The Fishing Line

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Changing Fisheries… …Embrace them and enjoy the journey

by Captain Billy Pipkin

During my cognitive years between a budding teenage waterman and a well-seasoned charter captain, I have seen many changes in the Chesapeake Bay region – particularly in its estuaries and fisheries.

Some locations with years of abundant, seemingly never ending resources have become barren wastelands, while other forgotten areas have seen a swelling of fish populations. What causes these changes and how to deal with them has been on the minds of watermen and scientists alike.

Regions suffering decreasing numbers have been hit with increased regulation, which of course also includes a variety of blame from over harvesting to pollution to even climate change. What the talking heads sometimes fail to take into consideration is the holistic view.

Most watermen who have spent a lifetime harvesting the waters of the Chesapeake Bay have a deep understanding of the factors impacting our natural resources. In my reflections, I find that Mother Nature and Man each have a firm grip on the helm.

Mother Nature’s Influence

In general, we have experienced warmer temperatures over the past several years.  That has certainly encouraged many species to extend their migration further north than in past seasons. That explains why the upper bay and Potomac River are holding larger numbers of striped bass during the spring and early summer months.

Couple that with the excessive amounts of rain over the past few years, and now catfish have migrated down river into the bay waters. Water temperature and salinity play a major part in migratory patterns of fish. Just because the fish are not in the same location that you caught them when you were a kid, doesn’t mean that they are all gone.

Other fish are becoming summer residents locally. Cobia, known as a Florida to Carolina traveler, are a huge draw among local anglers as we catch some in excess of 60 pounds. Red drum have made a strong showing in the bay and we have even seen triple fin and gag grouper mixed in catches at times.

While some claim that this is the result of global warming, a closer look and keen memory suggests that it is in fact a change in the climate. In the past 50 plus years, I have seen comparable swings in temperature and rainfall amounts resulting in similar migratory patterns.

The key is to follow the migration patterns of the fish.

Man’s Influence

By human nature, people tend to want to over harvest. This is particularly evident when fish are abundant and, in the case of watermen, when there’s money involved. I have never been a fan of government regulation. But I have found that most folks will not self regulate without sensible catch limits.

Prior to setting new regulations, it is imperative that both Mother Nature (influence of weather) as well as Man (harvest) is taken into consideration.

June Fishing

As we head into summer, anglers are afforded a diversity of species. Striped bass, bluefish, croaker, spot, trout, flounder and cobia are among the many fish that will be available this month.

Bluefish have become more abundant and offer good action this month. The small ‘Snapper’ size blues arrive on scene first and should be joined by the larger 3-5 pound ‘Taylor’ blues by the end of June.

Croaker and spot have already begun to filter into the region. They can be found feeding on oyster beds and channel edges throughout the bay, rivers and creeks.

Speckled trout are making a comeback and are expected to be good as the summer matures. The trout average from 1-5 pounds and can be found along drop-offs of creeks and grassy flats outside of marsh areas. This fishery with its close proximity to shore, lends itself well to kayak and small boat fishing.

Cobia are arguably the best fighting fish on the bay. They offer fantastic opportunities for light tackle action with live bait such as tiny spot, croaker or eel in the chum slick. They arrive in June and become more abundant as summer matures.

On a productive day of fishing, remember to save a few for the next outing.

June is one of my favorite times to fish. Variety and action are plentiful and the weather is pleasant.

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.