Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fish Report 8/5/07

Fish Report 8/5/07
And some Artificial Reef/Sea Bass Management Thoughts
Hi All,
Had I written this report Monday, I'd have told a tale of uncooperative sea bass but worthy of pursuit. Fish piled high on the screen that would bite for at least a few drops. Nice fish ~ make a superb dinner.
And then that fell in a heap. During the last few days I've actually anchored up on several places and caught no -zero- sea bass, other places we'd nick a few..
Very, scarily, reminiscent of the 80's.
However, and quite unlike anything I'd ever seen until 2005, the flounder have immediately occupied the void left by the bass. Or did the flatties run the sea bass off? Just where in the Billy Blue Blazes did the cbass go? And, in this time of a 'fisheries crisis' for flounder, how can there be this 3 year old targeted fishery that never existed before? Great Scott...
For now I'm going to call the trips "Bottom Fishing". It might be that the sea bass resettle shortly. We may find ourselves targeting flounder. Croakers could roll in at any moment giving opportunity for some quick action before moving onto whatever else might bite a hook.
I have no clue how long the flounder bite will last. Had an eleven year old catch one 10 1/4 pounds. Couple others north of 5 lbs. Some 4 fish limits. Been tagging 12 - 15 a day.
Had that youngster held his 27 1/2 inch flounder straight out, as folks often do to make a fish appear larger in a photo, you'd have not been able to see him!
So we're coming in the inlet Saturday; anxious to 'call the paper' for the young man and his jumbo fluke. It's an August Saturday with boats of every description coming and going. I go slow and steady ~ try to make an easy target to miss. Couple outboards zip on in, right behind them a pair of charter boats,  and fast from offshore are three of the super fishing boats - the multi-million dollar kind. The current is near peak on the ebb; a current that can make the inlet a tragic place on a calm day. And nearly did.
A customer on one of the charters stood to wave and -right slam in the mouth of the inlet with all that current and traffic- falls overboard.
I thought he was a dead man.
I turned broadside to stop traffic while calling the Coast Guard, a couple jet skis got to him pretty quick and the boat he'd fallen out of got back to him soon after. Two of the folks aboard struggled to get him back into the cockpit, but without success.
All while that screaming ebb current was carrying the guy toward a hard steel buoy.
Ended up OK.
They dodged the buoy going astern and fished the guy back aboard just as Coast Guard and DNR Police showed up.
I'd estimate the whole thing took less than 2 minutes.
This week coming is the White Marlin Open. It's a time when, for some, prize money takes precedence over safety and courtesy on the water. Seems as though that's more so all the time these days, but it's especially so in the coming week.
That last couple hundred yards; once you've gotten between the rock piles but before the no wake zone starts, offers a lot of opportunity for misfortune. It is here, and this time of year, that you'll encounter fishers that are testing the limits of their craft. A pontoon boat perhaps, or a jet skier that's thinking about all that open water; families out fishing that just know their evening meal will be found along the south jetty wall.
The learning curve can be tragically steep.
And, on the subject of learning curves: once again I've been misinformed about the 'rail cars to reef' project approval time line for coming before the City Council. Ah well, it'll happen sooner or later. Promise you this, I'm done with pre-announcing; I'll just write about how it went ~ whenever that is...
I did catch Jon Dodrill of Florida's Fish and Game Commission on the Discovery Channel stating that for every dollar they spend on artificial reef $132.00 comes back to the community.
Sounds like a pretty good investment.
Professor Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize economist, said, "A plowed field is no more a part of nature than an asphalted street..."
We call these reef constructions 'artificial' yet they are far more 'natural' than even the toils of the farmer. Would that the farmer could dump soil, let natural events take their course and harvest from it.
Yet that's how it happens in the marine environment. 
What would seem so unsightly -a junkyard of debris- in any terrestrial environment is, over time, turned into a coral oasis on a barren seafloor.
The other day, before they left for parts unknown, I took a few sea bass for dinner. In those fish I found that one had been feeding on tiny shrimp-like animals, krill: another had 4 small rock crabs -they call 'em white leggers up north: another a foot long worm of some sort, and in the last, a soft-shelled lobster ~ Four fish, 4 different species of prey.
Each prey species has habitat favorable to it. It's in all fishermen's best interest to look after it.
Even make more of it.
Sounds like a plan.
We also need to learn from our mistakes ~ there's got to be few evident in this report.
Summer Flounder in collapse? I only see one part of the coast but it looks OK. However, lots and lots of management effort is about to be expended on refining the management scheme. Read that as "find a way to cut quotas". Never mind that a Delaware Bay party boat mate I spoke with a few weeks ago hadn't seen a single -not one- sea trout. Save the flounder! How about a slot limit on the big flounder ~ they're all female.
Don't sweat the red hake, AKA 'ling'. We must have caught 2 or 3 hundred this year. That's a huge increase over previous years ~ 'course it's maybe half of what we caught per hour in the 1980s.
And scup? We did catch a porgy the other day. He was about 3 inches long and fatally snagged. Not quite the burlap sacks full they caught in the 50's, but it's a start.
Sea bass abundance? Down big-time from a few years ago. Again, I only see part of the coast ~ but I don't like it. I think (without going book-length) that beside the habitat angle and a sharp increase in winter trawl effort where our region's cbass migrate to in the cold water months, there is an issue with size limits and pressure. Sea bass of the early/mid 90's --when I was the only skipper on the coast with a 9 inch size limit and nobody anywhere was worried about counting 'em-- those sea bass were often caught under nine inches in mixed sex ratios. As that explosion of sea bass matured, fewer and fewer smalls were developing into males. (Ohhh... Sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites. That is, they're ALL are born female but some turn into males ~ on an 'as needed' basis!) My observation is that as we were pushing up the size limit the incidence of small males became quite rare. During the period that I noted a great deal of habitat expansion ~reef growth expanding in places I commonly fished~ there was also a tremendous number of sub-legal male sea bass.
Hmmm... Is it possible that by boxing -putting in the cooler- virtually all the males caught nowadays that we are upsetting the spawning cycle? This versus many of the sub-legal males going back with only a brief absence from their potential mates.
It's a thought.
Lately I've been seeing some pretty small males go back. It's a cycle as natural as a plowed field.
Going 'bottom fishing' ~ the Mrs. sure enjoys flounder for dinner though...
See you on the rail.
Capt. Monty Hawkins
Party Boat "Morning Star"
Reservations 410 520 2076

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