Monday, July 17, 2006

Fish Report 7/16/06

Fish Report 7/16/06
Roller coaster still...
Hi All,
I almost sent a 'fish report' after 3 rock solid great days last week. It really was May in July. Many limits. Nice.
Now it's July again!
Which isn't all bad this year. Not bad at all really. Saturday's trip was a bit slower than I'd care for but I'd found a shot of flounder and worked 'em a while. One young man had a double header of keepers. A few folks limited on the flat ones - the largest was 6 3/4 pounds. Some never did catch a flounder that day, though I'm sure everyone had a sea bass dinner.
Those flounder were the exception! We've not been seeing them to speak of. Perhaps soon...
Sea bass remain the target - occasionally some limits.
Today, 7/17, fishing was very kind; about 1/2 the rail was limited...
I've been seeing schools of small sea trout on the fishfinders in some of the inshore sloughs. What you 'see' on electronics isn't really confirmed until you swing one over the rail. One of the half-day boats did just that Saturday - small throwbacks. Really small.
This happened last year too, but a little later in the season. It's new to me. We used to see big schools of small trout (weakfish) in the second to third week of August. In the 80's there weren't any limits and we pounded those smalls pretty hard! But not in July - we were plenty hungry enough to have tried 'em if we saw 'em - they weren't there.
No ideas - no theory on why. They're just really early and really small - two years running...
In Able an Fahay's "First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes..." their data shows growth rates for the first year would put newly spawned fish at about 1 1/2 to 3 inches so these fish, about 8 inches, must have been spawned last year.
Sea trout - they spawn multiple times each summer - should be on the increase. Every year we see huge schools of smalls coming down the beach well into October. It's beginning earlier now than ever. But there's no 'comeback' of the larger tiderunners.
Many think that predation by stripers and bluefish, especially on the overwintering grounds, is the problem.
This will be one of fishery management's toughest fixes.
Would the larger nearshore species - the predators - prefer menhaden?
Don't know, but when trout were incredibly thick in the late 70's we sure had plenty of blues too...
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076
Fish Report 7/16/06
Fish Report 7/8/06
A fish eat fish world...
Hi All,
This summer's roller coaster of sea bass fishing continues. Yesterday we had all we could do to scratch dinner out of the day - high man had 16. The day before that, high man was a girl - age 11 - she had 16 too. (Gumption. We came in early because of sea conditions, but this lil' gal never let up on 'em. If young Miss Sam carries her can-do attitude through life she'll be CEO of some blue chip...) 
Anyway, on today's long trip we were bagged out at 12:30 and back home early. Nice fishing.
If we could figure it all out...
We won't. But we need to figure out a lot more than we know about the region's marine production.
Starting in '92, back before there were federal and state regulations on sea bass, I started, with the owner's blessing, a 9 inch limit on cbass aboard the OC Princess. Most saw that something good could come of that - others surely did not and forecast doom on the boat's business. They thought no one would pay money if you couldn't kill every fish that came over the rail.
Nowadays nobody (legally) fishes "over the rail - into the pail" anymore. The legal size is presently 25% larger - 12 inches ~ 9 inches seems so incredibly small. Lots of fish are getting thrown back alive that would have been boxed in the not too distant past.
What's odd is that we had an explosion of bass in the mid/late 90's. At the time the fed had just instituted their first size limit on cbass. The creation of a creel limit (the total number you can keep) was many a council meeting away. Prior to the 25 fish limit it was not unusual for 'high hook' to have 200 fish in his cooler on a late fall day. It was a LOT more pressure than we put on them now with a 25 fish creel limit.
The fishing had gone from 6 or 7 sea bass on an August trip in the mid-late 80's to 6 or 7 thousand in the late 90's. (mostly undersized throwbacks) A thousand fold increase is something even a fisherman might notice.
It's odd that with today's larger size limit and 25 fish limit we don't seem to have the production - the small fish coming into the fishery - that we did while the size limit was in the 9s and 10s.
There are many factors. More than can we now know, I'm sure. 
Maybe 12 inch bass snack on 5 inch bass...
It seems I've gone on forever about the importance of seafloor habitat in the role of production. Even documented loss of coral habitat on video and written about the increases of that habitat type that occurred in the mid/late 90's. Seems like a no-brainer - a greater footprint of habitat should yield more fish given some measure of management.
Yawn. Coral? In the mid-Atlantic?? Not yet - it will become a management issue someday though.
There's lots of other habitat too - tube worm colonies in muddy bottom - that type of stuff. I thought coral would be easy - forget about tube worms.
Midweek I went to a spot that I thought would have a jag of cbass on it. This time of year cbass are often well up in the water column feeding on krill, but riding across the reef revealed nothing on the fishfinders. Nothing at all. Uh oh. Still, I had seen the first of the small (3 to 5 foot) sharks a few days before so I thought maybe the reef's inhabitants might be hunkered down. They were. It was a great bite.
There were a few bitten of lines and, briefly, a small hammerhead on our drift line - evidence that a reef isn't so much about feeding as it is about avoiding being eaten.
Could it be that the amount of habitat is a control on predation? I think so...
It's the single biggest key to the puzzle.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076
Fish Report 7/8/06
Fish Report 6/28/06
Of summer fishing and computer glitches...
Hi All,
