Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fish Report 2/14/19

Fish Report 2/14/19
Catching & Skunking 
This Dagone Fishing.. 
OC Reef Foundation at Seaside Boat Show! 

The OC Reef Foundation will be set up near the main entrance of the Optimist Club's Seaside Boat Show this weekend at Convention Hall. 2019 Charts Are Ready!  

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 - I do check email but USE The Reservation Line if you want a spot)
On My Rig You Can Reserve What Spot You're In. Please See For How The Rail's Laid Out.. 
I run Tog Trips light so anglers can move to the bite - or try too!

Weather Cancelations Happen - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients
Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..

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 in 2019..

Yes - we've had several 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! 

I'm telling you here -  I've had many, many anglers skunked this winter..
11 Hour Tog Trips - Sunday 2/17 - Friday 2/22 - Sat2/23 - Sun 2/23 - Swinging For The Fence! Water's Cold! Skunks Possible! Depart 6:30
to 5:30 - $150.00 - 16 Sells Out.. 
10 Hour Tog Trips - Tuesday 2/19 & Thursday 2/21 - Depart 6:30 to 4:30- $130.00 - 16 Sells Out..

Trips Also Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing & my personal FB page..

Tog trips thus far were hardly world class affairs. Catch? Yes, Usually. But not great. Some double digit fish.. Two of my Best trips in years recently as well, but that was two days among many.. Otherwise very few guys have limited.
We've put lots of great tags in jumbos. This is a fishery for the passionate blackfisher, not the freezer-filler!

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 Released Counts The Same As One In The Boat.

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

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.

24,150 Reef Blocks have been deployed at numerous sites. (Site totals not updated since 1/22/19.. 
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, 
Snuck out Valentines Day for an aging/tagging science trip. The bite was unreal for just over an hour then slowed. 
Otherwise; a tough week. In four trips, none were outstanding. But some of the fish we caught were - which is exactly what February clients are looking for. 
Want to catch a lot and put fish in the freezer? Come see me for some sea bassing in May! (At least I hope it's that good!) 
Dennis took the pool on our science trip with a 28 inch jumbo he itagged and put back. 
JoJo from Queens took the pool last Sunday 2/10/19 with a 14lb tagged release. 
That fish, in particular, can be used to illustrate frustrations with this fishery. 
On Wednesday, February 6, we had a really tough day. Five or six throwbacks & only one keeper graced my rail all day. A client said, "Thanks for the boat ride captain." 
I'd anchored five times that Wednesday on places where I know tog live. Nice tog. 
They weren't chewing - can't fix it. 
The following Sunday, February 10th, began as though a repeat of Wednesday. 
Except anchoring was brutal. I got on the first piece twice only to have an unforeseen wind shift push us off. Barely off. But close doesn't count in this fishery - not at all. I'm often trying to get clients on a very specific part of a larger piece - it's a game of precision. 
My third set on that piece was more missionary. The wind had stiffened. Two anchors now tight, we were fishing exactly where I wanted to be. Precisely. 
It's a place I know tog live. 
But no bites on that third set. 
At all. 
I picked up and made a long steam to one of the places I'd just fished Wednesday, a few days before; a place where we'd only had two throwbacks. 
It had been my second piece on a day with one keeper on the whole boat. It would be my second anchor set this past Sunday too. At that point we had no keepers aboard. 
Here no one can feel 'the wreck' - it isn't a wreck. It's a type of habitat tog inhabited at least thousands & thousands of years before the world ever saw its first ship wreck - just a patch of natural bottom.  
Anchoring was easy. Both anchors came tight; a few adjustments and we were there. 
Except the current had shifted north - was heavy. 
This same place clients had been 4 days previously now produced a decent tog just a few minutes in. A while later, another. Then another.. 
With the bites all on the same part of the rail, even the muggers were getting mugged. 
"Mugging" is why I carry fewer clients for tog trips, yet still insist on one angler per designated spot. 
It happens all the time - with everyone on the piece, only one small part of the boat will get bites. I want clients to be able to move to the bite. 
When someone fishing alone on one part of the rail gets bit, that angler may suddenly find themselves with plenty of company -  they've now been 'mugged.' 
Three nice tog in the boat and another lull begins. 
Is that it? Is this piece done? You can only catch the hungry & dumb ones. The rest either remain in the spawning population or will be caught another day - a day when they're chewing. 
Then JoJo catches his dandy forward on the portside. 
We're tight on two anchors. My GPS plotter shows no movement whatever. Most clients are trying to drop where the bites had been, now they 'put on their skates' and mug JoJo. 
I know what this piece looks like. I've filmed it several times. First when it had grown from a few patches of barely readable rocky bottom holding sea bass, to a madly expanding area of whip meadow. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s the soft coral 'sea whip' (an orange grass-like coral,) was flourishing. 
I returned here in early 2006 with Marty Gary, then running MD's sputtering attempt at returning Maryland to artificial reef construction; carried him and my crew at my own expense to show what a 'whip meadow' looked like. Though several other areas of natural bottom had been trawled-down, shaved of sea whip by trawl gear; here I anticipated an example of what we might try to achieve in marine seafloor habitat restoration. 
I'd fished it some the previous summer. Knew this beautiful huge patch of reef would, at last, convince someone in management that reef building held truly great promise. 
But when our drop camera brought this reef into view, all we saw was bare rock with a cut soybean-like stubble all about - the remaining bits of stalk where sea whips had been. This so-recently flourishing bottom now looked as though a giant combine had cut its crop and moved on. 
Where two large rocks overlapped there remained a precious few intact sea whips growing. They'd been protected from whatever trawler had towed up a couple hundred pounds of summer flounder off these rocks the previous fall. 
From thousands upon thousands of corals, now only a tiny handful survived. One crew on one boat had sorely lessened this reefs' productivity for a decade to come. 
It still hasn't grown back. 
I filmed it again in 2010 or 11 as I recall. Had cancelled fishing on a beautiful summer day for a science trip before surveying began in the MD wind energy area. Had carried DNR/NGO/Ocean Policy bigwigs on a 13 hour trip to look at bottoms where driving a windmill base would upset fish production. There was some growth—small whips—that trip, but it's never really come back. 
Not yet. 
So we're anchored, JoJo has just tagged & released his 14 pound jumbo - sitting solidly in one spot - and 'the bite' shifts forward. 
Then another tog comes up from closer to the stern. 
It's a slow pick of nice fish - very few throwbacks - where a few days before we'd only seen two shorts. 
I'm hunting big fish for my clients. 
Fishing hard. 
If not adjusting anchors, it's because I'm exactly where I want to be. I've learned some reef in my 39 years fishing out of OC. 
We're going to have bad days. These fish do not always bite - not at all. 
We'll likely see some more good days too. 
I've seen days when only the most skilled caught - and caught well. I've seen other days when the rookies left the pros wondering where they'd gone wrong. 
One day a lady was using Gulp sand fleas and caught. Despite all manner of live crab aboard, she alone caught for a few hours. 
I had a trip with 3 clients - just three - whose rod tips were practically touching ..yet only the fellow in the middle who'd gotten the first fish there continued to catch. 
I've seen where 5 clients fishing a 90 foot tug had to drop exactly atop the wheelhouse and drag their sinker off or not get a sniff. 
In my youth I personally caught most of my tog on 6 & 8 ounce diamond jigs. I've seen huge tog bite squid and even mahi belly in summer. I've seen one man get skunked while all around others were catching jumbos. 
And I've seen this fishery go from a virtually virgin state to what it is today. 

