Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fish Report 3/12/07

Fish Report 3/12/07
Pending State Record Tog
Lil' Research...
Hi All,
We had a couple good days this past weekend - some nice sized tog. Wasn't all gravy; had my head handed to me on Saturday. Really poor day and with a great bunch of regulars too; nicked a few dinners was all.
But the other days ~ that was some fishin! Saw a flurry of solid, around the rail action on Friday and Sunday and had a pick the rest of the while. Nice.
We do the fish pool by length on tog trips: A release counts just as good as a fish in the box. It's pretty hard to tag a pool winner if the money goes over with it! 
The fellow that's tagged and boated a few dandies of late, Sam, steps up with a pair of 27 3/4 inch releases. They had to have been near 16-17 pounds. Nice tags ~ plenty of other big releases too. And then Sam found the fish he's been looking for ~ 20 pounds 11 ounces! Pending recertification of the scales -a must for a state record- he'll be in the book. The current record is 19 pounds 8 ounces.
Some records come by a stroke of luck - not this one. A lifetime's work: This record was earned.
I don't have any trips in mind right now. That will change with the weather. Have a few chores before the annual CG safety inspection to take care of. No worries. Maybe the southerlies this week will warm the water a touch.
The task of redoing the tog regulations looms over us. ASMFC wants a pretty substantial cut: going to hurt in some places. But it's also an opportunity to make each local stock -each area's tog population- far better. Continued building of artificial reef and better management is key. I think it's entirely possible to make this fishery better than it's ever been. Just need to put more reef out there and serve less tog for dinner! Really is that simple.
I've been through one tog collapse in the early/mid 80s. The ocean still boundless - having only to fish when they were 'running' and take all we could catch. We were greedy but lacked foresight to know it.
Personally, for Maryland's marine tog fishery, I'd like to see the size limit jump from 14 to 16 inches. Fecundity -how many eggs are produced- rises substantially in a slightly larger female. It's a good thing if you want to still be catching tog in a few years. Whether the MD DNR will consider it I couldn't guess. It becomes complex because a two inch increase to our shore-bound fishers would put them out of the game. That is, the fish along the jetties and bulkheads are mostly caught-off as soon as they are 14 inches -if not sooner. With precious few 16 inch fish in the bays, there would have to be separate regulations for boat and shore fishers; a difficult undertaking in these under-funded times. 
There are plenty of ways to get the reduction to our catch that's needed to meet the federal guidelines - one'll shake out.
I had a trip on Monday to go explore with the underwater video camera. Artificial reef monitoring: With the State stepping back into the reef construction game in a big way, it's work that needs doing. My first stop was on an old menhaden boat that had been sunk in the 60's. Wow! What an incredible coral colony. I've looked at a lot of structure - never seen anything like that. 100% hard coral coverage.
And, in the yet to warm March waters, there was a large male tog totally still and snug in a deep crevice beneath the coral.
I think you could have put soft-shell lobster in front of him ~ no way that fish was going to eat!
Another piece to the puzzle...
We worked around to different reefs, dropping the camera on sets that I thought might interest. I finished the day on a piece of natural reef - a place I know as an exquisite sea-whip (soft coral) meadow. One problem; it was no longer there. Oh, the rocks were still there -you can believe I found the spot- but what little remained of this fantastic sea-whip colony was in-between slabs of rock - hidden. It was almost as if every exposed surface had been scrapped off.
Bet it was. Bet some flounder came up in the net that did it.
Judging by the new growth I'd estimate that the gear impact took place in late '05.
One of these days we have to get that issue straightened out. I'm told that we don't have enough science to know absolutely that returning a reef to it's bare rock form is bad for the fisheries in this region. And I'm told that we really don't know how much is out there - or should be. There's a lot we don't know. Then there's things that we do know -know in our gut - but are really hard to do.
Preventing gear damage to natural reef is a great big scary job - huge. Fishing's gonna get a lot better though... 
Meanwhile, we'll build some reefs, nick a few tog and bide our time while the sea bass move back inshore. If you happen to know where there's a heap of steel, I know a high school welding shop teacher that would sure like to have some. His kids have built some fantastic reef units in the past - need a little more raw material!
Ahhh, I can see it now. "Welcome to Ocean City ~ Tautog Capitol of the World!".  'Course then we'd have to tear down that beautiful marlin sculpture at the foot of the 50 bridge...
Nah, time the tog population gets where I think it's possible, there'll be whites back inside the twenty. Congratulations to ya' Sam, but I think we'd better keep the statue!
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076

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