Apr 18 2015

Virginia Sportfishing Report


By Dr. Julie Ball

togginWith the weather warming to the eighties this past week, inshore water temperatures are quickly rising. The Spring fishing trend is finally emerging, with new species arriving each day.

The best news is that the Bay tautog bite really turned on last week. Now you don’t have to run to the offshore wrecks to target these wreck dwellers, with the quantity of inshore fish exceeding offshore catches by far. Bay anglers are catching limits of fish in quick order, with most bites coming from the pilings and the tubes of the CBBT. The best luck is happening on fiddler crabs and blue crabs right now. Most fish are ranging from 3 to 5-pounds, but a few tog are pushing to over 10-pounds. Deeper water wrecks are also still giving up some big fish, but this bite is slow. Big seabass and scattered cod are also competing for your offerings on the same structures, but seabass remain off limits until mid-May. Hurry if you want to get in on the tog action, since this fishery closes at the end of the month.

Red Drum

Another new Spring arrival is a local favorite, the much anticipated red drum. As schools of big drum filter into the lower Bay and spread among the shoals and breakers lining the Eastern Shore barrier islands, local anglers are intercepting the early season reds from the surf lines on peeler crabs, blue crabs, and bunker. Some of these bulls are measuring to well over 45-inches. Black drum also took up residence in Virginia waters in these same areas, but most of the fish are on the smaller side. The larger blacks should show in numbers by the end of the month.

Croaker are also biting this week, with most of the hardhead action occurring along the Virginia Beach oceanfront and in the Bay’s tributary rivers on squid and blood worms. Taylor and snapper bluefish are rounding out catches along the rail in Rudee Inlet this week, along with the first flounder catches of the season.

Although the flounder action is off to a slow start, spring flatfish are showing promise with a few fish caught in the backwaters of Oyster this week. Look for this trend to heat up with the warmer temperatures.

The deep water off the Virginia coast is still the place to be if you want to crank up tilefish, black bellied rosefish and grouper from over 300 feet of water. Be aware that pesky dog fish are still a nuisance, but they will begin to thin out soon. Jumbo black seabass are in the same areas, but these fish are illegal to keep right now.

Offshore opportunities are pushing this way. Although most of the action is still mostly off Carolina, with bluefin, blackfin, and yellowfin tuna presenting a variety for the fleet, some local boats are also finding some nice yellowfin and bluefin tuna recently.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/04/18/virginia-sportfishing-report/

Apr 17 2015

The Dogwoods are blooming, so the Drum should be here!


By Dr Ken Neill

Red drum were commonly known as channel bass in the mid-Atlantic. That name is not used as much anymore and some young anglers would not even know what a channel bass is. To our south, they are called redfish. This name is still used and a Louisiana favorite, “blackened redfish” became a popular menu item in restaurants across the country. Other names refer to size. Puppy drum are small red drum. These are the fish that the popular redfish tournaments target. The largest red drum are often referred to as “bull reds” and there is no place better to catch a bull than the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia. There is no time better to catch them than the Spring.

The popularity of red drum as a food fish led to a near collapse of this long-lived fish. Through this downturn, a healthy fishery for large red drum was maintained in Virginia’s waters. This may have been due to a strong catch-and-release ethic which exists among trophy red drum anglers of the region and we may have a fairly distinct, local population of red drum. Now red drum are strongly protected coast-wide and all large red drum must be released. Regulations vary from state to state but all red drum over 27 inches long are now let go to enter into the spawning population. This, coupled with several strong spawning years have resulted in a rebound of red drum stocks along the Atlantic Seaboard and in the Gulf of Mexico.


We have a long red drum season in Virginia. Reds of some size can be caught pretty much all year but the run of big bulls will begin in April. Veteran drum fisherman look to the full moon of April to signal the start of the trophy red drum fishery. This fishery will be red hot through the months of May and June. Towards the end of June, the fish seem to scatter out and so do the anglers that were targeting them. Some large red drum will be caught all summer long by anglers fishing for cobia and flounder. There will be another run of bull reds in the Fall which is very good most years but for a sure bet, get out there for the Spring run.


Drum have been biting on the OBX for two weeks! They should be in the Bay now!

Drum have been biting on the OBX for two weeks! They should be in the Bay now!

