Friday, November 27, 2020

Fish Report 11/27/20

Fish Report 11/27/20 
Line opens at 8...
Catching Sea Bass! (Can be plenty fussy though. That's unusual for late November, but had a boat limit my last trip..)
New Dates/Reduced Covid Passenger Limits. 
Reservation Line Was Changed in Sept.. 
And, continuing the work far below, my most difficult task: Why Managers Must Lower The Size Limit On Sea Bass... 

As many are already aware, my old reservation line of 18 years is no more. Have a new system. You may recognize Anna's voice as she builds her new answering service company. It's From Eight AM to Eight PM 100% Live Answer (except when life necessitates letting the message system have the helm awhile) and she'll not pick up before or after 8!

All Trips - All - Even Saturdays - 7 to 3:30pm (leave up to a half-hour early/get home when we've wrangled all we can from a day is what will really happen..) Now $150.00 per-person with the same "No Refund/Reschedule Only" policy as May through November. New covid restrictions may seriously impact my business any day as the crisis worsens again.. My minimized cash flow cannot handle a string of refund days. And if the guvmint shuts us completely? Well, eventually we'll reopen. If canceled for whatever reason - Please know I'm good for your trip another day. 
If you have a reschedule on the book you're welcome to reserve any spot that's open on any day with a similarly priced trip. I am not going to charge you an extra $15 on a $135 reschedule.. Saturdays too?When you work 7 days a week the days blend together. Just simplifying.)

Weather Cancellations Happen - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way..
COVID Regs Trips Are NonRefundable! Reschedule in event of bad weather? Of Course! But no refunds.. If you can't abide a reschedule - don't book! 
NonRefundable sea bass trips. Size limit on sea bass 12.5 inches & 15 sea bass per person. 

Just this weekend here for Sea Bass. After that long range weather has it too windy for some while. Fish are acting as though it's early/mid October. I see no need of extra-long trips yet. Some spots are already booked owing outstanding fares. 
Saturday & Sunday 11/28 & 29 Sea Bass - 15 anglers sells out - $150.00 Covid Price.. 
Both these Trips are 7 to 3:30. (Yes! We'll try to leave up to 1/2 hour early. And, yes, I rarely get in on time unless the fishing's just been outrageously good..)
Interestingly, for the first time in a long time I have need of reminding some clients: 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! 
If accustomed to ignoring regulations - find another boat! 

Boat Now Sells Out At 15! (used to be 25 before Covid, then 18, now reduced further for client and crew safety) See new spots chart at .. Everyone liked a smaller crowd as COVID regs hit - including me. It's going to stay that way even after Covid's long gone. 

NEW Reservation Line 443-235-5577 from 8am to 8pm — No More 24 hour answers.. (emailing me about reservation availability does no good. Anna will have real time info. Worse is FB messenger. I only check it once a week or so. Want Reservation info? Want to know if your favorite spot is available? Call Anna! Sometimes you'll get a very sharp Daughter, Hanna..) 

Am posting somewhat detailed day by day reports on Facebook...but I Do Not have FB messenger on my phone. If you want to book a spot - call. Need info from me? Email I make a sincere effort to reply to every email inquiry. 

If in the passenger salon - Mask Required. If you refuse a mask, BYO life jacket! (but seriously, not only do I not want anyone taking ill -- if one Partyboat anywhere sparks an outbreak we'll ALL get shut down again. With many states at new highs, it's anyone's guess.. Regardless DelMarVa's less dramatic increase in corona, we must remain vigilant.) 

Be a half hour early! We always leave early!
..except when someone shows up right on time.
Clients (but not the Captain) 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
overslept or had a flat. No Refund or Reschedule for a missed trip! 

Trips Also Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing & my personal FB page along with after action (or lack thereof) reports..

Bait is provided on all trips—Clam & squid now. Rod rentals are $7.00 & include all rigs. 

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
Two People. Do Not Bring A Very Large Coffin 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.

