February 7, 2014

Outer Banks Angling: Stunned


The Outer Banks definitely got its share of cold, winter weather in January. Two different snow and ice events in one week is a major rarity around here.

Last week’s event for the northern Outer Banks was impressive for the area. The totals varied by location, but the average was 4-7 inches give or take.

In its own way, I believe snow like this in this area is its own blessing and curse.

I think it's a good thing for the kids to get to see and play in the white wonder, but it does wreak havoc on the roads and schools that are ill prepared for the situation.

I've enjoyed the banter back and forth on social media and Web forums about how the southerners are complaining about so little snow and how we don't know how to react to it.

Yes, things are a little complicated during the smallest of snow events in areas unaccustomed to getting little or none.

The best response I saw about this was one that simply stated, “Getting 5 inches of snow in the south is like Manhattan being hit by a hurricane.” Well said.

Nonetheless, in typical Outer Banks fashion, after suffering a fair little snow storm and temperatures in the teens with the wind chill on Wednesday, we had temperatures touching 60 degrees by Sunday.

So, after a few missed days of school and other temporary delays, we seem to be right back on track for an Outer Banks winter -- for now.

You see so many reports of the negative impacts of these types of cold events on the nightly news or Weather Channel, but there is one that rarely is talked about in major media outlets – cold-stunned fish.

Cold-stunned marine life – which can affect everything from fish to turtles -- can be compared to a person who may be suffering from severe shock.

Basically, it occurs when fish get caught in shallow water, in which water temperatures drop dramatically in a short period of time. The sudden, erratic drop puts the fish into shock.

This drop can lead to a simple stunning of the fish or it can kill the fish. Either way, it does leave the fish open to predation or to possibly suffer from another drop in temperature.

I expressed my concerns about the potential of this happening in my last column just before the last winter storm, and I wasn't the only angler concerned about it.

Local inshore and ocean water temps had been fair in the big picture given the time of year, so a massive drop in water temps could catch the fish off guard -- and it did.

A sizable cold-stun event was recorded in well over a dozen places in North Carolina. The primary victims of this were speckled trout.

In some of these areas, hundreds of fish were recorded as being stunned or dead.

This has led to a proclamation by the N.C. Department of Marine Fisheries earlier this week to close all speckled trout harvest to both recreational and commercial fishermen until June 15, 2014.

For a recreational angler, you can still fish for them, but you have to release them until the end of the moratorium.

I don't believe this is a huge hit for the recreational side, although an angler can almost bet this is when you will catch the biggest speck you ever caught -- and not be able to take it in and weigh it. Oh, well, take a picture and keep on fishing.

For the commercial fisherman, this hits a lot closer to home and especially hits the wallet.

This is prime-time commercial fishing for speckled trout, so a moratorium is going to affect the watermen’s bottom line. And with regular winter storms and high winds, the inshore commercial fishermen have had a tough go of it already.

But, protocols like this are there to protect the stock for those on both sides of the fence.

There is no way to know for sure just how hard the stock was hit or the effects the recent event may have.

There are definitely a lot fewer boats on the water at this time of year, and our sound waters are expansive. It's plausible that many more stuns occurred throughout the state that were never recorded.

This type of pause in the harvest allows time to better assess the stock, without further damage from humans -- we can't stop further damage from Mother Nature.

Also, once again, these fish are stunned and while I believe most would die, there is still the chance some would survive. So stopping the harvest allows for a better chance for survival.

Some people will be upset, some people will praise the proclamation, and others will be indifferent to the shut-down, but I'll support it.

The Outer Banks has had some really good speckled trout fishing the past couple of years because of moderate winter weather, and it has been sometime since there has been a significant cold-stun event.

I'd rather lose five months now, than potentially a couple years or so due to more loss. But, I admit that there is no good formula to know what was lost or how to exactly fix it.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be some type of overwhelming proof that the stock is just fine and the moratorium will be lifted early.

Time will tell.

The offshore fleets were pinned down for a few days because of weather, but I did see a scattered bluefin tuna make the reports when the boats got out.

Puppy drum fishing has remained solid from the Oregon Inlet surf down towards Hatteras village. The bite has been fair around Oregon Inlet, but the best action has been around Cape Point and farther south.

The immediate forecasts show a reasonable amount of rain and winds that are light to flat out cranking over the next several days. But there should be times to get out and at least chase a few of these puppy drum from the surf.

Summer can't get here fast enough.

Go fishing.

(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 12 years and has worked in the recreational fishing industry the entire time. A former variety fishing TV show host, beach fishing guide, tackle shop and pier employee, Rob currently owns and operates Outer Banks Kayak Fishing. He is on the Pro-Staff of Bending Branches LLC, Wilderness Systems Kayaks and Release Reels. You can follow his adventures at www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)

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