Friday, June 23, 2023

Fish Report 6/23/23

Fish Report 6/23/23

Opening most of July with "Fish for What's Biting" trips - Plus 6 'Concentrate on Flounder' extended trips. 

Anna is a one person operation. She might be slammed when I hit send.  (or maybe not!) If she cannot pick up, Leave her a message. She has a method to her madness.. 

Reservations at 443-235-5577 - She's a one person operation & has other jobs too. The line closes at 8pm and reopens at 8am. She won't take reservations for trips that are not announced. 

If you want a spot call the reservation line at 443-235-5577.. Emailing me is no good - any info I give could well be wrong time you receive it - service handles reservations. I do check email for questions; check FaceBook messenger too.. 

Already open to June 30 - Now opening just to July 20 (in case mahi show early!) 

July 2/3, 9/10, & 16/17th 2023 will be long fluke/flounder trips - 6am to 4pm - $180.00 - 18 sells out - We'll have ample cut bait & thick squid - but BYO Gulp! 

Other Dates - Targeting What Bites Best (Flounder or sea bass??) like I did from in summer from 2007 to 2017 - If you absolutely have to have one species and not the other? Don't reserve!" Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 at $155.00 — Weekdays 7 to 3 at $135 - All Trips Sell Out at 18 Anglers.

Be a half hour early! We always try to leave early

..except when someone shows up right on time.

Clients arriving late will see the west end of an east-bound boat. Seriously, with a limited number of reserved spots, I do not refund because you overslept or had a flat.. If you're reserved and the last person we're waiting on - you'll need to answer your phone. I will not make on-time clients wait past scheduled departure because of a misfortune on your part. 

I rarely get in on time either. If you have a worrier at home, please advise them I often come home late. It's what I do. 

Trips Also Sometimes Announced on Facebook at Morning Star Fishing 

I post after action reports (or lack thereof) (and sometimes detailed thoughts on fisheries issues) for every trip on my personal FB page and Morning Star page..

Bait is provided on all trips. 

No Galley. Bring Your Own Food & Beverage. 

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 a 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 have a few loaners - you'll still need ice. Should you catch some monstrous fish, we'll be able to ice it. 

No Galley! Bring Food & Beverages To Suit. A few beers in cans is fine for the ride home.  

Wishbone doesn't replace backbone.. Have to keep a shoulder into reef building to make it happen. 

In addition to OC Reef Foundation deployments of barges, tugs, & bargeloads of material (such as Tiki XIV's winter deployments of 750 reef pyramids,) I take reef blocks every time the boat goes in the ocean. 

Block Update - As of 6/23/23 we have 39,343 Reef Blocks & 1,255 Reef Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted ocean reef sites - there are also 1,336 pyramids deployed by MD CCA at Chesapeake Bay oyster sites working to restore blue ocean water… (and, boy did those Chesapeake pyramid numbers rise again in mid June! Ocean numbers shall also rise again soon..) - Counting those awaiting deployment there have been over 2,676 pyramids made since my crew and I fashioned a prototype mold in late August 2019. 

Currently being targeted oceanside: at the Rambler Reef 300 Reef Blocks & 11 Pyramids - Pete Maugin's Memorial Reef 6 Pyramids - Tyler Long's Memorial Reef 698 (+18 Reef Pyramids & a 115 ft barge!) Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 426 Reef Blocks (+72 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,988 Blocks (+46 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,174 blocks (+16 Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,909 (+14 Reef Pyramids) - Sue's Block Drop 1,662 (+24 Reef Pyramids) - TwoTanks Reef 1,323 (+ 15 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 912 - Benelli Reef 1,552 (+ 118 Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 4,191 (+ 90 reef pyramids) - Wolf & Daughters Reef 734 - Al Berger's Reef 1,618 (+33 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern Block Drop 1,528 (+25 Reef Pyramids) - Two more brand New Drops Begun at Cristina's Blast 120 Reef Blocks & 2 Pyramids & an Unnamed Site South Side GEBD 200 Reef Blocks & 2 Pyramids - Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef 242 Blocks & 2 Pyramids — And 345 Castle & Terracotta Tog Blocks, 10 Pyramids, & 16 pieces pipe 81 feet Bass Grounds Unnamed. 

Our Coming Troubles With Sea Bass 6/23/23..

Greetings All, 

I used this or a similar trip description for about ten summers: "I'm running summer, We'll Fish For What's Biting Trips" starting in 2007.. Might be flounder, might be sea bass, might be a mix. If you absolutely have to have one and not the other, don't reserve!"

Then we had a big spike in sea bass production (which I predicted, TYVM.) Just a few clients targeted fluke/summer flounder while doubles of sea bass were common these last five years or so. 

That excellent sea bass fishing has been waning (which I also predicted) but there sure are some nice ones. (yeah; saw that coming too!) 

If management does not recognize the lessons so blatant in our reef fishing's history, I fear regulation via MRIP's made-up nonsense catch estimates will do what wild overfishing of the 1980s could not.. 

If we do not soon focus on spawning production, we shall lose the sea bass fishery in the coming decade. 

Maybe just half of it. 

NOAA will blame it on "uncontrolable private boat effort & climate change" and tell Congress what a great job their doing. 

What a dern shame. 

We're living a very real, live voltage Milgram Experiment: now pushed to 300 volts. (Milgram's was a Yale psychology experiment where everyday people were told to administrate electric shocks to a confederate who faked extreme pain as shock levels increased. No one refused to administrate pain when told they had to by a Dr (aka an Authority.) 

I see direct correlation between NOAA telling managers they Will Use/Must Use catch data no one believes (meaning MRIP's recreational catch estimates, of course. Seriously, NOBODY in management or science believes MRIP anymore.)
I see nothing to indicate humanity and common sense will upend authority's current role in fisheries regulation. When Authority says, "Increase the electric shock!" ..seasons shorten, size limits lengthen & bag limits shrink -- devil with any other evidence, the catch data shows NY Private Boats landed more sea bass than all Trawl/Trap/Partyboat/& Charterboats all combined along the coast all year. 

No one believes that. 

But it's still 'overfishing' and Must Be Punished. 

Professor Milgram summed it up thusly: ..I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist.

Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not.

The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation." 

Using data no one believes while stark evidence exists demonstrating how to easily bolster sea bass spawning production beyond any previous level is no different than Milgram's work, except the shocks to the human side of the fishery are quite real. 

All our fisheries, really. 

With sea bass production minimized, we fished summers from 2007 to 2017 with a "Target what's biting" approach - just had to roll with it. Somedays fluke would chew; some days cbass - somedays we'd goose egg! 

In spring of 2015, owing very much to wind area surveys in the heart of spawning season all but eliminating reproduction across 525 sq miles of patch reef, we saw the worst spring run of sea bass anyone could remember. I would wager the worst in thousands of years. 

But because sea bass reacted to their catastrophically low population as many animals do, from mid-summer 2017 thru 2022 we caught cbass wonderfully owing the upshot in spawning production as the MD Wind Energy Area sea bass recolonized. 

Over five hundred sq miles of bottom had become devoid of sea bass by mid 2014. Spring 2015 was the worst sea bass spring run off our coast ever. When surveying stopped in late August 2015, sea bass began to move back in come September. (Here we filmed at survey's conclusion last of August.. Never EVER got any backing from .guv - denial only 

Then fishing was great for half a decade. 

I would point out there were no wind surveys off MD or DE in 2022 or 2023. My assertions concerning fish behavior during survey work, especially sub-bottom profilers, are based on dozens of logged interactions with survey boats and interviewing people with direct knowledge. I'm NOT making anything up. 

Also - after three years straight of surveying (2013/14/15) with multiple boats? 

Nothing died. 

Then two more years of surveying twenty miles out in 2020 & 21? 


Dang sure sea bass moved though - fluke too. I fought effects of surveys as hard as I could. 

Those more recent survey works didn't last long enough to create a fisheries catastrophe like three years straight (2013/14/15) with multiple boats. 

One survey boat, the Emma McCall, however, received a full suite of new equipment in 2021.. 

Although BOEM and the survey companies continue to deny any affect to fish; strangely, the new gear truly did not have any affect on sea bass feeding. 

After many encounters with the new gear it was evident whatever frequency bothered sea bass and flounder was gone - absent from the new suite of electronics. 

A wind rep, Wolfgang Rain wrote: As a side-note, it's important to understand that any gear replacement on the Emma McCall had nothing to do with what frequencies may or may not disrupt fish feeding—that is not part of their focus in the least, and all of the sub-bottom profilers manufactured to date have the sole purpose of mapping the sea bed.  To my knowledge, no manufacturer has altered their gear for any purpose other than improving its mapping abilities in various conditions (salt water vs. fresh water, sediment types and such issues).  It's possible that the Emma had the SBP off and was only filling in with sidescan or multi-beam and/or magnetometer and was not using the SBP at the time you were nearby. 

I can tell a survey boat is approaching from 8 miles away with regular sub bottom profilers. With new survey gear passing within a mile of my clients fishing? Sea bass keep feeding. 

I wonder how they knew what frequencies to eliminate? 

Admission would imply culpability.. 

There are no surveys taking place off our coast now nor were there this winter. 

My point here is the MD Wind Area (about 125 sq miles; but, of course, sound doesn't stop at permit boundaries. The actual effected area where sea bass and fluke fled from was estimated by GIS professionals at 525 sq miles.) 

As I have pointed out over and over, when sea bass recolonized all that empty habitat, ALL of them, even the littlest fellows, rejoined the spawning population (what fisheries staff would call SSB or 'spawning stock biomass.') Almost all sea bass develop as female. Because an area of reef can be well isolated, somehow, even in the first year of life small females can sense whether to change to a male or not to balance the SSB. (See, maybe you learned something!) As resident males age, females newly switching to male also become older/larger - mostly so as not to be evicted, or worse(!) blinded/killed by males defending their harems. 

I distinctly remember a conversation one afternoon on the Shantytown dock next to our fish cutting shack with Nancy B, a MD DNR biologist. She told me in 1991 that "All Sea Bass Have Spawned By 9 inches, some twice." That's why I put a 9 inch boat limit on them in 1992. By August that year (92) we saw ample evidence releasing sea bass worked fine. In coming years fishing got better and better. 

Fed & State regs did not begin until 1997 but I was already certain it would work. 

We saw ample evidence of small males down to 6.5 inches, often 7.5 inches; there were days I thought we'd caught a thousand small males(!) Pretty hard to miss with the famous nuchal hump - the blue 'knot head' of male sea bass. 

As a "protected by size limit over 11 inches" (2002 first 12 in limit with first 25 fish bag limit) as a population of cbass ages with larger and larger males about, however, small males under 9 inches are no longer present -- almost all fish under 11 inches are female - and NO cbass under 9 inches have spawned. Whether wide open vacant habitat allows young fish to become male; or habitat where heavy recreational pressure has the population capped at size limit of 11 inches or less forces young fish to become male - young, randy males and lots of em (not Big Old Fecund Females, aka BOFF) is what drives spawning success. 

When Sea Bass Switch To Male At

Under 9 Inches - Their Population Shoots Skyward! 

At 12/12.5/& 13 inch size limits, whatever switch is thrown to 'Start Spawning Now' while young is somehow delayed 2 to 3 more years. 

The ocean is an unkind place. As with most fish, many sea bass perish in their early years. I believe males that do switch young while older bulls are about are eliminated - blinded especially - by larger bulls who, as everywhere in nature, wish no competition with the ladies. Then, just as the majority are switching to male & entering the SSB/spawning class, they become legal to recreational fishers. We quickly invite them to a fish fry.. 

In the 1980s sea bass were largely pummeled save on distant and even undiscovered reefs-wrecks. With no regulation whatever, this was truly an era of overfishing. 

In the 1990s self regulation showed management's great promise. 

In 2002/2003 we had an astounding population of sea bass. Amazing. Those were the very first two years of a 25 fish limit. Before that we could, and most assuredly did, take all we could catch. In 2003 my clients limited the whole boat much more often than not. 

In 2003 I wrote that the only way we could have more sea bass was by building more habitat. 

When spawning production exceeds natural mortality, plus commercial & recreational fishing's extractions - the population climbs. If enough evade capture? You'll soon have jumbos.. 

Make no mistake - ALL those sea bass we were keeping back in the early 2000s were spawned and grew beyond maturity with No Bag Limit and only 11 inch and under size limits. We weee taking all we were allowed - some a lot more!

Our pool winners then were almost always north of 4lbs with 5s common. They'd escaped fishing pressure to grow larger & larger. 

In 2004 the fishery began to wane. It wasn't until 2006 or 7 that I'd worked through every scenario and finally pieces together the, by then, completely absent small males. 

Based on these earlier experiences of mine, in 2015/16 I predicted we'd see a fantastic increase in our local region's sea bass when the wind area recolonized and little male sea bass became prolific. 

We did. 

In 2016/17/18 we found many more small (under 9 inch) sea bass than we'd been seeing since 2001. 

It followed that we had 5 years of frequent 15 fish limits even in the heart of summer. 

It was only outside 16/17 miles though. Inshore sea bass populations didn't blossom that I could tell. 

They remain stymied as they had since the mid 2000s. 

This is a serious issue. 

When we had smaller size

limits it was those reefs with the

MOST fishing pressure (where half day party boats commonly fish) that contributed the most from spawning. 

When spawning switches so that only older males participate, reefs with heavy angling pressure contribute almost nothing. Certainly not enough to replace recreational extraction. 

Even with 12.5/13 inch size limits, given light to medium fishing pressure, sea bass can more than replace fishing's extractions with spawning production. 

With heavy pressure? 


