The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The sporting year in review
The sporting year has been a rollercoaster ride on the Chesapeake, with many parts good, some bad and one ugly.
The 2007 trophy rockfish season was better than good. A chilly spring and a delayed and prolonged spawn kept big migrating stripers in the mid-Chesapeake from April thru May.
Dedicated trollers and crafty live-bait anglers scored a lot of the sizeable post-spawn fish before the run was over and the migratory fish had returned to the Atlantic.
In the meantime, when the regular rockfish season opened May 16, things went to great. Large schools of striped bass up to 10 pounds teemed the channel edges.
The Eastern Shore also had its share of big schools from Love Point south. The hungry fish were partial to small, live-lined white perch until the Norfolk spot arrived; from then on, the stripers preferred small spot to anything else. In late summer and early fall, many of the fish wandered down south to center around the False Channel, but the bite went on … and on. It was one of the best summer seasons ever.
To add to the bounty, bluefish showed up in June. In even greater numbers and larger sizes than in past years, they zoomed about the eastern Bay, Love Point and the Bay Bridge areas until fall.
Because bluefish tend to bite off the tails of their prey, they tormented rockfish anglers using eels or throwing soft plastic jigs. However, they pleased everyone else with their willingness to attack anything and everything.
Earlier in the year, the yellow perch spawning run exploded in early March, and there were good catches periodically interrupted by frigid weather. Many anglers in early 2007 filled their limits with 12- to 14-inch fish, and they were as tasty as they were beautiful.
The drought that would hang like a cloud over much of the season showed an early silver lining. Starting in May, the Bay’s unusually high salinity invited schools of large croaker into our area. They stayed all summer. Many fish were up to 18 inches, fat and tasty.
On the bad side of the ledger, the Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release season, Maryland’s crown jewel of the light tackle rockfish venue, which opened on schedule March 1, was a non-starter. Water temperatures stayed well below 50 degrees, the magic number at which striped bass respond to visual stimuli to feed.
Lure fishing was virtually hopeless throughout the entire two-month-plus season, and the eventual extension of an extra week by DNR was no help.
Our spring white perch run was also a flop. Late winter freezes and little rain tormented the Chesapeake throughout the prime perchin’ months of March, April and even into May. Although the smaller males were available, the runs of big females went largely undetected if they happened at all.
Then came the ugly part, really ugly: the crabbing. Hurt by poor water quality, the drought and our continued failure to safeguard an adequate population of spawning females, we experienced the worst crabbing season I have ever witnessed in the middle Chesapeake. The decline of this fishery is accelerating. Much needs to be done to remedy the situation.
September, however, brought some sunshine back to the sporting picture. Fall feeding patterns sent nice-sized rockfish and a few blues up the tributaries and into shallow water. The top-water action on plugs and poppers was as exhilarating as ever, lasted into late October and served as a lovely autumn flourish to a superb fishing season on the Bay.
Even now, as December weather closes in on us and the Chesapeake completes another cycle of its incredible almanac, it continues to flex its chilly sinews. The pickerel are teeming in the estuaries, and white perch are relaxing in nearby winter quarters.
Waterfowl migrations have begun in earnest and, though we could use some harsher weather to get the ducks and geese down in greater numbers, it’s certainly cold enough for me.
I send you my best wishes for the coming holidays and my extra-best wishes for a great 2008 on the Tidewater still the best place on the planet to live, work and play.