Volume XI, Issue 27 ~ July 3-9, 2003

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Burton on the Bay | Chesapeake Outdoors | Sky Watch | Tidelog
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Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

Many of Our Waters Will Be Suffocating
Death Zones this Summer

Two days after I raved to a local angling club about how cool Chesapeake fly fishing with light tackle is — noting that clean water (chiefly water clarity and dissolved oxygen) is key to success — I learned that recent fish kills hit the Miles River and St. Leonard Creek.

In just a few days, we went from the coolest and wettest spring in my memory directly to full-blown summer. Nitrogen and phosphorus held in soils for more than three years because of drought washed into the Bay, creating potentially ideal conditions for significant algae events. As water temperatures rise and sustained sunlight fuels phytoplankton growth, there’ll be more algal events like those on the Miles and St. Leonard Creek.

When algae dies, which happens relatively quickly, it settles to the bottom, consuming dissolved oxygen in decomposition. The resulting anoxic conditions can spell death for any Bay critter — crab, oyster or fish — that cannot escape this suffocating death zone.

Scientists estimate that many parts of the Bay where the water is deeper than 30 feet are devoid of dissolved oxygen. Hypoxic conditions — presence of little dissolved oxygen — also stress aquatic life. The Bay’s dead zone is significant, and there isn’t a lot of data showing that it is shrinking.

Every year in this column, we talk about how anglers can do their part to reduce fish mortality. This is especially important during high summer, when dissolved oxygen levels reach their lowest. We know a good deal about what stresses fish and contributes to mortality.

Chumming is one of the most effective fishing methods in June, but the slicks attract scores of undersized fish. Releasing those fish in decent condition takes care and effort, particularly when they swallow the bait deep.

A few years ago I spent a day fishing with Department of Natural Resources biologists Marty Gary and Rudy Lukacovic, testing circle hooks. The results of the entire study showed that deep-hooking mortality in striped bass was reduced with circle hooks.

In 2001, a season-long study by DNR compared hooking efficiency between traditional J-hooks and circle hooks. While J-hooks resulted in more hook-ups than circle hooks, anglers using them are likely to kill 15 times as many undersized fish.

Another way to cut down on fish mortality is to handle fish as little as possible. Pliers are essential to effectively release fish. Mash your barbs and use fish dehookers — both deep gut and lip versions — for quick, in-water releases. If you have to land a fish that you do not intend to keep, use a shallow, soft rubber mesh landing net and handle the fish with gloves, which also protects you from possible bacteria. Using a wet towel to cover the fish’s eyes often calms it down and makes for easier hook removal.

Replacing treble hooks with single hooks also saves fish and time.

Tools can help reduce fish mortality and increase fishing time, but they only work if we use them.

Fish Are Biting
Crabbing has finally picked up, according to a couple chicken-neckers.

A client of my man Gary Neitzey — a top-notch light tackle and fly-fishing guide — caught an estimated 70-pound-plus black drum in Eastern Bay on a Bass Assassin. Gary was fishing on a scattered school of rockfish when the monster drum hit. It took him nearly an hour to boat the behemoth for a quick photo before releasing it.

Mark Galasso of Tuna the Tide Charters has had good success chumming for striped bass and football-size croakers above Love Point.



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Last updated July 3, 2003 @ 12:37am