Small bluefish invasion is on way

Bill Burton

May 21, 1991|By Bill Burton

Wind from the east, the fish bite least.

That's the way it was over the weekend as 1,200 boats fished the Chesapeake for blues in the eighth annual MSSA Bluefish Tournament. But don't try to convince John M. Daniel of Upper Marlboro that an east wind bodes ill tidings.

Daniel is $15,000 richer, thanks to a 15.59-pound blue caught on a chrome Crippled Alewive spoon near Solomons to mark the fourth consecutive year that a CA took the winning fish in this, the bay's most popular competition.

Jeremiah Hughitt of Stevensville won $7,000 for his second-place blue of 15.18 pounds; third was Douglas Gallo of Annapolis with a 14.86-pounder worth $3,500.

As expected, catches were scattered throughout the bay then. There were no big concentrations anywhere -- until today, when an explosion of smaller ones began passing northward off the mouth of the Potomac.

These new fish are big only in numbers. They average only 2 pounds, but they make up in numbers what they lack in size. Capt. Bruce Scheible of Scheible's Fishing Center at Ridge reports they have moved up the Potomac as far as St. Georges Island.

"They're everywhere -- in the mouth of the river, out in the bay, across the bay, and down the bay," said Scheible today. "And they're heading up the bay. Be patient; when they get up your way, you'll find they're worth waiting for."

Down Scheible's way, most of the small blues are taken while trolling because they are on the move. As soon as they settle down, they will be vulnerable to chumming.

Presumably these fish are from the 1989 hatch, which according to fisheries scientists was among the best in a decade. Oldtimers didn't expect them to arrive until the middle of next month, but apparently here they are.

As for the larger blues, anglers had to contend with over the weekend: Twelve hundred boats checked in only 70 fish. That's how scarce blues were just a few days ago.

They were so scarce that only 2 percent of tournament anglers caught one worthy of being checked in during two days of effort.

The trophy rock season closes Monday, and other than that there are a few white perch making a showing around Craig Hill Light and the Miller Island complex, so these new blues fish are badly needed, especially in view of the sea trout situation.

The prestigious Washington based Sports Fishing Institute tells us that sea trout stocks are at an unprecedented low.

Between 1980 and 1989, sports fishing catches have decreased nearly 95 percent. Along the coast, they dived from 42 million pounds to three million pounds. Hey, rockfish catches didn't fall that fast.

Meanwhile, the commercial catch plummeted 60 percent -- from 36 million pounds to 14.1 million. Commercial landings appear to be stabilized at 14 million pounds, but still all is not well on that front.

Because of rising seafood prices, more commercial boats target prime species such as trout, so we have added fishing pressure, more boats, yet the same catch. More effort with the same results means less fish.

Poor catches usually discourage hook-and-liners. Some give up and most of the rest fish less frequently. This lessens pressure, while also lessening overall catches.

But on the commercial side, with dockside prices rising the fishery is more viable. Netters don't have to catch as many to make a trip profitable.

In the early '80s, a 36-inch sea trout was a trophy, though not highly unusual, especially in Delaware Bay. In recent years, a rare 30-incher turns up.

Want more bad news? There hasn't been a strong year of trout since 1978 -- and that year's hatch has supported both fisheries. But the very last of those are being taken, with few to fill the void. Hang on, that's not all.

The current stock mortality of trout is considered to be 90 percent; it should be 34 percent. For years, both sports and commercial interests have ignored the handwriting. Why must we face a near-collapse of a stock before we start listenting to fisheries managers?

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