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.