The 1991 fishing season has certainly been an interesting one. The variety of fish taken out of our waters has caused many to go in search of the "Dictionary of Fishes" to identify unfamiliar species. We've had trigger fish caught on the Ninth Street Pier, grunts taken from the U.S. 50 bridge and sheepshead and puppy drum taken at the inlets.
Anglers in boats fishing near the channel of the Route 90 bridge could often come up with seven or eight kinds of fish in a day. A top and bottom rig with No. 6 hooks baited with pieces of bloodworm and squid could catch a mixed bag of small croaker, large Norfolk spot, blowfish, lizard fish, grunts, porgies, sea bass, flounder, snapper blues and maybe a small sea trout. And many commented on the prehistoric-looking oyster toad fish and star gazer fish they picked up on the slack tide.
It was also one of those years when anglers in the bay could always catch something. The fish may not have been as big as the anglers would like, or the species that they were looking for, but it was almost impossible not to hook a fish.
It was also the year for flounder. We had a slow start, but once they came to us, they stayed most of the summer. We did have a lull in the hot days of August, but this past month the flounder have been biting again.
Anglers were having good flounder action last weekend while drifting through the inlet with shiners and squid. Boats were averaging four to five keepers. Other anglers did well drifting past the Coast Guard station, while other boaters had success drifting in the east channel in front of 14th Street. One boat picked up 14 keepers last Sunday.
Flounder fishermen did well on the U.S. 50 bridge, Oceanic Pier and the Ninth Street Pier over the weekend. Some of these fish averaged 2 to 3 pounds. The best action has been on the high incoming tide and just as the tide turns to go out. Flounder can be caught in the bay right up to the first week in November.
It was also a good year for sea trout, though many of them were running small. Slim Griffin of Oceanic Pier says that night fishing was one of the best he has seen in years.
The larger trout that most anglers were looking for were caught in the inlet and from the U.S. 50 bridge at night. Live spot, white twister worms and peeler crabs were what the trout were eating. As the weather cools, trout fishing will get even better in the inlet areas and the surf.
Offshore, the party boats are drifting for sea trout. While most of these fish are only running 12 to 14 inches, an occasional 2 to 3 pounder is caught. Anglers are catching plenty of the fish with squid strips, 2 to 5 miles off the coast. These schools of trout stay with us into November.
This year's surf casting action was promising. The spring run of big blues was disappointing, but like the bay, there was always something to catch. We had quite a run of blowfish and smaller blues in the spring. We also had many good-sized sand sharks and dusky sharks. The Norfolk spot probably saved the day in the heat of the summer. Small hooks and bloodworms caught the spot, along with good catches of kingfish, small sea trout on occasion and a surprising amount of flounder.
There were also those interesting catches of warm water fish in the surf. Quite a number of pompano were caught, and last weekend a good number of puppy drum were reported.
As the fall progresses, surf anglers can look forward to bigger and better catches. The larger blues, sometimes up to 20 pounds, will come through the area into the last weeks of November. Last year, big blues were even caught into the first week of December.
Sea trout up to 5 pounds are taken in the surf with mullet strips, and as the waters cool, we'll see ling cod and large dusky sharks at night.
It was also a good year for tautog fishermen. The Ocean City and Indian River inlets saw a fantastic run of tautog in the spring. In the heat of the summer, these fish moved offshore, but when the water cooled, they made their presence known again. Last weekend, anglers did very well with tautog. Anglers can expect to catch the fish into November, though October is the peak month for them.
This year was an offshore fisherman's dream. Though the big blues seemed to run past us into New Jersey, the action on the Bass Grounds was not quiet. We had Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and false albacore on the surface. Bottom fishermen ++ saw large sea bass, cobia, trigger fish and even drum. The Fenwick Shoals had the same action during most of the summer.
The Jackspot was hot and cold. At times the tuna were in here close and yet at other times they ran far out into the canyons.
It was a great year for dolphin. Though their feeding area was unpredictable, good anglers found them. Following weed lines was the best way to find the dolphin.
Nighttime chunking trips were very successful this summer. The new party boat O.C. Princess took anglers out on 24-hour trips and saw lots of action. If the anglers did not find the tuna, they usually managed to fill the coolers with dolphin.
It was also the year for offshore releases. Numerous reports of "catch and release" were heard over the radios in the canyons. It was a good year for the marlin, and, yes, they are still catching them in the 75- to 100-fathom line in all of the canyons.
Mark Sampson on the Fish Finder out of Bahia caught and released many large sharks this season, adding to the spirit of conservation in our oceans.
It was also the season of attitude changes. The angler who caught and kept 50 fish is not looked upon as a hero any more. It's the sportsman who keeps a couple of fish for dinner and releases the smaller fish, who is today's hero.