, including a season, and possible changes in striped mullet regulations.
Speaking of fish with seasons – one of the biggest seasons is for bluefin tuna (pun intended). These big fish visit N.C. each winter and are a major source of Christmas paydays for commercial fishermen and an opportunity for recreational fishermen to go toe to fin with a huge fish. Bluefin tuna are monitored closely and regulations are subject to changing quickly. An example of this is the N.C. fall commercial bluefin season, which opened on December 1, 2022, and closed 10 days later as all the quota had been caught. This season will reopen for 2023 on January 1.
The recreational bluefin season currently allows fishermen to retain two bluefins between 27 and 47 inches per boat and one bluefin of 47 to 72 inches per boat, but is subject to change. Recreational fishermen are not currently allowed to keep a bluefin tuna of 73 inches or longer and that is the minimum size for commercial fishermen. A permit is required to keep any bluefin tuna and the application for it, plus current regulations are available on the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species page on the NOAA Fisheries web site.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries was concerned with the potential for fish kills and stuns during the extreme cold we are just breaking out of. Prior to the cold event they put out a notice asking for fishermen to report any fish stuns or kills. We had not received any notifications from DMF at deadline, but officials were concerned there would be reports as the weather warmed and fishermen were back on the water. Severe fish stuns and kills may require the seasons being suspended.
Fish stuns or kills can be reported at any time to the N.C. Marine Patrol at 1-800-682-2632 or during regular business hours to the division spotted seatrout biologist Lucas Pensinger at 252-808-8159 or Lucas.Pensinger@ncdenr.gov. When reporting a cold stun event, please provide the specific location and the date and time the cold stun was observed, along with your contact information so they can call back if needed. Pictures are also helpful.
Fishing, boating and outdoor shows return in the new year. These shows get going immediately locally with the Grand Strand Boat and Sportsman Expo (www.grandstrandboatandsportsmanexpo.com) at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on January 6-8.
The next weekend, January 13-15, the Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo will be at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. This is the largest show in N.C. and features the Bass Tub and three rooms with fresh and saltwater fishing seminars each hour. I will be hosting several seminars on kayak fishing, both inside the inlets and in the nearshore ocean. The seminar schedule hadn’t been finalized at deadline, but show information and the seminar schedule can be found at www.bassandsaltwaterfishingexpo.com. This group also does several other boat and fishing shows in N.C. and Virginia and information on them is available at www.ncboatshows.com.
I won’t mention any names, but a local fisherman recently released a potential world record fish, because of not knowing exactly what it was and not wanting to violate a fishing regulation. That’s admirable, but it brings into question how many times this has happened? There are also stories across the years of folks eating potential record fish because they didn’t check. This isn’t to suggest fishermen become consumed with catching record fish, but to suggest checking the records for large and unusual fish might not be a bad idea.
There have been several catches of fish not generally considered to be native to our area during the past few years and several have been weighed and become world records. Two that come to mind are the creole fish (Craig Thompson) and Spanish hogfish (Bob Timson), both members of the St. James Fishing Club. Fishermen can check the N.C. record fish at the NC DEQ's State Saltwater Records page and world record fish at the International Game Fish Association webs site.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists are growing increasingly concerned as more cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) were discovered in deer in Surry and Yadkin counties. This brings the total to three cases in Surry County and one in Yadkin County. This may not sound like much, but CWD is a transmissible, always fatal, neurological disease that affects deer and other cervids such as elk, moose and reindeer/caribou, and N.C. wildlife managers are trying to prevent it from spreading to other deer herds and the few elk in the state. CWD was first detected in North Carolina in March 2022. For more information on CWD, visit the N.C. Wildlife Commission CWD Info Page.
Even though we have switched to monthly rather than weekly for the winter, we want your pictures. When you catch those big fish, email pictures of them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. It’s a great way to share your good catches with friends and family.
This is the first of our monthly winter installments of Scales and Tales. We’ll be in the paper the last Wednesday of each month through March and return with weekly reports the week before Easter. Regardless of the time of year, Scales and Tales always welcomes pictures and fishing reports from readers. If you had a great fishing trip and or have a picture of a fish that makes you smile, send the picture and some details on the trip. We look forward to highlighting outstanding reader catches.
The Fishing Report
The wind has played heck with fishing since Thanksgiving. There are days that fishing in sheltered water is possible, but the days for fishing in open water or heading offshore in the ocean have been few and far between. Let’s hope that changes as we enter the new year.
The reports have been mixed on the few days folks headed offshore. The bottom fish bite has been consistent and pretty good, but trolling has been a bit hit and miss. There have been some wahoo and blackfin tuna caught and several times they were in large enough schools that the numbers were there too. However, that should be cooling off for a few months.
