As an addendum to last week’s column regarding the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and how they continue to fail in the area of striped bass regulation and, in turn, the average recreational angler here in the Bay State, I thought that some of you might be interested in this Marine Fishery Advisory just published on the DMF website on July 31, under the title “Public Comment Sought for Proposals to Adjust Commercial Striped Bass and Fluke Limits.”
“The 2019 commercial striped bass fishery opened on June 24th with just two open fishing days per week (Mondays and Thursdays), a 15-fish trip limit for vessel-based fishermen and a 2-fish trip limit for all other fishermen, and a 34 inch minimum size. Through last week, approximately 215,000 pounds of striped bass have been landed and sold, accounting for approximately 24% of the available 869,813 pound quota. Currently, average daily landings are about 18,000 pounds. This daily landing rate is lower than at this time last year.
“If this trend continues, it is likely that landings will only approach 50% of the quota by Labor Day, and historical trends suggest fall landings will be even less based on declining participation and inclement weather that affects this small-boat fishery. Accordingly, DMF is proposing to allow commercial fishing four-days per week (Mondays – Thursdays) beginning Monday, August 19, 2019, or Tuesday, September 3, 2019. Labor Day will remain a closed fishing day and the bag and size limits will remain status quo. By increasing the number of open fishing days per week beginning in September, commercial fishermen will have more flexibility to access the resource on optimal weather days.”
So, as you can see clearly in black-and-white, the DMF’s primary concern is that the poundage quota be killed, not that there might be an issue with the health of the stock, given that we are now in the second year of significantly poor fishing results.
Frankly, back in early May I had some hope that Massachusetts might take the lead in striped bass conservation and wrote that “Matthew Beaton, the Massachusetts Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Protection, joined his cohorts from Connecticut and Virginia in penning a letter to the chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) urging immediate action to ‘implement measures that will reduce striped bass harvests to sustainable levels as quickly as possible.’ ”
Now I acknowledge that I am not fully aware of how the whole fisheries and wildlife game works in Massachusetts in terms of organization and politics, but I still abide by the old bromide, “Actions speak louder that words,” and I am convinced now, more than ever, that in the eyes of the folks who manage fish in our state, the only good fish is a dead fish.
For those of you would like to express your opinion on this matter to the DMF, “Written public comment will be accepted until 5 PM on Wednesday, August 14, 2019. Please address all written comments to Director Pierce and submit to DMF by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114.”
On a positive note, I suppose, the striped bass situation isn’t as dire as it was back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when just catching a single bass was considered quite a feat, but we are no doubt headed that way.
Back when the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board so glibly and flippantly pronounced that the stock was fully restored, it should have been obvious to everyone that the fisheries “managers” had clearly forgotten or simply chose to overlook the historical antecedent of what could happen to the population if a series of poor spawning classes occurs and is combined with overfishing, which is where we are right now.
And I have never seen anyone mention that fact that the sheer number of people fishing for bass is astronomically higher than what it was back in the ’60s and ’70s.
Before getting to the Canal, which a lot of non-Big Ditch anglers, particularly those in boats, continue to glare at, there are clearly some decent-sized bass to be had, based on the catches I have seen some of the charter boats in Falmouth Harbor bring to the dock.
In fact, Jim Young at Eastman’s Sport & Tackle in Falmouth told me that Capt. C.J. Lambert, who skippers the Islander, reported that “it has been a jig bite, not a tube bite” around the sounds.
Honestly, I have no idea where C.J. is fishing, but I can only offer some suggestions based on what I have been hearing.
Pat Rourke, who serves primarily as the mate on the Minuteman, which is part of the Patriot Party Boat fleet and used primarily for sport fishing, told me that another one of their boats was bottom fishing down around Gay Head and marked what looked like bass. They then called in some of the local charter boat guys, who, in turn, began to double up on quality fish while snapping wire and parachute jigs.
Folks drifting and casting eels along the Elizabeths have also been scratching up some fish in the mid-30-inch class, while Christian Giardini from Falmouth Bait & Tackle in Teaticket (across from McDonald’s) said that some boats are still dragging the tube-and-worm in the deeper water off Middle Ground.
The west entrance to the Canal was hot last weekend, with one angler coming into Eastman’s to report that on Saturday morning he caught a number of fish in the high 30-/low 40-inch range jigging wire, but then the following day it was all schoolies. Folks tossing Sebiles and soft plastics experienced the same thing, which probably had to do with the change in the amount of bait around and whether the fish followed it out into the waters around the maritime academy and Hog Island.
A.J. Coots at Red Top in Buzzards Bay told me that similar to what we experience in the spring when the bigger bass first show up, boat anglers have been doing well with Docs, those midwestern plastic spooks that seem to work everywhere. For whatever reason, bass just what to kill this plug, but I have to admit I do find it funny when I see people throwing them at a school of fish feeding on krill.
