Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fish Report 10/8/06

Fish Report 10/8/06
Landlocked Ramblings
Hi All,
A classic north-easter.
In the early hours of Saturday, 1:30 AM, wave heights topped out at 17 feet at the buoy 15 NM east of Fenwick Island. That's nasty weather!
It hasn't been all bad though. Before the blow fishing trips were decent with an occasional 'excellent'. While certainly not typical for this time of year, we have seen a few trips with pool winners north of 5 1/2 pounds. And then there was Marvin's fish - a 6lb. 1oz. sea bass. That's the heaviest of the year; at least on my rig.
Spring is when we usually get our best 'grade' of fish - the bigger cbass. Go figure.
Otherwise, it's on track to be a normal fall with lots and lots of throw backs and frequent 25 fish limits. The weeding.
One rascal missing is the big chopper blues that can sometimes ruin a spot for fishing. Selective they are, letting you reel up lots of smalls - but a keeper? Slice 'em off cleaner than a shark's bite - right behind the gills. It must be like a day at the fair for these predators. As we extract fish from a reef, they pick out their candy...
They're actually great fun if not too numerous; it's just when you CAN'T reel in a good fish that it gets rather tiresome!
Up the anchors and shuffle around - find somewhere they haven't.
Hasn't happened yet this fall on my rig - it's coming though.
I can recall plenty of bluefish during the spring runs of the 80's. Never enough to make you cuss; just a few fish bitten off and an occasional jumbo that would mess up and get a sea bass hook stuck in 'im. While fall trout fishing in the early part of that decade there was only a little overlap between the trout and blues. You caught one or the other with just a chance of a big blue biting a trout in two.
Seems like the mid-90's when it became common for blues to start hovering over the reefs as sea bass moved offshore. Seems like. Maybe it was always that way. Or, perhaps it's simply a natural response to changes in available forage. Bluefish are going to find something to eat!
Would the blues be there if we weren't? Wouldn't the reef's function as a hiding place serve as a protection? It might not be as bad, but I've heard plenty of stories from bass trap fishermen of bluefish getting their head stuck in the opening of a trap as they tried to feed on cbass. That's a persistent predator!
The puzzle of managing the region's fisheries is fraught with such; every upswing and down-turn in a species has the possibility of creating effects, both good and bad, on other species. Perhaps as we fished the sea trout and menhaden into low abundance we forced bluefish to find sea bass. Once they have successfully foraged on sea bass - fattened up on their fall migration - will they ever again bother to look in the traditional nearshore waters for prey? Unlikely in the near-term, but it's almost a certainly, given time and abundant prey, that the species would return to more traditional feeding patterns. (The large bluefish & striped bass /small trout interaction takes place nearer to Hatteras in the winter period - same sort of problem. )
The idea of 'recruitment' - surviving to join the population of harvestable fish - is influenced by numerous factors. Water temperature, salinity and quality in the earliest stages of life probably exert the greatest influence. While able to voice concerns about water quality, as a community we fishers can not ensure that eggs survive the first hours and days ~ these are mortality factors we must live with. 
After that though, there are more options.
Juvenile bycatch and release mortality reduction, improving/protecting habitat quality and predation's effects are now becoming more closely watched by managers in various regions.
And why not. The percentage of eggs that actually become catchable fish is never high. Numbers far below 1% are quite normal. The striped bass spawning 100's of thousands of eggs isn't anticipated to produce even 100 fish. However, as an illustration, if management's actions could cause a fish that now has a .5% survival rate to go to a 1.0% survival rate then we'd have twice as many fish in that year class.
If those numbers persisted over several years, the fishing would get very good indeed!
Fisheries management will always be more like weather forecasting than chemistry ~ it's never going to be exact. Exploding year classes have to eat. The push and pull on our marine ecosystem... It goes round and round.
Still, the measurement that all can see ~ "fishing's a lot better!" ~ is where we want to go.
Let's get on with it.

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