Feb 28 2015

Virginia Sport Fishing Rundown

By Dr Julie Ball

By Dr Julie Ball

The weather’s not the only thing discouraging anglers lately. With seasonal closures, less that optimal availability of fishing opportunities, and even more fisheries management regulations up for consideration, anglers are hoping that spring will bring good fortune and bountiful fishing. And luckily, spring is right around the corner.

According to Captain Steve Wray, skipper of the ‘Ocean Pearl’ out of Long Bay Pointe Marina, Virginia Beach, not many folks are getting out on the water lately due to the weather. With a limited selection of species to target, most anglers will head to offshore wrecks in search of tautog once a break allows boats to get out. Be prepared to weed through jumbo seabass to obtain your limit of three tog per person at 16-inches, but be sure to release the seabass since they are out of season. Since bait is hard to come by right now, plan ahead to secure your bait. Clams, mussels, blue crabs, peelers, hermit crabs, green crabs, Jonah crabs, or stone crabs will work.

Schools of big rockfish continue to roam 15 to 20 miles off the coast, well out of reach of boats. Remember, it is illegal to target or catch striped bass past 3-miles off the coast, even for catch-and-release activities.

Severe winter temperatures continue to threaten speckled trout, and with ice-covered inlets making access difficult, few anglers are pursuing trout lately.

Boats venturing out to deeper water between blows can still find decent catches of blueline tilefish along the 50-fathom curve, with lots of big seabass as a by-catch. Remember to toss the seabass back since the season is closed. Deeper areas along the Canyon edges will offer blackbellied rosefish, golden tilefish, and a variety of grouper and barrelfish. Dogfish will continue to make fishing in deep water a challenge for now, but these pesks will move out once the water warms up.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/02/28/virginia-sport-fishing-rundown-22/

Feb 27 2015

Peninsula Saltwater Sport Fisherman Weekly


By Dr. Ken Neill III, Seaford VA

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.

Stan Simmerman

Stan Simmerman

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.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/02/27/peninsula-saltwater-sport-fisherman-weekly-9/

Feb 21 2015

Virginia Sport Fishing Rundown

By Dr Julie Ball

By Dr Julie Ball

View of the creek for Long Bay Pointe Bait and Tackles window.

View of the creek for Long Bay Pointe Bait and Tackles window.

For many anglers, snows followed by record-breaking low temperatures this week are only adding to the less-than-optimal outlook for recouping any wintertime fishing opportunities. Spoiled by abundant winter fisheries, availability, and temperate conditions of past years, anglers are grumbling over recent unfortunate weather conditions, fisheries management decisions, and even poaching activities.

Striped bass are but a mirage, with schools of 50-pounders often appearing and disappearing in the safe deeper waters offshore. Being over 20-miles out, they remain out of reach of local anglers who are already burdened with new, tighter coastal rockfish regulations for this season.

As for bluefin tuna, other than a few rumors, no one has confirmed any evidence of any tuna anywhere off of the coast of Virginia recently.

Tautog are usually a good bet this time of year, with these fish mostly active in deeper water off the coast right now. But when anglers are presented with a fishable weather day, many folks are dissuaded by slippery conditions, treacherous frigid temperatures, and a chore breaking their boats free of the ice. In addition to the challenging elements, bait is also difficult to obtain right now, and the regulations are strict. For their bounties, anglers are permitted to keep only three fish per person measuring to at least 16-inches until May when the season shuts down again. Although there are some nice fish to be had for anglers willing to overcome the challenges of a tog expedition, most are opting out until the spring. Plentiful heathy black seabass are also hitting in most of these same locations, but you cannot keep them since the season is closed until late spring.

Speckled trout are about the only game in town this winter, or at least they were. Now anglers are concerned for the health of this fishery, with some big hits likely taking a toll on this stock over the past week. A recent VMRC sting operation resulting in the confiscation of thousands of pounds of trophy-sized speckled trout from poachers in the popular Elizabeth River put the local fishing community in a rage over the crime. The Hot Ditch and Cove areas of the Elizabeth River provide a protective oasis, renowned for holding an abundance of large trout. In addition to this tragedy, a heart-breaking apparent fish kill resulting in thousands of dead speckled trout from drastic changes in temperatures in the same location this week could change things for good. It is well known that the Elizabeth River speckled trout phenomenon was influenced by the hot water discharge from the nearby Dominion Power Plant, but this discharge was apparently terminated in October. Speck experts speculate that because of this year’s unfortunate blows to the trout population, along with severe damage incurred from similar kills from recent harsh winters, that a comeback may not be in the cards for this species in the Elizabeth River, at least not in the Cove and Hot Ditch areas. And now without the nurturing man-made oasis to support this environment, only time will tell for sure.

