Friday, October 30, 2015

Fish Report 10/30/15

Fish Report 10/30/15 
Sea Bass OK(ish) Sort Of..
Winter Toggin & How I Do It 
A (not very) Shocking MRIP Overestimate

Long Sea Bass Saturday (still room) Oct 31st & Also On Monday/Wednesday, November 2nd & 4th, 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM - $125.00..

Now Taking Sea Bass Reservations to November 30th Except Thanksgiving Day - Regular Schedule With An Occasional Longer Trip Announced. 

Fishing everyday the weather's fit!

Not Looking For "All-Limits, All The Time" Sea Bass Fishing. We are seeing some 15 fish sea bass limits - working for them. If sea bass management were holding a proper course, any client able to drop & reel would be able to catch 15 sea bass with one shiny bare hook. I believe sea bass management is having a very poor result in our region & will delve into some of that again in a future report.
I'll announce December trips as weather forecasts firm--like I announce tog trips. (see section in report below for an explanation of short-term trip announcements.) 

Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 - $125.00 – Sundays At Weekday Rates: 7 to 3 at $110.00. - Other Longer Trips Announced When Winds Look Good.
Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See For How The Rail's Laid Out..
LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Happen - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..  

Be a half hour early! We always leave early! 
..except when someone shows up right on time. 
Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east bound boat. With a limited number of reserved spots, I do not refund because you over-slept or had a flat..

Dramamine Is Cheap Insurance! (Meclizine's Better!) Crystalized Ginger Works Great Too. It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure.  If You Suffer Mal-de-Mer In A Car You Should Experiment On Shorter Half-Day Trips First! (Wockenfuss Candies sells crystalized ginger locally - Better is Nuts.Com.. Chewable Meclizine is a good pharmaceutical with Scopolamine Patches the gold standard.) For Anglers With Known Issues Dramamine & Meclizine Work Best If Treatment Begins The Night Before..
Honestly - If you get to go on the ocean once month, once a year, or even less; why risk chumming all day? Similarly, if you howl at the moon all night, chances are good you'll howl into a bucket all day.  

Bring A Cooler With Ice For Your Fish – A 48 Quart Cooler Is Fine For A Few People. Do Not Bring A Very Large Cooler. We DO have a few loaners - you'll still need ice. 
No Galley! Bring Food & Beverages To Suit. A few beers in cans is fine for the ride home.  

In Congress: Ask your Representative to support HR 3094, The Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, which gives allows the States bordering the Gulf of Mexico control over their red snapper--a species supremely responsive to increased habitat via oil wells & artificial reef. At issue's core are recreational catch estimates.. Despite incredibly detailed analysis showing red snapper populations at all time historical highs; and, also owing to habitat increases, even large snapper populations in areas where they had never been caught before, Federal regulators (NOAA/NMFS) use catch estimates to hold the season under two weeks. 
It is also true federal red snapper population estimates are done by trawl survey. 
NOAA uses fish population estimates created from a method unable to go where the fish live (no one can trawl an oil rig or artificial reef) & then uses recreational catch estimates no one believes for calculating whether anglers have gone over quota. In a system run-amuck, here is a fishery fix that sends a clear message to NOAA: Stop Using "Science" No One Believes!  
It's never been easier to write your Congressional Representative. Every time a Congressional member hears about bad catch estimate data's effect on fisheries it helps push management toward a better outcome.

Small-scale reef building that adds up over time: We've received another load of 90 pound landscaping blocks. All our free/very cheap reef blocks are thanks to the special help of Capt. Jeff Bauer, and donated by Potomac Valley Brick and York Building Products from their Thomasville, PA plant.   
Now 12,285 Reef Blocks Deployed at numerous sites. Active presently are Doug Ake's Reef with 2,298 - St. Ann's 1,411 - Al Giles Barge 542 - Eagle Scout Reef 708 - Sue's Drifting Easy Reef 147 - Nichols' Concrete 528 - Upside Down Tank 132 
Working at Elaine's Concrete too, a reef we built in the mid-1990s to about 18 inches thick. After 3 years of wonderful colonization & crazy-good fishing, it scoured in--just disappeared. Using the old buried-in reef as a foundation, we have begun restoring production to this lost artificial reef with 24 reef blocks. A couple thousand will see it done. Have to start somewhere!