Wishbone never replaces backbone.. Have to keep a shoulder into reef building to make it happen. 
Donations help too! 
Have CRAZY opportunities this fall - Great Time To Donate!! 
Please Donate!! 
The price of scrap steel being so low is creating more reef building opportunity than I've had in my entire life!
So far in 2020 we've deployed a 55' barge, an 85' tug, a 50' steel sailboat, plus thousands of reef blocks and almost 150 reef pyramids. 
Now we have a 200' Barge coming - it's ours - we've patched it so it won't leak on the tow down. Cost for a tow from Baltimore to 9nm East of OC is 100% doable - our largest project ever - and we've ALMOST enough funding! Going to have to hustle on the 200' barge. We have the money to buy it and get it here. Do not have the coin to modify it - not yet! Has to be gone by mid-December. Dern sure can't bring it into OC - it's too big. Have to cut holes in it and add concrete while wharfed up in Baltimore. 
Would a 200' barge function as a reef w/o the extra work? Sure. But it'll be 50x better when doctored up a bit. Get water flowing through its interior spaces - use concrete pipe and cement junction boxes to add rugosity to that giant open hopper, maybe even on her decks fore & aft - will make a huge difference - a much more productive reef..

The raffle is helping to get us there. Sure could use a few champions out there talking em up! 
Although our Benelli Reef Raffle is going well, I thought I'd spice it up with a weekly t-shirt drawing thru the New Year's Day Grand Prize Drawing. New mermaid design or tried and true—winner's choice—starting 11/15/20- every Sunday at 9:00pm we'll gather sales, pull three tickets from the fish bowl, contact winners for a size, give them each a shirt & put their ticket back for the main drawing. Get drawn twice and it's a sweatshirt! (Three times? Ah, you're too spoiled!)
Every donation builds reef!
OCRF's 2020 Benelli Raffle features a Benelli M-2 from their Performance Shop in 12ga or $1,000.00 Cash! 
Drawing January 1, 2021.. 
For the first time ever supporters can buy tix online at - we'll (eh, Courtney) will fill in your name and take a pic of the stubs to email you. 
Tix are one for $10 - six for $50 - fourteen for $100.. 
Tickets also available at Atlantic Tackle, AllTackle WOC, Optical Galleria, on my boat, & at Raceway Citgo with more locations soon.

Greetings All! 
Fishing's been pretty odd for November. I've seen years where we'd already be steaming way off to catch up to a migrating sea bass stock. 2020? Not yet! We even caught a keeper sea bass 2 miles offshore on a reef building trip. That's unusual for these parts.. 
Have to work for em - but catching. Had a boat limit my last trip out, and in a day where it dern sure didn't look like it was going to happen. Current switched - Bam! 

In my last report I revisited my "age at maturity" spawning production thesis by pulling up some old emails. There's a 'reallocation' amendment wending its way through management — how they divvy up the state by state quota is in question. 
There's precious little acceptance of my theory on creating and maintaining a huge sea bass population. In management? "Sea bass have moved north." 
Before, but especially during the years of sounding/charting surveys for wind power we struggled to find great sea bass fishing. Commercial catches were down too. 
I had predicted when the Maryland Wind Energy Area (and surrounding region) recolonized with sea bass (yes, they completely abandoned 550 square miles of ocean seafloor) that they would again begin spawning at age 1 - and this would make our stock rebound like crazy. 
My predictions were correct. 
Now we're catching limits even in August, (when not mahi fishing!) it's a time we'd normally have a lot of work to scratch-up a nice fish fry for clients. 
Sooooo... Um, did we suddenly suffer global cooling and they've "moved south?" 
Managers and scientists act as though regulation has no real affect on populations. Yet regulation is the most powerful force in play. 

