Sporting Life

Alex Perez of Annapolis.

A Look at the 2022 Angling Season

By Dennis Doyle

It’s finally too cold to fish the Chesapeake and I’ve put my skiff up for the year. Unless you’re young and foolhardy, a status I long ago lament leaving, one has to be content to contemplate the coming year in relative comfort.¬†

The 2021 rockfish season started off well enough and we boated some nice fish in May. After the initial phase, however, not much happened worthy of celebration. The fish did their best but most were young and few were tackle-busters. The white perch took up the slack as they often do, but our recent years of numerous big Bay stripers had been too many and too enjoyable not to be sorely missed in their absence.

Next year, I plan to concentrate heavily on the first part of the rockfish season when some of those larger, spring migrating fish remain in our waters. I doubt we’ll see much of a resident population resurgence next year, especially considering the poor spawn numbers indicated by the 2021 Young of Year Survey but hope springs eternal. You just never know what’s really happening out in Bay waters.

Blue catfish and northern snakeheads just may be the saving grace of the earlier months of 2022. It’s a bit difficult to embrace the two species in place of traditional Tidewater natives, though they sure do taste good. The size of the blues is also a definite bonus. 

The blue catfish, native to the Mississippi River systems, were first introduced in the 1970s to the James River by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDW). Why they didn’t anticipate the fish would eventually migrate out into the Bay is just another governmental mystery but the blues are now showing up in increasing numbers throughout the Chesapeake.

A world record sized 143-pound blue cat was caught in Virginia last year, the largest of three one-hundred pounders landed of late and I suspect one of that size will be swimming in the Chesapeake soon, if it isn’t already. They have voracious appetites and will eat almost anything.

There are also a good number of channel catfish cruising the Bay and the tributaries. Last year I inevitably got a few six pounders when targeting shoreline white perch with light spin gear. Throwing small Rooster Tails and Bert’s Perch Pounders, I hope to repeat that experience next season as well.

Though each time I was sure I had hooked a record white perch, it was nice to hear my drag wailing away as the unseen fish headed for the horizon.

The recovery policies put in place for rockfish by DNR, shorter seasons, a 19-inch minimum and a one fish limit, will continue. This should result in the eventual rebuilding of our striper stocks but the lack of any concurrent reduction in commercial harvests will mean it’s going to take over twice as long as it could to accomplish.

It’s always been a puzzle to me as to why Maryland’s recreational anglers (over 300,000 strong) have always been given the distinctly lesser allocation of our fisheries resources, despite the fact that sport fishing participants and their financial contributions to state license and tax incomes plus rec generated business revenue in Maryland absolutely dwarfs that from the commercial fishing sector.

The Chesapeake Bay, however, is nothing if not resilient and the persistent population declines of our rockfish, crabs, eels, menhaden, oysters and clam populations may eventually be reversed and the Bay restored to its full potential. After all, hope springs eternal.

*****

Fishfinder:

Rockfish season in the Chesapeake closes Dec. 10 but blue cat fishing is on fire in the Upper Bay with 20-30 pounders being reported plus pickerel fishing in fresher tributary waters is coming on strong, as always. The rockfish season remains open in the Atlantic year round and Ocean City anglers report excellent black sea bass and tautog fishing on the wrecks and near shore structures. The run of big offshore rockfish into the surf line has not started up yet but is due any day.