The Fishing Line

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Rockin’ Into Fall – Despite New Regulations

With water temperatures gradually retreating back to seasonal levels, the fall migration is beginning to take shape for striped bass and other species.

This has been an exceptional year of fishing with a strong presence of cobia, excellent populations of spot, Spanish mackerel and larger bluefish.  As fall approaches, we usually begin October with a tune up of inshore fishing for speckled trout and chunky bluefish in the bay then move into the popular striped bass fishery.

Striped bass season officially opened on October 4th in Virginia waters. Regulations state that anglers may keep one 20-36 inch fish per person. The larger schools of fish in the bay waters will likely be delayed until late October and I don’t expect many large rockfish to show until late in the year.

New Regulations:

The Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) enacted last minute changes to the limits of striped bass for the fall season.  It did this “in response to the overfished status of the striped bass stock.”  What amazes me is how the commission shot from the hip without a clear plan. This year VMRC allowed commercial interests to catch their full quota of 1,064,997 pounds of fish. The majority are caught during the spring spawning run with the average fish weighing roughly 20 pounds. Do the simple math and that equates to a kill of well over 50,000 of the very same fish that were closed to recreational anglers during the spring trophy season.  Although it hurt the marinas, tackle shops and charter boats, I was in agreement that the large spawning fish needed to be protected. But why would VMRC not eliminate the commercial (pre-spawn) landings of the very same fish the recreational anglers were forbidden to catch after they spawn?

This fall the regulations allow anglers to catch fish up to 36 inches. If they want them protected in the spring, why not also protect those fish in the fall? The inconsistency in VMRC regulatory efforts discredits them on the whole conservation effort.

A sensible regulation that would save the larger fish yet not cripple the recreational fishing industry would have been to allow two fish per angler from 20-28 inches and eliminate the landing of striped bass over 28 inches by both commercial and recreational interests. Since a 36-inch striped bass lays one million eggs each spring, it would make more sense to allow the breeding stock to repopulate the bay.

It is in our best collective interest for my commercial and recreational friends to keep our fishing populations healthy.  Sensible, carefully thought out regulations must be part of the long-range plan.

What’s biting?

Skinny water fishing provides good action into early November.  Speckled trout are running strong in local creeks as well as in shallow, grassy protected river locations. Catches are ranging from the minimum14 inches up to the mid 20-inch class. The best results are by casting artificial lures, but live offerings such as minnows under popper corks are also working.

Striped bass have been schooling in-shore as well. The majority are under the minimum 20-inch limit but are a blast to catch on light tackle.  I recommend using only single hooks to reduce catch and release mortality that is common with treble hooks. The occasional 24-inch fish will become more abundant as the water cools this month. They will then move into deeper waters of the bay.

It’s amazing how popular the in-shore fishery has become.  We are running many more small boat charters this year.  Casting light tackle in the shallows offers a nice alternative to our bay charters on our larger boat. With miles of shoreline holding a favorable environment, options are endless.

Bottom fishing, which has a mix of spot, whiting and grey trout, gradually slows with the close of October.

We are also catching and releasing large red drum in bay waters as they head out of the bay.

Bluefish continue to provide excellent action with up to 7-pound specimens providing action in the bay. Enjoy fishing today, and always have a plan to keep them around for tomorrow.

Until next time….Fair winds.

Capt. Billy Pipkin owns and operates Ingram Bay Marina and Capt. Billy’s Charter Service located at the mouth of the Great Wicomico River. (804) 580-7292 www.captbillyscharters.comCapt. Billy Pipkin, a saltwater fishing columnist, owns and operates Capt. Billy’s Charter Service and Ingram Bay Marina in Wicomico Church 580-7292. www.captbillyscharters.com