Chesapeake Outdoors

by C.D. Dollar

Thank Bay Grasses for Bay Bounty

Have you enjoyed this season's steamed crabs yet? What about a soft-crab sandwich? (The season's first major peeler run has just finished in Tangier and Pocomoke Sounds as well as many other Bay spots.)

Perhaps you are one of the many anglers who has done exceedingly well in the spring rockfish season. Or maybe you've been taking advantage of the banner croaker run, one of the best in years.

If you've yet to sample the succulent bounty of our Bay this year, chances are you will. If you don't, perhaps a re-evaluation of your priorities is in order.

Much gratitude for the Bay's abundance and diversity is owed to the variety of Bay grasses, also called SAVs (submerged aquatic vegetation), that grow on the bottom. From spring through autumn, aquatic life bustles among the Bay grasses. Anchovies, silversides, seahorses, pipefish, grass and sand shrimps rely on grass beds for food and shelter, while rockfish, seatrout and bluefish cruise the shallows for easy pickings. In spring and summer, young hardheads, blue crabs and spot take advantage of the lush cover to grow big enough to avoid danger, and in the fall waterfowl like canvasbacks and ruddy ducks eat vegetation such as wild celery - what little is left.

The problem is most of the grasses, like so many of our vital Bay buffers, have diminished significantly. At its healthiest, over 600,000 acres of grasses covered the Bay's floor. Now only 10 percent of that number remain.

Eel grass dominates in high salinity areas, like Tangier Sound. Widgeon grass, tolerant of many levels of brackishness and nearly as vital for waterfowl as eel grass, can be found in many areas of the Bay. As the waters become fresher, wild celery, redhead, horned pondweed and Eurasian milfoil dominate the floor mat.

Last week I spent a morning with Peter Bergstrom of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kim Donahue of the Bay Foundation and about 20 volunteers as they identified and mapped Bay grasses in Cattail Creek off the upper Magothy River. These "groundtruthing" outings, coupled with aerial photographs, help scientists track the health of Bay grasses. Such data helped convince the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation protecting SAV beds from hydraulic clamming operations.

As we seined among the growing common waterweed, Eurasian milfoil, widgeon and redhead grasses, an underwater world was revealed. Striped killifish, pipefish, goby, anchovies and a pumpkinseed wiggled in our net.

So the next time you enjoy some of our Bay's superb bounty, thank the grasses.

To help map and identify Bay grasses in your area, call Peter Bergstrom: 410/573-4554.


Fish Are Biting

The rain spatter echoing off my roof has been constant over the last week. Where was the rain last August?

Fishing has slowed, but area charter boats and recreation anglers from the Choptank-Patuxent complex south have found keeper rockfish, white perch, croaker, even seatrout, flounder and spot.

Fred Donovan from Rod 'n' Reel says the head boat Tom Hooker has been consistently catching hardheads to 14 inches. Trolling bucktails and parachutes at the Gooses, Gas Docks, and HS Buoy still can produce limits.

With above-average water temperatures bluefish are in the Bay earlier than in years. Kathy Conner from Bunky's in Solomons reports a 21.4-pound bluefish - just missing the state record - caught by Capt. Robbie Robinson of the Miss Regina. Last Monday, a 16-pound blue took a trolled bait from Capt. Sonny Forrest's Finfinder.

Seatrout, croaker and perch are taking bottom baits at Hog Island, Paxutent River Bridge, and upriver at Hawk's Nest.

Across the Bay, croaker of 12 to 15 inches have pushed far up the Choptank River. Around the Choptank River Bridge piers, anglers are having a blast with double headers to 16 inches. Good perch and catfish action as well. Farther south, trolling chartreuse, yellow or white parachutes and bucktails along the main shipping channel from the Hooper Island Light to Buoy #72 still often produces limits.

At Point Lookout, lots of 32- to 38-inch rockfish have been checked in, with smaller fish becoming more numerous. Croaker remain abundant, mostly in the shallows of Tangier Sound, Point Lookout and the Honga River. Blues are also scattered throughout the region.

Fisheries Service biologists believe the major Upper Bay striped bass spawn is in progress, which should be good news for anglers in the upper Bay, where catches have been spotty at best. A few stripers have been reported via trolling, but many fishermen are opting for chumming instead. Dumping Grounds, Love Point, and channel edges in front of Kent Island down toward Bloody Point are the most reliable places. Some anglers have chummed at the Hill, but most rockfish have been undersized.

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VolumeVI Number 19
May 14-20, 1998
New Bay Times

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