Volume 15, Issue 3 ~ January 18 - January 24, 2007

The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle

What El Niño Might Mean
for 2007 Fishing

I’m dreaming of fine, early fishing

El Niño is an irregular ocean-atmosphere system oscillation in the tropical Pacific that impacts weather and climate around the globe. The phenomenon was first noticed and named by Peruvian fishermen, who observed a pattern of warmer water, current changes and interrupted trade winds repeating with some frequency just after Christmas (hence El Niño, which is Spanish for the Christ Child).

This system fluctuation brings increased temperatures and weather volatility in the Pacific and raises Atlantic Ocean and atmospheric temperatures but decreases Atlantic basin hurricane activity. It can mean, under the right conditions, more moderate weather along the East Coast and more extreme weather in the western and southern U.S.

Our winter of no winter (so far) is suspected to be the result of a mild El Niño pattern that began developing late last year. If it continues, and there is a likelihood of it doing so, it can definitely affect the weather and fishing in the Chesapeake this season.

El Niño Fishing

We have already experienced very good pickerel and perch fishing because of milder weather.

Continued warmer temperatures may also move early spring spawning patterns up a week or two. Last year, the spawn for many species was late, poor or non-existent because of cooler than normal temperatures and low rainfall. This year could be much different.

The yellow perch run last year was generally poor. The keys to good yellow perch fishing are rain and temperature. You need good freshwater flow and a water temperature of 43 to 44 degrees to start these guys up. Watch particularly the water temperatures. We may see this year’s run start up as early as mid-February.

The Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release season for striped bass will begin the first of March. The secret to success here is moderate rain and relatively clear water. The optimum spawning temperature is 58 to 64 degrees, but the fish will begin to stage in water in the mid 50s.

Last year the Flats produced sporadically. There were cold temperatures and lots of wind, so good fishing didn’t blossom until the middle of April. If the current weather patterns continue, we may have more moderate spring weather this year and warmer water temps as well. This would mean an earlier spawn and lots of big fish sooner.

The stripers we’re talking about can be giants, 50 pounds and more. As the Flats is a shallow-water area, these fish can be taken using surface lures and light tackle. There is no more spectacular fishing on the Tidewater.

White perch may do better than last year, as well. The lack of spring rain and cold temperatures bedeviled the fishing in 2006, and the whiteys were difficult to find consistently.

A moderate spring with rainfall and warmer weather could definitely benefit this fishery.

So starting in late-March, look for white perch in tributary headwaters on moving tides, generally (but not always) on either side of high water. A water temperature of at least 50 degrees initiates the bite.

Hickory shad fishing in the upper Bay tributaries follows a similar scenario. The key here again is water flow (rain) and good temperature in the headwaters and creeks. Hickories need 56-degree water and at least normal stream levels to begin activity.

The El Niño effect may bring that to us by early April this year. This is a catch-and-release fishery, but hickories can run to 21 and 22 inches, hit like a load of bricks and jump their hearts out for you. Not a bad trade for a few hours of chilly fishing.

Mid-April marks the official beginning of the rockfish trophy season in the main stem of the Chesapeake. Last year, because of the poor rainfall and lower than normal temperatures, the spawn was intermittent and extended. Many fish were caught still bearing roe. Let’s hope that will not happen this year. Look for water in the mid 50s to start the action.

May 16 marks the date that the minimum harvest size for rockfish is lowered to 18 inches with a two fish limit (only one of which may be over 28 inches). Fishing is limited to the main stem of the Bay until June 1. Clean water and warmer temperatures will accelerate success.

All of these scenarios of course are predicated on the weather and temperatures behaving in our favor. Quite possibly all of this may be just wishful thinking, which brings to mind the words of New York Yankee sage, Yogi Berra: “Be careful, it can be risky making predictions, especially about the future.”

Fish Are Biting

P ickerel and white perch fishing is good to great so far this year. It should continue on through February when, hopefully, the yellow perch will start up as well.

Note: Be sure to check DNR regulations for yellow perch, as several tributaries remain closed for this species. Pickerel will close in tidal waters March 15 to April 30.

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