Salt­wa­ter fish­ing sea­son off and run­ning

The Southern Berks News - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum Columnist

Our salt­wa­ter fish­ing sea­son is get­ting off to a fly­ing start as the ac­tion on many species kicked in sig­nif­i­cantly ear­lier than past years, in­dica­tive of an early spring that seemed to ar­rive about two weeks ahead of time.

Right now the salt­wa­ter angling fo­cus is on big chop­per blue­fish weigh­ing up to 20 pounds work­ing their way up the coast. Larry Jock, Editor of The Coastal Fish­er­man in Ocean City, Md., an­nu­ally tracks the “first fish of the year” caught in the Ocean City area, and even though this sea­son’s first blue­fish was caught in mid April, about the same as last year, other species are show­ing up sooner than in the past.

For ex­am­ple, last year’s first mako shark was caught on May 14, this year, April 28; yel­lowfin tuna last year was May 7, this year, April 30; dol­phin last year was May 20, this year, April 30; and floun­der last year, April 16, ver­sus April 7 this year. While this early ar­rival is not con­sis­tent with ev­ery species (bluefin tuna showed up about a week later this year) it does sug­gest a trend that may be in­dica­tive of warm­ing ocean wa­ters. Last week I fished the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay where mate Bobby Thomas spec­u­lated that the tro­phy rock­fish mi­gra­tion was also run­ning about two weeks early.

Last Tues­day I launched my boat, Open De­bate, in my sea­sonal quest for back bay summer floun­der in Ocean City, Md. My ini­tial floun­der foray on Wed­nes­day was thwarted by wind­whipped white­caps and mud­died wa­ters. No won­der mine was the only boat to be seen on the rough and tum­ble back wa­ters of the Isle of Wight Bay. I gave it about an hour, but af­ter five drifts and no bites I sur­ren­dered to the el­e­ments and headed back to the dock. I’ll try again when the weather breaks.

As reg­u­lar read­ers of this col­umn know, I main­tain a record of my floun­der catch each year and last sea­son was one of the poor­est on record in the back bays. In 2015, which was fairly typ­i­cal of other sea­sons, I fished 34 days (May through Oc­to­ber) and caught 232 fluke of which 32 (14 per­cent) were le­gal keepers of 16 inches or more and I av­er­aged 7 fluke per trip. Last year my to­tals dropped off sig­nif­i­cantly. I fished 28 days and caught just 133 floun­der of which only 10 (7.5 per­cent) were keepers as I av­er­aged fewer than 5 fluke per trip.

The Mary­land reg­u­la­tions for summer floun­der were con­sis­tent both years (16 inches min­i­mum length, 4 fish daily limit) and they re­main the same for 2017, so why the drop off? Last Fe­bru­ary I con­sulted with Scott Lenox at the now de­funct Greater Philly Out­door Sports Show for his anal­y­sis. Lenox is the owner of “Fish in OC” and host of Ocean City’s fish­ing tele­vi­sion show “Hooked on OC.” He’s worked in the fish­ing in­dus­try and fished the wa­ters in and around Ocean City for over 25 years. Lenox be­lieved that the last year’s poor floun­der fish­ing in Ocean City’s back bays was caused, in part, by dredg­ing of the Ocean City In­let in early spring, at about the same time the floun­der be­gan their mi­gra­tion into the bays. The murky wa­ter and dredg­ing ac­tiv­i­ties dis­cour­aged the floun­der from en­ter­ing the bay.

An­other fac­tor may have been seis­mic test­ing that im­pacted in­shore wa­ters, test­ing in­tended to lay the ground­work for a fu­ture wind farm. Lenox added that although bay fluk­ing was neg­a­tively im­pacted, floun­der fish­ing at in­shore reefs, wrecks, and lumps was ex­cel­lent. The up­shot here is that if bay fish­ing doesn’t im­prove this year, I’ll point the Open De­bate to­ward ocean struc­ture.

For an up­date on what’s hap­pen­ing along the coast in south­ern New Jer­sey I checked in with Cap­tain Dick Herb of Es­capade Char­ters out of Avalon. Herb, who also serves as Chair of the New Jer­sey Fish­eries Coun­cil, notes that there are tons of bruiser blue­fish off the Jer­sey coast and in the back bays right now. Plenty of striped bass are hang­ing out in Jer­sey wa­ters as well. “We’re catch­ing the big­ger stripers at night,” said Herb. “We had great weather be­fore the fish ar­rived and are hop­ing it clears as soon as pos­si­ble.”

