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05/09/2023 08:24 AM

Sudden Change in Striped Bass Slot Limit Set for July

Emergency striped bass regulations, effective July 2023, aim to further protect the species. Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan
A couple of ten-pound togs caught by Joe Durante of East Haven raised some eyebrows when he nailed these whitechins in skinny water from his tin boat. Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan
Weakfish are colorful and formidable fighters when hooked - whether a world record class one like David Alu of New Jersey (left) caught or a fish much smaller. Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan

Not that additional conservative management measures were in order or that the realization that marone saxatilis’ dropping biomass was justification for this immediate adjustment to protect the stock, it was the sudden compounded action that took anglers by surprise. This tightening of the striped bass slot limit is certainly going to create issues getting the word out, considering that fishers are still learning about using inline circle hooks when bait fishing for stripers.

In reality, effective July 2, fishers will be able to harvest one striped bass daily only if it falls within a four-inch slot limit of 28-31 inches- down from 28-35 inches. Last season, fishers caught high numbers of striped bass that fell below the slot limit and had a good time catching and releasing fish on light gear. In fact, the overall recreational striper harvest was nearly twice that of 2021 — an unsustainable number in order to maintain a healthy stock if that trend was to have continued!

When that 40-incher came along, it was a hard pill to swallow for someone who never caught a striper that size to release it but for the most part, it was okay. Photo ops and social media filled the need for recognition and sharing.

Jump-starting and getting the word out with such short notice will definitely be a challenge. However, if enough fishers want to protect this species for posterity, then this effort can take hold and, hopefully, serve the stock’s rebound as well. It is up to us fishers to at least make an honest attempt to make a stand — although, with some sectors, it will be difficult.

On this one, everyone will have to bite the bullet in order for it to work. Relying on understaffed and overworked law enforcement alone, along with management teams, will not get the required job done. One of the most revered, popular, and challenging predators has a unique following. Whether one fishes conventionally, fly fishes, clicks a shutter, or writes about striped bass, they have a stake in this effort.

Changes in fishing regulations are one way to effectively manage fish stocks — something that is a way of life that all anglers have experienced. Sometimes they are complicated and difficult to understand. Occasionally, mistakes are made, and oversights discovered.

Nevertheless, we are dealing with a fluid set of circumstances and are learning as we go, so dealing with changes is not something new. The fact is that action is being taken to protect the few remaining strong-year classes, and the majority of us now finally realize that striped bass need our help as a result of over-harvesting and an ever-changing ecosystem.

On The Water

Low pressure lingered throughout most of the week in the northeast before high pressure from the Great Lakes finally dug in for the weekend. Rain, gusty winds, and varying seas were the pattern for the past few weeks as air temperatures fluctuated, but a change is in sight with daytime temps rising from the mid-50s into the 60s-70s. Long Island Sound water temperatures remain in the low 50s and rising while seas moderated from the stretch of small craft and gale force warnings.

Marine fishers have now turned their attention to striped bass and weakfish now that tog spring season ended. Although there has been formidable striped bass caught in excess of 40 inches and the migration is in full swing, a majority of the linesiders caught have been under the slot limit size of 28 inches as they aggressively feed throughout Long Island Sound and its tributaries.

Even so, with the surge of catches last season and the way this season is kicking off, numbers of fish at the higher end of the slot have been caught and/or released — some unrecoverable. Live and frozen baits, as well as topwater plugs, popular flies, hard and soft swimmers, bucktail jigs, spoons, etc., are the norm for this time of year. However, given a choice, go for a topwater, soft swim shad, or hard swimmer — especially near shore in skinny water or tidal rivers.

Weakfish (Sea trout, Squeteague) are in, and bluefish have made an appearance. For starters, check the harbors and points around and leading to tidal rivers. Although they have been known to go for certain plugs, jigs, and tubes, squid-tipped drift baits or a seaworm rigged on a hi-lo rig or cast from shore can entice a bite.

For weakies close to shore, fly fishers can score a hit with a Clouser, two-tone deceiver (they do not shy away from color — pink, white, orange, yellow…), spearing imitation, etc. Whether a 19-pound-12 ounce, 37-inch world record caught by David Aluof of New Jersey or one over 16 inches is hooked, one will find that they are far from weak. As far as harbor blues are concerned, try a flashy spoon, a small topwater plug, or a chunk of bait, like herring.

So far, it looks as though there will not be a shortage of baitfish to satisfy our mix of predatory fish. Fuel prices are higher than most would like but lower than last year at this time. That means commercial menhaden netters in the mid-Atlantic will probably be out scooping. Although we might see some sort of drop in school densities, it should not be enough to put undue stress on feeders. Competition for forage, though, will be keen, so fishing and hookups should at least be on pace with last season.

As we go into May, there is no letup on the stocking of trout in Connecticut waters. Neither is there any relaxation in catching and angler effort. A combination of conventional and fly fishing methods are both in play.

Recently as an emergency measure, a slot limit change was implemented by ASMFC at the May 2 meeting in Arlington, Virginia, in a motion by Dr. Armstrong, second by Mr. Borden (motion carries 15-1[NJ]-0-0.) “Move that the Striped Bass Board, by emergency action as outlined in the Commission’s ISFMP Charter, implement a 31” maximum size to all existing recreational fishery regulations where a higher (or no) maximum size applies, excluding the Chesapeake Bay trophy fisheries. All other recreational size limits, possession limits, seasons, gear restrictions, and spawning protections remain in place. Jurisdictions are required to implement compliant measures as soon as possible and no later than July 2, 2023.”

Given the poor recruitment numbers coming from the Chesapeake region along with the 2022 results from the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) that pointed to an overall angler harvest of striped bass at twice what it should have been in order to rebuild the striped bass biomass by 2029, it was enough to prompt this management decision. This conservative emergency action is set to be in place for 180 days (through October 28) and may be extended for up to a year at the October meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Fly fishing: an outstanding opportunity for the experienced or beginner. Booking inland and marine fly fishing lessons for 2023 with world fisher, certified master fly fishing casting instructor and fishing lodge director. From trout, salmon, steelhead, and sea-run browns to striped bass, bonefish, permit, tarpon, etc., techniques learned and honed will improve your fishing.

Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and International fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.

For all things fishy, including the latest gear, flies/fly fishing, rods/reels, clam/crabbing supplies, fishing trips, licenses/permits, and much more, swing by the shop (203-245-8665), open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter and Authorized Penn Premium Dealer, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.

Tight Lines,

Captain Morgan

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