Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

The sun sets on another fishing year here in RI.
Merry Christmas to all my fishing friends and to all the wonderful people I met
this past season who frequent this blog!

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Near Disaster

I’d describe myself as a cautious shore fisherman.  I don’t take chances.  But, I found out on this early September day that even the most cautious of us can find ourselves in dangerous predicaments. Yes, there is an element of danger to shore fishing that most of us don’t even think about.
I was out in search of my first albie of the year along the rocky Narragansett, RI, shoreline from the Avenues to Black Point. You may have read in other places that some fishermen name this mile stretch of shoreline the deadliest along the East Coast for surf casters because of the dozens of fishermen who have fallen in and drowned along here over the years. This area is known for rough water, dropaway ledges, deep water and very slippery rocks. It’s a place where a lot can go wrong.
I have fished this area since I was a kid and thought little of the danger.  On this warm day I was wearing steel studded shoes for protection against slippery rocks.  I was also wearing shorts and a t-shirt. There was a moderate surf, nothing too dangerous.  I was standing on a dry but steep sloping rock casting away. I was also alone with no one around me.
I hooked my first albie of the year and had a terrific battle getting this fish ashore. As I excitedly got the fish ashore, I grabbed my line and pulled the fish up the wet, black slime on the sloping rock. Once it was right next to me, I decided to take a quick photo with my cell phone.  The light was beautiful, the fish had my fly in its mouth and the contrast with the fish on the wet, black rock made for a great photo.  I perched my rod above me and the fish. Note that I was on a completely dry rock taking the picture.
Suddenly, just as I snapped the photo, the fish started flopping around. It was still attached to the line.  As it flopped on the steep rock, it began to slide back down to the water. With the fish attached to my line, the rod also started sliding toward the water. I put my phone down and went to reach for the rod.  Only problem was that I put my phone onto the wet rock, and it also started to slide down toward the water. As I reached for the phone I was now facing the water, and little did I know, I was also on the very edge of the wet rock and I started to slide down toward the water.  I could not stop. It was like I was on a sloping hill of pure ice.  Yes, I had my studded shoes, but I was going head first, and they did me no good.
It was pure luck that I hit a slight edge to the rock just as my face was inches from the water and an underwater “cave” in the rocks. I was now stopped, and I knew I had little time to right myself  because one decent wave would wash me into that rock cave which was inches from my head. Slowly, while slipping, I managed to get myself around and get my studded shoes onto the rocks.  Ever so slowly, I began a slow crawl upwards with the shoes giving me some grip. As I moved up clawing the wet rock with my fingers, my bare knees and hands were being cut by the sharp barnacles on the rocks. I grabbed at every crack in the rocks and pushed with my feet, and finally pulled myself onto a dry rock above.
 I was able to grab my phone on the way up the rock and was able to grab the rod also. Nothing was lost, but I was rattled.  I had to sit there on a rock just to catch my breath as my heart was pounding out of my chest with fear. All I could think was, “Man, that was so close”.
After about 20 minutes of just sitting there, I stood up, blood dripping down both legs from puncture wounds in my knees and scratches all over my hands and arms. I was a mess, but finally in a safe place.
I was reminded on this September day that fishing along this stretch of shoreline can be a dangerous game, even for those of us who are expereinced and cautious.  You never expect things to go this wrong while doing something you love doing, but it can happen. Yes, a lot of things went wrong on this day, but in the end, I was lucky.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Catch and Release Mortality

