Saturday, May 22, 2021

Fish Report 5/22/21

Fish Report 5/22/21 
Opening June - No Mondays 
Survey Sounds & Sea Bass
2021 Benelli Reef Raffle!

Sending this at 7:30 from the ocean. Will soon be out of cell range. Reservation Line Is Somewhat Computerized and Cannot Open Til 8am..

Below the Reef Block count is a recent Facebook post of mine that give a glimpse into our world - the fight to have survey noise's impacts to sea bass and even bottlenose dolphin investigated.

Fishing, as it should be in May, has been very productive with at least some clients limited daily. What will June hold? Well, we'll just have to go fishing! Daily reports with lots of pics posted daily to Facebook. 

Opened the 2021 OCRF Benelli Reef Raffle Sunday Night 5/16/21. Although the grand prizes will be drawn New Year's day, we'll pull weekly winners for t-shirts and other reef items every week, then put those weekly winning tickets right back in the grand prize drawing. 
Right now I have a dozen or so folks competing for a porthole from one of our reefs and a couple T-shirts. Come New Year's Day  some folks are going to be mighty happy with the Grand Prize(s) drawing.. There's a gorgeous Benelli 828U o/u in 12ga, or a Benelli M-2 semiauto 12ga from their Performance Shop. Either Grand Prize winner could also choose $1,500.00 Cash instead!  
Our first Weekly Drawing will be Sunday, May 23 after 8pm and will feature not just 2 t-shirts, but a truly unique prize - a brass porthole taken from the Nana & Barry Daub Memorial Reef - a steel sailboat we sank a few months ago. 
I also have a couple portholes taken from the Campedore sunk in the mid-1990s when MD still had the program. I'll put one of them in the weekly drawing in June. The reef was a WWII war prize; a yacht said to have been used by that rotten sob himself, Hitler. That was the story when she was sunk. I'll let someone else worry about verification. I sure wish the Navy would unload the rest of their mothball fleet. 

Any tackleshop that wants a (tiny) bit of facebook fame can donate a prize for the weekly drawings. Our next project is a pair of tugboats for just under $100K! We've aways to go but WILL get them on the bottom! 
Also - if you know folks at a concrete plant we have 5 pyramid molds we could lend to a a concrete manufacturer who wants to make a real difference with a small percentage of their wash-out..

Every donation builds reef!
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 - thirty two for $200.00.. 
See on the Donate page. There's a "Raffle" button at the bottom of the page now. 
Tickets also available at Raceway Citgo with more locations soon.

Opening All Of June (except Mondays) for sea bass trips. Size limit 12.5 inches - 15 per person. 

Sea Bass Only - Prices Same As Last Year — Saturdays 6:30 to 3:30 at $155.00 — Weekdays & Sundays 7 to 3 at $135 — All cbass trips sell out at a very well-spaced 18 Anglers...
Reservations Required - Call Anna (and sometimes Hanna!) Open 8am to 8pm at 443-235-5577 

Owing Covid regulations during the spring of 2020 I began selling out with clients far more apart than usual.
My idea all along has been to space people out more - to give anglers more elbow room while fishing. Charge more? Sure, have to. But elbow room's a rare thing on a busy partyboat. 
When I started in 2003 I carried 25 souls, and that was already offering more room per-person than any boat I knew of. 
At Covid's beginning we were allowed 10 people. That certainly wasn't enough to survive on as a business. Later in June we were allowed more clients. I spaced everyone out an additional foot from CDC recommendations (save in the stern where it's a bit tighter.) 
That made it 18 anglers.  
Seemed well received by clients. Satisfaction was very high. Worked OK for me too. Not as much in fares; but what price happier clients and less stressed captain & crew?
Although we're still not quite out of the woods with Covid, even when given the "All Clear" I'm not going back to 25. 
Eighteen sells out for all but winter tautog trips which have always been fewer still. 

As ever, Be a half hour early! We always leave early!
..except when someone shows up right on time.
Clients 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.

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. This is 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 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 doesn't replace the backbone.. Have to keep a shoulder into reef building to make it happen. Not just our block project! OCRF sank 2 barges (one was 200 feet!) a large tug, and two smaller boats in months past. 
Donations get put to work! 

