Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Fish Report 1/22/19

Fish Report 1/22/19
New Tog Trips Announced Up Top
An Outrageous Bite
..among many normal days.
Driving Tog Abundance
(am unable to load pics! See FB..) 

Reservations Required at 410 520 2076 - Staffed 24/7 (Asking me for a reservation via FB or Email is a guaranteed way to miss a chance at a spot - I rarely check FB messenger - Use the reservation line..)  
On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See http://morningstarfishing.com For How The Rail's Laid Out.. I run Tog Trips light so anglers can move to the bite - or try too!
LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER & LISTEN TO YOUR MESSAGES - Weather Cancelations Happen - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..

Yes - we just had one of my best trips in YEARS. That DOES NOT MEAN IT'S ABOUT TO HAPPEN AGAIN!! ("Ah, Capt., I thought we'd catch 20 pounders today?") Oh Mercy!

Tog Trips Only: (No sea bass allowed. NOAA seems more & more clueless as to our actual recreational catch. Could very well flare-up in coming regulations. That is to say, MRIP could, again, really worsen sea bass regulation..)

Friday, 1/25/19 - 10 Hour Tog Trip - depart 7AM to 5PM (so leaving as early as 6:30 if all are aboard..) $130.00 - 14 Sells Out
Saturday, 1/26/19 - Sunday 1/27/19 - 11 Hour Tog Trips - Depart 6:30 to 5:30 - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out..
Monday & Tuesday, 1/28/19 & 1/29/19 - 10 Hour Tog Trips - 6:30 to 4:30 - $130.00 - 14 Sells Out

Trips Also Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing https://www.facebook.com/ocfishing/ & my personal page..
Tog trips thus far were hardly world class affairs. Catch? Yes, usually. But not great. Some double digit fish.. Best trip in years recently too but that was one day. Otherwise a few guys have limited. Lots of great tags in jumbos. This is a fishery for the passionate...

Bait is provided on all trips: green crabs for tog. (Whites MIGHT be available from crew for a reasonable cost..) Our Tog Pool Is By Length:  A Tog That's Been Tagged & Released Counts The Same As One In The Boat.
Rental Rods are $7.00.. Each A Rod I'd Use Myself.
Wear Boots! Sneakers this time of year can ruin your trip.

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..

No Live Tog Leave The Boat - Dead & Bled - Period. (I Believe The Live Tog Black Market Has Hurt This Fishery ..But Nowhere Near As Much As Bad Sea Bass Regulation)
Agreed With Or Not, All Regulations Observed – Maryland: 4 Tog @ 16 Inches

If You Won't Measure & Count Your Fish, The State Will Provide A Man With A Gun To Do It For You. We Measure & Count — ALWAYS — No Exceptions!

It's Simple To Prevent Motion Sickness, Difficult To Cure. Bonine seems best because it's non-drowsy. Truly cheap & effective insurance.
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 winter waterproof boots are almost a necessity - sneakers can ruin your day. While some rarely, or never, wear gloves for fishing, you'd not likely see me fishing this time of year w/o at least the half-finger wool gloves. Tuck a "hot hands" warmer in the palm and life is good..
Layers are best because, believe it or not, sometimes it can be very pleasant offshore--especially when the wind lays down. In winter it's warmer offshore owing to warmer waters. In summer it's cooler..

Sponsor the Ocean City Reef Foundation!
We're Nowhere Near Reef Building's True Potential.

If you have concrete blocks in the backyard taking up space and just making snake reef, bring em. We'll toss em overboard with the rest.

23,926 Reef Blocks have been deployed at numerous sites.
Here are sites currently being targeted: Capt. Jack Kaeufer's Reef 680 - Doug Ake's Reef 3,755 - St. Ann's 2,234 - Sue's Block Drop 637 - TwoTanks Reef 432 - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 900 - Benelli Reef 746 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 1,274 - Wolf & Daughters Reef 688 - 56 at Al Berger's Reef.