Deep dropping is still a good way to go this time of year when the weather allows boats to get to deeper water. Nice blueline tilefish are still the staple species of the deep right now along the 50-fathom curve. Deeper areas along the Canyon edges are showing more activity with blackbellied rosefish and scattered golden tilefish. A variety of grouper and barrelfish are also a possibility. A by-catch of black seabass is a given in these areas, but they are illegal to keep.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/02/21/virginia-sport-fishing-rundown-21/

Feb 17 2015

Virginia Tog Fishing Tips

Tautog, or Blackfish as they are called in the northeast, is one of the favored targets of inshore anglers. Pier fisherman and boat anglers both have the opportunity to land these rock dwelling fish.

WHAT: Tautog, or Tog for short, are a bottom dwelling fish. A member of the wrasse family, they are commonly found in the nearshore waters from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia. Their other aliases are “Black Porgy”, “Chub” and “Oyster-fish”. Tautog comes from the Narragansett word tautauog, which means “Sheepshead”, most likely for the Tog’s set of large conical front teeth. The teeth towards the back of the mouth resemble molars. Along with its other adaptation, thick rubbery lips, a Tog is able to pick and crush mollusks, crabs and other crustaceans. They have also developed a rubber skin which aids in swimming in and around rocky areas.

Tog are dark brown to dark olive with white blotches. Females tend to be more mottled grey and black while males are generally dark all over. Females develop a white saddle down the center of there bodies during the spawn. They can average in size from 1 to 3 pounds, but many can exceed 9 pounds. The current IGFA World record sits at 25 pounds. It was landed off Ocean City, NJ in 1998.

WHEN: Tog season usually runs from late Fall to Spring. Tog are resident fish and don’t move far to breed. Togs are generally in the area the entire year, but the reason for the short season is the addition of other bait stealing fish to the Tog grounds during the warmer months. This increases the competition for your baits and Togs aren’t known for venturing very far from their homes to nail bait, opening the door for the more aggressive fish like Sea Bass, and Croakers. Togs will move according to water temperatures heading to deeper water in cold months, but they don’t make mass migrations along the coast like Stripers. Water temps below 40 degrees will find most of the Togs hanging around nearshore wrecks in deeper water. During Virginia’s mild Winters, the Bay can remain productive the entire season.

WHERE: Tog will inhabit wrecks, reefs, rock pilings, or any strong piece of bottom structure. They are very territorial and will remain in an area as long as they can find food. Fish that have been caught and released will return right back to their little piece of the rock. It is true that you can be catching fish on one side of the boat and not the other all depending on which angler is over the fish. Keep this information in mind as you’re targeting Togs. If you don’t have any hits in say 30 minutes, you need to move and find another fishing hole. Anchoring and re-anchoring is a given in targeting Togs.

Around the Tidewater area, most Togs are taken over the tubes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, or around its numerous pilings. The islands marking the entrances and exits of the tubes are surrounded by rocks. These rocks extend out over the actual tubes for quiet a distance. Its in these rocks over the tubes that Tog like to hangout. Positioning your boat right over the rocks is the tricky part. More on anchoring in the “How” section.

Tog can also be targeted at the many nearshore wrecks that dot our coastline. The Concrete Ships, Cape Henry Wreck, The Cell, and Back River Reef are other great inshore spots. The reefs around the Chesapeake Light Tower, the Triangle Wrecks, the Santore and several rock piles and drainage pipes along the oceanfront are just a few of the Tog’s other favorite haunts.

HOW: Tog have a reputation for being somewhat difficult to catch. This is due to two basic reasons. One is that fact that they live among rocky, abrasive structure, making it a given that you will break off many rigs and fish. The second reason is how a Tog eats. Its difficult for anglers not to set the hook on the first tap of your bait. The angler must wait for the Tog to get the bait past its front teeth and deeper into its mouth before setting the hook. There is some learning curve for first time Tog anglers.