Our largest pre-cast concrete project ever this past March & April; The Reef Foundation Has Secured The Services Of The 105 x 30 Foot "Iron Lady" Again For Several More Months. 
We're going to build more great reef with this rig.. 
In town to demolish a sunken trawler, the long-abandoned "New Hope," the Iron Lady already took all that vessel's steel superstructure & rigging to Capt. Bob Gowar's Reef about 8 miles offshore. 
When complete we'll start loading the Iron Lady with truckloads of pre-cast concrete again..

Please Support Maryland Coast Reef Building!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential. 
Thank You! 

Greetings all, 
After a mad dash to finish painting we buttoned the boat back together & began fishing again last week. While not sea bass fishing as it should be, we have had some decent days with some limits. 
Sea bass aren't completely alone. We've also had welcome surprises of large triggerfish and jumbo fluke. No, not enough to say there's a chance YOU'LL catch one, but they were remarkable in size. (You are not at all likely to catch triggerfish & flounder on upcoming trips - It did happen though)
We're also seeing the traditional bluefish mixed with sea bass (because they're feeding on sea bass!) as fall arrives. These aren't large bluefish - not yet. Every year in November there are days when big blues will run us off a reef/wreck because they're eating sea bass on the way up. Really big bluefish are the worst. They'll allow you to reel in short sea bass by the dozen, but when a good sized LEGAL sea bass is hooked - CHOMP! ..we pull anchor and try another spot.
We're also seeing scup/porgies, though not in fishable numbers. 

Weather's being a pain in the neck. We're losing swaths of time as storm-winds gain strength and build large seas. Although last Sunday was OK and we had some limits, I had to cancel Monday through Friday!  

Pretty days will come. We'll be fishing daily when the weather breaks our favor. 

I'm starting to get inquiries about tautog fishing - blackfish for those up north. 
Because I want all my clients "on the piece" (directly over structure) I carry a smaller crowd than for cbass or flounder/fluke. I'll sell out between 8 & 16 anglers depending on what's the bite's been like. There isn't a 'minimum number of people' per-say - I've even gone with just one client many times. (My crew & I like to fish too!) 
Because Maryland lost our December tog fishery to a bad MuRFSS catch estimate from the early 2000s, an estimate that had a few jetty fishermen catching far beyond any possible true number, (but their "overfishing" was used to close December anyway) - I won't begin tog fishing until January 1st, 2016. 

January, February, March.. lots of bad weather in winter. There's no use having staff work-up a whole bunch of reservations when we can easily lose weeks at a time (as we have lately!!) What I do is announce trips via these fish Reports as forecasts firm up. It's not a perfect system. Sometimes I miss a pretty day. Sometimes I have to cancel even a short notice trip when the forecast changes. Sometime we get offshore and the weather throws us a curveball 
..and sometimes it goes perfectly as planned but we get our head handed to us fish-wise - even on a pretty day.

Eh, maybe we catch another 20 pounder. 
Years ago a friend, Jason, had a 16 pound & 14 pound tog in his cooler. He wasn't even near the running for the pool. Didn't even put his monster on the scale. 
Been a lot of trips where a 4 pounder would have won the pool too. 

No fishing I know is harder to predict than winter tog. 

If I announce a winter tog or December sea bass trip & you want to go - great. Make a reservation---but don't turn your phone off & be sure to have a back-up plan for dinner too!  

Our understanding of "Tautog Restoration" is woeful. 
Right now MDDNR is singing about "one of the highest striped bass young of the year, (YOY,) surveys ever."  
Striped bass are important fish. 

