Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 21
May 25-31, 2000
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'Mahogany Tide' Taints Bay Waters

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a friend with questions about the color of the water, which wasn't unlike the tones one would find in a dining room table. Mike, who grew up fishing and crabbing his home waters of the Severn River, knew an algae bloom was to blame, but he wanted to know specifically what kind of algae it was, how long it might last and whether nutrient runoff helped create such an extensive bloom.

He explained that when the May moon starts to wax full, he goes looking for the first sloughs, or soft crabs, of the season hiding in the river's grass meadows. In recent years, the Severn has seen an encouraging resurgence of milfoil, wild celery, red head and other species of underwater grasses (also called, usually by scientists, submerged aquatic vegetation). But this year, he had trouble seeing through to the grass beds.

We have since learned that "mahogany tides," caused by unusually high concentrations of Prorocentrum minimum, a common Bay alga that contains reddish pigments that give the water a mahogany hue. According to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, areas of moderate salinity, mostly from the Potomac to the Magothy on the Western Shore, are experiencing "one of the most concentrated and extensive algal blooms in the past 20 years."

Yet some Bay scientists also say that nitrogen and phosphorus, held fast to the soils by last year's drought, have now been flushed into the ecosystem by the heavy spring rains, contributing to the bloom's intensity.

We know natural algal cycles are an important part of the Bay's ecology, forming the building blocks that fuel the Bay's diverse and abundant life. But naturally occurring algae doesn't need any additional nutrients from us to do its job, so we should do what we can to prevent harmful nutrients from reaching the Bay: Drive less (nitrogen from auto exhaust is a major Bay polluter); use less lawn and garden fertilizers; maintain (or replace if necessary) our septic systems.

The fish and crabs appreciate it.

Call the state's fish kill investigation teams at 410/974-3238 or 800/285-8195 (weekdays) and 888/584-3110 (evenings and weekends) to report fish kills.

Fish Are Biting

That loud sound you may have heard earlier in the week could have been the booming bottom fishing, not the Blue Angels shredding the sky. Pick virtually any spot in the Bay with an edge or live bottom, bait your hook with bloodworm or squid and chances are you will pull up a croaker, white perch, flounder or even a spot, according to Kathy from Bunky's Charter's (410/326-3241) in Solomons, who says they have been out in front of the Patuxent Naval Air Station.

Areas that offer prime croaker (some up to 20 inches) are many, including Tangier Sound, Cornfield Harbor in the Potomac River, Todd Point in the Choptank River and Drum Point off the Patuxent River. DNR reports that shell bottoms from Holland Point north to Hackett's Bar, as well as Eastern Bay, offer excellent croaker fishing.

Rob from Anglers (410/974-4013) says that rockfishing is predictably slow and recommends that anglers bait up a squid-minnow cocktail fished on a fluke rig to get after the flounder that are hanging around shell bottom and drop-offs near Tolley Point.

From the lower Bay come several reports of large black drum caught at the Middle Grounds and definitely moving north. Red drum and speckled trout are also options in the shallows of Fox Island, Bloodsworth and other shallow areas carpeted with underwater grass.

Beginning June 1, summer through fall regulations (June 1 to Nov. 30) take effect: Two fish at 18 to 28 inches or one fish at 18 to 28 inches and one at 28 inches or better for a creel limit of two fish per day per angler.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly