It’s safe to say that a full-blown winter found the Outer Banks this year. While the area saw more snowfall last year, this year has been one of the coldest and has broken records in the temperature category.
Even as I write this, we barely missed being hit by a considerable snow storm and lucked out with mostly rain.
When March approaches, many anglers start to have hopes of the coming spring and the fishing it brings. It’s going to be a tough call on what will happen in the coming weeks. The area will need to see some major changes in the air and water temps to get fishing started.
The severe cold and frozen waters of the sound forced some puppy drum out into the ocean recently. The fish were trying to escape being caught in a cold stun.
While the fish do not typically feed aggressively in mid-winter, they will feed in order to support their movement. So, when the fish move along the surf in winter, they do get caught, and some of these runs are better than others.
We had great runs of puppy drum in the surf last winter, but this winter doesn’t even compare. This is not because the water wasn’t cold enough to force them out. Rather it is most likely due to those fish aging out and now living most of their lives in the ocean, as opposed to the sound.
For two years straight, we saw great catches of puppy drum, but those fish should be hitting the 30-inch or so mark, which means we need to see the next class of spawned drum in order to have solid surf and sound puppy drum fishing.
Ultimately this is a hard one to call, and the coming months will tell us more about this year and next year when it comes to the puppy drum. As the water and air warms up, these fish will be looking to feed hard and that will give a glimpse into their inshore population.
The speckled trout will probably be a completely different story. These fish are highly susceptible to cold stuns. In tough winters, there are always photos of floating trout.
Now, North Carolina is a big state, and it has plenty of coastal waters where these fish live and breed. If you ask most Outer Banks anglers who hunt these fish, they will tell you the speck fishing has been slim.
Sure, there have been some nice speckled trout caught at times during a few decent runs, but there were definitely fewer fish this past year.
I love reading how someone caught a big trout and then proceeded to tout how the fish were not harmed by last year’s cold stuns. Of course, cold stuns do not kill every fish, but they sure can hurt the overall numbers.
A great deal of the Outer Banks’ sound waters froze these past few weeks, and lot of water is still covered to some degree with ice. I am curious to see if there are more stuns to come. But, then again, there might not have been a lot of fish in this area to begin with.
Other parts of the state saw some decent speck fishing, but I don’t feel that we did.
Weather forecasts show the temps becoming a little warmer — in the 40s and 50s — next week. It’s kind of scary that a bunch of people will welcome 40-degree weather with open arms.
It’s plausible that if there are more cold stuns discovered, the fishery could face another moratorium, as it did last year. A lot of anglers got upset when this occurred and said that the powers-that-be had a knee-jerk reaction.
Truth is that the powers-that-be look at all the info they have at hand. Trip tickets from commercial fisherman, data from tagging programs, and information collected from recreational anglers. Their decisions may or may not be right, but they are just trying to protect the species to the best of their ability.
However, a lot of time and money goes into chasing fish, and it hurts when you can’t keep a particular species.
I love the smell of fish in my cast iron pan or the sweet aroma of fish baking in my oven, but for me, I just love to catch fish. If I have to let fish go for a while in the hopes that it will make the population stronger at a later date, I am cool with it. I am just glad to have been outdoors doing what I love.
Over the years, I’ve seen big drum already being caught from Ocracoke Inlet, Hatteras Inlet, and Cape Point by this time. If it happens this year, I don’t think that it will be until much later in March — unless we see a lot of southwest wind that forces much warmer offshore water into the beach, which is always possible.
For now, we will have to see what Mother Nature holds for our immediate future before too many predictions for spring fishing can be made.
What I do know is this — in the coming weeks, no matter the fishing or the weather, more and more local businesses will be turning on their open signs and starting yet another year. So, if you have a late winter or early spring trip planned, you can rest easy that there will be plenty of people looking forward to your business. And if the fishing is good, well, that’s just a bonus.
Make sure to stop by one of the local tackle shops or marinas and spend a little coin. They always know what is going on in their backyards.
Stay warm my friends. It’ll be fishing season soon enough.
Go fishing and play hard.
(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 13 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, Release Reels, Yakattack and is an ambassador for Ugly Stik. You can follow his adventures at www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)