The Fishing Line

 

Billy Pipkin

Dust off your gear… Spring is finally here!

A long winter, seemingly never willing to yield to spring, left anglers anxiously waiting for fish to arrive. As has become the norm over the past two years, slowly rising water temperatures delayed the migration of many species up the coast.

Never fear, my fellow anglers, the pendulum has begun to swing back and the fishing outlook is improving nicely.

STRIPED BASS

Even though these fish arrived at the spawning areas near their normal time, they were forced to wait until both the water temperature and salinity levels were optimal for dropping the eggs. Fish biologists with the Maryland DNR joked that the fish were circling in holding patterns like airplanes over Chicago during a snowstorm.

The Virginia trophy striped bass (rockfish) season runs from May 1 through June 15. Possession limits are one per person over 36 inches per day. Both the Maryland and Potomac river seasons opened on April 21 and run through May 15. Anglers in those jurisdictions are allowed to keep one fish over 35 inches in length per day.

In late April and early May, striped bass head back down the rivers and bay from the spawning grounds. This gives anglers an opportunity to catch the larger fish during their post spawn migration. This is a winwin for the species, as they are given the opportunity to reproduce without harm. Although populations of juvenile striped bass remain strong, the number of mature breeders continue to decrease. There is increasing pressure to make the commercial fishermen also wait until after the spawn to harvest these fish. Currently they are allowed to catch them during the late winter run up the bay to the spawning grounds. A mature striped bass produces between 750,000-1.5 million eggs. Even if the survival rate was only 1%, simple math suggests it may be wise to only allow post spawn harvesting.

The regular spring season in Virginia begins on May 16 and continues until June 15. During that time, anglers are allowed 2 fish/person between 20-28”. One of the two may be over 36”.

Maryland and Potomac spring seasons are a little different, as they allow anglers 2 fish/person between 20-28” with one being allowed over 28 inches. Those seasons run all summer long.

There is a nice mix of striped bass in the upper 20 inch class that remain from the banner 2011 spawn. Stocks resulting from that year class are now mature six year old fish and are now migratory in nature. The last very successful spawn was just 3 years ago. Those fish should be very plentiful but only 16 inches in length—well below the minimum legal limit.

While the larger fish are available, the best method is trolling. Planer boards with 8-9 inch profile offerings at shallow depths is very productive.

As the month progresses, smaller fish will enter the mix. Lure sizes will be reduced to accommodate the appetite the smaller fish have for baby bunkers. Trolling efforts can also be supplemented with chumming as the smaller fish begin to school and hold over structure. All signs are now pointing to a very productive May fishing season in the lower Potomac River and middle bay area. Good fishing will carry well into June, so get ready for a fun time!

VARIETY OF SPECIES

Many of the species that frequent our region in the spring, migrated south along the southern Atlantic states during the winter months. Some remain local and others find a desirable climate somewhere in the middle. I guess the fish are much like retired snowbirds seeking temperate environs.

We did experience a particularly cold winter that lingered deep into the spring. This is not particularly harmful to the fishery, but the hard freeze coupled with snow that hit suddenly in early winter took its toll. The sudden drop in water temperature shocked the fish that remained local and resulted in a large kill from Virginia beach up to the Rappahannock River. The species most affected was speckled trout.

Speckled trout is a very sought after species in May. There is a “cult-like” following of anglers that pursue these tasty gamefish. We may find less of these fish during the spring due to the freeze. Unfortunately, many that died were large breeders. We had a healthy stock of fish last fall so I fully expect to have good fishing this summer as well. It may just take longer to get the migratory stock up into our region. As shallow water fishing heats up, Mobjack Bay, Piankatank river, tributaries of the Rappahannock, mouth of the Great Wicomico River, and many creeks in between also hold these fish.

Since the best results are found in skinny water of less than 6 feet in depth, small vessels are used for light tackle action. Center console boats are the norm, but kayaks and canoes will allow you to experience that natural, purist feeling of sneaking up on the fish and casting lures at them.

Puppy drum will begin to frequent many of the same locations that hold speckled trout. That action will linger into the fall as well. Many of the drum are now within the 18-26 inch slot limit.

Bluefish have ranged in the 1-3 pound class during the spring/summer months. These fish are caught by trolling or jigging small bucktails and spoons and various other baits. They are also found inshore while fishing for trout and redfish, but when blues are around, remember their toothy grins wreak havoc on rubber bodies.

Cobia show up in the region at the end of May and provide great live bait action well into the summer months. These 40-60 inch fish give an amazing fight and offer a flavor that will dazzle your taste buds. Live baits such as eels, spot and tiny croaker offer irresistible temptation for the cobia who will engulf your baits. I have been taking more cobia trips than ever before. Action has been excellent over the past few years.

Share the fishing experience with friends and family. If you don’t have a boat, book a charter with one of the quality captains available in our area.

Until next time, fair winds.

Capt. Billy Pipkin owns and operates Ingram Bay Marina, IBM boat rentals and Capt. Billy’s Charter Service located in Wicomico Church. ingrambaymarina. com (804) 580-7292.