Angling for yellow perch usually is a rite of late winter and early spring, with the perch making their spawning runs toward the heads of tidewater rivers. In this, the year of no winter, the yellow perch already have spawned and run.
Martin Gary, who tracks recreational fishing success for the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service, said that for yellow perch anglers, "All in all, this year has been pretty much a bust."
According to DNR, the yellow perch run is past its peak and white perch are now moving into the upper tributaries to spawn.
"It's a result of early warming," said Harley Speir, chief of DNR's Biological Monitoring and Analysis Project. "We were finding white perch at Red Bridges [on the Choptank River] on March 1, and that was a month early. Everything is a month early this year."
The current snap of cold, wet weather has dropped water temperatures in many tributaries to the mid-40s and water flows have been steady and high.
"That is not necessarily good, because rain and high flows could cause more pollutants and sediments to wash into the tributaries," said Speir. "What may be even worse is cool weather because larvae are susceptible to cold temperatures and there could be some excessive mortality."
Speir said there are a "myriad of factors" that determine spawning success among anadromous and semi-anadromous fish that spawn in the bay's tributaries -- stock size or number of potential parents, water temperature, salinity, pollutants, sediments, acid rain.
Fishing for rockfish (striped bass) in designated tidewater spawning areas between March 1 and May 31 has been illegal in Maryland since the moratorium. This year, the DNR announced a few weeks ago, its Natural Resources Police will enforce the ban.
However, anglers who inadvertently catch and release rockfish while pursuing other species on the spawning grounds are not expected to be affected by stepped-up enforcement.
According to DNR documents, "fishermen casting spinner-baits for large-mouths [bass] in defined striped bass spawning areas that happen to land a striper or two are simply not targeting striped bass. On the other hand, a person jigging large bucktails with sassy shads that catches four dozen striped bass and no other species while staying in the same area is most definitely targeting striped bass and is in violation of the regulation."
Anglers confused by the regulation or Natural Resources Police enforcement of the regulation are welcome to attend the first meeting of a work group formed to review the regulation and discuss the impact catch-and-release has on spawning-grounds rockfish.
The meeting will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the C-4 Conference Room of the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis.