since 2009

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good read from the Internets…

on the state of the ASMFC’s action (or inaction) regarding striped bass conservation and population levels. Once again, it seems they’re treading familiar water, putting short term economic gains over long term ecological goals. I don’t know why I even get an emotional response when reading about things like this.

Some people get it, like New York’s Pat Augustine who said, “I think at the end of the day if we just decide we’re not going to follow through on what our commitment was last year to be well on our way to recovery and implementation January of 2015 and come up with anything that is going to dilute the direction we’re going, I think we will totally lose the credibility of the public…

There is a lot of emotion out there; and to do anything other than what we committed to do, we’re going to have mud all over our face and we’re going to embarrass ourselves…”

He was speaking about the ASMFC’s credibility, and with comments like the following from the Maryland marine fisheries director Thomas O’Connell:

“I think it really comes down to a cost-benefit analysis and trying to weigh the impacts versus the likely benefits of our action today…

“I think, as I mentioned earlier, a 32 to 36 percent reduction is going to have large socio-economic impacts as well as potential ecological impacts. I think we don’t have a stock situation that is in dire need of protection…”

Although that statement is in direct contradiction to even their own research and most other empirical evidence from recreational fishermen and even charters.

Read for yourself what Charlie Witek has to say. Keep in mind he is coming from a conservation perspective after spending the last 50 years on the water as a fisherman himself. Taken from Charlie Witek’s blog post titled “Maryland Seeks to Slow Striped Bass Recovery”:

Most of our striped bass are spawned in Chesapeake Bay, and most of those come from the waters of Maryland.  For that reason, Maryland’s striped bass young-of-the-year index has generally been the best future predictor of the future health of the stock.

Thus, folks who care about the striper’s future have been rightly concerned by the fact that the index has been coming in below average for most of the years in the past decade, with the 2012 index the lowest in more than fifty years—even lower than anything recorded during the depths of the last stock collapse.

The one bit of good news came in 2011, when a dominant year class was produced.

You would think that the folks who manage bass down in Maryland would be doing whatever they can to help those 2011s live long enough to recruit into the spawning stock, something that should happen in 2017 or so.

But if you thought that, you would have been wrong.  

Maryland has a long history of killing immature bass (back before the collapse, a legal “pan rock” was just 12 inches long), and it doesn’t look like they’re planning to reform any time soon.

Right now, they’ve got the 2011s fixed dead in their sights.

It started last fall when, despite the steady decline if the spawning stock biomass, the state declared its intention to increase the harvest by 14% in 2014.  I suppose that went over well with the folks who make their money off the heads of dead fish, but folks capable of thinking about the long term—which, in this case, is anything past the current season—figured out that beating up on the only solid year class in the last decade was probably a dumb idea.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, which seems to represent the most rational and responsible anglers in the state, made a really solid effort to prevent such foolishness from going forward but, in the end, the chance of plucking more dollars from the heads of dead bass proved far too attractive for the state to change course.

So this year, the Maryland folks are killing more bass, even though a peer-reviewed stock assessment, that was presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last October, and updated  in December, noted that

“If the current fully-recruited [fishing mortality rate] (0.200) is maintained during 2013-2017, the probability of being below the [spawning stock biomass] reference point increases to 0.86 by 2015…If the current fully-recruited [fishing mortality rate] increases to Fthreshold (0.219), and is maintained during 2013-2017, the probability of being below the [spawning stock biomass] reference point reaches 0.93 by 2015 and declines thereafter…
“…there is a probability of 0.46 that the 2012 female [spawning stock biomass] is below or equal to the [spawning stock biomass] threshold, and a probability of 0.31 that the 2012 fully-recruited fishing mortality is above or equal to the fishing mortality threshold…”

The stock assessment also made it clear that, although the stock was not yet overfished and that overfishing did not occur in the past couple of years, the target fishing mortality levels had been exceeded, and the spawning stock biomass had been below target levels since 2006.

Amendment 6 to ASMFC’s striped bass management plan says that: “If the Management Board determines that the fishing mortality target is exceeded in two consecutive years and the female spawning stock biomass falls below the target in either of those years, the Management Board must adjust the striped bass management program to reduce the fishing mortality to a rate that is at or below the target within one year.“

That seems pretty clear, but not if you’re Thomas O’Connell, the marine fisheries director for the State of Maryland.  He took a look at Amendment 6, and its mandate to reduce fishing mortality, but wasn’t too impressed. 

Instead of making meaningful changes to the management program in order to reduce fishing mortality to the target level, O’Connell decided that he’d rather make changes to Amendment 6, and allow harvest reductions to be phased in over three full years, instead the one year currently required.

As too often happens at ASMFC, it was a matter of elevating short-term economic gains over the need to conserve and rebuild the stock.  At the May Striped Bass Management Board meeting, O’Connell said

“I think it really comes down to a cost-benefit analysis and trying to weigh the impacts versus the likely benefits of our action today…

“I think, as I mentioned earlier, a 32 to 36 percent reduction is going to have large socio-economic impacts as well as potential ecological impacts.  I think we don’t have a stock situation that is in dire need of protection…”

Not everyone on the Management Board shared that view. Paul Deodati, the state fisheries director from Massachusetts, eloquently opposed O’Connell’s approach, correctly noting that “We’re actually working off the tenets of Amendment 6, which are pretty clear about what this board is supposed to do.  We’re not supposed to wait until new fall down well below the levels that [Thomas O’Connell is] suggesting.  We’re supposed to take an action now.

“It is always difficult when we have to make a cut, especially when our fisheries aren’t completely falling apart; but with striped bass we took a very deliberate approach to how we were going to react to and address changes in stock condition.  This is the change that we identified many years ago as a point in time when we’ll take a serious action to reduce fishing mortality.  We’ve reached that.  In fact, in my belief we have gone well beyond the time that we allowed ourselves to take this action.

“I think that any further delays is going to hurt the credibility of the commission.  It is going to completely tarnish the integrity of the Striped Bass Management Plan, which I think we’ve worked really hard to maintain as a top-notch managed program.  I don’t think that’s our intent, but I’m afraid that would be the result of delaying action on this…“

Pat Augustine, proxy for New York’s legislative appointee, also raised the issue of ASMFC’s credibility, pointing out that “I think at the end of the day if we just decide we’re not going to follow through on what our commitment was last year to be well on our way to recovery and implementation January of 2015 and come up with anything that is going to dilute the direction we’re going, I think we will totally lose the credibility of the public…

There is a lot of emotion out there; and to do anything other than what we committed to do, we’re going to have mud all over our face and we’re going to embarrass ourselves…“

However, Tom Fote, governor’s appointee from New Jersey and long-time opponent of ever reducing the recreational harvest of anything, regardless of the health of the stock, was quick to jump on the O’Connell bandwagon, trying to discredit Augustine with a somewhat unintelligible argument that

“The credibility is that we’re basically trying to accommodate fishermen.  New York has always wanted one fish.  When we opened the fishery when there is plenty of fish, their surf fishermen wanted one fish.  That is not the reality in New York.
“That is the reality of other states, and this is a compact of all the states that we try to accommodate our fishermen whatever they need…
“I have no problem and our credibility always stands as it is…”
Although, in the end, the facts spoke for themselves, and Deodati was clearly correct.  When ASMFC adopted Amendment 6, it made a covenant with the public to take management action when a trigger was tripped.  Should the Striped Bass Management Board ultimately approve a three-year phase-in of the reduction, it will have violated the public trust, and demonstrated that its word is not to be trusted.

Hopefully, that will not happen, but…

There’s no doubt that Maryland is going to work hard to make that happen, and in the end, it’s easy to understand why.

The 2011 year class won’t recruit into the coastal fishery until 2017.  Until then—perhaps not coincidentally—Maryland and the other Chesapeake fisheries will have them to themselves.  The females will migrate out of the bay for the summer, but most of the males will stick around, and the Maryland fishermen—commercial and recreational—and the Maryland charter boats will be able to pound on them pretty hard while they’re around.

Given that the 2011s are the first good year class since 2003, that 2012 was the worst ever recorded and that we don’t know when the next good spawn will be (although there’s reason to hope that 2013 might be solid), it’s hard to blame Maryland for trying to take what they can while the taking’s good.

Except…even their own anglers are cautious.  CCA Maryland adopted its “My Limit is One” campaign to try to protect some fish and mitigate the damage that the 14% harvest increase will do.

So why does Maryland want to kill so many striped bass?

As O’Connell said, for “socio-economic” reasons.

Which is the nice way of saying that it’s all about the almighty buck, and someone trying to squeeze a little more blood from the stone before casting it aside.

We always have to remember that responsible anglers such as the folks at CCA Maryland aren’t the only people fishing for bass.  

Maryland’s commercial sector killed 2,524,181 pounds of stripers in 2012 (compared to the 1,445,187 pounds landed by its anglers), and it has a big charter fleet that puts dead bass high on its list of priorities, killing  46% of the entire recreational harvest. O’Connell is trying to put a little more money in their pockets today, rather than trying to restore the stock—and so putting more money in their pockets tomorrow.

Even Maryland’s United States senators got into the act.  A letter addressed to Robert Beal, ASMFC’s Executive Director, co-signed by Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin says that the proposed reduction in striped bass harvest

“will adversely impact Maryland’s striped bass fisheries—and could affect entire Bay communities and other fishery industries as a whole—without the benefit of achieving the Commission’s desired level of protection to the spawning stock…
“The Commission is considering action due to concerns over a fishing mortality rate that exceeds the target level, and the dacade long decline in the female spawning stock.  Both of these conditions warrant some conservation action, but that action should not be so extreme as to cause undue economic hardship to coastal communities…
“We ask for the Commission’s continued support for inclusion of a multi-year approach to reducing fishing mortality to the target level…”
In other words, the good senators know that there’s a problem with the striped bass stock, and know that something needs to be done, but doesn’t want ASMFC to do anything that might—according to the best available science—be truly effective, because that might affect the short-term health of some constituents’ bank accounts.

What is worthy of note—and particularly heartening to those who support doing the right thing for the striper—is that the senators’ letter was the only letter received by ASMFC that supported the three-year phase in of harvest reductions.  

All 36 of the letters included in the original meeting materials (which include a petition signed by 1,428 people), and the remaining 51 letters included in the supplemental materials, supported imposing meaningful harvest restrictions.  None supported a three-year phase in of harvest reductions, and the vast majority specifically opposed such action.

The other comments received from Maryland residents included 14 letters from individuals, who asked the Management Board to “cut the fishery… as much as you can legally” and one from a Solomons-based charter boat captain, who said that

“The people from Md DNR have done nothing about the decline of the striped bass.  I fish about 100 trips a year that the decline is Very Clear [sic] a limited number of rock fish in a small area that will be wiped out sooner than later.”
It doesn’t seem likely that the captain would appreciate the position taken by O’Connell, his state fishery director, nor with that taken by Senators Mikulski and Cardin…

All 17 letters received from anglers in Virginia, which shares Chesapeake Bay—and any special Chesapeake Bay regulations—with Maryland call for taking action in one year, not three.

Maryland’s staunchest allies on the Management Board, Tom Fote of New Jersey and Rick Bellavance of Rhode Island (who said “… from the folks that I speak to in our neck of the woods, we don’t see a problem”), don’t seem to have much constituent support.  There were no comment letters from New Jersey at all, while the only comment letter from Rhode Island stated that

“THERE ARE FEWERE AND LESS [sic] LARGE BASS AND IT’S GETTING WORSE EVERY YEAR.  Traditional areas of past striped bass abundance are shells of what they used to be…Even the commercial fishermen have to travel farther and farther to target dwindling stocks of striped bass“
and supports

“…drastic action…Complete moratorium on commercial and recreational harvesting of striped bass until stocks are at 2006 levels or at a minimum of one fish at 36 inches…“
So it looks as if Maryland officials—both its fisheries director and its U.S. senators—and their allies from other states have taken a position that is not supported by the public at large, by Amendment 6 to the management plan nor by the stock assessment.

I suppose that only the folks who profit from dead striped bass stand behind them.

Yet they continue to oppose needed conservation measures.

Which just shows, once again, that so long as there is money to be made, there will always be someone trying to do the wrong thing at ASMFC.

fish invade Thailand mall

fishmall

A friend of mine sent me the link to these photos of a mall in Thailand that was destroyed by a fire and later flooded by a few feet of water. The photographer says the koi fish and carp were deliberated released into the waters, but it’s nonetheless haunting and awesome. From the photographer’s blog:

New World shopping mall, a four storey former shopping mall. Originally constructed as an eleven storey building. It was found to be in breach of old town Bangkok’s four storey limit on building heights. The top seven floors were demolished to adhere to building codes in 1997. In 1999 the mall burned due to suspected arson committed by a competitor in the area. The disaster resulted in several casualties, and the building has remained abandoned ever since. Not having a roof, the basement floor remains under several feet of water year round.

At some point in the early 2000′s an unknown person began introducing a small population of exotic Koi and Catfish species. The small population of fish began to thrive and the result is now a self-sustained, and amazingly populated urban aquarium. I will not tell exactly where it is, as locals somewhat discourage people visiting it. In fact we had to wait for a policeman who was parked on his motorcycle in front of the gate to leave before we timidly entered. Below are a few pictures to give you an idea of the absolutely staggering amount of fish.

In other, less cool news, a kid drowned trying to swim in the East River two weeks ago. He was 21, and by the description of where he and his friends were at, it sounds like they were out on the Con Ed walkway off of Kent Avenue. Having fished out there a bunch of times when the Con Ed building and tanks were still up (easier to hide from cops), I can attest to the strength of the current just in that stretch of 50 or so feet from shore. I don’t know if he jumped in that section of the water or out toward the Manhattan side of the walkway, which I have to assume is even worse. It’s a real shame; he just turned 21 and was about to graduate from college. I don’t know if he was drunk or what (the article seems to imply they were out drinking earlier), but that is some water you don’t want to jump into sober unless you have a REALLY good reason. I hope people start realizing the East River isn’t a place to fuck around swimming because, aside from the myriad diseases you can probably get from swallowing that water, Denton isn’t going to be out on the North 5th pier every time with a rope to save you (G can tell you that story).

—mkl

Write to the AFMSC

I’m passing this along from the Surfcaster’s Journal site. It’s a letter that should be sent to Michael Waine at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Waine is the fishery management coordinator at the ASMFC, and if this letter is emailed/mailed to him by July 10, a copy will be given to all members of the Commission board at their next meeting. Take a few minutes to read through this and help get the ASMFC get their collective shit together when it comes to our oceans.

From the Surfcaster’s Journal:

By Lou Caruso

To all, 
here is your chance to be heard. If you have had it with  ASMFC, now is your chance to be heard. If you send the below e-mail or snail mail letter to Mr. Michael Waine it will be distributed to every member of the board for their next meeting. Now is your chance to be heard on the future of stripe bass. Every fisher needs to get off their ass, (not literally if your sending an email) and do this. It will take you less then 5 minutes…
 
I am attaching Mr. Waine’s contact information, both email or if you insist, his snail mail address. THIS MUST BE DONE BY JULY 10th, so don’t put it off. As we all know, the longer we wait, the better the chance it won’t get done. I have made this real simple. You can cut and paste this right to the email you send to Mr. Waine. Just be sure to add your name and address at the bottom.
 
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do it today…
 
Mr. Waine’s contact information is:
Michael Waine
Fishery Management Plan Coordinator
1050 North Highland Street
Suite 200 A-N
Arlington, Va 22201
Email: mwaine@asmfc.org
 
 
To Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Officials;
 
I am writing this letter to offer comments regarding proposed option changes and striped bass management.

To say that I am disappointed in a lack of action from ASMFC and its recent approach to striped bass management is an understatement. My disappointment is fueled by several significant factors. First, Amendment 6 (2003) states that when a trigger or triggers are exceeded action MUST be taken in one year. However, although triggers were exceeded, no action has been taken. Instead, there has been a seemingly endless array of motions that are clearly designed to delay action, alter amendment 6, and obstruct the proper management of the species. These delays run contrary to the ASMFC amendment rules and are potentially even more damaging to the striped bass population as it also struggles against poor recruitment since 2000, Mycobacteriosis disease, and intense fishing pressure on existing year classes. This failure to take action is an outrage. The failure to act is illogical, is a travesty, and recreational fishers up and down the coast demand ASMFC action now!

Second, it appears to the world outside of the ASMFC that a well thought out plan for management has been hi-jacked by representatives from the states for purposes of their own greed and the greed of their associates. We demand to know why officials in charge of ASMFC have allowed state representatives to delay action and attempt to misappropriate the plan and amendment 6 that is intended to protect and preserve the striped bass. Did we not learn a painful lesson from the 1980s when delays in action almost brought the species to endangered status?

Third, the ASMFC board has hidden behind a smoke screen of demands for precise statistics, studies of option effects, more studies to study studies, and the possible outcomes of “new” ideas that would permit the increased harvest of male fish purported to be in “excess,” and the exploitation of the 2011 Chesapeake year class before, God forbid, it “escapes” from the estuary and enters the coastal migration where all users might enjoy the resource. Have we conveniently forgotten that MANY MALES must attend a single female in order to properly fertilize her eggs? As far the 2011 YOY, why should Chesapeake fishermen be allowed a “privileged” harvest and effect future migrations thus depriving coastal anglers of equal opportunity? Every recreational angler knows, albeit in the absence of precise data, that the Atlantic Coast population of striped bass has declined and is declining rather rapidly. All one needs do is go fishing regularly for striped bass and compare recent results with their results from the 1990s in order to appreciate that reality. Also, although much attention is paid to the Chesapeake stock since it is the largest ask any Long Island angler and they’ll tell you that the Hudson stock is in even worse shape. In the western Long Island Sound anglers are dependent on the Hudson stock for their overall success. To make matters worse in the Hudson, the highly publicized 2007 Hudson year class has not turned out to be the predicted bonanza. There are some fish caught from this year class, but they are few and far between.

Fourth, when we blow away the smog and fog of misdirected studies and debates, the REAL reason for all the delaying tactics is the desire of some people to make MONEY from the killing of striped bass. We ask why ASMFC officials continue to move ahead at a snail’s pace in light of the extreme effects a declining population of striped bass has on the millions of non-dollar motivated anglers? Non-dollar motivated anglers sole interests lie in engaging in a sporting interaction with striped bass, a concern for the food species they need, and healthy ecosystems to support vibrant populations of marine life. Of course in the process, striped bass sportsmen contribute millions of dollars to coastal and local economies. These local and regional businesses include small family-run operations that have been harshly and extremely affected both by a poor economy nationwide and a decline in the striped bass population. Somehow, this portion of the economy doesn’t receive the same emphasis by ASMFC board members as does the demands from those who make money from striped bass. Yet, all studies have shown there is a straight-line connection between the size of the striped bass population and how much money sportsmen spend on their recreation. I do not represent people who wish to get rich at the expense of the striped bass population. Those who exploit the population are only interested in how many fish they can kill instead of how healthy the population is or the quality of the angling experience of non-dollar motivated fishers. There is an enigma in this and it is short sighted because all interest groups benefit most when stocks are at the highest levels. It is shocking in this era of supposed “enlightened” fisheries management to bear witness to the reality that the erroneous time-honored approach in fisheries of the “prisoner’s dilemma” is still alive and well when most thought it dead decades ago.
More disappointment.

So, with not a single dollar bill of motivation, here is what I support and demand. Yes, demand, because the time for tomfoolery and delays has past and the needs of the species MUST NOW COME FIRST!

1. I demand immediate action: One year and not 3.
2. I demand a 31% reduction in mortality in one year. Since any plan only has a 50% chance of success, delays will only reduce the odds of success, since more and more fish will have perished.
3. I support a 1 fish at 32″ per angler per day-regardless of where, how, and when the fish is caught. This regulation must be applied to all venues including party boats and charter boats. Making money on the fish does not justify providing these harvesters with an advantage.  Likewise, 1 fish at 32″ should be the standard in the estuary as well. The notion that only small fish are caught in the estuary is nonsense. All places have their seasons and that’s why anglers invest great effort in the estuaries around spawning time. Yet, be it Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River, or the Connecticut River, it is true that fewer big fish are taken during off-spawning times, but they are caught. Stripers migrate from place to place and each area has its bigger fish season, all anglers in all regions should abide by the same regulations.
4. Minimize the dragger by-catch. Either directed or truly accidental.
5. Take immediate steps to end the severe poaching of small fish in the inner cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York.

Yours Truly,
(your full name and address)

eat bluefish!

eatblues

So it’s been a week since I got back from Montauk and all my gear is still a mess. I’ve been catching up on emails and found this one from the Prospect Park Alliance sent to me a couple weeks ago looking for volunteers to help teach kids about fishing responsibly in the city. I wrote them back (the contact is Victoria Horvath, vhorvath (at) prospectpark.org is her email) asking for more info, but after looking at the site, this appears to be the description:


The Audubon Center is hosting Macy’s Fishing Clinics on Saturdays and Sundays in July and August!
Come teach children and families how to fish humanely and safely! We are looking for volunteers who have an interest in teaching and working with kids, especially in an outdoor setting. Previous fishing experience is also preferred.

We are looking for volunteers who are interested in committing throughout the summer to assist with this program. Interested volunteers must be able to commit to at least 3 Fishing Clinic dates. Volunteers are needed from 12-4 pm on Saturdays/Sundays and can choose from two locations on the lake.

Position Description:

Responsibilities include set up and clean up of fishing clinics, catching worms, and working with children and families to catch fish! Training will be provided.
Prior fishing or teaching experience preferred.
Time commitment: Saturdays/Sundays July through August. Must commit to 3 dates throughout the summer.
Attendance at the training on Friday, June 27th from 6:00-7:00 p.m is required.
All Education Program volunteers must be 18 and work well with children
It is suggested to bring your own lunch, but there will be a chance for a break

Sounds like a good time to teach kids some cinch knots and how to bait a hook. Too bad the Preacher isn’t around to teach the kids how to fly fish for carp in Prospect Park. If you’re interested in helping out, send Victoria an email or check out the site.

There’s an article going around the online fishing scene this past week advocating eating bluefish over striped bass. It’s written by Captain John McMurray, the 2006 Coastal Conservation Association New York Friend of Fisheries Conservation Award winner, and aside from its conservation of striped bass angle, he also tries to dispel the myth that bluefish are a trash fish. I’ve been a fan of eating bluefish since I was a kid, and if you bought Ben’s book, there’s some killer bluefish recipes in there. Like most fish, the bigger, older ones are probably the least tasty, and this goes for striped bass as well so the idea of taking 30#-50# class fish out of the water for the table just sounds stupid and short sighted to me. But the five pound class of blues McMurray talks about in his article are damn good. I made some blackened bluefish last summer off the cuff and it was widely regarded by others as “awesome.” I’ll post the full article below, but check it out for yourselves and try out the recipes offered by McMurray himself and others in the comments. See Thomas’s comment on “Sea Bacon.” Anyone have recipes for bluefish they want to share? Post in the comments or email me and I’ll post them.

jamie_blue2
Jamie also loves bluefish.

Also, here’s a new John Skinner video:

And John McMurray’s bluefish article from Reel-Time.com:
Keeper stripers showed in good numbers this week, so why the F are we killing them all!

Yes, we finally had some good striper fishing this week, which is a darn good thing, as at least for a few days I don’t feel like strangling everyone.

What’s left of the last strong year class we had, the 2003s, seems to have finally stumbled across all those immense schools of bunker that have been loitering along the south shore of western Long Island. (The 2011s were strong also, but they have yet to recruit). It was actually pretty epic at times, with adult menhaden spraying out of the water as 25- to 35-pound bass boiled underneath them. They were taking surface plugs, even flies if you fished them right. Most people of course were live lining. … Pretty much everyone was killing fish. I mean a lot of them. Unfortunate that this exploded on Sunday, so there were a lot of boats out and a lot of guys on the beach. All of them killing fish.

I get it, man. Bass haven’t really been around in good numbers in the last few years, so when they did show, everyone felt they had the right. And I suppose they did. Still, it doesn’t make it right.

But before getting to that, lemme just talk about the lack of fish. Some of the unenlightened still blame it on the weather, confirming their armchair theories with the sudden onslaught of 2003s in June. But that ain’t it. There are simply less stripers around. We all see it on the water, and it’s been pretty well documented by the pointy-head science guys, also. But these infrequent slugs of fish moving though, while awesome even as they become more short-lived and infrequent, probably aren’t helping convince managers that there’s a real problem.

It’s not unusual for fish to be locally abundant, even when a stock is depleted overall, and such pockets of good fish stand out even more when they appear in an otherwise empty sea. They have become the new norm in the striped bass fishery, and it’s kinda a bummer. I pretty much built my business around the schoolie fishery. I really hate to be one of those old guys waxing about “how it used to be,” but we used to consistently catch a dozen, maybe two dozen fish in the 18- to 24-inch range, with the occasional good fish (in the 30- to 40-inch range) mixed in. Even if we didn’t catch a good fish, there was always the expectation that we could, and that always brought people back.

Now what we have are scenarios like the one I described above, where we have brief but extraordinary showings of fish, all of which are generally large. A couple of years ago, right around July 4th , we actually stuck more 40 and 50s in the space of a just few days than I had ever seen in my life. On the third day, I ran out of Breezy Point after telling my clients how awesome it had been the prior two days to find the same sort of bait concentrations, identical conditions, but zero fish. The small but concentrated body of fish had simply moved on. There wasn’t much before them, and nothing came in their wake.

I’m all for extraordinary fishing, but it’s tough to handle the huge highs and then the low lows. I imagine it’s like coming down from a good crack buzz or something. Leaves you empty and just wanting more. For sure I’d rather just have the sort of consistency we used to have, which comes with a healthy fishery and a good distribution of age classes, so I don’t feel like I want to punch everyone during three-quarters of the fishing season.

But I’ve talked about all this stuff before, and I’m getting off track. The point is that when these fish do show up, why do we all feel compelled to kill them? I mean, come on man. Don’t we realize that these are the last of a great year class and it would benefit us all to just let them go so that maybe we can catch them again next year? For Christ’s sake, the big ones don’t even taste good! If you’ve ever eaten a fish over 40 inches I’m guessing you know what I mean. They have those thin purple veins throughout the fillet. I imagine it’s very similar to eating a ribeye from an 80-year-old steer. Yuck!