Some of the offshore bottom fishing will go away beginning January 1 as the shallow water grouper season begins it’s seasonal spawning closure. The fish included in the shallow water grouper classification and closure include gag grouper, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper and yellowmouth grouper. The season for most of these fish will reopen on May 1, but red grouper get another month of releases and that season won’t reopen until June 1. Don’t be too discouraged though, as most of the other fish are willing biters, taste good and have more liberal limits.
Bluefin tuna season opened on December 1 with a limited quota and was closed by December 10. Some of them were really big fish too. One 900-pounder was caught and several folks wanted to hail it as a new state record. That isn’t the case. It was plenty heavy to top the current record of 877 pounds, but fish caught commercially aren’t eligible to become state records. Don’t feel too sorry for those fishermen, the word is that tuna brought a multi-thousand-dollar payday. The commercial bluefin tuna season will reopen on January 1.
King mackerel have been biting well on the days the sea conditions allow reaching them. With the water cooling, they moved offshore to the general area of Frying Pan Tower and with this Christmas cold snap, they may move even farther offshore. King mackerel need plenty of forage fish and warmer water. Many experts believe their comfort range begins at about 68 degrees, but if there is plenty of food, they regularly tolerate water cooler than that. The coldest water I have found concentrations of kings in was 56 degrees.
Even with the cool water along the beaches, there had been occasional good catches of whiting, black drum, blowfish and croakers, plus a few late pompano, in the surf and from the piers. These may go away for a while with the recent sudden cooling of the water. If the weather changes to more seasonable and the water warms again, these may resume. When we have a few of those 65 degree-plus, sunny winter days, there are worse things to do than kicking back on an almost deserted beach and hoping the fish bite.
Speckled trout had been biting surprisingly well in the creeks and marshes before the weather got so cold a few days before Christmas. Several fishermen even let it slip that sometimes the best trout action was from sunset into the evening. We only received one big trout picture, but tackle shop talk says there were a surprising number of citation specks (5 pounds minimum) being caught.
The cold hadn’t gone away by my deadline, so there aren’t any reports of how this fishing did or didn’t return once the weather warmed.
One odd bit of tackle shop talk was a trout fisherman caught a small tarpon while fishing one of the local creeks during December. The tarpon was released. This is odd, but not beyond belief. In past years, we have had pictures of snook that were caught in local creeks while trout fishing in late November and December.
NOTE: The fishery managers at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries have asked fishermen to report any fish stuns or kills. N.C. has enjoyed four consecutive mild winters and the trout population is in good shape. However, sudden freezes like this one can catch trout in shallow areas where the cold stuns them and may kill them. If this happens, fishery regulations require closing the season until June 15 to allow all the remaining trout to spawn.
Speckled trout cold stun events can be reported at any time to the N.C. Marine Patrol at 1-800-682-2632 or during regular business hours to the division spotted seatrout biologist Lucas Pensinger at 252-808-8159 or Lucas.Pensinger@ncdenr.gov. If reporting a spotted seatrout cold stun event, please provide the specific location and the date and time the cold stun was observed, along with your contact information. Pictures are also helpful.
Red and black drum have been biting in the creeks and marshes. Surprisingly, they haven’t been found as consistently as speckled trout. It’s time for drum to be schooling and the good drum reports included multiple catches. Usually, these schools are segregated by size, but many fishermen reported catching drum from 15 to 30 inches from the same school. There have been days they preferred pieces of shrimp or cut bait over lures and live baits, especially live shrimp, trump everything as the best baits.
Last month, I mentioned soft plastic jerk shrimp as a good substitute for live shrimp. These are simply soft plastic shrimp that are rigged backwards on the hook and with their weight positioned so the shrimp hangs level when at rest under a cork. You can buy these or you can make them. I make my own by using a pencil jig hook that is made by Salty Bay Baits and insert it in almost any soft plastic shrimp so the hook point is at the shrimp’s head and the hook eye come out the middle of the shrimp’s back. Dose this with a little Pro-Cure Scent Gel and it works – well!
Stripers have made their winter return to the rivers and creek around Wilmington. The season is closed and they must all be released, but they’re a lot of fun to catch. When the tide is up, stripers will head into the many creeks off the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear and Brunswick rivers around Wilmington. As the tide falls, they move back out to the river and hold around the channel and the abundance of structure in the area. Stripers will hit live baits and pieces of cut bait (they like eels), plus soft plastics and hard lures. Sometimes they mix with schools of red drum, feeding on the same bait, and that makes for really good fishing.