Our smallest reef project.. 
As of 5/3/21 we have 33,607 Reef Blocks + 334 Concrete Pyramids (170lb ea) deployed at numerous ACE permitted reef sites. 
Currently being targeted: Virginia Lee Hawkins Memorial Reef 99 Reef Blocks (+ 47 Reef Pyramids begun 8/18/20) - Capt. Jack Kaeufer's/Lucas Alexander's Reefs 1,796 Blocks (+44 Reef Pyramids) - Doug Ake's Reef 4,114 blocks (+16 Pyramid Reef Pyramids) - St. Ann's 2,545 (+6 Reef Pyramids) - Sue's Block Drop 1,562 (+20 Reef Pyramids) - TwoTanks Reef 1,123 (+ 11 Reef Pyramids) - Capt. Bob's Inshore Block Drop 912 - Benelli Reef 1,471 (+ 15 Pyramids) - Rudy's Reef 445 - Capt. Bob's Bass Grounds Reef 3,274 (+52 reef pyramids) - Wolf & Daughters Reef 734 - Al Berger's Reef 669 (+4 Reef Pyramids) - Great Eastern Block Drop 914 (+9 Reef Pyramids).. And a soon-to-be-named reef at Russell's Reef 30 Blocks & 49 Pyramids - We've also begun work at Capt Greg Hall's Memorial Reef with 72 Tog Monster Blocks.
From a research trip 5/20/21
Greetings All,
Booked my boat out today to go look at, and hopefully video, black sea bass behavior when acoustic surveying is being done. Took a biologist and some volunteer anglers, plus my crew; spent the day trying to document permitted survey work currently being done off our coast causes sea bass to stop feeding. 
Completely stop feeding. 
At least while a survey boat is within three or four miles. With sea bass's first spawn only days away, what could go wrong? 
Here's what we did today in a nutshell - We found 2 spots in the survey area that should be well-populated with sea bass but were not. We found a spot on the outside edge of the survey work that was very well populated with sea bass. Fish at that location would hardly take a bait until the survey boat was almost 5 miles away. By the time the boat was 10 miles away the bite was OK. At 12 miles distant we experienced "drop and reel" fishing and limited swiftly.

We suffered this wind survey work before in 2013, 14, & 15.. Then so much surveying was done sea bass and flounder actually evacuated a 500 square mile patch of ocean in & immediately around the Maryland Wind Energy Area. 
This is the same area being surveyed again. 
Government swears there is no effect, that I'm full of it. They've spent MILLIONS to look at how marine mammals & birds use the area; the state even paid for a hugely expensive bottom survey so it could be "open source"instead of proprietary — and companies would no longer need more survey work. (ahhh well, worked for a few years.) 
NOAA, BOEM (bureau of ocean energy management) State of Maryland? No one spent one red cent to look at fisheries impacts that I know of. Dang sure not survey noise and sea bass spawning/bottlenose dolphin calving. 
This is NOT the 'air cannon' survey work of oil & gas exploration. That equipment is known to kill fish and perhaps even mammals outright if near enough. Survey work off our coast now is more basic. It creates a near-perfect mapping of the seabed's surface with towed sidescan gear & a deeper look 20 to 30 feet beneath the seabed's surface with a device called a sub-bottom profiler. 
That sub-bottom profiler?That's where the trouble lies. 
Regular readers will know I've a lifetime of artificial reef work. In 2007 I was anchored up with clients catching the heck out of sea bass on a storm-sunk wreck called the "Cook." MD's top scientific research boat, skippered by my friend Rick Younger, was inbound to do the final survey before we were allowed to build "The Sue Power Reef" with 44 stainless rail cars from the NYCTA. 
Reef building history was happening and I wanted to witness it. 
Rick and I were on the radio as he approached the NW corner of the Jackspot Reef to begin his work. My clients were catching doubles of sea bass every drop - what we call "drop and reel" fishing. 
Rick turned on his sub-bottom profiler ..that splendid sea bass bite instantly went dead "as if turned off by a switch." And it had been turned off by a switch. A sub-bottom profiler switch. 
I hailed Rick again and asked what had happened. He knew what it was and turned off the sub-bottom unit. The bite did resume, even instantly, if more tepidly. 
I'd seen what I came for and soon took clients far away to finish an excellent day of fishing. 
From that 2007 experience I was able to quickly put together what was happening when Wind Energy Area survey work began in earnest in 2013. What a pain in the neck. Hardly just for fishermen though: by mid-summer 2014 sea bass & summer flounder were 100% gone from the MD WEA and surrounding area. A year later the surveys were over. I booked my boat out on one of the first days in Sept 2015 and searched fabulous natural stone reef sites for sea bass. There were none. Some tog, even a few cod - no sea bass. 
This video shows the exact same reefs from 2004 and 2015. The difference is staggering. 