Out in Cape Cod Bay—while Jeff Miller at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore said it’s hard to believe that boaters weren’t doing well given all the fish in the land cut, Elise Costa at The Powderhorn in Hyannis said that the waters between Barnstable and Billingsgate have been filled with schoolies. The word is that the charter boats in the area have been focusing on the big blues instead.
Monomoy, both in the rips and along the shallows to the west, has plenty of bluefish as well, but the bass fishing is also solid, noted Capt. Austin Proudfoot of North Chatham Outfitters. There is another class of fish there, mainly fat schoolies with enough low- to mid-30-inch bass to make things interesting. The warmer water has pushed the squid out into deeper water, and the fish are feeding on sand eels for the most part, making soft plastics and jigs like the Hogy Epoxy, Heavy Minnow, and Sand Eel models very effective.
Bob Lewis poked around Cotuit and Osterville to do some scouting before his nephews came into town; after finding mainly small schoolies and bluefish feeding on one-inch peanut bunker, they elected to go to Monomoy and had non-stop action tossing poppers on the fly rod this morning.
Overall, shore anglers fishing the south side have been picking at some small blues at dusk—especially when sunset coincides with high tide—as well as some schoolies.
It’s no use trying to avoid the carnage at the Cape Cod Canal, but as someone once said, “It is what it is.” If you follow the news, then you know about the environmental police operation on Sunday that turned up at least 50 illegal bass and resulted in about $8,000 in fines, as well as one arrest. Folks I spoke to say high grading has been rampant, with people tossing dead fish back once they catch something larger.
Jeff Miller pointed out that the fishing was still “stupid” as of midweek, with people using mackerel or ghost Magic Swimmers looking like experts. There has been topwater activity both in the morning and evening, with green mackerel and wacky mackerel pencils effective.
We’re talking about numbers of bass between 25 and 40 pounds, with the action continuing after dark. Based on the amount of moonlight, darker- or lighter-colored paddletail jigs have been most effective, with Jeff pointing out that the six-ounce Hogy Pro Tail Paddle in black or mullet has proven to be an effective addition to their line-up of soft plastic offerings.
A.J. Coots added that some 50-pounders have been caught in the Canal recently, and just when you think things are going to take a break, the action picks up once more.
Out along the Cape’s Buzzards Bay shoreline, there are still some schools of small bluefish and some bass, but no word on bonito or other funny fish just yet.
It’s a different story in the sounds and over on the Vineyard. Jim Young spoke to someone who said he saw some bonito in Woods Hole and they have been caught around Tashmoo and Middle Ground; but the best action is apparently from Oak Bluffs to State Beach, as well as along East Beach and Wasque. Folks have been catching a mix of bones, bass, and blues from boat and beach, with Hogy Epoxy Jigs and the old standby metals working well, along with Yo-zuri Crystal Minnows, both the standard and 3-D models. Hot colors like pink, chartreuse, and others are effective.
Christian Giardini heard of a single Spanish mackerel caught at Hedge Fence, where another angler picked up 10 bones both trolling and casting, but so far they have been no reports of albies or king mackerel.
Veatch produced a double hook up on white marlin and a good number of smaller yellowfin during Christian’s last trip offshore, while another boat found larger yellows at Atlantis. And there are good numbers of mahi around the high flyers, including at the Dump. Christian said he always has some “meat” in his spread, especially ballyhoo, whether they are fished behind a skirt like a Joe Shute or a chugger/popper like those made by Beamish.
The tuna out by the Regal Sword are pretty much all giants, according to Capt. Proudfoot, and he considered himself lucky to pick up a recreational 70-incher closer in for a group of Colorado flyrodders whose largest fish prior to that was a trout.
Meanwhile, Shawn Powell from the Sports Port in Hyannis reported that he continues to catch largemouth on crankbaits like the Yo-zuri Crystal Minnow in shallow water in the morning and again at dusk, while during the high sunshine hours, he switches to bucktail jigs tipped with soft plastics fished in 15 to 20 feet of water. For perch and other panfish, worms fished under a bobber are the way to go.
And lest you think that I only concern myself with bass, be advised that the DMF is also considering making changes to the commercial fluke regulations: “Currently, average daily landings are about 5,300 pounds. This is down slightly from last year at this time. If this trend continues, it is likely that the 2019 quota may not be taken. Accordingly, DMF is proposing to allow commercial fishing up to six days per week (Sundays–Fridays) beginning as soon as Sunday, August 18, 2019, and to increase the daily trip limits up to 500 pounds for net fishermen and up to 300 pounds for fishermen using hooks. The minimum size will remain status quo. DMF anticipates that this will provide additional opportunities to target fluke to land the quota and to mitigate the potential limiting impacts fall weather may have on access to the available quota.”
If you find this proposal exasperating given the challenges faced by recreational anglers trying to find 17-inch fluke in the sounds, then you can register your opinion at the same addresses provided earlier for bass.