Is a Striped Bass 28-31-Inch Slot Limit the Right Call?
As striped bass remain in the headlines, both from the numbers of fish in our tidal rivers and estuaries as well as those migrating into Long Island Sound from those waters and up the coast, they are garnering attention for the recent emergency management regulations placed upon them.
Spawning stock biomasses have ventured farther north, primarily due to warming water temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic coastal region and available forage. As a result, we have been seeing quite a bit of activity during the past few years. Enough so that fishers and stewards of these stripers are scratching their heads as to the safest and best way to manage and rebuild the stocks to achieve target goals. Some express that the new regulations will kill too many fish.
In short, release mortality (including a 9% mortality assumption) unintentionally reached such a point that the 97% probability of rebuilding the stock by 2029 was drastically reduced to only 15% when the latest statistics were unveiled. Additionally, Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) 2022 estimates indicate a 38% increase in recreational removals relative to 2021. These are what actually resulted in the change of direction and the implementation of the latest emergency regulations that reduced the slot limit of 28-35 inches to 28-31 inches in an attempt to protect the 2015 young of year class of fish — now age 8.
At one of the four webinar public hearings conducted up and down the Atlantic coast, the one held in CT on May 22 drew about 70 individuals from the recreational, for-hire, and commercial fishers. Needless to say, comments varied and, as expected, were galvanized depending on which side of the sector one aligned. That was partly due to the commercial fishery not experiencing an increase in harvest mortality. Most comments had to do with management approaches, reliability of statistics, allocations, best practice regulations, and whether or not protections put into place were sufficiently digested. However, the majority agreed that moving forward with protective measures were in order.
One hot-button item had to do with allocation when it was commented that, perhaps, the recreational and for-hire sectors ought to be regulated separately. The thought that then came across this skipper’s mind was, “Should head boats be regulated separately from the typical six-pack charter boat?”
The thought was that a six-packer can typically run anywhere from 1-3 trips daily, whereas a head boat perhaps runs the same number of trips per day but can carry 25-50, more or less. In the former case, the maximum striped bass per trip is six, and the latter, 25-50 or more stripers per trip — considerably more when factoring in the season. So, in this particular case, allocation has merit.
There were a lot of thoughts bantered about, including statements that challenged methods, procedures, stock assessments, and decisions the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), Striped Bass Board, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have made. Recruitment in recent years has been below average, and the 2015 year class is one of the few strong-year classes we have. The emergency action required a 2/3 vote and was approved by a 15 in favor to 1 against vote, and can be extended for two additional 180-day periods.
On The Water
A cold front remained nearly stationary across the Lower Hudson Valley, affecting western Long Island Sound. High pressure remained in effect until mid-week before another cold front moved through, bringing some rain. Another high-pressure system returned, remaining in place for the Memorial Day weekend, edging out previous calls for some developing moisture, while low pressure drifted around south of the region. The Sound’s water temperatures fluctuated in the high 50s, and seas remained relatively calm once the cold front passed.
There is no getting around it. Striped bass continue to light up the Sound as the migration from both the Hudson and the DelMarVa region is bringing some above-the-slot mega stripes. They have stretched from the mid-Atlantic north to the upper reaches of New England and into many of the estuaries — and that is not counting fish coming down the tidal rivers and into the pond.
Many of these fish are taking baits like menhaden, herring, etc. However, artificials are really bending rods. Topwaters are scoring big points, while swimmers, spoons, bucktails, and jigs are no doubt taking their share out on the reefs. Flies on intermediate setups near shore are into mostly schoolies while dropping quick-sink lines by rip lines are picking up larger fish. As long as baitfish flood the Sound and weather throws no curve balls, the fishing outlook looks good.
Black sea bass recovered from the rain and blow opener. Vessels have not piled onto the popular CT reefs yet, primarily because the rush is on to get them commissioned. The week opened with more on the water but make no mistake, by the time the long weekend arrives, plenty more will be hitting those spots. Squid, jigs, and hi-lo rigs are more than enough to put a limit together. Go deep for the knotheads — otherwise, be prepared to baby your throwback arm.
The strong season for emerging weakfish continues to excite fishers from the Peconics to the most western part of Long Island Sound. They are running mid-Sound over reefs, into the tidal rivers, past sandbars, and through harbors taking artificials, rigs, lures, and baits. Add some wire leader, and you are liable to hook into a harbor bluefish or one into double digits that will put up a fight. Toss a plug or spoon, drop a jig or dunk some bait for those choppers making their way all through our waters. They are right on time.
Porgy fishers are out, giving the season a bit of a push. Slab scup are being caught with action beginning to build along the shoreline. With more summer-like weather approaching, these scrappers should meander closer to shore, and those fishing with seaworms, clams, squid, and scented baits will be on top of the action. Winter flounder catches have been about average, with blackback hookups increasing in June. Meanwhile, fluke action is increasing with fish in the 3 to 5 pound range being caught, shorts becoming frustrating, and mini-doormats (under 10 pounds) are being caught drifting squid-tipped rigs and jigs in deeper waters. Soon double-digit doormats that are already showing up will be making headlines. For now, let’s get reacquainted with those infamous sea robins scouring the bottom and blue crabs becoming more active in the estuaries.
CT DEEP might squeeze out a few more stockings to complete the spring program, depending on when and where the trucks make the rounds. For now, catching remains good; however, those who follow the stocking trucks and picking an area nearly clean have thinned out, leaving more access and fish for the rest of the anglers. Fly fishing remains good, along with casters using inline spinners, floaters, countdowns, and various natural and scented baits. The basses and black crappie bite is solid; pickerel continue to chase, catfish are biting, perch and sunnies are plentiful, with periodic catches of northern pike getting into the act.
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.
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