The first big red drum of Spring run will be caught on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. These fish will be caught by surf fishermen working the beaches along Fisherman’s and Smith Islands and by boats fishing the inlet between these two islands. Inside of these islands is Magothy Bay. These waters warm up quickly and big reds can be found cruising here early in the season. During the month of May, bull reds will continue to be caught along the Eastern Shore beaches but more will be caught on the various shoals near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Nautilus Shoal, Latimer Shoal, and Nine-Foot Shoal will be the home of roaming schools of large red drum. The area near red nun buoy 10 on the ocean side of the high rise of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is another great area to catch trophy-sized red drum. This area is particularly good later in the spring run.


There are a variety of successful techniques used to target springtime bull reds. At times, you will encounter a school of actively feeding fish. These fish may be breaking the surface and have birds working over them. When they are like this, it is ridiculously easy. Cast to them! Plugs, spoons, and jigs are all effective when you find a school of big red drum in a feeding frenzy.

550 Hammered Hopkins

Trolling can be an effective way to target large reds. Spoons are the lure of choice when using this technique. Spoons like the 3 ½ Drone, #19 Pet, and other similarly sized spoons are all good choices. My favorite spoon for this application is the 550 Hopkins with a hammered finish and a yellow feather. Spoons with a silver color work great but there are days when a gold colored spoon cannot be beat. Tie your leader directly to the spoon, no snap swivel. The leader is about 20 feet of 80-pound test monofilament. The other end of the leader is attached to a trolling sinker with a snap swivel. A sinker in the 6-8 ounce range works great. Troll your spoons along the seaside of Fisherman’s and Smith Islands and over and around the shoals. Troll slowly with the spoons far behind the boat. Much of the time, your sinker will be bouncing along the bottom stirring up a commotion while your shiny spoon is fluttering along behind it. This signals to a big bull red that there is something here to eat! While many of your bites will be in the blind, trolling can be a visual game. As you troll along, look for fish or for color changes in the water which can be a sign of a school of big red drum. Don’t troll through the fish but rather troll in front of them so that your spoons will cross their path. When you do this correctly, every line that you have out will go down at once.

While some red drum sharpies will spend most of the spring trolling spoons, most will be anchored up while fishing with natural baits. A standard fish-finder rig is used with a pyramid sinker of about 6 ounces. Hook size is about 8/0. Both circle and J-hooks are used. Circle hooks will deep-hook fewer fish while J-hooks are easier to use with some baits. The baits used are either fish or crab. Fresh cut bunker, mullet, and spot are good baits. A half of a peeler crab is an excellent bait and is probably the favorite bait for Virginia’s springtime red drum. A challenge when fishing with cut bait and peeler crab is the abundance of life at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Small bait stealers can be a nuisance, clear nosed skates and the various small sharks can be a problem, and the several species of jumbo-sized stingrays will test you and your tackle. Using live spot and croaker as bait will solve the problem with bait stealers and clear nosed skates and no self respecting bull red can pass up a lively croaker snack. What has become my personal favorite bait is a whole, live hard crab. We will remove the claws and will usually take a pair of scissors and cut off the tips of the spines on each end of the shell. Place the hook up through the bottom shell and out through the top shell somewhere near the rear of the crab. A live hard-shell crab does a good job of avoiding most of the bay’s predators but to a big red drum, it is just another meal.

Red drum will feed throughout the day and night. Trolling spoons is a daylight endeavor. Bait fishing will work day and night but the dark hours are the prime time to anchor up on the shoals and fish natural baits. The shoals are not a flat expanse. Look for ledges where there is a change in the water depth. Anchor on the edge of a change to increase your chances of encountering a roaming school of red drum.

These fish can be caught on light tackle but this may greatly extend fight times especially when at anchor with a hard running current. Tackle in the 30-pound class is a good choice for this fishery. Shorter fight times will give these fish a better chance to survive the catch-and-release experience.

End Game

You will need to have a plan in place once you fight one of these bruisers to the boat. The best way to land them is to use a very large landing net. You can reach down and lip them if you have a sturdy pair of gloves on. Red drum have teeth. They are not like a shark or a bluefish but you do not want to lip one with your bare hand. Once in the boat, these fish are usually docile, allowing you to measure them and take photographs. When you release them, some of these fish will be ready to swim right away. Others will need to be held, facing into the current, for a few minutes before recovering enough to swim on their own.

