Chesapeake Outdoors
Croaking the Rhythm of the Bay
by C.D. Dollar

Croakers keep the rhythm of the Bay. If you stick your ear below the surface, you can hear the unmistakable guttural drumbeats of the thousands of hardheads. Okay, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but the fact remains that in the last few seasons, the croaker fishing in Chesapeake Bay has been awesome. Big, fat hardheads with attitude are everywhere.

Not long ago, I spent an evening drifting squid and minnows off Thomas Point lighthouse, and the numbers and size of the croakers were amazing. That they fought with guts and determination was a bonus.

By all accounts, there is an abundance of hardheads. Scientists and resource managers point out that this is a result of two significant factors: restrictions placed upon the ocean fishery (mesh size and fish excluders for nets) to reduce bycatch mortality and the banning of trawlers in Virginia waters in 1989.

Part of the drum family, croakers spawn on the continental shelf and winter in the rivers of the Bay. The relatively mild winters of the last few years have boosted the survival rate of juveniles. Hardheads mature quickly, and juvenile indices point to good recruitment for the years to come.

Another Chesapeake summer favorite, flounder, has benefited from increased size limits and reduced creel limits, and the results can be seen in the increase of large flounder in the Bay over the last several years. Flounder are excellent reproducers, both in growth rate (about 11 inches in two years) and time they can start to spawn, which is also about two years.

Still, there is reason to be guarded; flounder stocks need more time to increase their numbers, and natural factors like weather can prevent a good spawn. So as rockfish continue to get all the press and fanfare, two high-quality fish - in terms of fight and table fare - go about their business quietly. Except, of course, for the croaker.


Fish Are Biting

There hasn't been much change in the fishing: It's all good. In the upper Bay, any area deserves consideration, including Eastern Bay, though reports are that the croaker seem to move with the tides and bait. Spot in 17- to 25-foot depth have moved onto Annapolis area shell bars and drop-offs. Bloodworms, minnows and squid are decent bets. Bloodworms and squid worked for the few we caught this week.

In Kent Narrows, rockfishing has been spotty, but reportedly the rips and points at the mouth of the Chester hold fish.

In the middle Bay, Fred Donovan from the Rod 'n' Reel (800/233-2080) says that the variety of fish being caught is awesome and adds we should all appreciate it because it doesn't happen as consistently or with such abundance all the time. Amen to that. The exciting news is that trollers are taking good numbers of two- to three-pound Spanish mackerel from Chesapeake Beach past Parker's Creek, and breaking schools of bluefish and Spanish macks are entertaining anglers casting lures.

Farther south, the action for bottom species like sea trout and flounder is incredible as well. Flyer anglers and light-tackle guys are reportedly having a blast in the guts and flats and on breaking fish around Tangier Sound, which bodes well for this writer as I head down there this weekend.

| Issue 32 |

Volume VII Number 32
August 12-18, 1999
New Bay Times

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