February Coastal Fishing Report
By: Bill Hitchcock
February is the coldest, nastiest month of the year along the coast of North Carolina. Fortunately it is also a short month with the transition into spring starting the following month. But although the weather may not be the friendliest for fishermen itís definitely fantastic for fish! Just keep this one thing in mind. Weather effects fishermen much more so than the fish.
Striped bass fishing has been very good on the northern outer banks on up into Virginia. I have heard of some striper activity as far south as the Cape Fear River, but not much. Even Cape Lookout Shoals which is half between Cape Fear and the Outer Banks hasnít produced many stripers.
Bluefin tuna, a perennial favorite for the catch and release angler December through February has been pretty much non-existent. But again-Thatís also greatly weather related. This winter has been unusually cold and windy.
And on the subject of unusual weather-Extreme cold conditions created a phenomenon a few weeks ago that we havenít seen in 6-7 years. Water temperatures got so cold in the creeks and rivers that approximately 8,000 to 10,000 speckled trout, black drum, red drum and sea mullet became cold stunned. The bulk of the fish affected were speckled trout.
But it wasnít just cold temperatures that affected these fish. According to the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, ďInterestingly, the event on January 17-18th may not have been due to cold water temperatures, but rather the culmination of extreme cold temperatures a few days before coupled with sudden and very low salinity levels following a large amount of rainfall. The water temperatures were quite warm (38-40į F), but there was a wedge of fresh water coming out of a canal as the salinity was 0.2 ppt on one side of the plume, and 6-8 ppt on the other. We speculate that the fish were stressed from the cold, then caught in a wedge of fresh water, such that they physiologically couldnít handle the fresh water or leave the area, and diedĒ.
On days you can make it out, speckled trout are being caught in the surf, around places like Cape Lookout rock jetty and the Masonboro Inlet jetty and up in deeper Creeks like Bay River and Broad Creek.
Wintertime king mackerel fishing is always good and this year is no exception. The only negative, outside of having very few days in which to fish due to wind is that you have to run pretty far offshore to get to them. Gulf stream water temperatures are in the 60ís and even low 70ís and thatís where king mackerel and wahoo will be. But the wintertime gulf stream flow is located farther out than during the summer months.
There is plenty of fishing to be done in the month of February just as long as the weather will let you. And as I mentioned earlier, this February has been an unusually cold and windy month. But warmer weather is quickly approaching! March will transition us into spring like conditions quickly. Letís just keep our fingers crossed about March winds. They can be hard and harsh as in hurricane force!
The bluefin tuna fishing (and yellowfin) has been fantastic out of Hatteras Inlet since last Friday!