A Study of One

After you release a big red drum, what happens to it? Does it live? Where does it go? The answer is: we do not know. These fish have been a part of the Virginia Game Fish Tagging Program for many years but we have very, very few tag returns from large red drum. Many large red drum have been tagged along the Outer Banks of North Carolina (another hot spot for trophy reds). We do not catch those tagged fish during our Virginia fishery. Are they separate populations? We have the technology to find the answers to these and other questions about mature red drum but it is expensive. Pop-up satellite tags cost around $4,000 each. They record a tremendous amount of data which is transmitted to a satellite when the tag releases from the fish after a preprogrammed amount of time. I was given one of these tags and the first red drum pop-up tag study was done. This tag was programmed to release after one month. A single fish does not tell us much but it is a start. This particular fish was caught near buoy 10. It was deep-hooked. The leader was cut and the hook left in the fish. After being tagged with both a satellite tag and a normal tag, the fish was held for photographs and released. This fish survived. It remained in water ranging from 60 to 78 degrees. The fish went as deep as 56 feet but it spent most of its time in shallow water from 0 to 16 feet deep. In 30 days, this fish did not travel far. It ended up next to the beach near the Concrete Ships at Kiptopeke. More studies with longer tag times will be conducted so that we can find out just what these fish are doing.

Watch For Tags!

This Spring, Dr. John Graves of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science will be conducting a study of large red drum in conjunction with the Virginia Game Fish Tagging Program. Red drum will be double tagged with both pop-up satellite tags and conventional tags. The pop-up tags will release after various times on the fish. The conventional tags rely on angler recaptures. If you see a pop-up tag floating in the water or washed up on the beach, pick it up. There is a reward of $100 for each pop-up tag returned. These tags can be refitted and used again at a fraction of the cost of a new tag.

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Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/04/17/the-dogwoods-are-blooming-the-drum-should-be-showing/

Apr 16 2015

Fish News


By Dr. Ken Neill III, Seaford VA


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATautog are going out with a bang. The bite seems to just get better every day. The bay water temperatures warm up faster than the ocean so the bay bite is heating up faster but as typical, the largest tog are being caught on the ocean wrecks. Just about the time that the bite will reach its seasonal peak, the tog fishery will close. You have the rest of April to get in on a very good tautog fishery. Anglers targeting tautog on the ocean wrecks are catching some really nice sea bass that they have to release. The sea bass season will open in mid-May. In addition to the sea bass bycatch, cod are also being caught in good numbers over some of the wrecks. The cod are not being released but are making it to the dinner table. Most of the cod are being caught over the coastal wrecks but some have been caught inside of the bay.

There have been some encounters with Boston mackerel. This used to be a popular springtime fishery. There will be some boats checking this out to see if Boston mackerel have returned in significant numbers. Schools of big bluefish have also been encountered in the ocean waters. There should be some bluefish activity inside the bay soon.

Red and black drum have arrived. Both species have been caught from the surf of the Eastern Shore. Also on the Eastern Shore, some flounder have begun to be caught inside of the seaside inlets. There have been some croaker caught in the James and York Rivers but it has been really slow to get going. The croaker bite should improve quickly over the next couple of weeks.

Offshore anglers are catching a variety of tuna out of the Outer Banks. Bluefin, blackfin, yellowfin, and bigeye tuna are all possible catches. Bluefin and yellowfin tuna have moved into the range of Virginia’s offshore boats. Tilefish are being caught by anglers fishing the bottom in the Norfolk Canyon area.

Our first club tournament of the year began on April 1 and will run through the end of July. The Bishop Fishing Supply Triple Threat Tournament targets red drum, black drum, and cobia with the winners being determined by the combined length of length of the three species. Now that the drum are here, be sure to contact Rick Wineman to join the tournament prior to your first drum run of the season!

We will have two speakers at the April 21 PSWSFA meeting. Doctors Jan McDowell and Hamish Small, from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will give us an update on their studies of tautog and speckled trout.

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Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/04/16/fish-news-5/

Apr 16 2015

Mid-Atlantic Council Initiates Action to Manage Blueline Tilefish

Long Branch, NJ—Today the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to move forward with development of measures for the long-term management of blueline tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic. The Council will consider several approaches, including creation of a new fishery management plan (FMP) and development of an amendment to add blueline tilefish to the existing Golden Tilefish FMP.