While we’re on the subject, striped bass in general doesn’t really taste like anything. Sure it’s “white” and “flakey,” which for some reason is what the magazines say we should want from our fish, but seriously, it’s relatively tasteless. Sure, it’s good when you fry it, but anything is good fried. I suppose all the chefs like it because it’s, well, bland and serves as a good medium for various sauces they’ve concocted, and I get that also. But I dunno man. When I eat fish, I kinda want it to taste like fish.

So … brass tacks. I’m sure there are some who may disagree with me here, but as a food fish, striped bass generally sucks. And as we all pretty much know at this point, the stock is in trouble. If all of you guys really give a shit about the stock as much as you say you do, then stop killing them! I know, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt. Hell, if you don’t get all fired up when it goes off, then you shouldn’t be fishing! But take a step back next time you get into them good. And think to yourself all the reasons you should just snap a quick photo and throw that big beautiful fish back in the water, so it can spawn again, so that another angler can encounter it one day, when it’s even bigger!

Listen, there are plenty of bluefish around right now. In fact, I’ve been having some epic fishing in just a couple feet of water, fishing poppers for some monster bluefish. If you are turning your nose up right now, you are gonna have a really tough seven or eight years before the striped bass resource gets back to where it should be. And that’s assuming Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission does the right thing, and we all know it may not.

The point is that if you want to bring something home for the table, kill a bluefish.

Don’t give me that bullshit about how you simply “don’t like” bluefish. And yeah, I’ve heard the one about placing a bluefish on plank. Placing the plank and the fish on a grill. Cooking for 30 minutes, then throwing away the fish and eating the plank.

The truth is the stigma comes from all those jackasses eating bluefish that are either too large (and have been eating bunker their whole lives) or aren’t fresh. Dollars to doughnuts, if you don’t like bluefish, that’s because you haven’t prepared them right. So I’m gonna do you a huge favor and give you my double-secret bluefish recipe, even though I’ve been hoarding it for myself and my family for the last 20 years.

Trust me. If you like fish at all, you will like this!

First, cut the throat of the fish when you catch it and let it bleed out on the ice. Then,

Take a “small” bluefish (5 pounds and under), fillet and skin.
Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees or as hot as that MF will go
Put a generous slab of butter on a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of aluminum foil
Put the fillet on top of it
Generously salt then cover it with lemon pepper (if you don’t have, then just use lemon juice and cracked pepper)
Put two more generous tabs of butter on top
Slice up some onions and place across the fillet
Wrap up the fillet
Place it on a cookie sheet
Note: if you do more than one fillet, wrap each fillet individually
Cook for 8 to 10 minutes
Put on plate, open the foil and eat right from the foil (note: there is no reason to remove it from the foil. If you do that you will totally F it up).
Note: Asparagus goes really good with this, and so does a baked potato … and, um, so does an ice cold Budweiser out of a can. You fancy beer snobs can drink whatever trendy IPA you might have in the fridge. And, um, the wife says pinot grigio goes well with it also.

Yes, bluefish is a “fishy” tasting fish, and yes, the big ones can be “oily.” But the ones under five pounds, if fresh, are really F’n good if you just give them a chance – especially when they are prepared in the way described above, where you are basically steaming the fillet in butter. I mean really, what could be better? There are a lot of other ways to prepare them. Capt. Paul Eidman makes ceviche, which I haven’t yet tried, but I’m told is awesome. (Hook us up with a recipe, Paul!)

The point of all this drivel about killing/cooking/eating bluefish is so you knuckleheads might think twice about killing bass in the increasingly rare instances they do show these days. Seriously, just because they haven’t been around, should we knock the shit out of them when they do show? Is that bland striped bass fillet with the gnarly veins running though it worth the spawning potential you just destroyed? The answer is no! All the talk means nothing if you choose not to walk the walk. Take home a couple of bluefish instead. Try that recipe, then thank me in the morning.

—mkl

father’s day

dadmtk

LONG LONG overdue update. Sorry guys and ladies. I’ve been buried under a mountain of work and honestly haven’t been able to fish much since I got my first bass a few weeks ago at dawn in Jamaica Bay, and subsequently was mocked outright by the peanut gallery on FB by people who barely fish themselves. BUT! I protested, that’s a 7″ pencil popper! No matter. Was still a little short, but I’ve been craving to get back on the water, especially since 10 minutes after I caught my first bass of the season, I heard a sound like water sizzling on a hot pan behind me and turned around to see all tails and dorsal fins of striped bass chasing bait into the shallows not ten feet from where I was standing.
sbass
It’s not as small as it looks I swear, he said.

This weekend I had the chance to take my dad and uncle out to Montauk for a fishing trip, which was great because those two are the ones who taught me how to fish ever since I was a kid throwing in a line in ponds catching bluegills and then largemouth bass. Also, these two guys can fuckin’ DRINK. We spent a good three nights together drinking hard, talking about guns, talking fishing, and in general having a great weekend. It always surprises me how much me, my dad, and my uncle are so much like my grandfather (their dad). Thursday night my uncle and I hired the great Bill Wetzel as a guide in Montauk. If you don’t know, Bill is probably the premier guy to guide you out East. Bill’s dedication to the surf and teaching others about what he knows is unmatched. We first fished a spot far west of the Point and then eventually made out way to the southside. Despite Bill’s expertise and great conditions, none of us hooked up. We learned a lot from Bill, the guy really does see everything and notices the nuances where things need to be improved for fishing such a challenging place. My uncle probably got a better course on surf fishing than I did, but even still Bill corrected some of my surf casting issues, showed me how to bucktail at a place like Montauk where it’s so rocky, got me out to a couple rocks and tossed Super Strike darters until we could cast no more. If you want to learn something about fishing a place like Montauk, Bill is the way to go.