I'm pretty sure we've just had the single highest tautog YOY survey EVER.   But, yawn.., I suppose that would be like bragging about mud-cats on the Mississippi. 
Tog aren't important.
Not yet. 
We're building habitat as fast as we can & have had what I believe is the best size limit for marine production for just 3 or 4 years. 
Suddenly we have the highest juvenile production ever...

Should Maryland get more serious about robust artificial reef substrates for oyster restoration, (building vertical substrates such as rock & concrete where natural spat settlement can occur more easily,) we'll also see continued growth of tautog & sheepshead populations in the Bay. I believe if we had not adopted the indian name, tautog; then we would have named our buck-tooth reef fish "Oyster Wrasse." 
You see, it is not only true, "Reef Restoration Makes Fisheries Restoration Simple;" It's also true reef restoration can rebuild fish populations missing for so long we'd need archeologists to find evidence the fishery once existed. 
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's legendary fisheries specialist, Bill Goldsborough, points out exactly that with the archeological explorations of shell middens in St. Mary's county, Maryland. The most common fish in these archeological digs from 100s of years ago was sheepshead. Their bones are on display in a museum. There's no record of them in the modern period, say from 1950 to 2000. It was after the deployment of Woodrow Wilson Bridge rubble as artificial reef in the late 1990s/early 2000s that Maryland anglers began to again catch sheepshead. 
Some anglers today actually target the species. 

As a fish swims, our reefs along coastal Maryland are a long-long way from Maryland's Chesapeake reefs. I've never wet a line in the Chesapeake, but have fished for a lifetime in Maryland. 
The first sheepshead I ever caught, ever even saw, were on coastal nearshore artificial reefs in 2009. 
If we can bring back a species we didn't even know was missing from the Chesapeake & coast, what might an honest restoration target be for tautog? 

Surely not some number drawn-up with MuRFSS recreational catch estimate help showing catches in the 1980s   ..but that's exactly what 'tautog restoration' is based on. 

In the early/mid 1980s I did my level-best as a deckhand to exterminate tautog from Maryland's wrecks & reefs. Seemed to have been nearly successful. After just a few years of heavy partyboat effort our tog population had diminished to where fishing was pointless. 
We laid off them, had to. Focused instead on sea bass & red hake during summer & then sea trout (weakfish,) as was traditional, come fall. 

No commercial traps - No commercial trawls - No Dredges - No 'Enviro Wackos' - There Would Be No Regulation At All For Years To Come - just a few partyboats pummeling good tog habitat. My captain told me, "Don't worry. When we kill all these we'll find something else." 
To paraphrase Pogo: "When we met the enemy, it was us." 
I've carried that lesson all my life. 

I do see where highly elevated tog populations over wrecks then may have resulted from habitat loss of nearby natural reefs, plus similarly forced migration from the NJ coast's anoxic even in 1976. (NY sewer sludge caused an enormous 'dead zone' of low/no oxygen water along the Jersey Shore in 1976. Fish that could leave did..) 
Regardless, we loaded those fish into coolers every day until there were none. 

Just to give readers an idea how thick our tog were in those early years; up until 2004 or 2005 I'd probably caught more tog on a 6 ounce diamond jig than on bait. When I was working deck I'd sneak a jig down while the fish were fired-up. 
Especially after we'd run out of bait. 
Catch tog on Gotcha plugs, on small Hopkins spoons, on 8 ounce Bridgeport diamond jigs.. 
I caught LOTS of tog jigging. 
Many times I saw clients put just a few blue claw crab legs on a hook and catch big tog.
As with sea bass in that time, we were taught throwing tog back was a waste of the fish because everything died when thrown back. 