*** But, ac­cord­ing to Herb, floun­der fish­ing reg­u­la­tions for New Jer­sey re­main in limbo. “As for floun­der fish­ing, things are still very up in the air,” he con­fessed. “At present the reg­u­la­tions are set at a 3 fish daily limit, 19 inches in length or greater, spread over a 128 day sea­son with dates yet to be de­ter­mined. The prob­lem with that size limit, since the males run smaller, is that it tar­gets fe­male breed­ers one hun­dred per­cent. If you’re keep­ing just the breed­ers it’s go­ing to dam­age the fish­ery. That said, be­hind the scenes we’re look­ing into go­ing out of com­pli­ance and hop­ing some com­pli­cated ne­go­ti­a­tions will re­sult in changes and com­pro­mises with the Na­tional Marine Fish­eries be­fore the At­lantic States Marine Fish­ery Coun­cil meets on May 10 and 11.”

My friend and fel­low out­doors columnist Terry Brady cov­ers the New Jer­sey salt­wa­ter fish­ing scene for Penn­syl­va­nia Out­door News. In his most re­cent col­umn he, like Herb, also be­moaned the cur­rent state of the Gar­den State’s ques­tion­able floun­der reg­u­la­tions that raise the le­gal size limit to 19 inches. Cit­ing a pe­ti­tion from New Jer­sey’s three rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the At­lantic States Marine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion, Brady noted, “More than 90 per­cent of summer floun­der in New Jer­sey wa­ters that are greater than 19 inches in length are fe­males, the com­mis­sion rep­re­sen­ta­tives said, mean­ing an in­crease in size lim­its would en­cour­age higher har­vests of re­pro­duc­tive fish, which would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to sound fish­ery man­age­ment.” We’ll have more on this evolv­ing New Jer­sey fish story in fu­ture col­umns as it un­folds. Stay tuned.

As for the fresh­wa­ter sea­son back here in the Key­stone state, the folks at the Penn­syl­va­nia Fish and Boat Com­mis­sion (PFBC) re­mind an­glers that the stock­ing pro­gram is still go­ing strong and the spring sea­son of­fers plenty of opportunities to catch brook, brown and rain­bow trout. The PFBC will stock 500,000 more trout into 445 wa­ter sec­tions through the end of May, said Brian Wis­ner, Direc­tor of the PFBC Bureau of Hatch­eries.

“We want an­glers to know that great trout fish­ing con­tin­ues through spring and into June and picks up again in fall when wa­ter tem­per­a­tures start to cool.”

In­cluded in this year’s stock­ing lists are the pop­u­lar Key­stone Se­lect Stocked Trout Wa­ters, a pro­gram where large 1420-inch trout are stocked into 14 streams across the state. The pro­gram was launched last year with eight streams in­clud­ing our own Mid­dle Branch of the White Clay Creek here in the south­east. Six new wa­ters were added this year.

The PFBC an­nu­ally stocks ap­prox­i­mately 3.15 mil­lion adult trout in more than 720 streams and 120 lakes open to public angling. Also, PFBC co­op­er­a­tive nurs­eries run by sports­men’s clubs across the state add an­other 1 mil­lion trout to wa­ters open to public angling.

In ad­di­tion to the PFBC’s ex­ten­sive hatch­ery trout stock­ing pro­gram, Penn­syl­va­nia also has thou­sands of wild trout streams. At present, there are 3,700 miles of streams con­tain­ing some level of wild trout and 1,644


miles of Class A wild trout streams. Class A streams are the Com­mon­wealth’s best wild trout streams and they of­fer a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge and re­ward for an­glers.

“These fish and the streams that con­tain them are some of Penn­syl­va­nia’s most trea­sured re­sources that all trout an­glers need to ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Wis­ner. “En­joy the in-sea­son stock­ings and make this the year that you branch out from your fa­vorite stocked wa­ter and add some wild trout fish­ing to your ‘to do’ list!”

Here in the south­east­ern cor­ner of the com­mon­wealth, where we had a two-week jumpstart on the rest of the state, the PFBC’s stock­ing pro­gram is wrap­ping up on lo­cal streams. The fi­nal stock­ings in Berks County were com­pleted Fri­day, May 5, on An­ti­etam and Hay Creeks. In Ch­ester County, stock­ings end with a flurry this week with the East Branch of White Clay Creek, White Clay Creek, and Po­cop­son Creek be­ing stocked on Mon­day, May 8, and the East Branch of the Brandy­wine Creek and Pick­er­ing Creek get­ting one last batch of fresh trout on Tues­day, May 9.

Al­most all floun­der like this 24-incher are fe­male breed­ers. Sig­nif­i­cantly low­er­ing the size lim­its would tar­get more males and might ac­tu­ally be bet­ter for the fish­ery.

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