Most anglers use a basic rig for Tog fishing. It consists of a length of mono or fluorocarbon with a dropper loop tied in the middle and a perfection loop on the end. The perfection loop is for the sinker. A hook, usually a J-hook from 1/0-4/0, is attached to the dropper loop by feeding the loop through the hook’s eye and around the hook. The Sinker is attached in the same way. The finished rig is usually 12-18 inches long with the hook falling just slightly above the top of the sinker. Hook size will depend on bait being used and the size of the fish being caught in the area. Sinker weight will be determined by current and depth of water. You want to have enough weight to have your rig nearly straight up and down below you. I usually use 40-60 pound fluorocarbon for my rigs. The rig is attached to the main line via a barrel swivel. Avoid using a lot of beads and terminal gear when making these Tog rigs. The more stuff, the easier it can be to get hung up on the rocks or wreck. This rig can also be made with 2 drop loops for an additional hook. Some also use a length of 80 pound mono or fluoro as a shock leader between the rig and the main line.

You want your tackle to be on the heavy side, 20-30 pound class with a rod that has some backbone to it. You want to be able to lift the fish out of the rocks readily, avoiding break offs with the rocks or wrecks. When you get hung up, and you will, bouncing the sinker up and down, or if a fish is on, giving a little slack sometimes will allow the fish to swim out of its hole allowing for the fight to continue. You will use a lot of rigs, so have several made in advance.

The favored bait list for Tog fishing includes quartered Blue Crabs, Green Crabs, Fiddler Crabs, Clams, Muscles, and Squid during aggressive feeding. Clams, or any soft bait, are cut into strips. If using crabs, run the hook through a leg socket and out the back or next socket of the crab. Whole Fiddler Crabs can be used, Blue Crabs are cut into smaller sections. If you find that your rigs are spinning, remove the legs of the crabs.

Getting close to the best fishing structure can be difficult at times. Using a wreck anchor is preferred when near rocks and wrecks. The bars on taug_help_7the wreck anchor will straighten out if needed to re-position  Cleat off the anchor line and power off the rocks/wreck. Another tip you can do is to attach your anchor chain to the prong end of the anchor instead of the normal shaft end. Then take your chain and run it up the shaft of the anchor and attach it to the shaft using a zip tie, making it look like the normal anchor configuration. Set the anchor as normal. When its time to move, pull on the line and the zip tie will break allowing you to pull the anchor out backwards out of its hold. As I said earlier, anchoring and re-anchoring are a must in Tog fishing. They can concentrate in very small areas, so finding them can mean moving frequently.

Once over the bottom, and you’re ready to fish, drop your baits. Be prepared to take up all slack once the sinker hits the bottom. When a fish picks up the bait, give it a second or two to get it to the back of its mouth. Less time is needed if using soft baits like clams and squid. Then set the hook and lift the rod pulling the fish out of its cover. Tog fishing is not a “Set-it-and-forget-it” outing. You have to be on your toes and ready to strike at all times.

One of the best things about Tog is its taste. It has been equaled to the taste of Red Snapper. It’s a great chowder fish since it has a firm and mild tasting meat. It can also be baked, broiled, or grilled and can be a great substitute for any Striper recipe.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/02/17/its-taug-season-in-virginia/

Feb 14 2015

Virginia Sport Fishing Rundown

By Dr Julie Ball

By Dr Julie Ball

Relentless cold fronts and winter storms continue to make saltwater fishing expeditions erratic. Many folks have simply given up, hoping that the spring will hold better options.

Ocean striped bass are basically non-existent, with the fish so far off the coast that no legally fishing boats will encounter the schools of rockfish until they return to the Bay to spawn in the early spring.

Speckled trout are still receiving some attention. Although the speck action is not hot, some decent catches are still coming from the Elizabeth River, with the cove area a favorite. For those putting in their time, some fish to over six-pounds are rewarding anglers for their efforts, mostly in the river sections of the Elizabeth. Anglers using live bait in the cove are also still scoring with some catches averaging to around 20-inches. The occasional puppy drum adds variety in these same locations, with some pups stretching to around 23-inches this week coming from the deeper water near the Marine Science Museum in Rudee Inlet.

Although interest is low, some keeper tautog are available on some coastal wrecks as well as deeper structures off the Virginia coastline. With the tog limit set at a modest three fish per anger at a minimum of 16-inches, most folks are reluctant to brave the cold and elements at these odds. Crabs work well for bait, but with crabs scarce this time of year, folks are turning to alternative baits such as clams, mussels and green crabs. Some big fish are historically caught in March, but none have been reported recently from local waters.

When weather is stable enough to get to deeper water, those who are willing to venture out can expect decent blueline tilefish opportunities along the 50-fathom curve, although weeding though pesky dogfish is making productive catches a challenge. Jumbo seabass are also biting in these areas, but they are illegal to keep right now. Closer to the Canyon’s edge, other deepwater species are active, such as golden tilefish, blackbellied rosefish, and a variety of big grouper.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/02/14/virginia-sport-fishing-rundown-20/

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