After laying off them for years - not targeting tog; in the early 1990s we began throwing tog back in earnest. Even today, despite massive well-healed speargun wounds & thousands of tag returns, there are still some who believe we shouldn't throw tog back because they all die. 
This I guarantee - if your goal is to catch a ten pound tog, start throwing back 8 pounders. If you want to catch a 20 pounder.... 
Unfortunately, since sea bass populations have slipped & regulations tightened, a great deal of reef-fishing effort has shifted to tog. I honestly believe that, among several important aspects of management, abundant sea bass is key to abundant large tog. 
People looking for dinner prefer doubles of keeper sea bass to patiently waiting for a tog bite. Then too, partyboat owners prefer carrying lots of people who are catching lots of fish - it's an economic thing..

Just a few years ago I had a commercial fisher from Virginia who complained bitterly about how my American Littoral Society (ALS) tags were killing 'his' tautog.  Seems he'd caught 10 or 12 of my boat's tagged tog in one day. He could "tell" by the growth on the tags that the fish would die. 
Anger has a way of twisting logic. Tagged tog are not as valuable in the live market. It must have been frustrating to see diminished value--which is never my intent with tagging. 
Although surely his argument seemed sensible to him - the fact he recaptured those tagged tautog at all proves they did not die because we released them. 

You can bet they did die in a restaurant though.  

I wrote a piece in December, 2005: "Suggestions for Revising Maryland's Tautog Management Plan." In that comment I specifically asked for a 14 inch limit in our back-bays & a 16 inch limit in the ocean. I also asked for regionalized regulation in broader coast-wide scale. 

By the late 1990s I had begun asking NOAA/NMFS for regional management of tautog, sea bass & red hake. 
Habitat fidelity - what is really spawning site habitat fidelity - positively demands regional quota for both commercial & recreation harvest of any fish. 

Habitat fidelity really is key in fisheries restoration. It's also why habitat restoration is so important for all species. I know of once-vast areas of reef that are no longer there at all. In fact, our largest artificial reef permit, the Bass Grounds Artificial Reef Site just 9 miles offshore, is designed around an area of sea whip meadow that fishers targeted even into the 1970s ..before it was completely lost to hydraulic clamming impacts during the surfclam boom. 
A huge area of soft sea whip reef men could navigate to with only a compass and a watch (with no LORAN or GPS,) a reef so large captains of yesteryear could just stop the boat and start fishing without today's painstaking effort of anchoring just-so over a wreck -- All Gone. 
You'd think a fisheries restorationist or "manager" knowledgable in habitat fidelity might ponder how to reestablish spawning populations of reef fish where there is no longer reef.. 

First that manager would have to discover we even have reefs. 
I've been sending NOAA video of our reef bottoms since 2001. No discovery yet. 
No one in fisheries management can link spawning site fidelity to spawning site abundance (habitat abundance) or spawning site habitat declines; they haven't the least idea of reefs where our fish spawn. 

Even our precious & special summer flounder spawn on hardbottom reefs in 20 to 30 fathoms - are spawning there now or just did. (Two very large female fluke we had last week were spawned-out.)

I believe "Reef Restoration Makes Fisheries Restoration Simple" offers a simple truth. 
I also believe: reef fish restoration where no knowledge of reef exists is insanely hard. 
If a system of fisheries restoration were devised that did not recognize habitat fidelity/spawning site fidelity, and that system were also unaware of historical fluctuation/catastrophic loss of reef habitat, and that system were also fed a constant diet of hallucinations of catch that could not possibly be true - you'd end up with the exact mess we have today. 

Every reef we build gets colonized by tog after 3 or 4 years on the bottom. 
The 570 foot ex-Navy Destroyer "Radford" had so many mussels growing all throughout that tog colonized that reef in just months. 
I think it's very likely we have more tog today than back in the early 1980s. They're more spread out though..

Should we jump for joy and call the restoration a success? 
No. I think we should press on. Make tog fishing better than it might have been when men could row a boat from Lewes Delaware and go whaling. 
Long while back..