I was the first skipper to put a 9" limit on sea bass - was really paying attention in the early 1990s.
What we were told then was true then: "All sea bass have spawned by 9 inches, some twice." And didn't they flourish for it. In 2003 I absolutely believed that in order to double our sea bass population we'd have to double our reef habitat — I believed we were at "Habitat Capacity." 
While I still aim to improve our reef footprint at every opportunity, it's also true the size limit had crept up to 12 and then 12.5 inches. It was also in late October 2003 (early November?) that I held a 14 inch sea bass and wondered, "where are the little ones?" As I've so often said - no acorns, no oaks.
It would be years before I'd figured it out. Boiled down: by populating every possible reef with age three cbass (9 inches is big for age one) management had thrown a biological switch preventing sea bass of 11.5 inches and smaller from joining the spawning stock. Therefore, when sounding operations over 3.5 years caused an evacuation of those 550 sq miles, upon recolonization we witnessed a return to age one/9in & under spawning because there were no larger bullies about. 
Well Capt, how do you know there were no fish on all that bottom? 
Learned it the hard way! 
Here from Fish Report 2/16/16 is my experience with subbottom profilers (& I'd already told the tale many times..)
** Allow me to tell you what I know. I think it's either a lot more than the government wants you to know, or simply more than they know too. 
No aluminum-foil hat, just facts: 
When Maryland's R/V Kehrin was doing survey work for the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) prior to deployment of NYCTA cars at Jackspot Reef in, I believe, May 2007; Capt. Rick Younger did not seem surprised in the least that his sub-bottom profiler had the instantaneous effect of shutting off what-was a magnificent sea bass bite. The Kehrin's sub-bottom profiler unit was turned on just several hundred yards from my boat. It positively & instantaneously shut-off the feeding of sea bass. 
Capt. Younger, of course, turned his unit off when asked. The fish resumed feeding. 

Survey boats for wind energy will not. 
In recent years surveys have been relentless. There is no variance. The effect to flounder & sea bass is 100% predictable.
Another illustration: on July 31st, 2013, I was fishing the Great Eastern artificial reef about 18 NM ESE OC MD in the southern-most portion of the wind lease. I could see the Scarlett Isabella closing and watched my clients' success diminish to absolute-zero when she was approximately 3NM N our position. As my nearest reef that might provide suitable success was either 8NM south or 13NM ESE, I waited for the survey boat to turn north and move its equipment out of range (about 5 to 7 miles).
Closing to 2NM ENE my position with survey gear in use, no fish at all bit while the Scarlett Isabella was so near. None. 
Then, at 10:15, she came full-stop and the bite went 'wild' (comparatively). With flounder & sea bass coming over the rail, clients cheerfully exclaimed; "Don't move Captain, they're here!" (I, of course, had kept clients over fish all the while.) 
A helicopter approached the Scarlett Isabella and landed aboard ship. That's why she'd stopped. When the helicopter left a while later, the ship came-about and began a new survey leg. 
The bite, of course, died completely & at once as they re-started their survey gear. 
At 10:40 AM I hailed the Scarlett Isabella on VHF 16 & asked to switch to channel 10. I questioned if they had turned off the sub-bottom profiler while the helicopter was aboard. A few minutes later I was told, "Yes, the sub-bottom profiler was off then."  
The Scarlett Isabella was back again last year. 
Now yet another survey has been undertaken, this time by the Shearwater and Global Explorer, a drilling ship. They can scarcely be troubled with recreational fishing concerns. The Global Explorer would not speak with me on the radio after I revealed I was a recreational boat. What they are doing is "important." 
Recreational fishing businesses, apparently, are not. 
Impacts to reef-fish feeding behavior remain 100% consistent. Survey equipment turns the bite off. Unfortunately, the ships this year seem to have a broader, more pervasive effect - their effect on feeding covers more area. . . (end of content from 6/27/15 Fish Report)

I went and filmed several reefs impacted by survey boats in September of 2015. The effect surveys had is plainly cumulative & catastrophic. I made a 4 minute video and released it a few weeks ago - .. We were late getting out there to film. Really late editing it.. Do have to make a living. Weeks after the survey boat was finished--had left for survey work elsewhere, there remained no sea bass on reefs in & near the Maryland Wind Energy Area..