I got pulled over afterward by a police officer for going 14 in a 20mph zone. Once I told the young cop we were out fishing with Bill it was all good. I didn’t even have to show him my ID. We ended up eating 7-11 sandwiches right out of the delivery truck. The next day we fished Browns and Turtle Cove pretty hard. The conditions were again very good for day time fishing: overcast with some rain, a good wind, early incoming tide. Out of the three of us (me, my dad, and my uncle), we managed one little rat, which I caught on a white bucktail. It was so small I didn’t even bother taking a pic of it, but what’s important is that I got my first striper in Montauk. Overall, it was a great weekend hanging with my dad and uncle, and I hope to fish again with Bill this year.

A few weeks ago I went out to Lake Mohawk for Memorial Weekend with some good friends. I managed to get a line in the water out there in the C&R lake (which supposedly has freshwater stripers in it) and caught a pickerel for the first time. But more fun was to be had with handlining some bluegills by the dock with some chopped hot dogs and a hot dog bun some kid left by one of the boats.

bluegil

Hoping to get out more in the next couple weeks. I just dropped off my 10’6″ Lamiglas 1032-1m to have new guides refitted since the old wire guides were jacked. Anyone have any recommendations on wire guides vs. ceramic? Also, does anyone use ski racks on their cars as rod racks? One additional thought: I think I just bought a boat. More on that in the near future.

—mkl

Morning Tide Fishing—crazy bastards

This is a young man’s game, apparently. I want to see a full-length video of these guys. Amazing, but I’m almost terrified at the same time.

while i was sleeping (reading)…

laurelli_siff13

this came out two weeks ago and I completely missed it. Peter Laurelli, one of my perennial favorites, released his latest surf and inshore fishing video via Vimeo and I didn’t see it until today. Every year when Peter’s videos come out I have to kick it into gear and I know it’s time to stop fooling about and get my shit together for the upcoming season, and this video is hardly any exception. I don’t want to hype it up too much, because his film will get you hyped enough on its own, and his work just gets better and better. This time he takes a little departure from the Northeast surf shores and heads to the flats for bonefish and triggers. The part with the giant trevallys is un-fuckin’-real—that’s all I’ll say about that. Of course, he tosses in some salivating striper footage as well and revisits the Breezy Point jetty for good times. Always innovative and inspiring, here’s Peter’s 2013 SIFF video (better to watch it full screen with headphones ON, as he would say):

SIFF13: Islands from Peter Laurelli on Vimeo.

—mkl

last snowstorm of the year (maybe)

“The winter was nice, but the summer is hell”

Slowcore is not for everyone, but this is from one of my favorite bands back from the days at the University of Delaware, and this winter Low and Galaxie 500 have been on heavy rotation. I remember seeing them at the Middle East in Boston (the only time I was ever in Boston) back in 1997. I wasn’t even 21 yet so I must have snuck in because I still get carded to this day by people who themselves are barely enough to drink. But did anyone see the snow today? Is this the last of this part of winter? The water temperatures are still hovering in the 39-42 degree range so fishing for stripers may be a good few—warm—weeks off, but as I’ve found, the winter is always an excellent time to read, research, prepare, drink, and not-so-patiently await those early days of true Spring, for more reasons than one.

I’ve been digging around these last couple weeks trying to wade through several excellent posts/threads/presentations, two of which deal with the migration patterns of Hudson River striped bass, and the third of which argues the fallacies inherent in the fisheries management and conservation plans presented in the the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” (http://www.trcp.org/assets/pdf/Visioning-Report-fnl-web.pdf). This report was presented to legislators for informational purposes and as a guide as they reevaluate and consider reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act—the law that regulates marine fisheries in United States’ waters. The series of articles I’ve been reading are by Charlie Witek, and you can find them on his own site (here) and on the Surfcasters Journal blog. (By the way, if you really want some serious ways to spend the evening not fishing, subscribe to the Surfcaster’s Journal web magazine. It’ll keep you occupied for a good while.) I want to give equal time to each of the three things I’ve been following, so I’ll probably break up the post into several as some of this stuff is pretty dense and technical and it’s all a helluva lot of information.

The most casual of the three is a thread in the Long Island/NYC section of the Stripers Online web site. You can check the thread here. The thread is titled “Stripers and Spawning in New York” and it’s full of personal accounts, empirical evidentiary observations, conjecture, and outright speculation—just as you’d expect from a thread by fishermen stewing over a long, cold winter. There is a wealth of information (not all independently confirmed, but still makes for interesting reading) based on personal experience, and, for the history fan and journalist in me, some old newspaper clippings about the striped bass habits around New York City like this one from the New York Times, June 17, 1888:
newpaper1888

And this one from another paper in 1877:
1877

There’s a couple important posters in this thread, one of whom is Captain Tom Mikoleski, who recently published a book called Bass Buff—A Striper Fishing Obsession Guide (disclosure, I haven’t read this book yet), which he excerpts w/r/t striper populations, spawning, and migration:

The important spawning estuaries on the east coast include the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson, Delaware, and Roanoke Rivers. In these estuaries, the conditions are similar and spawning occurs from March to May when water temperatures are between 58 to 64-degrees.