Greetings All,
Had a stretch of good weather in a time when any weather that's fishable qualifies as good. Now we're having a stretch of not so kind days. Hopefully this next shot of light winds will allow us to fish all days posted.
Nicked away at first two tog trips. Some fellows did fair, others keeper skunked - even skunk-skunked! It Happens! A few dern nice ones went back.
Then Thursday 1/18/19 came to pass - a day blackfishers dream of. With a light rail we caught 42 tog over 10 pounds. Of those, 22 swam strongly away wearing an ALS yellow fish tag.
Most readers know my tog pool is by length. A fish need not die to win the money. This day we had a 29 inch 19 lb tog go back, but the fish didn't make it - had to boat it.
You have a 19 pound tog in the boat, you've got a lock on the pool, Right?
Yeah no. Up come a 30 incher that pushed the scale to twenty pounds at sea (but 19 3/4 dockside on my best scale. No tackle shops were open that had a certified scale..)
It was a mad blackfish bite, one of the best I've ever seen. Everyone could have limited, some three times over. Several chose not too. If you live to feel a 20 pound tog take your bait, putting back tog of all sizes will help you get there - especially jumbos! If you have caught among the biggest of the species, you'll have no compunction with putting 'em back. Maybe take a few for dinner & eat more chicken..

Following that banner day we began with a 10+ pounder, then nicked a couple more including Wes's 14 pounder. This one too we tried to release but the fish had come up "briefcased" (come up sideways with a hook in each end) and was exhausted. We re-netted it and I'm sure it was savored..
One could fairly say the bite had died in building east winds..
We'll see how they chew after this wind passes.

This fishery is brutal. Even at it's very best, even after we'd spent nearly two decades targeting sea bass and never tog - and then in the early 2000s when we'd only fish tog when no sea bass were within a safe running distance - before all this new pressure on tog that crescendoed offshore in the fall of 2009 with the Emergency Sea Bass Closure (and in our backbay with the 2008 "emergency flounder closure" when dozens of inshore boaters suddenly learned ho to target backbay tog) .. excess blackfish pressure still continues in many states with long cbass closures & remains somewhat heavier here in winter. Even 'back then' with plentiful double digit fish within 5 miles --- we still had to suffer their whims: Will Tog Bite?
Ain't but one way to find out. The answer's often going to be: No, not very well.

Forty two double digit blackfish is a once in a lifetime trip for a very few lucky anglers. I have a handful of clients who've seen it several times. Its a rare day, getting rarer.
Most of the time you're simply hoping to get bit.

(Was going to send a complex piece on MRIP's theft of the sea bass fishery, especially in points north -- and a theft which may be about to get much worse! -- but I'm going with a habitat angle for many new readers & tautog fans.. MRIP gets a black eye next time. Promise.)

While I've spent decades trying to make togging better, there are much larger forces in play.
We're building reef with MD's coastal non-profit, the Ocean City Reef Foundation (OCRF); as are NJ, DE, & VA in much larger scale with their state programs. So far as I'm concerned, modern reef constructions are the reason this fishery is sustainable off our coast -- no way there'd be enough habitat offshore w/o reef building for even this small dedicated fishery: just a handful of For-Hire boats target tog.
I noted above how sea bass abundance (& open season!) are important to blackfish/tog abundance. How so? Despite habitat & regulation's vital role in maintaining and, hopefully, improving this fishery, the reason abundant sea bass are important is Effort Reduction.
When anglers can easily catch nice sea bass by the pair, crab baits go unused. I've seen it happen for decades, and even if only a short while, with some of the most die-hard tog fishers you can imagine. A fussy tog bite ..yet doubles of jumbo cbass every drop with a two-hook jig. Yup. Suddenly tog purists were sea bassing too.
When we had no cbass bag limits & then a 25 fish limit beginning in 2002, no one in Ocean City was targeting tog with any real pressure -- tog, which colonize every reef we build after 3 years or so  ..our area's tog were growing old & spawning like crazy.
I should note here that in the early-mid 1980s, while I was working deck, there were 2.5 years where every possible piece we knew of with tog was positively pummeled by just 2 partyboats. No size limit, no bag limit; often times we'd run out of crabs & clients would scramble for legs left on deck - they worked fine.
When the bait was really all gone I'd fire a diamond jig down - a regular 'Boston Mackerel' 6 or 8 ounce Bridgeport diamond jig - and catch tog like mad for a bit. In high summer.
Although I'd netted & gaffed many more on bait, I was probably in my mid-40s before I'd personally caught more tog on bait than on a diamond jig..
And THAT pummeling, that short period of recreational-only fishing pressure on tautog was my introduction to fisheries management - our need of fisheries management. We squandered that fishery.
have been trying like heck not to do it again...      

