Largemouth on rise in upper bay


June 01, 1993|By PETER BAKER

The wind was freshening from the southeast as we ducked in behind Carroll Island at midday recently. The morning had been entertaining, if not frantic, with a half-dozen 1- to 3-pound largemouth bass boated and released over a three-hour period.

But with the wind rising, the tin boat was becoming uncomfortable and in the lee of the low island shorelines there was a respite from the swell and the possibility of more good fishing.

Early last month, the Department of Natural Resources released the results of creel surveys and population estimates for the tidal freshwater areas of the upper Chesapeake Bay -- and its findings showed a 32 percent increase in the largemouth bass population since 1988.

DNR secretary Torrey C. Brown said two factors appear to have "contributed to the upswing in this population: the 15-inch size limit during the spawning season and the watershed conservation programs that have improved tidal bass habitats."

There is another factor acknowledged in the findings of the surveys, the catch-and-release ethic followed by 84 percent of the bass fishermen interviewed by DNR.

On the morning we were out, fishing conditions were fairly good. The water was lightly colored, the tide was falling, and we were targeting deeper sections along reedy shorelines with plastic worms and points that dropped away fast with crankbaits.

Other patterns could have produced more fish, but we stayed away from the more obvious spawning areas.

In 1989, DNR increased minimum size limits to 15 inches from March 1 through June 15 to protect tidal largemouths during the spawning season.

The year before, according to DNR surveys, fishermen considered bass fishing in the Susquehanna Flats and upper bay tributaries fair to poor. In the current surveys, most fishermen rated the waters as good to excellent.

In the Bass Masters Classic that was fished out of Dundee Creek a couple of years ago, however, the top 50 bass fishermen in the country found that these same waters are a tricky place to fish.

The tides play a big part in angling success. Some will argue that the falling tide is best because it concentrates the fish, while others will say that the rising tide brings them up along the shorelines.

But perhaps the best places to fish are the grass beds, working the edges closest to the shorelines on the rising tide and deeper areas on thefalling tide.

DNR's current surveys, taken before the deluge this spring, found that aquatic vegetation, which is the best bass habitat, had rebounded very well in the upper bay area. The Susquehanna Flats, which were silted out in the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes two decades ago, had recovered especially well.

According to some reports, however, the celebrated storm of the century this spring produced more runoff in the Chesapeake watershed than even Agnes had in 1972. So, the improved status of aquatic vegetation may be a temporary thing.

But before the deluge, increasing numbers of bass fishermen had been rediscovering the upper bay area. Last year, according to DNR surveys, 9,700 bass fishing trips were taken in the area, producing 14,600 bass, or about 18 percent of the bass population.

Of those anglers, 16 percent were from out of state, compared to 1 percent in 1988.

So, the word is out on the upper bay fishery for largemouths. And that the word is good is in no small part attributable to good fisheries management and the catch-and-release practices of most bass fishermen.

Flounder opens

The season for summer flounder opens today in Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. The minimum size limit is 14 inches, and the daily creel limit is 10 per person.

The season closes Oct. 31.

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