Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Fish Report 12/13/23 - & a tog rant..

Fish Report 12/13/23 

Another Sea Bass Boat Limit.. 

A DoWhat Trip? Already?

Play The Reef Raffle! You won't believe the reef we're going to build.. Play and help build it!!

Had another boat limit of sea bass on Monday 12/12/23 - Not limiting everyone out as often as the last two years, but I'd say anglers have pretty good odds. Also did a video/fish trip with fed/state fisheries folks (discussion from FB post below.)

Will our luck hold? 

Derned if I know. 

Going fishing. 

Eighteen Anglers sells out my sea bass trips - makes for lots of room. 

I'm going to open Saturday Dec 16 to sea bass like we have been doing. 6:30 to 4 - $165.00.. 

Opening winter 23/24 tog trip #1 on Friday 12/15/23..  Inshore Tog in a modestly hard west wind (will fish in the lee of shore - why I'm not cbassing!) Boat Regs Enforced: Three Tog at 16 inches - Only One Can Be A Female. Twelve souls - 7 to 3 - $150 - I sell a light rail so anglers can move to the bite. 

Will depart up to half an hour early..

Anna is a one person operation from 8am to 8pm. 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 (unless you've not had a call back after 4 hours!) - 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.. 

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.

I've recently discovered ZOFRAN -prescription anti-nausea for chemo and surgery. Seems to work - has worked - for motion sickness. Serious day saver really. It's a prescription - though one Doc I trust thought it should be over the counter.. 

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. 

Block Update - As of 12/13/23 we have 40,908 Reef Blocks & 1,801 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 - Counting those awaiting deployment there have been over 4,500 pyramids made since my crew and I fashioned a prototype mold in late August 2019. 

Currently being targeted oceanside: at our brand new Uncle Murphy's Reef 220 Reef Blocks; Rambler Reef 360 Reef Blocks & 11 Pyramids - Pete Maugan's Memorial Reef 92 Blocks & 6 Pyramids - Tyler Long's Memorial Reef 698 (+18 Reef Pyramids & a 115 ft barge!) Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 526 Reef Blocks (+76 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 2064 Blocks (+49 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,194 blocks (+16 Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,969 (+14 Reef Pyramids) Lindsay's Mini Reef 140 Blocks - Sue's Block Drop 1,702 (+30 Reef Pyramids) - Farewell/Kathy's Cable 188 blocks(3 pyramids) - Rudys/Big Dad's Barges 140 Reef Blocks (+9 Pyramids) - Benelli Reef 1,552 (+118 Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 4,344 (+ 90 reef pyramids) - Al Berger's Reef 1,886 (+36 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern South Block Drop 228 Reef Blocks (+ 8  Pyramids) - Cristina's Blast 120 Reef Blocks & 2 Pyramids - Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef 362 Blocks (+2 Pyramids) - Kinsley's Reef 756 Pyramids - Bear Concrete Reef 44 Blocks and 512 Pyramids plus 16 pipes -  We've also an Unnamed site at the Bass Grounds in 80 feet with 345 Castle & Terracotta Tog Blocks, 10 Pyramids, & 16 pieces pipe.

Tog Rant 12/13/23

Greetings All! 

I had a boat reg of three tog at 16 inches in 1992 - long years before any real MD/Fed regs. Once begun, more liberal State/Fed regs, combined with sea bass seasonal closures and an "emergency" closure that instantly drive up fishing pressure on tog, have sent us back to boat regs - Boats in OC fish 3 tog at 16 inches. (vs 4 MD Reg) Many anglers chose to take fewer still. (If you can skip getting paid a day and go fishing, maybe a meal or two of fresh fish is plenty, especially with the freezer full from summer fishing.) It is my belief that the more females we put back, the better. Every new robust reef we build becomes colonized with tautog. The 16 inch regulation is working where spawning is concerned. To accelerate 16 regulation I also only allow anglers to take just one female. Some anglers take none. 

MRIP recreational catch estimates are a fantasy. They are not real. Not remotely. What shouldn't even qualify as a general guide, MRIP is instead what NOAA forces management to use to gauge management's success/failure over a period as short as two months. When regs tighten or loosen it is 100% owed to catch data that's not real. When Quotas INCREASED 50% and MORE for commercial fishermen in 2018 it was because of MRIP catch estimates and nothing else. Estimates such as March/April NJ Shore-Anglers-Only landing 800,000lbs of Tautog are absolute codswallop. NOAA's forcing the use of such data (even at the regulatory meeting just concluded) while absolutely ignoring their Essential Fish Habitat duties in Magnuson Stevens to seafloor habitat has upended management's potential to create fantastic fishing. 

I absolutely believe incredible fishing could (Will!) become mundane. Using MRIP to create regulation is equivalent to making laws at the pull of a one arm bandit & hoping for luck.

Like Clint Eastwood said, "Feeling lucky punk?"

NOAA has now conceded their MRIP estimates are 20 to 40% too high. 

And from the man himself

I have worked on this since 1998. Partyboat/Charterboat estimates were pretty well cured in 2003. Since that time Private Boat and Shore estimates have grown so bad that today everyone acknowledges MRIP is a mess. 

I so hope the truth of catch is found in coming work. MRIP will be shown worse than "20 ro 40% too high" in many instances. 

Situation now recognized - But we have no immediate relief. 

NOAA, after telling management essentially this, 'Yeah, the folks complaining all these years were right' isn't allowing management a hair's worth of reduction in MRIP's latest round of catch guesses. 

Sea bass fishermen seem to have had a lucky pull - not quite 777 - but close. We have no change in regs coming that I've heard of.  

Scup anglers same(ish). 

Summer flounder will be cut 28% - basically a third. Regulations for fluke, owing recreational catch estimates from MRIP that not one living soul believes, are going to be tightened up and down the coast. 

What a mess. 

If managed correctly (using habitat and spawning biology With the enormous strength of regulation) the issue with sea bass would be "too many" and never overfishing. We can force sea bass to spawn like crazy.  First time I saw sea bass rise to incredible heights was from the mid 1990s to 2003--then fall slowly away to 2015.. It took me from 2003 to 2007 to cipher it. Regulations were Growing Much Tighter  ..yet spawning production more and more unremarkable. Sea bass fishing grew slower and slower. 

Then I predicted a massive rise in spawning production as the MD Wind Energy Area was recolonized. With small sea bass becoming male at age one again, their population skyrocketed. For lots more see my work on "age at maturity" in my fish reports.. 

The main thing I've learned in 31 years of actively managing (and attempting to influence the management of) fish and building fish habitat is this: Spawning production must be greater than extraction to have good numbers of large fish in the future - any fish. 

Carry your producers home for a bath in hot oil? Not so much spawning production - In future years, fewer jumbos. 

With sea bass it's simple. When we have a real abundance of sea bass, and are allowed to target them, tog pressure declines significantly. I have personally witnessed incredibly dedicated tog anglers interrupt their day for sea bass averaging over 3 pounds. Fun and delicious? You bet. And those were diehards! Most anglers are glad to have a box of tasty sea bass.. 

Any abundant marine fish helps. Any. Sheepshead are being restored - we didn't even know they were missing! Weakfish, blues & croakers - Fun Fishing!  

Yes - there's a new crop of tog fishermen who've yet to learn.. When we were smashing every population of tog we could find in the early 1980s my old skipper used to say "Lets kill'em all and stomp their eggs, then we'll find something else to kill."  

Having learned the hard way and then worked to restore tog even long before regulation; those who threw em back when it wasn't law and built reef when across the board in upper State/Fed management thought it a silly waste of time at best - or simply "recreational fish traps" at worst: We're the reason there's tog today. They'll learn better too ..or perhaps managemnt will become stabilized when real catch data is achieved? (Never know!) 

I've seen tautog crash twice now - much worse in the mid 1980s with zero regulation - and again more recently/more softly with regs that were too loose (but mainly because sea bass were either tough or closed.) 

In 1984/85 I could reliably catch tautog on a 6 or 8 ounce diamond jig AFTER the day's clients had exhausted bushels of cut bluecrab. Coolers so slam full they could not be closed; bait gone & the mate catching on a mackerel jig.. 

Ever seen tautog fishing like that collapse? 

If not you'll have to take my word for it - we still have work to do. 

Promise - DelMarVa tautog can be made a world class fishery. As Bully Bob calls em, "DelMarVa Grouper" are a blast to catch - at our current pace we shall achieve that. 

And if management gets in a catch data delusional funk - "Oh, there's plenty! Open it up" then another generation shall have to rejoin the effort.

My facebook post from 12/8/23 

Sea Bass & Video Exploration 12/8/23 

Tied her loose into a gorgeous sunrise this day. 


Janet and Ethan pushed our 20 block unit by the stern rail -- and I backtracked a bit. Not far offshore at all, we dropped the 'video tree' (two u/w go-pro(ish) cameras and lots of lights mounted on a scrub brush handle - hitech!) ..lowered it down to see what was growing on some concrete pipe.

Even caught a few sea bass. 

All day. Lower - Lift - Move - Repeat. 

Got some nice video. Looked at two natural reefs that were mowed down by trawl - one in 2004, one in 2006. Both have regrown somewhat - sure hold fish again. Looked at a variety of artificial reef too. Will be posting as time goes along. 

Just a handful of folks aboard; took advantage of an opportunity to show some federal ocean and fisheries folks our part of the ocean's seafloor habitat - a glimpse really. 

Didn't catch limits. 

Dern sure caught lots of dinner. 

And, just maybe, advanced the idea that fisheries restorations demand habitat restoration. Our corals are not unlike the region's oysters. Where oysters have been studied to where we know where every bar and reef was and know the task ahead in its entirety - with our corals, I'm ashamed to say, science must first discover those that remain(!) Then we must find out what's missing and put that habitat back. 

Promise - it's as simple as rolling rocks

off a barge. 

I've done this math several times. The commercial catch of sea bass from 1950 to 1961 is greater than what was landed in all the decades since, all combined. More in eleven years than in sixty three. 

If it were simply overfishing, we'd have long since amped catch up to near-early levels. 

Fishing controls/catch restriction, however, cannot replace spawning production owed to habitat that's long since gone. 

Can listen to stories about where Grandad once shot squirrels for dinner, but if those acres of woods are now in soybeans? 

Put seafloor habitat back? A whole lot of ecosystem function will be restored.. 

If you like catching sea bass, scup, summer flounder, red hake, tautog; eating lobster? Habitat discovery and restoration would be a great thing. It's the only way to truly restore fish populations. 

Play it right? We can armor coastlines and increase fish populations at the same time. 

Well, it's a project I've worked on a few decades. Maybe today helped. 

Have one spot open tomorrow if anyone's interested. Just email me at 



Capt Monty Hawkins

Capt Monty Hawkins

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