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Winter weather slows fishing in the area

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By Derek Treffinger

Christmas is quickly approaching yet it seems the only thing under the tree for Brunswick County fishermen is bad weather. In the past two weeks, the days to venture offshore have been few and far between. One would think that cold, wet weather would be holding most fishermen from going offshore, yet this time of year usually revolves around wind.

During the summer months, a predominant wind blows out of the southwest but, for the most part, is manageable for fishing. However, during the winter months, a cold, fierce northeast blow sets in, sending offshore fishermen into hibernation until the spring. Winds tend to range in the 20- to 35-mph range, which can crush a plan to go offshore before you can say fish-on. Hibernation is most definitely a considerable option providing what’s on the winter to-do list. However, finding a decent day to push offshore can be easier than you think if you know what to look for.

Most fishermen attempting to find a good marine weather day immediately resort to an online wave height or wind velocity forecast. These sites are great for figuring out the details of weather patterns but normally lack a general description of what’s going on. The long and short of finding a fishable weather day is finding at least a 10-hour window between frontal systems — meaning a break between when a high pressure system moves out and a low pressure system moves in – and vice versa. Normally during this transition, a stable period of weather will set in and provide anglers calm, desirable conditions to make the trip about 50 miles offshore.

Another key concept to think about before your next trip is wind direction. It is imperative to ask yourself which direction you will be heading out and coming from, in relation to the forecast sea conditions. How will these sea conditions impact your ride out? And don’t forget to consider your past successes with a particular wind or sea direction. For example, quite a few local anglers dread fishing during an east wind, not necessarily because this wind has historically produced lower results but because it is notorious for being unpredictable. Wind is a tough element to tack down while planning a trip offshore, yet with watching the frontal systems and a small amount of experience with weather patterns, the dust won’t see your offshore gear this winter.

Once you have found a day that presents an opportunity to head offshore, typically the next question is how far do I need to go to catch fish? Ultimately, there are endless opportunities to catch quality fish off our coastline during this time of year. It all depends on what you are dead set on catching and how far you are willing to run to catch it.

On the days that have allowed anglers to go offshore, boats have done well with wahoo fishing in the 150-foot range from the Black Jack to the Winyah Scarp. Trolling dark-skirted ballyhoo about 8 to 10 knots has been the best-producing setup for those targeting wahoo. While trolling for the wahoos, be sure to keep a few smaller baits in the back of your spread in case blackfin tuna are nearby. A Boone bird paired with a small Green Machine lure is a local favorite for these tuna.

The next popular fishery has been the bottom fishing in the 80-foot range. With grouper season closing Jan. 1, quite a few anglers have opted to skip out on the trolling and target grouper before the season runs out. As stated in many of my past columns, the key to catching late-season gag grouper is having fresh or live bait and anchoring correctly on the spot you are trying to fish. Many different rig styles catch grouper but two foolproof techniques to catch them are to use a two-hook dropper rig or a common three-way swivel, bottom rig.

Moving inshore about 20 miles farther, anglers have been having decent success while fishing for black sea bass around artificial reefs in the 10-mile range. As with most sea bass trips, anglers have been weeding through the undersized bass (below 13-inches) to later catch the larger (13-inches or above) fish hanging around. Anglers catching the best numbers of these keeper bass have been using fresh, cut bait paired with a simple two-hook dropper rig. This sea bass action should only get better as water temperatures continue to drop.

            Last of the action has consisted of mostly fishing king mackerel around Frying Pan Tower and The Navy Wreck. Those who have been able to push off to these areas have found good numbers of school-sized (10 to 15 pounds) kings while slow-trolling dead cigar minnows. This action also should only get better as more kings begin to congregate around The Frying Pan Shoals area.

            With Christmas on our tail, we fishermen can only hope that Santa brings us some good weather. The fluctuations in different wind directions and speeds have been a tough pill to swallow lately but, hopefully, the coming weeks will offer a few more good weather days.