Female striper’s become sexually mature between ages 4 and 8, while males become mature between ages 2 and 3. It is believed that females give off a scent signaling their ripeness and this encourages the males to follow them up-river to the spawning grounds. Female bass seek out areas with current that help keep the eggs buoyant after release. When eggs are released in stagnant water, most fall to the bottom and suffocate in the silt.

When a male, or group of males, sense that a female is ready to release her eggs they will begin to prod and butt her belly. This pushes the spawning event to the surface and results in a commotion that southern anglers call a “rock fight”. When a female releases hers eggs, males swim through them releasing milt to fertilize the eggs.

Female striped bass become sexually mature when they reach between 21 to 31-inches in length, and weigh between 6 to 15-pounds. Females in this size range release about 500,000 eggs annually. Research over the last two decades has indicated that females in this size range are responsible for the majority of the egg production during the spawn. A huge striper of 40-pounds or larger produces more than 3,000,000 eggs when she spawns, but consistent spawning seasons are now behind her in this size range.

Even though big cows only spawn sporadically, I firmly believe we should try to release many of the larger sized striped bass we catch. These big fish have been running the coastal gauntlet for close to 20-years, and I feel in my heart that these impressive specimens have earned a “senior rank.” These big bass also carry genes for larger size, and when they do spawn this trait can be passed along to their offspring.

Once the eggs are fertilized they hatch within 29 to 80-hours. Newly hatched striped bass larvae live off their egg yolk sacks for 5-days while their bodies develop. When this period is over they begin feeding on zooplankton that consists of microscopic crustaceans and insect larvae. If the right organisms are not available for food during this critical time of their development, many of the fry will die. The fry feed voraciously, and before long they will take on the shape and markings of adult stripers. Most young of the year striped bass will stay within the river of their birth until 2-years of age and approximately 14-inches in length before joining the annual migration.

After spawning, most of the Chesapeake stripers will head north to spend a good part of the year in the waters of the mid Atlantic and New England states. The Hudson fish travel a little less, as they are rarely found south of New Jersey, or north of Massachusetts. Traditionally, by the second spring moon period in June, the big stripers are on station in various fishing hot spots up and down the striper coast.

He also wrote in a later post: In addition, it has also been discovered rather recently that cold wet springs are better that warm and dry. Also, as I wrote in Bass Buff-A Striper Fishing Obsession Guide, one successful spawn, if protected properly, can offer big dividends for the population of striped bass further down the line. The 1982 year class was the one that basically brought the fishery roaring back in the 90’s. I know there has been a lot of doom and gloom about the striped bass stock, but they have proved over and over again, if we give them a reasonable shot, bass/nature has a funny way of making things right. The basic problem recently is that we are removing stripers faster from the population than they are able to replace through their spawning because recent spawns have been below the average. Text bolded by me, but so far we’re doing pretty well on a “cold, wet” early Spring.

Another poster to read carefully, for more than just purposes of divining through grammatical and spelling errors, is a fellow called RJ. This guy obviously has no shortage of information about striper spawning habits in the NY area, though I haven’t figured out what exactly he does or what qualification, if any, he has, other than living and experiencing life on the water for over 50 years. His posts can be hard to read, but somewhere in there, he knows his stuff such that even striped bass guide Bill Wetzel at one point commends him for his wealth of knowledge. He has an excellent post here (linked for brevity) on the normal progression of striped bass migrating into, and spawning in, the Hudson River. He also has several quality posts here, here, and here.

One of my favorite excerpts from his many posts:
I’ve witnessed 3 early morning spawning events on the flats between Coxsackie and Athens NY. The weather was a drizzling rain coming from low clouds with light or no wind at all. All three began just past high tide. I like to drift with a dropping tide while live lining herring starting just before sunrise. I was drifting south of Coxsackie looking for feeding bass. I spotted a single large swirl and then splashes on the flat next to the ships channel. The first time it took me a while to understand what was happening. The next two times I immediately dropped anchor and reeled in my offerings. Spawning striped bass are not interested in anything but the act of procreation. If you are lucky enough to be part of this act, shut your engine down and anchor up of just drift with the tide. The stripers will not get out of your way and your prop will kill them if you don’t shut it down.

Dive into the thread and skip the bickering. There’s a lot of really interesting information in there among the personal opinions and spelling errors and absolutely worth a read. That’s about enough for me for tonight. I will try to get summaries of the other two articles I’ve been reading in the next week or so. How is everyone prepping for the upcoming season (one that technically opened a couple weeks ago)? I finally bought another plug bag to replace the P.O.S. Aquaskinz medium bag I’ve been tearing apart for the last couple years, and so far I’m pretty satisfied with it. I tried to pick up the Commando Scout 4-tube bag but could never get an answer on their availability from the guy after multiple attempts. I didn’t want to spend $300 on a custom bag either, so I ended up with the Mak Angler 3-tube bag. A little smaller than my last few, but with plenty of pocket space and it’s made out of that Dacron shit—the hook resistant sail cloth. I wish it had more slots for bucktails and tins, but that’s why they sell a separate bucktail/tin pouch (for $80) I guess. I’ll worry about that if I need to worry about it, but so far I’m pretty happy to toss the AS bag in the garbage where it belongs. (To their credit, their higher end bags—the Hunter Pro series—from what I’ve seen, are pretty good quality.) Here’s to warmer days in the next few weeks.

—mkl

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