Rather than fact-based ecology & spawning/population biology running management straight toward abundant fish &  economic well-being for fishers, we've taken the worst statistics ever fed into any scientific method, statistics of important recreational catch that virtually no one believes, and attempted to rationalize management's failures by any plausible means--with any possible excuse-- because management is using "the best scientific information available" as required by law. 

Scientific method requires factual input. Therefore, for fisheries science to allow management's success in restoration plans, there have to be factual inputs. 
The art of management, however, more simply requires managers to decide what is best. 
But that's not allowed. They have to use NOAA's recreational catch estimates. 
So do the scientists. 
Fisheries science & management have to use MRIP catch estimates because that's all there is - it's "the best" because there is no other.
If the computer says the sky is yellow, the ocean is orange, and farmland is pink - NOAA tells managers to shut the heck up and use the data already.

Although hardly alone, I have complained about recreational catch estimates since 1998. Several repairs have been attempted including a moderately succesful repair to For-Hire (Partyboat/Charterboat) recreational estimates in 2003, and then the catastrophic failure of MRIP to replace MuRFSS just a few years ago.  
For an example of MRIP's "repair," let's take New York's recent tautog estimate from Nov/Dec 2014. 

New York Tautog Wave 6 (Nov/Dec) 2014 - All Recreational Participants
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information
Here NY Private Boats are said to have outfished NY's partyboats by 400 to 1. 
And, as MRIP clearly points-out by their absence, NY Charter Boats didn't catch any tog at all. 

No one with any actual idea of the fishery would give that estimate a moment's consideration. 
But NOAA will absolutely, positively REQUIRE the estimate be used in creating regulation.. 
New York tog/blackfish anglers will PAY in season & limits for this estimate which no one ought to believe. 

From Maine to Texas, & in many fisheries, estimates that could not possibly be true are being used all the time. 

Here's the NY Tautog estimate from 2007 when the season was longer & the size limit smaller. Can anyone guess where the truth is?
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information

And here from 1982 - one that may be more true. 
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameFishing ModeTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information

After Halloween is a time of year when boat storage yards are full of shrink-wrapped private boats--even most charter boats. It's a time of year when party/charter clientele is more-largely made up of boat owners. Put up in winter storage--not fishing; MRIP has private boats positively demolishing all US Commercial & all US For-Hire landings. 

Here again is the 2014 Nov/Dec NY Private Boat Tautog estimate From The New MRIP Program. This is the number of pounds management must use to manage tautog.
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information

And here are the estimates for the last 5 years for ALL US Tautog For-Hire landings ALL YEAR (not just Nov/Dec.) This Is All US Party/Charter Tautog Landings, All Year.
Estimate StatusYearCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information

In two cold months NY Private Boat landed One Million Thirty Thousand pounds. 
In Five YEARS of ALL US Party/Charter Effort: 1.25 million pounds. 

NOAA: Those NY Private Boat guys are awesome. They must the Chuck Norris of the whole coast's tog fishery. They nearly caught more tautog in 2 months than every US Party/Charter operation caught in five full years all put together. 

Know what's really amazing? 
..that anyone with any education, let alone a Ph.D, calls this "science." 

It must be frustrating as heck not to tell your boss what you think of the data you're being forced to use. 
On the other hand, there are NY recreational guys who will express their love & appreciation for NOAA's sincere effort at developing such wonderful data. 
How nice. Can't wait for that level of thinking to gain a seat on the Council.

Regulatory battles will come. 
We need to start winning. 
The above HR 3094, for instance, may not be our fight - it's about Gulf of Mexico red snapper - but it's 100% about bad catch estimates. 

What's happened with sea bass here over the last 13 years is, I believe, directly related to the statistical wool being pulled over management's eyes. 
Having gone from the darkest time in US overfishing during the late 1980s/early 1990s, to splendid new population heights just six years into management; during this time of year in 2002 I knew, was positive, I'd catch my fares (up to 75 folks in those days) a 25 fish limit of sea bass. Back then I personally caught limits of sea bass - limits - with bare hooks. Twenty-five keepers on completely bare silver 13/0 Mustad circle hooks. 

