Chesapeake Bay rockfish survey is all-good news

The results of the 2015 striped bass juvenile survey have been released and it spells good news for Chesapeake Bay and coastal fishermen. The survey, a measure of spawning success, found an average of 24.2 juvenile fish per sample, approximately double the long-term average of 11.9, which is the eighth highest ever recorded since the survey started.

The survey also documented healthy reproduction of other species. DNR fisheries biologists counted record numbers of juvenile American shad, which have been under a harvest ban in Maryland since 1980. The white perch juvenile index was the third-highest on record. River herring reproduction was also above average.

The annual survey is conducted throughout the summer to track the reproductive success of Maryland’s state fish. Annual reproductive success can be highly variable due to environmental factors, such as water temperature, precipitation and river flow. This year, DNR collected more than 70,000 fish of 50 different species, including 3,194 young-of-year (less than one year of age) striped bass in 132 sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine at 22 sites.

DNR has monitored the reproductive success of striped bass and other species in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay every year since 1954. The present day survey covers sites in the four major spawning systems—the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers, and the Upper Bay. Biologists visit each site monthly from July through September to collect samples. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science conducts a similar survey in Virginia’s portion of the bay.

This was a good reproductive year for a variety of anadromous species; winter runoff from snow and rain helped cause plankton blooms in the spawning rivers in February/March which was followed by a zooplankton bloom. Stable weather patterns in April supported a long protracted spawn; that coupled with an abundant food source for the larvae paved the way for a strong survival rate. Fishermen can look forward to this year class to begin to enter the legal Chesapeake Bay Fishery in about four to five years.

Water temperatures in the upper bay are in the 65-degree range this week and steadily falling. Temperatures at this mark and below causes striped bass to roam freely in various water depths as they feed on bait fish. Lately the topwater striped bass action around the Susquehanna Flats has been lackluster. The fish are there, but they are not always biting. It may take a change in tactics, such as trolling or jigging, or spotting diving birds and breaking fish. The Conowingo Dam has been scheduling afternoon water releases and some nice sized striped bass are being caught in the dam pool.

Farther down in the upper bay region there are striped bass spread out throughout the region. They are being found along channel edges and shallow areas near the tidal rivers and bay shorelines as well as the Bay Bridge. Diving birds can lead the way to surface action as striped bass chase bait fish in the upper bay region; slicks and resting sea gulls can mark the way to fish holding below the surface. Trolling spoons, bucktails, or umbrella rigs is a good tactic. They can be trolled near the surface or pulled down to deeper depths with inline weights and planers.

Striped bass can also be found in the shallower waters of the bay and tidal rivers along shoreline structure near prominent points.

Old submerged rip rap is always a “go to” area and morning and evening hours usually offer the best fishing opportunities. Topwater lures such as poppers are favorites but swim shads and jerkbaits can be good choices also. In addition to the rockfish, White perch fishing in these areas is also good, and it pays to have an ultra light outfit rigged with a small spinner or spinnerbait on hand. White perch fishing has also been good around docks and piers located in deeper waters. Small jigs or simple bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp work well in these areas.

In the lower bay region there is good shallow water action being reported in the Tangier/Pocomoke Sound area and the western side of the bay for a mix of striped bass and white perch. Topwater lures are often the most exciting baits to use for striped bass but swim shads and bucktails are good options also. The white perch are being found in the lower sections of the region’s tidal rivers and can be caught in the shallower waters on small lures such as spinners and jigs. In the deeper waters of the rivers the perch can be found on hard bottomed shoal or reef areas and often baits such as pieces of clams, bloodworms or peeler crab work well on a simple bottom rig.

There are breaking fish being encountered throughout the region and are usually made up of striped bass and the last of the bluefish. Many of the striped bass are sub-legal but larger ones can be found at times deep underneath.

Trolling a mix spread of spoons, umbrella rigs and surge tube lures in the lower Potomac River and near the Middle Grounds has been accounting for a mix of bluefish and striped bass. It tends to be a slow pick but trolling does offer another option in the lower bay region.

Recreational crabbing continues to be good in most of the tidal rivers. The crabs tend to be deep at around 15′ of water and are getting a bit sluggish. Razor clams are by far the best bait to use followed by chicken necks. Crabbers are reporting that a fair portion of the larger crabs tend to be light.

Water temperatures in the Ocean City area are dipping to 65 degrees and fishing is undergoing some seasonal changes. Small bluefish and kingfish are being caught in the surf. Finger mullet tends to work the best for the bluefish and bloodworms for the kingfish. Tautog are moving into the inlet area and flounder are moving out. The jetty rocks, bridge piers and bulkheads in the Route 50 Bridge/ inlet area are seeing more tautog every day. Flounder are moving out and fishing the channels can offer some of the best flounder fishing of the season. There are some striped bass being caught at the inlet at night but most do not make the 28-inch minimum.

There is good flounder fishing to be found on the inshore shoal areas off the beaches and out at the wreck sites. Tautog are holding on many of the inshore wrecks and reefs and the sea bass season is due to open today, Oct. 22.

Farther offshore a mix of large yellowfin tuna is being caught by trolling and chunking along with dolphin and a few bigeye tuna at the canyons. Deep drop fishing has also been good at the canyon edges for tilefish.

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