Scales and Tales has switched to once a month for the winter, but we’ll be here the last Wednesday of the month and return to weekly at Easter. Even when it’s cold out, we like to fill the page with pictures from readers. Send those pictures of you smiling wide and holding your latest catch to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Include a few details of your catch and we’ll gladly share them with all our readers.
NOTE: Size and number regulations for all coastal species may be found in the Hot Topic links at the top right of the Division of Marine Fisheries home page. This page also has links to DMF news releases and fishery proclamations. There are provisions on each of these pages to register to receive e-mail notification of fishery management issues and changes.
Oak Island Fishing School
The 13th edition of the Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School will be held on March 4 in the multi-purpose room at Ocean View United Methodist Church in Oak Island. Fishermen wanting to improve their skills and add more fish to their coolers during 2023 should plan to attend this popular event presented by the Oak Island Friends of Parks Foundation.
Captains Butch Foster and Jerry Dilsaver will be the featured speakers at the all-day fishing school that will include sessions on the inshore species of speckled trout, red drum, black drum and flounder, plus sessions for ocean fishermen on surf fishing, catching offshore bottom fish, big red drum, and flounder on the artificial reefs, and Spanish mackerel and king mackerel in the nearshore ocean waters. There will also be a hands-on session on throwing cast nets, both small and large. The sessions will be informal with questions welcomed.
The day should prove to be entertaining as well as informative as Captains Foster and Dilsaver intertwine fishing tales and coastal humor into their presentations. There will be boatloads of useful knowledge too. Capt. Foster is one of the most successful charter captains on the Tar Heel Coast and has decades of experience, while Capt. Dilsaver is a Southern Kingfish Association National Champion, member of the Southern Kingfish Association Hall of Fame and U.S. Anglers Association Angler of the Year. Even better, the captains genuinely enjoy helping others improve their fishing knowledge and skills.
Aspiring fishermen should make plans to attend the school. The captains will share tips, techniques, and tactics with the participants. This will be the 13th Oak Island Saltwater Fishing School and prior to the pandemic and last year they filled in advance. This is a larger facility, but participation numbers are still limited, so it is advised to register early. The Oak Island Friends of Parks Foundation is thrilled to offer the school and promise it will be entertaining and chock full of tips on how to make fishing more productive, more fun, and easier.
The location is at 8400 E. Oak Island Drive. The day will begin sharply at 9 a.m. and will conclude at approximately 4:30 p.m. In addition to the sessions, each participant will receive a goodie bag with lots of samples and there will be door prize drawings. Lunch is included.
Registration for the school is $75 in advance or $85 at the door – if seats are still available. The school has filled in advance in the past and it would be wise to register as early as possible. Gift certificates are available for those wanting to give a day of fishing instruction as a gift.
For more information contact Capt. Dilsaver at 910-279-6760 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information and a downloadable registration form is also available on-line at www.captjerry.com and www.okifriendsofparks.org. Participants may also register in-person at the Oak Island Recreation Center.
WRC stocks trout
Now that cooler temperatures have cooled ponds in areas not usually associated with rainbow, brown and brook trout fishing, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has stocked surplus mountain trout in 40 small impoundments across central and western North Carolina. The stockings included more than 60,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout, all 10 inches or longer.
In keeping with N.C. mountain trout regulations, fishermen will be allowed to harvest up to seven trout per day in these impoundments. There will be no bait restrictions and no minimum size limits, but a N.C. Inland Fishing License is required.
The stockings were in Alexander, Ashe, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caswell, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Guilford, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, Orange, Polk, Richmond, Rowan, Surry, Transylvania, Vance, Wake and Watauga counties. The stocking schedule, including the fishery locations and stocking dates, is available on the WRC website at www.ncwildlife.org. Dates may change due to unforeseen circumstances or weather events, so check the website often for the most up-to-date information.
For more information on trout fishing in North Carolina, visit the Wildlife Commission’s trout fishing webpage.
Incidental take permits
The 30-day public comment period on North Carolina’s Incidental Take Permit application and conservation plan to address sturgeon and sea turtle interactions in the state’s estuarine anchored gill net fishery began on December 22. This permit allows N.C. commercial fishermen to have interactions, including the deaths, of these endangered species in their fishing operations involving gill nets.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries submitted the ITP application to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Protected Resources on Dec. 2. The Notice of Receipt and request for public comments has been published in the Federal Register. The public may review and download the application at the NOAA Fisheries website and at regulations.gov.
For more commenting instructions, please refer to the Notice of Receipt published on the Federal Register's site.