Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Went Wrong this Fall?

If you asked ten good fishermen who fished the RI shoreline from shore how their fall fishing went, I guarantee 9 of them would say it was a poor fall. Numbers wise, it was the poorest fall for me in over a decade. So, what was the problem?
1. Schoolie numbers were way off. No, they didn't take a track way offshore this fall. This was a problem all year. Young of the year indexes from the Chesapeake Bay show a sharp decline in juvenile stripers in recent years and we are seeing the result of those numbers. However, we did have decent numbers of keeper bass around this fall. No shortage of those 28-40 inch fish, and that's why there are few fishermen pushing the panic button. However, keep in mind those large fish are being removed from the population in record numbers with few small ones to take their place. I can tell you that most people involved in the striper industry are quietly worried about the future of the fishery.
2. There was a lack of bait. There were only two outings this fall in which I saw a lot of bait. The water was black with it, the birds were diving and fish were busting. Just 2 times. In the past that would happen daily sometimes for weeks. The peanut bunker are in short supply and scarce. That is because the number of spawning adult menhaden are at record lows. I saw very few schools of bay anchovies this fall, the abundant bait last year. I never saw one school of adult menhaden all fall. No surprise there since the pogy boats go right into Gansett Bay in early summer and wipe them out once they reach a certain level of abundance. Gone are the big baits like the blueback herring and mackerel. On the bright side, there were good numbers of mullet at times that attracted some of those big stripers and large blues.
3. Terrible weather- I would say that weather wise, this was the worst fall I can ever remember. We had several tropical storms skirt the coast and send in huge waves, several northeasters that tore up the south shore and several fronts that sent in gale force winds. Most of the nasty weather lasted for days, sometimes a week. There were few ideal days and if you fished where there was sand, the water was sometimes roiled and unfishable for weeks, not days. It was some of the toughest conditions that I have ever seen. If you owned a small boat, you may have gotten out 5 times all fall and those days were dicey. Can we blame global warming for all this?
I'm hoping the striper fishing rebounds in 2011, but I, too, am quietly worried that we could see many of the same trends above reappear next year.