First off, if you're scratching your head wondering what this 'fish report' is; click reply with a short note about what numbskulls fishermen are - I'll get you off the list. My address book disappeared and it has been a chore to reload the info. There are bound to be names that shouldn't be. I apologize - there's enough spam in the world!
A fish report then: I suppose a good way to characterize the fishing is by looking at 6/19 and 6/20. That Monday, with 20 to 25 SW knot winds, was one of the toughest days I can remember. High man had 8 sea bass - some only had 1 or 2. The next day, Tuesday, we were bagged out - completely 100% done - at 12 o'clock sharp.
Every other day has been somewhere in between. We're not seeing a whole lot of limits - just a few now and again.
I'd mention flounder too, we had a couple good days on 'em but then it fell in a heap - just a dozen or so in the last week.
Haven't caught a blue lately.
Remarkably, we are seeing a few red hake (aka ling). Now, don't get the deep fryer out just yet; I'm talking about a very few ling. Still, it's encouraging because they are being caught in places that have not yielded a ling in nearly 20 years. You may recall that I think commercial scalloping effort has an effect on the red hake population. This is because in the early life stages they live within a live scallop. A 'commensal' relationship the scientists say. The ling 'move in' at just under a 1/2 inch in length and remain, except for nocturnal foraging, until they are almost 5 inches long. It does not appear to benefit the scallop, nor harm it. Strikes me as odd to see them coming back as we are still very much in a peak of commercial scalloping effort. However, they did close a large area called the Elephants Trunk to scalloping in 2004  - hardly time enough for a ling population to mature but perhaps enough time for us to start seeing some benefit.
To our north I heard reports of the 'ling resurgence' from this winter past. Some will say "It's a cycle". I say baloney - it's cause and effect - we just don't know what they are!
It is odd that as mid-Atlantic scallop landings went up - red hake numbers plummeted. For a while I thought we'd better mount a few for the Smithsonian!
There are many marine critters that enjoy a red hake snack. They have turned up in numerous stomach content analysis. Often times I've had charter skippers and mates tell me of tunas with their bellies packed full of 'em. I would fully expect that sea turtles too would prey upon this rather slow bottom dweller.
Just another place for ecosystem management to step in...
Fish Report 6/14/06
Of Lobster and Fish...
Hi All,
Consistent. I actually used that word to describe the fishing in my last report. At the time it was true!
You could say there's variety in catch levels now. Still, almost everyday there are at least a few limits or dern close to it. The two tough days were mostly due to wind but some schools of sea bass are spawning too. That makes for an odd bite - or no bite at all! Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be an alarm that makes ALL the cbass in this region go on the spawn at once. Often times I can leave one place and 1/4 mile away find a different feeding behavior. Sometimes I'll have to 'punt' - move a fair distance. Work a little harder - no worries.
The weather has been remarkably unstable for June I think. Alberto is as early a tropical event as I can recall. Several times strong westerly wind forced me to work tighter to the beach than I'd like. NWesterlies are far more typical of fall. Tough to hunt bass in tight. Last Saturday we had NW gusts to 41 knots. 10 to 15 was the forecast! Nicked a few bass offshore before the wind came on. I really hugged the beach on the way home. Some of the charter boats came in that day flying tuna flags - Great Night! They earned those fish!
It's not May anymore - I'd call the bass fishing pretty decent for June with just a tease of last year's flounder now and again.
An article two weeks ago in Nature described how Caribbean lobsters would avoid other 'sick' lobsters. Apparently they pile in pretty chummy in a good hiding hole - but if it's occupied by a lobster with a virus called PaV1 they'll leave that one alone. All alone. The lobsters can tell weeks before any outward signs appear. This interesting work, funded by VIMS and Old Dominion University, has applications in our region too.
If this disease avoidance could be said to be intelligence; croakers, then, are probably as dumb as a rock. (that's rock as in granite...) I saw no sign of 'flight' in the croaker kill a few years back. The smaller fish inshore went about their business while the susceptible larger ones offshore died.
The events that began on June 22, 2003 were rather different. On that day I found the area east of the Delaware Lightship, an area where I had been fishing quite regularly, to be devoid of fish. There were NONE anywhere - except for a pocket of sea bass on some natural bottom. Many of those cbass, that single school in a huge area, were infected with small white spheres under the scales - a virus or bacterial infection infection. Lesions and fin rot were readily evident on the worst cases.
For miles around there were no other bass to be found... I think the Caribbean Lobster might not be the only marine critter that senses disease... 
After about 2 weeks of trying I got a few scientists to go with me and scope it out but things had piped down. There still weren't a lot of fish around but some had returned. The sickly ones had died or moved on. The area has long since returned to 'normal'.
Two weeks is too long but better than never! Oil spills, trash slicks, fish kills - if it isn't washing up on the beach it's not a problem.
Ah well, that was three years ago. Still, we fishers are the canaries in this marine coal mine; there really ought to be some mechanism to look at what we report.
Property values rule. Things that erode that "oceanfront" tax base get attention quick.
If they'd just look past the breakers perhaps whatever event is coming next could be taken care of before it hits the beach.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076

2 Fish Reports 6/28/06


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