Last year, in 2015, we had no spring run of sea bass. I'd never seen such a thing. Used to be I would presell all of May starting in the first week of December. (e.g. If you wanted to book a Saturday spot in May right now, in February, fugedaboutit - All Sold Out.) Sea bass fishing was great & clients knew it. Now I'll open the last two weeks of May sometime next month and warn clients it won't be what we used to have. 
Having thought long & hard, I attributed the 2015 spring run failure to there being so few spawning sea bass that any impetus--any race among them to be first to claim the best spawning spots--is now gone. 

But I wonder if instead year after year of surveys has taught our sea bass NOT to spawn here, not at all.. Spawning site fidelity is everywhere in the animal world. Similar to salmon, sea bass return to exactly the same spot to spawn. Except, unlike salmon, sea bass survive to spawn again & again. (if we don't catch them!) We've shown spawning site fidelity in cbass with tags hundreds of times.  
What's going to happen now that we've forced them --year after year by sub-bottom profiler noise impacts-- to leave the only spawning ground they know? 

I think what's going to happen is all that bottom in the Maryland Wind Energy Area (MD WEA) will become as if it were a brand new artificial reef - a huge new reef spread out in fantastically greater area than we could ever hope to permit for reef building ..with no fish on it. 
With it's previous spawning population having vacated the premises over what I calculate to be about 500 square miles of seafloor; a new spawning population will take a while to rebuild. 

BOEM sez: Nothing to see, No Effect From Survey Equipment AT ALL. Fish can not even HEAR it. Move along now. Oh, by the way, we'd like to use a more powerful survey equipment, equipment we actually admit does affect marine mammals & fish for oil exploration. You won't mind, will you? *****

Now EVERYONE in fisheries "knows" BOFF aid what's important to making spawning production sing - Having "Big Old Fecund Females" is what does it. 
Except in sea bass it doesn't. 
Maximizing your spawning population is what counts - especially nearshore where fishing pressure is highest. 

Here's another section from a letter I sent to upper management & science. I've been trying to get this in their heads since about 2007. 
I have been reporting to you a reversion to age at maturity in cbass as seen in pre/early Management—the exact sizes of maturity reported in ALL bsb science pre-2000 .. A return to sub-9 inch males in full spawning color where they had been vacated owing sounder impacts from surveys.
Those earlier works had their aging wrong—real wrong—but surely length measurements are accurate measurements. It was once thought a 9 inch sea bass was age 3 or even 5.. Nope - age 1.
In the MD wind area so pummeled by sub-bottom profiler surveys as to become entirely devoid of bsb/sfl we saw a recolonization and return to age one maturity for the two years immediately after cessation of surveys.
This year too there was evidence of young maturity also as spring arrived ..but no more. (In 2020 we saw very few under 9in males and no more after late May.)
It seems as though small males have vanished. 
Gary Shepherd reported to me where larger male sea bass would 'aim for the eyes' with their dorsal on smaller competitors. (He also holds sneakers, males without obvious coloration, are able to carry on spawning as regularly colored males. I believe, however, that the decline in spawning production since age at maturity shifted to age 3 and above belies his theory.) 
We have a new wind area survey begun. (Delaware's) Hopefully they'll not be near the pain in the neck of previous surveys owing distance from traditional grounds. They will be a pain in somebody's elbow - just not down here. 
Anyway, now that Reefs so recently empty of sea bass populations have many more sub-legal bsb (rec size limit 12.5 inches) We now see so recently obviously apparent under-9 inch males absent again. 
This is, I promise, the key to enlivening sea bass production. Understanding how a simple size limit can lower ssb to where it barely replaces effort is vital. More vital would be learning how lowering the size limit would again force all bsb into the spawning cohort. 
It's not boff in bsb - it's the number of participants. We have far larger female sea bass than ever before —- yet lower production since 2002 than at anytime in early/pre management. 
Does it apply to other fisheries? I don't know. In sea bass the coloration and sex change make it so obvious even a Fisherman can see it. ***

Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving! 
Capt Monty Hawkins

Blog Archive