by Capt. Billy Pipkin
Autumn is the most exciting time of year for me. There’s always an abundance of species late September through October. As the season matures, striped bass will dominate the fishery through December.
Speckled trout are a very sought after species and have developed a cult following among inshore fishermen. They can be found along protected shorelines, inlets and creeks. Sizes range from a first year 7-inch fish up to specimens in excess of 26 inches in length.
The primary means of catching the “specks” is casting artificial lures. Some of my favorites are a simple jig head dressed with a 4-inch paddle tail bait.
On my inshore charters, I have found that productivity often depends on the preferred color of choice for the day. Chartreuse, white, red and pink have all been successful in attracting these fish. You may need to adjust the lure weight to match the depth of water you are fishing.
You can also use hard baits such as Mirrolures and other diving baits. Live minnows or jerk baits fished under bobbers is yet another option. Although there are many variables involved in the inshore fishing, we have found that the rewards are well worth the time invested.
Among the trout, other inshore species being caught are puppy drum, white perch, spot, croaker and even flounder. This action should continue throughout October and slow as the water cools in November.
With cooler water temperatures, this region will swell with striped bass (rockfish). The rockfish move out of the rivers and down the bay as they feed heavily during the fall months. The lower Potomac River and Virginia’s bay waters will boast schools of surface feeding fish under gulls until the last day of the season, December 31.
Recreational fishing for rockfish is a major contributor to Virginia’s economy—especially locally. Boat dealers, mechanics, tackle shops, marinas, hotels, restaurants and charter captains all benefit from the circulation of the “Rockfish dollars.”
We have experienced a heavy decline in the large spawning stock of rockfish over the past five years. The authorities saw the scientific data flashing warning signs a decade ago, yet were slow to react in a meaningful manner. As was the case back in the mid-1980s, they are considering a moratorium—A swift, knee jerk reaction to solve the problem that could have been avoided with proper management over time. This is not just a Virginia problem, both Maryland and Potomac River agencies have a hand in regional management of this species.
Fishing in Virginia’s Northern Neck encompasses three different jurisdictions, each with their own fishing regulations. Anglers departing our shores can fish in the Potomac River, Maryland Chesapeake Bay as well as Virginia’s bay waters and tributaries. Each having separate agencies that set seasons, creel and size limits.
To my point, inconsistency in the management of fisheries is on display in the following example of striped bass regulations:
• Virginia, Chesapeake Area Season (Fall), October 4-December 31; possession limit, 1 per person; minimum size limit, 20 inches; maximum size limit, 36 inches.
• Maryland, Chesapeake Bay (Fall), August 1-December 10; possession limit, 1 per person; minimum size, 19 inches; no maximum size limit.
• Potomac River, Fall season, August 21-December 31; possession limit, 2 per person; minimum size limit, 20 inches; no maximum size limit.
Eighty percent of all striped bass spawn in the Chesapeake Bay. Prime spawning age, 28-34 inches, 7-10 years old.
Recreationally, Virginia has the strictest regulations among the three jurisdictions. Why is it that the very same fish that transit from the Potomac River into the bay during the fall months can be harvested at 2 per person while—if they make it to Virginia waters—they are restricted to half that catch?
Why are the seasons much longer in Maryland and Potomac River than in Virginia?
But what really surprises me is why would all three locations allow the prime spawning stock to be harvested in the fall, when the very same fish are prohibited during the spring spawning period only a few months later?
Isn’t it time that they get their collective heads out of the mud and provide consistency in the management of our fisheries?
I, along with many of my fellow captains, recreational anglers and commercial watermen, agree that to keep a healthy stock and preserve the future of this fishery, protection of the spawning stock should be first priority. Let’s promote consistency in regulations and allow us to harvest the smaller fish only. We all need to sacrifice a little to preserve not only our fishery, but our local economy.
Share the wonderful experience of being on the water with family and friends. Enjoy your fall season and until next time…fair winds.
Capt. Billy Pipkin owns and operates Ingram Bay Marina and Capt. Billy’s Charters located at the end of Route 609 in Wicomico Church; at the mouth of the Great Wicomico River. 580-7292 www.IngramBayMarina.com.