As the bitter cold bore down on North Carolina last week, many fishermen and fishery managers braced for a disaster, worried about another cold-stun kill of speckled trout like the one that devastated the fishery in January 2011. Thankfully it didn’t happen. The “polar vortex” rolled in and dropped the temperature into the teens along the coast for two days, and when it headed back to the North Pole, fishermen and biologists didn’t find the massive fish stuns and kills they had feared.
Fishermen and biologists covered the entire coast, finding lots of ice in places, but there were no signs of a fish stun or kill.
Chip Collier, a biologist who manages speckled trout for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, felt conditions were close but didn’t quite reach the point of causing a cold-stun or kill.
“We were lucky, but there were several factors that combined to prevent this from becoming a fish stun or kill,” Collier said. “First, the cold wasn’t of a long- enough duration. Air temperatures didn’t drop below freezing until midnight or so on Monday and were back above freezing shortly after sunrise on Wednesday. That short time didn’t cool the water down enough to do significant damage before it began warming again. Also, the ground wasn’t real cold yet, so it imparted some warmth into the water, and that helped prevent colder water temperatures and ice.”
Several fishermen reported catching speckled trout and red drum as early as last Wednesday afternoon. More were caught over the weekend.
Capt. Joey VanDyke of of Fingeance Charters said he rode all the canals and creeks he could reach in Hyde County and saw lots of ice but no stunned or dead fish. In Carteret County, Capt. Noah Lynk of Noah’s Ark Charters went looking after he dropped his son off at school. He also saw no signs of a fish stun or kill.
“It was actually sort of strange; definitely different than you would think,” Lynk said. “There was ice out in North River around the bridge, but it didn’t go but a couple of hundred yards from the bridge either upriver or downriver. The only ice in Wards Creek was around the edges. Wards Creek is more protected from the wind and any moving water and it usually freezes before the river does, but it didn’t this time.
“I stood at the North River Bridge and several other places for a long time searching for birds, but didn’t see any,” Lynk said. “Usually when there is a fish kill, the pelicans will gather up thick and show you right where it is. I didn’t see any flocks of pelicans anywhere.