Friday, February 21, 2014

Fish Report 2/21/14

Fish Report 2/21/14 
Going Sunday Too 
Thoughts After A Meeting.. 

Tog Trip - Sunday, February 23rd – 6:00AM to 5:00PM - $150.00 - 14 Anglers Sells Out..  
The fishing hasn't been all that, but its the best I can offer.. 
If you're looking for a lot of action – look elsewhere. 
Yes, we whacked 'em Thursday, but winter togging is a cold-hearted mistress. Skunks are always possible. 

Having trouble receiving email. Will sort it out soon. Reservations By Phone Only Anyway – Always. 
By the time I write back what spots are open – its changed. 

Reservations For Tautog Trips at 410 - 520 - 2076 — They Answer 24/7. 
LEAVE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CONTACT NUMBER - Weather Cancelations Are Common - I Make Every Attempt To Let Clients Sleep In If The Weather's Not Going Our Way.. 

We provide green crabs. You're welcome to bring any kind of crab you like – even lobster, even plastic. 


No Live Fish Leave The Boat - Dead & Bled - Period. (I Believe The Live-Fish Black Market Has Hurt The Tog Fishery, But Not As Much As Bad Sea Bass Regulation)
Agreed With Or Not, All Regulations Observed – Maryland: 4 Tog @ 16 Inches – Sea Bass Are Closed. 

Bring A (not terribly big) Fish Cooler With ICE (or fresh snow) For Your Party.. A 48 QT Cooler Is Good For 2 Guys. Even Now You Should ICE Fresh Fish.. 
Be A Half Hour Early - We Like To Leave Early.
Clients Arriving Late Will See The West End Of An East Bound Boat.. 

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!

8,484 "Oyster Castle" reef blocks by the rail – 2,500 at Jimmy's Reef – 1,588 at Ake's – 336 at Lindsey Power's Isle of Wight Reef.. 

Check Out This Reef Raffle For Turner Sculpture! Tickets Available By Contacting Marta Beman at 
See the Reef Foundation's Website if you'd care to help fund our reef building. Or snailmail a check – any check!

Ocean City Reef Foundation
P.O. Box 1072
Ocean City, MD 21843 

My @mediacombb email address is a memory. Please use for correspondence. Yes, its a very old address and fills w/spam occasionally.. (a lot – messages bounce when full) 

Greetings All, 
Had a serious lack of sponsors for Thursday's trip. Making lemonade with half a lemon, I invited a bunch of biologists & mid-level managers to witness "habitat isolated spawning populations" for themselves. 
Despite short notice, MD DNR took me up on it and sent a tautog aging crew out. 
Murphy's law fairly well demanded that where one of my worst trips in years was two Saturdays ago with a full boat, now with precious few clients on a flat-calm day we'd see our best action of the year. 
So it goes. 
Of 20 fish kept, only 1 or 2 were under 10 pounds. 
We tagged 36 tog up to 25.5 inches. Only 10 were sub-legal. 
One rod-thumper spit the hook maybe 20 feet off the bottom, a fish that probably would have upped our 15 pound biggest for the day. (sorry for your luck, George)
It was old school toggin. Unlikely to see that bite again soon 
..will try.  
Very glad we were able to get some science out of it. Be interesting to see how old those fish were. 

I looked at a picture, a nice picture of that catch and thought, 'we could have done that in the back-bay in 1982.' 
Soon after 1982, however, seatrout collapsed and many weakfish anglers began dropping straight down. Big tog swiftly caught off; now people think "only small tog live in the back-bay." 
Coastal bay tog were resurgent in the mid 2000s owing to huge new areas of rip-rap. Some anglers were quietly enjoying sport & good dining when, suddenly, flounder were closed by emergency regulation. As with the seatrout collapse, tog were a very handy "next-best" when flounder were put off-limits. 

We could have taken that picture too –did many times– on our inshore wrecks & reefs all through the 2000s. 
Tog fishing was smoking hot. 
A lot of folks started going - big crowds on big boats - some 'visiting' boats practically advertised no regulations applied. 
..and then MuRFSS decreed we were over–quota on sea bass: Tautog pressure escalated higher-still because we had to fish for something or forfeit our boat loans. 
Right in the heart of that came the NJ Shore Mar/Apr 174,000 tautog estimate – Suddenly everyone was over-quota and had to take cuts. Maryland's came primarily by going up 2 inches in size, to 16 inches 
..right where I'd been before real regulation ever existed. 