I've written many times how sea bass abundance, and regulatory access, is crucial to growing huge tog. When cbassing is good, and season open,  we don't target tog. 
They grow. 
Dyed in the wool blackfishers want 10 year old fish at least. They'd prefer 20 year olds. 
Though fishing pressure is most of it, there's plenty out there to stop a tog from growing that old. We'll need lots of juveniles. 
Meanwhile—while we await management's turning away from bad catch estimates to regulate sea bass; releasing any tog at all brings us a little closer to another angler having landed a 20 pounder.  
The other most important strategy to growing a trophy population is habitat. 
Building reef habitat is good. Restoring reef habitat would be better. 
Even the tiniest bit of progress is real. We drop reef blocks everyday. Sure doesn't look like much on my aft deck, but we recently crossed the 24,000 mark. Take a handful everyday - builds habitat; hard substrate that will eventually coral over. 
Before "restoration" begins, however, NOAA will have to discover we even have reef habitat. Upon realization sea floor is crucial to many fisheries, and especially their spawning success, NOAA might then cipher catches from the 1950s to build a picture of a once amazingly larger reef footprint wiped out in the early decades of industrial fishing. 
I hope to very soon begin rebuilding one such area - the "Bass Grounds" off Ocean City, MD. 
Here there were whip meadows in such profusion that skippers could find clients sea bass by the bushel, year after year, with no more than a compass and timepiece to navigate by. As the hydraulic surfclam fishery boomed in the 1960s & 1970s, some 4.5 square miles of reef was reduced to a few square yards. An area once crowded with bass traps & recreational anglers was now all but barren.
The Bass Grounds can easily be restored. It's as simple as rolling rocks off a barge. Once a hard substrate is resting on the bottom, reef grows. You can't stop it. Even if you put $300.00 a gallon bottom paint on the rocks, reef would eventually grow.
Fish feed, shelter, grow to maturity, & spawn on our reefs. They couldn't care less where the habitat came from. Rocks & concrete; boats, ships, & barges - virtually anything that will sit tight to the bottom will serve as reef. 
Managers at the very top today were taught "artificial reef is bad because it concentrates fish for easier removal." This thinking flies in the face of simple logic: if you build more habitat you must be dispersing fish - spreading them out. It's the exact opposite of what they were taught. 
As pieces of artificial reef are colonized, new spawning populations of fish and coral are formed. Where fishing pressure is directed at newer reef, so must older reef be resting. 
Tires are probably what today's managers most remember of early experience with artificial reef. In the late 1960s and 70s tire landfills were mounding into large hills of rubber. Each tire was also a mini spawning preserve for mosquitos. Some fine work was done in the early 70s showing tires would make good artificial reef substrate. Soon giant bargeloads were being dumped after banding.. 
Oh Boy.. Though the science on growth and fish use was sound, the engineering was awful. Wasn't long and everywhere from NY to Texas was picking up reefed tires after each storm. 
Steel bands compacted the units - wasn't stainless. They broke. 
Artificial reef still has a bad rap owing a mosquito control program..
A few years ago I anchored atop a clammer sunk by reef builders in the 1970s. 
I thought. 
It was what must be one of the only remaining tire piles - coral growth was amazing. It remains the densest coral growth I've found on artificial reef. 
Had the mosquito control project been better engineered the sea would have millions more tons of coral. 
And fisheries restorations wouldn't be nearly so difficult. 

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star 

Sent from my iPhone

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