Nearshore sea bass reef populations have contracted mightily since the mid 2000s. 

Where 1/2 day skippers sometimes caught 25 person limits in the early 2000s on reefs inside 15 miles (Yes, limits on 4 hour trips!) it is not uncommon to see very few throwbacks and only one or two keepers on those same reefs - not "per person" but on the whole boat. 

Where absolute fishing pressure was a boon in early management, today it is the cbass fishery's death sentence.  

Consider: when marlin moved offshore from the 1970s on owing declining water quality; fishers' solution was not to restore water quality - they bought faster boats. 

Oh, history does repeat.... 

A few days of bad sea bass fishing doesn't mean it's all over. I have video from 2004 of an amazing number of cbass on a natural reef that would have nothing to do with our clam  baits. Sometimes fish just don't bite. 

My point with all this is "here's what's coming." 

Has it begun? 


As I'd predicted several years ago - We're seeing some dandies with far fewer limits. 

By 2025 we'll be in real trouble. 

When it happened before flounder/fluke saved our skin. 

Or, if instead management takes action to lower the size limit to 11 inches? By 2025 we'd already be seeing noticeable improvement. 

On June 20th 2021 I wrote: "It's my conviction & my prediction that in the next few years we're going to witness the final crash of our sea bass population along DelMarVa. If nothing is done they'll only be in fishable number out past 25 miles - and only for a few years at that because offshore pressure will jump sky high as it is now mid-range. 

So why doesn't management just lower the size limit and at least experiment with manipulating (ahh, managing?) the spawning population? 

Who, after all, actually gives a dern what the size limit is on a fish residing on unrecognized habitat?

Back to Milgram.. 

Because NOAA insists recreational private boat fishers 'take' more sea bass than all trawl/trap/& recreational for-hire fishers every year - NOAA can claim we are too greedy.. 

That is what their estimates show. 

It's a confounding Catch 22 that has halted this fishery's restoration all along. 

Such a simple fishery to make flourish. Unless we unglue NOAA's statistical nonsense (MRIP) from the species' regulation, NOAA will just blame it on Private Boats and tell Congress what an awesome job they're doing. 

How about discovering temperate coral reef habitat just 10 miles off DelMarVa's coast? Just off the coast from the Prezzy's beach house? 

Yeah, no. 

Not yet. 

Seriously. If the President asked NOAA staff: "How are the corals doing near my beach house?" 

NOAA: "Umm.. What corals? Sir."  

And the latest? Where recreational management's every move at Council and Commission is dictated by recreational catch estimates from MRIP in two-month 'wave' measures (eg Wave 2 is March/April) ..this year NOAA has muffled our complaints by hiding all wave data. Those statistics will only be available in annual format. 

Seriously. I can no longer look at the data as it is used by management.


What a neat trick. 

Fishing full time and reef building in every remaining moment doesn't leave much time for fisheries & ocean advocacy.

If NOAA would admit their recreational catch data is absolute rubbish; look for evidence of temperate coral reef's importance in the early industrial fishing period, and explore ways of elevating spawning success in many species -- a lot of folks who claim "Can't" would have to zipper it. 

We Can turn the ocean blue - we Can push some species beyond even historical highs - we Can (quite simply, actually!) calculate recreational Private Boat extraction far more accurately. That would allow us to shore up fisheries science's failings formed while fed a steady diet of garbage statistics for 4 decades.. 

A start? 

Find who came up with the idea of obfuscating our two month recreational catch wave data.  

Showing them to the door would probably get things moving. 

What ARE they trying to hide? 

In 2018 Commercial sea bass, summer flounder & scup quotas were all elevated by more than 50% when MRIP's "Recalibrated" catch data was folded in to stock analysis. 

According to mid-level fisheries staff (folks who actually do the math) and higher, Federal commercial quotas of those species have not been filled since. 

But we recreational fishers go over all the time owing only Private Boat anglers who can, apparently, catch like mad even when not fishing! 

The boost our sea bass got from the recolonization of the MD Wind Energy Area is done. 

Fishing pressure is up. 

Sea bass spawning inside 25 miles will not replace recreational/commercial extraction. 

This will quickly push fishing effort to 40 miles and beyond. 

Then it to will see diminished reproduction. 

Management might heed my advice and try to bolster spawning production soon ..but probably not. 

They might put my work to use as the stock plummets in coming years too. 

History shows they'll most likely scapegoat it out to warming waters (despite sea bass fishing along both coasts of Florida; and point out 'uncontrolable' overfishing by Private Boats. 

I wish I were wrong but I've been calling sea bass right several years in advance a good while. 

Time will certainly tell. 



Capt Monty Hawkins

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