BOEM says there can be no affect from sub-bottom profilers because they're "as quiet as a ship's propeller." 
I suppose it must be a third rail in NOAA - touch BOEM and die. 
So today, 5/20/21, my crew and I borrowed a couple go-pro cameras w/housings for deep work, gathered a few angling volunteers - I lost what could easily have been a sold out boat - and went looking for enough evidence to finally get someone's attention in marine science to investigate what I've told them for years - these surveys make sea bass STOP eating. 
No way around it. That's an "impact to a fishery." 
I'm almost certain it also pushes marine mammals away and even causes sharks to avoid the noise. 
Today's work began on a wreck 14 miles east of Ocean City. In late May that wreck, an old wreck supremely grown-over with a coral-based benthic community, should be loaded with sea bass. 
It was not. Visibility was too poor to do camera work. Rod and reel sampling yielded a single 14inch 'keeper' sea bass and one throwback. 
After 41 years of sea bass fishing, I hope readers will believe I can locate sea bass on a reef. Today's volunteer anglers were, to a man, highly skilled also. 
That wreck is dead. I don't know why. 
Surveying has been going on all around it for almost a month, but who could say for sure. 
So we moved to another spot I'd normally fish several times a year with a sold out rail. It too has been in survey's path. I saw less than a dozen sea bass with my wheelhouse equipment. We saw none on camera. Fishing again yielded precious few bites with one keeper & one throwback. 
This time of year that spot should be loaded with sea bass. 
It was not. 
My next spot was further off, on what seems to be the outside edge of surveying. Here we found a large school of sea bass that the survey boat "Brooks McCall" had passed within a couple miles of not long before. We anchored and lowered our camera equipment which confirmed an abundance of sea bass. Beautiful.
When anglers lowered their baits, however, no one got a bite for some while. 
Normally May is an excellent time of year to catch sea bass and has been this year too. Fishing as far from from survey boats as I can, I've had many clients limit out. 
Yet today, with a survey boat 3 miles away and leaving, we dropped into a nice school of sea bass and none would bite. 
After the sub-bottom profiler was getting further away, at about 5 miles we saw a double keeper then a few keeper singles. 
By 10 miles distant the bite had improved substantially. At 12 miles it was drop and reel fishing with sea bass now readily taking a jig. 
I wanted to wait for the survey boat to come back - & it was headed back our way for a while - but eventually took a course further inshore instead of back our way which would be normal for a survey. At that point, with everyone limited on sea bass, I threw in the towel. 
Those familiar with the fishery will recognize how backward this sequence of fishing was. The best bite is always when we first drop in. That's when jigs will work, if they're going to. Then the bite tapers to a near-stop. How long that takes depends mostly on abundance. 
Today? the survey work controlled the bite.

I could have sold my boat out today. Sea bass fishing has been very good (so long as you stay away from these sounding boats.) 
While I did not get what I was hoping for, we certainly saw acoustic surveying have an affect on reef fish. 
Will it be enough to finally get an upper gov person to say, "Hey, we ought to have a look at this".. I hope. 
It's work that needs done. 
It may only seem to be an inconvenience to a few anglers, but I guarantee these surveys move populations of fish and marine mammals around in spawning and calving season. 
NOAA needs to look at it - understand what they're allowing when they sign off for a permit. 
(photos taken off the back of a go-pro - will do more as time allows!)

Capt Monty Hawkins

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