Best management for tog is keeping sea bass & flounder abundant while not distracting management with bad catch estimates. 
All of our artificial reefs, every single one, has been colonized by tautog. 
It takes about 15 years for a tog to grow into a trophy-size specimen. They'll spawn at least 12 times in those 15 years. 
We're going to build more reef. 
With more spawning & more reef we'll eventually see a lot more trophies.  
Having other fish to catch – especially sea bass – is key to growing big tog. 

I just came from a rec-fish meeting with the MD Director of Fisheries. A biologist told us the reason we're not catching as many sea bass is because "They're moving north." 
Even though sea bass are still plentiful on both coasts of Florida, climate change has somehow become a handy crutch, a plausible excuse for inaction by those who will exercise no further consideration; who are satisfied—comfortable, with reason spread far too thin. 
Where are the amberjack? Where are the jack crevelle & spadefish of my youth? Southern fish that actually once darkened vast water on our shoals; We had acres & acres of these southern, warm-water fish. Now I occasionally see a half dozen spades & haven't seen a jack in years. Where are the near-shore grouper? Red snapper? Tarpon too we had in large numbers in decades past. Where is that species' increase to match sea basses asserted "movement north." 
Striped bass are feeding on Atlantic salmon smolts in rivers where no one's ever seen a striper - ever. This is true. Salmon restorationists are dismayed – their love of striped bass is similar to Gulf fishers' love of lionfish. But is the Chesapeake suddenly devoid of Maryland's precious rockfish?
Sea bass are expanding north in warmer waters – no doubt. But that shouldn't cause a cessation or even minor slowing of southern Mid-Atlantic sea bass production. Indeed, this coming summer you can book a sea bass trip off Georgia's coast. There is expansion to our north, but no contraction in the Mid-Atlantic. 

Moving north 
..I think sea bass instead offer an easily solved population biology riddle. But perception of the fishery is so slammed with misleading catch estimates, while managers lean heavily upon the easily-grasped crutch of warming, that no one's hunting true solutions. 

Note to fishery science community from Carl Sagan: "It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying & reassuring."  

To my point, at a protogynous fishes workshop (pro-tah jen-us means fish that change sex - like sea bass) a workshop last summer, leading authors conclude among several new-age ideas: "The most effective management measure for population recovery and conserving biomass was a nearshore reserve." 
In other words: 'We'll NEVER get fish restored unless you give us nearshore MPAs to work with.' 
(Because I'm certain regional responses to management measures from habitat isolated spawning populations will forever remain hidden to those looking only at coastwide data, you can expect a solidly disgruntled response to the workshop's paper in an upcoming Fish Report.)

When we move past this inane phase of management – this time when Council, Commission & State Agencies are forced to hop on one foot whenever NMFS coughs-up a catch estimate no one believes; When we've set aside management's crutches, their wildly speculative rationalizations for unresponsive species; the "no luck because" we're always & forever over-quota; when poorly-reasoned climate change excuses are examined more closely; when they've moved beyond the oh-so human desire to accept loosely plausible evidence and move on; when they stop grasping at methods that will never be employed broadly and open themselves to methods other-than recreational catch restriction; When Essential Fish Habitat & Population Ecology become marine fishery management's primary sciences - then we'll begin rock-solid progress in restoration. 

You can bet I believe rock-solid progress will involve a lot of rock. Many, many bargeloads of rock. Thousands. 
Management is presently distracted with all the above, however. Most are convinced artificial reef building would leave tire-tracks on their career as tires washing ashore left tread-marks on previous managers. 

For now we'll have to raise money for rock & concrete reef building with a raffle. 
Ohhh.. That's a good looking table. 
You could get two smaller ones if you'd rather. 
See . . . 

Will probably open May sea bass reservations in my next report. 
For now; continued pursuit of my favorite underwater cave dweller, tautog. 


Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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