Fishing activity has pretty much shut down. Even the freshwater impoundments are frozen over, keeping anglers off of the water. The only one that I know that has been out over the past week was us. We managed to sneak out, in between snow storms, into a very lonely Atlantic Ocean. We did have a navy ship out there to keep us company. March is here and with it, we should start seeing more fishing windows in the weather. When we can get out, there should be some tuna available out of the inlets of North Carolina. Bluefin, blackfin, and yellowfin tuna should all be in the waters in reach of boats sailing from Oregon and Hatteras Inlets. Out of Virginia, we will still be pretty much limited to fishing for tautog on the coastal wrecks. Tautog inside the bay may not become active until April.
Boats heading offshore will be able to catch blueline tilefish and other creatures from the deep. There will likely be new blueline regulations coming soon that will have the potential of sustaining this fishery or could go far enough to pretty much shut the fishery down. The offshore waters south of Virginia have been managed by the South-Atlantic Council. From Virginia on north, there really have not been blueline tilefish (or grouper) regulations. Virginia enacted proactive regulations to sustain this recreational fishery and to allow for a commercial bycatch fishery. Maryland soon followed suit. States further north have not. A directed commercial fishery has developed on these fish in the area of the Norfolk and Washington Canyons. The fishery cannot handle this and overall, the stocks of blueline tilefish and especially snowy grouper are considered greatly depressed. The regulations, put in place by Virginia and Maryland, are being bypassed by landing the fish in states to the north where there are no regulations. The Mid-Atlantic Council is working on establishing emergency regulations for all of the offshore waters from Virginia on north. They are looking at regulations similar to the ones we have in Virginia now. Of course, the commercial fishermen will think that would be too restrictive. The South-Atlantic Council is also considering taking the action of extending their regulations on up the coast. If that happens, we will see regulations that are very complex and restrictive. There is a lot of discussion going on at the federal and council levels right now so stay tuned.
Despite the cold water, striped bass are moving back into the bay for their spawning runs. It will be possible to intercept some of these fish in open waters as they move in from offshore. Catch and release activity will also be possible inside the bay and up in the rivers over the next month. Anglers do have some choices to make on striped bass regulations. Inside the bay, the minimum size will be increasing from 18 to 20 inches during the spring and fall seasons. The spring trophy season will see the minimum increase from 32 inches to 36 inches. The decision concerns the coastal fishery. Currently, we are allowed to keep one striped bass at least 28 inches long. We can stay at that but there are some approved options that would allow a 2-fish bag limit: 2 fish at least 33 inches long, 1 fish 28-36 inches and 1 fish over 36 inches, 1 fish 28-38 inches and one fish over 38 inches. So, we have 4 options to choose from for out coastal fishery. The decision will be made at the March VMRC meeting so let your opinions be known now.
Speckled trout are another fish we are used to catching through the winter and spring. Last winter, large cold-water kills of speckled trout in both North Carolina and Virginia led to closures of the recreational fisheries to allow for a recovery. In Virginia, bag limits were reduced from 10 fish to 5 fish with only one fish 24 inches or greater. Changes were also made in the commercial fishery to make sure that their quota would not be exceeded. There were requests to the VMRC to increase the commercial quota and the recreational bag limit. At the February Commission Meeting, these requests were denied by the Commission. Currently, there are additional cold-water kills taking place in both Virginia and North Carolina. So far, they do not seem to be as severe as what happened last winter and at this time, there are no plans for closures of the fisheries in either North Carolina or Virginia.
Feb 22, it thawed out enough to allow us to shovel out the remaining snow in the boat, break through the ice, and go fishing. We ran out in thick fog, big swells and when we anchored on the wreck, the current was ripping. We had to break out the heavy sinkers but even 20 ounces was not enough to hold bottom. We did not catch a single tautog. We did catch a few really nice sea bass that we had to let go. Stan Simmerman caught a big striped bass on a jig…also released.
Feb 8, it was too rough. We went fishing anyway. Tagged and released 6 tautog, getting DNA samples from each. Then we decided that we had had enough and went in for lunch.
Feb 7, Hunter Southall and myself went out for a short tog trip. We only caught 7 tautog up to 19 inches long. We collected DNA from each for VIMS.
Feb. 1, Capt. Rick Wineman ran to the Triangle Wrecks where they caught 3 tautog to 23 inches long. They ran through a lot of diving birds between the light tower and the Triangle Wrecks.
Feb. 1, we ran out for tautog before the Super Bowl. We caught 16 tog, up to 23 inches long, before running in early for the Super Bowl parties. We also caught sea bass and a nice hake. We got DNA samples from each tog and placed tags in those we did not keep. I dropped my camera down...only once, after I saw what was down there:
Jan 25, Wes and I went over and did some boat work. We also went and did some tog fishing close to the beach. We ended up catching 19 togs up to 18.5 inches long. Kept a couple, tagged and released the rest, got DNA samples from each. When we dropped the camera down, we did not see much but the fish were biting.
Jan 23, we went out after tautog. We had a slow bite, catching 5 tautog. We kept 4 between 18 and 20 inches long, tagged and released the 5th. We got DNA samples from each. We also kept a nice hake and we had to release some really nice sea bass. I did drop a camera down to see what was going on down there:
Jan 20, Wes Blow fished for tautog on one of the ocean wrecks. He said that the bite was great and they caught about 25 fish keeping their 2-angler limit. The fish they kept included 4 that weighed over 9 pounds with the largest weighing in at 16 pounds.
Jan 17, we went out in rather blustery conditions for tautog. We stayed close to the beach because it was just too rough to run anywhere else. We managed to catch 15 tautog up to 23.25 inches long. That fish was tagged and released after a DNA sample was taken. We tagged and released all but 3 fish and got DNA samples from each for VIMS. The carcasses of the kept fish were donated to VMRC. We caught one fish that had been tagged previously.
Jan 16, Jody Linthicum fished the Elizabeth River with Wally Veal. They caught 15 speckled trout over 19 inches long. Their catch included fish of 25 inches, 27.5 inches and Jody caught a huge gator, 32 inches long! Hunter Southall was also on the river catching trout. Hunter said that he caught a dozen or so specks including one over 25 inches long. He also caught a nice puppy drum. Hunter's specks averaged in the 20-23 inch range. Both Jody and Hunter caught their fish casting jigs and those fish are still there as they released their fish...even that 32-inch monster!
Jan 11, Wes Blow fished for tautog on one of the ocean wrecks. They kept a 3-man limit of tog, all over 20 inches long, with the largest at 9 pounds. They caught a total of 25 tautog and they also caught some sea bass that were released.
Jan 11, Capt Rick Wineman fished the Norfolk Canyon area. They caught 15 blueline tilefish, with 7 weighing over 10 pounds, and a golden tilefish. They caught a few large sea bass while jigging for bluefish. They caught several bluefish and hooked up with a mako shark on a jig that they eventually broke off.
Jan 2, we started late, to let the wind calm, and quit about 2 in the afternoon so I could make a family party. Despite the short day, we caught 19 tog to about 24 inches long at the Triangle Wrecks. We got fin clips from all of the fish, caught one with a tag, tagged and released others. The carcasses of the ones we kept were donated to VMRC. On the way out, we did see some bird activity and slicks about 6 miles east of the Chesapeake Light Tower.
Jan 2, Capt. Rick Wineman did some catch-and-release fishing inside of the bay. Drifting eels, they had 6 bites and caught 2 big rockfish, 47 and 49 inches long.
Jan 1, Wes and Amy Blow fished the Elizabeth River. The bite was slow but they did manage to catch a couple of nice speckled trout.