Went to an old wooden barge the other week. It's been getting smaller as decades wear away. Now it is 100% gone. Have pretty sophisticated electronics, had even videoed the wreckage - it's really gone.
A few others have lost their battle with the sea also. What we're doing with reef building outpaces our losses, but isn't anywhere near replicating/restoring natural hardbottom reefs' loss from the 1950s to the 1980s. In that era up to multi-square mile areas of habitat were lost; mainly to surf clam but also to trawl. (surf clamming today is on shoal tops - is not a hazard to natural bottoms that I'm aware of. But as the fishery ramped up with no control whatever, every lower Mid-Atlantic port had these hydraulic dredge boats by the score. Said one old timer, "Yup, we rearranged a lot of bottom off there.."  
The main area of lost habitat I'm aware of off Ocean City is the "Bass Grounds." Have had that entire lost hardbottom under an Army Corps of Engineers reef building permit since the mid 2000s. Started the permit process in the late 1990s..
It's slow going, but we are putting reef back in that area.
The Nature Conservancy is keenly interested in helping build a boulder reef at the Bass Grounds where there was once natural sea whip meadow. That project sure has been a pain in the neck to get going, but it'll be there for centuries, if not millenia, before sand covers it over. I did a test of the old hardbottom with a boat-load of reef blocks - they've not scoured in at all. Am still after the project; occasionally there's a glimpse of hope.
TNC also wants to study the reef - monitor it. Where we fishers are happy with an utterly pragmatic: "Yup, there's reef fish now where there recently were none" - these science based folks have more refined needs of understanding.
We've only two corals that I know of: star coral (a hard coral where if 5 inches thick is very old & fabulous habitat for small critters) & sea whip (a multi-stalked, usually orange, occasionally purple, soft coral that grows to about 3 feet - expanses of sea whip seem to mirror a terrestrial meadow of tall grass.) Both corals have a cottony-look if filter feeding; the extended arms, tiny tendrils sweeping in food to each coral, give these reef growths a whitish cast when feeding.  
Sea whip is a gorgonian (so I'm told by today's top experts) and is considered a soft coral. In Australia their whips are recognized to be zooxanthellae driven corals - that is, there are bacteria that convert sunlight into food as many warm water corals have. Assuming our sea whips also harbor zoox, this makes them susceptible to water quality deterioration. With no sunlight penetration, feeding would be reduced to whatever tiny animals drift by..
Yes, they're filter feeders too. Maybe primarily? With today's reduced water quality sea whips would be mighty challenged to feed off sunlight most of the time.
Still, there is a cut-off past which whip doesn't grow. I do not think I've seen whip past 125 feet. Divers have even reported whip atop wrecks in 135 feet - but not below the uppermost parts at those wrecks as I recall.
Need to have a closer look at star coral also. Was contacted by a PhD candidate in VA last year who was doing work on it in the Mid-Atlantic. I do not think star coral grows 'inside' wrecks or beneath natural rock ledges - so there has to be sunlight? That's not a common scientific thought at the moment.
But, boy, we sure know where oysters & sub-aquatic vegetation are/were..

Not a lot of study of marine ecology in the Mid-Atlantic. And virtually none of our seafloor hardbottoms. Estuaries get the funding in these parts.  
Yet seafloor habitat is truly important in many fisheries. Discovery of remaining & historically lost hardbottoms will create a restoration plan. Fish do indeed "Feed, Grow to Maturity, Spawn" on these bottoms (and once in far-grander scale.) They meet every aspect of Magnuson's "Essential Fish Habitat."

Well, that's part of our habitat story. Understanding what's been lost is, to me, the most important part. If we are to ever replicate populations of reef fish that once lived here, say just after WWII, then we'll need a habitat restoration plan.
Or get lucky.
Been at it since the mid 1990s. Ain't feeling too lucky.

Capt. Monty Hawkins
Partyboat Morning Star - OCMD

Blog Archive