From summer scarcity in the 1980s to magnificent abundance when I truly believed we were at Habitat Capacity in 2003.
Now a decade later; with today's 15 sea bass limit we should be able to easily limit out with one bare hook..
Spawning production, however, has cratered since we went to a 12.5 inch size limit. 
More on that in my next report.
Sea bass fishing is not easy. Spawning production is not well. 

I think that's because mangers are required to only value what can be seen from a computer screen in DC - and give no credit at all to what fishers see over reefs & wrecks 120 miles east of DC. 
I believe there are several ways to test MRIP catch estimates before they are ever released to the scientific & management community  ..but no one in management seems interested. (Of course, I also believe coral & reef habitat are important for reef fish restoration too. But that idea hasn't caught any traction either..) 

We were promised for years NOAA would at least use our Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs) in calculating For-Hire catch. We were told our self-reported sea bass would be accounted for in, say, May/June 2010's MRIP estimate. 
Still a zero. 

Every Maryland Party/Charter Boat was telling NOAA how many sea bass we caught on every trip. If we don't send them reports, even for a little while, NOAA sends nasty-grams threatening to pull all our permits. They'll put us out of business if we do not tell them how many fish we caught. 
So we tell them.
Doesn't mean they have to use our "report it or else" info. The official Maryland For-Hire sea bass estimate is zero. 

All Maryland For-Hire Party/Charter - Sea Bass Season Opened May 22nd & Remained Open All Through June.
Estimate StatusYearWaveCommon NameTotal Harvest (A+B1)PSEHarvest (A+B1) Total
Weight (lb)
PSELandings (no.) without
Size Information
MRIP can't get it right even when we TELL THEM what we caught. 

So far as management can see on their computer screens; private boat landings have skyrocketed since the statistical For-Hire repair of 2003. Every fishery represented by MuRFSS & then MRIP shows For-Hire catch dropping like a rock, but private boat catch climbing--sometimes fantastically--regardless any regulatory tightening or assertions made of catch made in suspicious times of year.  

Private Boat catch is undoubtably up a little. Anyone can see there are truly a few more boats on the water. They're all equipped with GPS.

Regulations are also tighter. Much tighter. 
Private boats are not a new invention though. Anyone who saw the incredible seatrout/weakfish fleets in the mid/late 1970s on Delaware Bay can testify to that  

..yet today MRIP has our ocean so full of Grady Whites & Boston Whalers it's just not safe for a trawler anymore. 

Surely whoever created that NY tog estimate should have realized they were asserting NY's Private Boats (mostly shrink-wrapped for winter) had caught more tog in two months than even ALL commercial trawl/trap and recreational For-Hire effort combined from Cape Hatteras to Maine had caught in two full years. 

Who's proud to call that science? 
Why do we make managers--force them--to use MRIP to create regulation? 

MRIP is useless.
We've been managing fish long enough to go in a better direction. 
Stock assessments are, though not perfect, much better than MRIP catch estimates. 

If a region's fish population is growing, management's working. Managers can then THINK and decide whether to loosen or tighten recreational regulation.
If a region's fish population is shrinking, (like our sea bass,) while regulation is tightening like a hangman's noose, something else is wrong. (NOAA will tell us warming is pushing sea bass north, yet I've caught more cod in the last 5 years than in all my career combined - while Florida's panhandle is seeing an explosion of sea bass..)

We're wasting fabulous amounts of money trying to guess at what isn't as terribly important as we think. 
What we catch isn't nearly as important as successful spawning production. 
What's really important is, "Is the population growing?" 

What's super important is, "Is the ocean greener, or more blue, than it was last year."

If we used every penny of MRIP's funding to create better stock estimates & restore/discover habitat, fisheries restoration would finally begin to move forward again.


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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