No question, more and more recreational striper fishermen are releasing their catch these days.  Yes, it could be those tons of schoolies that you have to release if you are fishing for them.  But, even those fishermen catching small keepers are releasing larger fish.  For the most part, the recreational fishing community has really embraced catch-and release striper fishing as a means of protecting what we have out there.
A keeper is "swished around" in the water
before being released. Studies indicate the catch-
and-release mortality rate for recreational
fishermen is 9 %. There are many things you
can do to reduce that.
However, is this working? The ASMFC (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) came out with a study that indicated the mortality rate of stripers released is 9%.  Yes, they are saying just about 1 in 10 stripers you release will die. Other mid Atlantic states have done similar studies that conclude everything from 6% to 8%, all pretty much in line with the ASMFC numbers. None of these studies tell how these numbers are reached.  I am just guessing they are looking at every fish caught, no matter how the means, putting it altogether and that's what comes out.
Here are a few facts that we do know. The survivability of released stripers depends on two factors, physical injury and stress.  I would also add mishandling.  Physical injury could be a deep hooked fish (swallowed the bait), hook in the gills, etc.  Stress could be caused by a number of factors including too long of a fight on light tackle, warm water, low salinity and fish out of the water for too long a period of time.
Most of these studies cite bait fishing as the major culprit.  Anyone who has fished with bait on standard hooks for stripers knows that stripers will generally swallow a bait, thus the deep hook problem. Studies cite mortality rate as high as 50% when using bait. That's one reason why we will all be using circle hooks in the coming years (next year in MA) when fishing bait. I can tell you that circle hooks are better for catch-and-release than traditional hooks, but you will still gut hook a number of fish if you let them really take the bait. Other culprits that some of these studies touch on are treble hooks especially small ones on small plugs.
I wanted to check out these mortality rates for myself, so I did my own informal study on my own catch-and-release practises.  Though my samples were small, they were revealing. Of the last 200 stripers I caught on a jig, I had one badly hooked bleeder, one fish that had some blood, but not much and one fish that I dropped into the jetty rocks when lifting it (hit water, but not sure it survived). All the other fish were not badly hooked and were released in good shape. So, using a jig, that mortality rate for me was 1% to 1.5%.  Makes sense since the jig is a lure that rides upright in the water and generally hooks the fish in the upper jaw or around the lip area.
I also kept track of my bait fishing (don't do this often, but did it for a period at the Canal).  I was using squid on an inline circle hook and hitting the fish as soon as they took the bait.  In a two day stint, I landed 25 stripers on squid. I had only one bad hook-up from a fish that came in on me that I let take the bait for too long. That fish swallowed the hook, and while I did get it out, there was considerable blood. I'm assuming that fish died. So, the mortality rate with my circle hook and a small sample of fish amounted to 1 fish in 25 or 4%.
Finally, I was keeping track of the fish I was catching in the Bay in September.  I was using at times a small plug, a Jumpin' Minnow with two sets of trebles in which I crushed the barbs. Of the 25 fish I landed in one week on this plug, I had two "bad" hook-ups in which the hooks were embedded in the gill which resulted in blood. I am assuming those two fish did not make it, although they swam away. So, the mortality rate on a small, treble hooked plug (again, a small sample) amounted to 2 in 25 or 8%.
My own informal study told me what many anglers already know.  Jigs are your best bet to use if you plan to release the fish you catch, circle hooks help, but will still account for higher mortality rates if you let the fish really take the bait, and small treble hooked plugs will do the most damage whether you crush the barbs or not.
As far as stress, I noted no stressed fish since I landed most of my fish in the colder water of spring and fall and released them quickly.  In addition, I generally unhooked my summer fish in the water, a good practice in the warmer months of the year.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Grading the 2019 Season

Schoolies- A+
This year and last year followed a similar pattern for shore fishing anglers here in RI.  Once again, we were loaded with schoolies in 2019, but keepers were in short supply. There were great expectations in the fall for albies, but it never materialized. And, the big surprise of the year were phenomenal numbers of bluefish in Narragansett Bay, the likes of which we have not seen in decades.
Schoolies- I landed my first migrating schoolies along the oceanfront on April 16, right on schedule. I got my first ones in the Bay on April 28, again right on schedule.  There were big numbers of schoolies around in the 12 to 24 inch range in both the Bay and along the oceanfront in the early going, but from the get go, keepers were rare. April, May and June offered excellent fishing for schoolies with jigs taking the majority of my fish. I spent much of July and August at the Cape Cod Canal so I can't tell you what went on here in RI.  The oceanfront lit up for me in late August just as massive schools of peanut bunker began moving along our shores.  That attracted big numbers of schoolies in the 20- 26 inch range.  From late August to late November, I saw some of the biggest blitzes of schoolies I have ever encountered here in RI.Grade for schoolie fishing- A+
Keepers- C-
Keeper bass- This was a disappointment here in RI, but expected based on what we saw the year before. I got my first keeper in RI on May 9th in the Bay.  That fish went a solid 20 lbs.  It would prove to be my biggest RI striper for the year. Keepers, though scarce from shore, seemed to be running about 28 to 32 inches. That was it and points out the problems with our striper fishery. It was so bad I just wrote off fishing RI in the summer months and concentrated on the Canal where I found decent numbers bigger keepers in the 35-45 inch range, though not as many as in previous years. Small keepers were a bit more plentiful in the fall in both the Bay and along the oceanfront as they were keying on large peanut bunker (4 to 6 inches). I had several days with 2 or 3 keepers mixed in with the abundant schoolies, but sadly, there would be no keepers over 32 inches for me. Grade for keepers- C-
Bluefish- A
Bluefish- It was the good old days in the fall for bluefish in Narragansett Bay. For me, bluefish started on May 24th, a day I landed 14 of them. These were fish in the 3 to 8 lb. range.  Their numbers would swell as the summer moved on, and by the fall, the Bay was packed with them. With massive schools of bait to hold them, they remained in the Bay until late October. While they were on the small side for the most part (under 6 lbs.), they made their presence felt with daily surface blitzes in the Bay. In just the month of September, I landed 300 of them. While many thought this would spill over along the oceanfront in late fall, the blues were no shows for the most part along the south shore beachfront. Grade for bluefish- A
Albies- C
Albies- The hype was out there again this year, and an army of guys took up positions in many of the south shore jetties daily in September.  I got my first one on Sept. 12, right on schedule. These pelagics hung around for only a couple of weeks as I caught a half dozen of them this year, and I never saw a lot of them. There were some here and some there. On the other hand, other pelagics like bonito were around in good numbers.  Some oddball pelagics like Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel and Chub Mackerel were also around though not in any abundance. But, albies, the fish most were looking for, were in short supply for the second year in a row. Grade for albies- C