This decision follows the Council’s request earlier this year for an emergency rule to restrict commercial and recreational catch of blueline tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic. The Council recommended emergency action given recent evidence that commercial and recreational landings of blueline tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic are increasing rapidly and the species’ biological characteristics make it highly susceptible to depletion. Regulations have been established in the South Atlantic to restrict commercial and recreational landings of the fish, and the states of Virginia and Maryland have regulations in place, but there are currently no federal regulations for the stock in the Mid-Atlantic.

In February, the Council requested an emergency rule to include a 300 pound commercial catch limit and a seven fish per-person recreational trip limit. If approved by NMFS, it will remain in place for 180 days and can be extended for an additional 180 days. Management measures beyond 360 days for blueline tilefish north of the North Carolina/Virginia border will require a separate action by the Council.

The Council discussed the advantages and disadvantages of different long-term management approaches during its meeting this week in Long Branch, New Jersey. One option is for the Council to develop a new FMP for blueline tilefish and possibly for other species in the deepwater complex such as blackbelly rosefish, wreckfish, and snowy grouper. Another option is to add blueline tilefish to the existing FMP for golden tilefish.

During the Council’s discussion, Regional Administrator John Bullard stated that the “development of a new FMP is going to take more than a year, and we need to plan for what will happen when the emergency rule expires. In order for NMFS to implement an interim rule at that point, the Council should be well on the way to addressing this issue.”

After extensive discussion, the Council decided to gather public input during scoping hearings before deciding whether to develop an amendment or a new FMP. Information about the scoping process for this action will be posted on the Council’s website at www.mafmc.org in the coming weeks.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/04/16/mid-atlantic-council-initiates-action-to-manage-blueline-tilefish/

Apr 13 2015

Virginia Fishing Report


By Dr. Julie Ball

We endured yet another harsh winter, and now Spring fever is rampant. But with water temperatures still lagging in the low forties, expect a late start to the much anticipated arrival of the first species of the season such as croaker, flounder, bluefish, red drum and black drum.

big taugsTautog is still pretty much the only game in town until the waters warm up. But the Bay action will remain behind the curve with the chilly temperatures, and the coastal and offshore action is slow. Although a few die-hard tog anglers have tried their luck on various offshore wrecks, only a few fish have resulted from their efforts. Scattered fish pushing up to around 15-pounds have made it back to the dock, with one boat reporting a catch of two keeper tog resulting from an all day trip this week. Seabass are also still hitting on these same wrecks, but continue to throw them back since the season is closed.

Speckled trout and puppy drum, often an alternative species for this time of year, is a no-go for the few anglers still trying their luck.

As we anxiously await our chance to finally get in on some decent fishing opportunities with warmer weather, our fisheries management representatives are at work changing regulations, guidelines and limits. Don’t expect great news on this level, as the recent announcement involving more restrictive striped bass regulations will only add to your frustration. New for the 2015 striped bass season, in the Bay the minimum size of fish you can keep has increased from 18 to 20-inches, and for the Spring trophy season, the minimum size has increased from 32 to 36-inches…but, wait for it…now you also have the honor of having to obtain a permit to do this. The coastal guidelines still allow for a only a single fish at 28-inches. So, be sure to review the regulations before you fish for rockfish in the 2015 season. The good news is, you can now fish for sea bass four days earlier on May 15th, and your fishing license fee was rolled back by a whopping five bucks starting in April. Just be happy remembering that Spring is here, and just hope to catch a fish you can actually legally target and keep! But hey, at least you saved five bucks!

The deep dropping interest off the Virginia coast is still good. When the weather allows, boats continue to catch an assortment of bottom dwellers, including blueline tilefish, golden tilefish, black bellied rosefish, and a variety of grouper. The dog fish are still out in force, making this activity a challenge, especially when cranking these pests up from around 400 to 800 feet down, where electric reels could be the answer.

Bluefin tuna are still the main interest for offshore boats off Carolina, with some decent yellowfin and some blackfin tuna also in the mix. Several bluefin continue to push to over 200-pounds. This action should continue to move closer into range for the Virginia fleet over the next weeks.

Permanent link to this article: http://vbsf.net/2015/04/13/virginia-fishing-report-46/

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