One weekday last September, off the mouth of the Choptank River, the flounder fishing was only a little short of incredible. In fact, had Keith Walters and I wanted to fish out the balance of the rising tide, we could have caught keepers until we ran out of minnows.
Instead, we kept perhaps a dozen flounder from 15 to 23 inches and headed in.
This year, the Department of Natural Resources is proposing to change the regulations for the recreational summer flounder fishery to ensure that quality fishing continues.
Plans call for a creel limit of six fish per day, an increase of minimum size from 13 inches to 14 inches and a season that would begin in May and end in September.
New limits already have been enacted for the commercial fishery, including a quarterly allocation of the catch quota, restrictions on gear and net mesh size and a 13-inch minimum.
The changes for flounder are the result of fisheries management plans adopted by the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and state fisheries managers.
"Last year, flounder fishing was super," said William P. Jensen, director of the DNR's Tidewater Fisheries. "Better than anybody remembered in the bay."
So good, in fact, that the success anglers had triggered the new proposals.
"We never had a history of having those large fish in the bay," Jensen said. "In fact, we were generally of the opinion that we were a nursery ground, and that if we went to 14 inches we might simply preclude the possibility of people catching fish.
"So we were somewhat reluctant to go above 13 inches. . . . But last year dispelled those doubts."
The aim of the fisheries management plans for Maryland and the other Atlantic Coast states is to protect more summer flounder past the age of 1, thereby ensuring a greater potential for growth of breeding stocks.
Aside from the disappointment some fishermen will feel over the greater minimum size and six-fish creel limit, there is, of course, a disparity for those who fish Virginia waters or the lower Potomac River -- both Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission have opted for a creel limit of 10 fish.
DNR has scheduled a public hearing on the summer flounder proposals tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Department of Agriculture building on Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis.
On Tuesday night at 6 in the Department of Agriculture building, DNR will discuss the spring striped bass season and the use of a $2 permit for all of those taking part in the trophy season.
The spring trophy season will run from May 1 to May 31 with a limit of one fish per person for the season and a minimum length of 36 inches.
"The permits already are law," Jensen said, "but we want to take the opportunity to educate people on how they can get the permit and how they can use it."
The permits will be available when purchasing a Chesapeake Bay sport fishing license or a bay boat license. At the time of purchase, a tag number will be entered on the permit. This tag number would be used when checking a trophy catch during the season.
The permit allows participation in both the spring and fall rockfish seasons, and if a tag number system is used in the fall, then new numbers would be added to the permit but no new fee would be charged.
DNR estimates that the $2 permit will raise an additional $190,000 for the department.