Several sport fish have bounced back with management. Often sport and commercial fisherman fought the restrictions of the management plan but are glad now that the populations have rebounded.
Redfish (red drum) are very popular in the south and on the gulf coast and actually all the way up to Maine. It was overfished and the population had crashed. Texas declared it a sport fish which stopped commercial fishing and put controls on limits by sport fishermen. Other states put on restrictions as well. Redfish is popular because it is in many places, is good eating and will go after a range of baits and lures, and it puts up a good fight. The population has been making a come back since the restrictions were put in place.
Rockfish / Stripped Bass
Perhaps the most popular sport fish on the East Coast. It is generally called striped bass but is known as rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. It had been almost wiped out by sport and commercial fisherman. It has been an important fish for a long time. In 1639 one of the first ever environmental laws was passed. Massachusetts declared it illegal to use striped bass for fertilizer.
Because striped bass’ territory covers at least 12 states, regulation would be difficult so the federal government stepped in with some oversight. The law had teeth because if a state didn’t come up with an acceptable plan to protect rockfish, the government could ban all fishing for striped bass in that state.
In Maryland and Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay is the spawning ground for 80-90% of all striped bass on the East Coast. In 1985, the Maryland governor banned all sport and commercial fishing of rockfish in Maryland. A number of other states follow and the ban lasted several years. The fish started to bounce back and a few years back was considered completely restored to historical levels. But in the last few years, the population has dropped some and fishermen have been asked to observe a voluntary fishing limit of one fish per day in a certain size range and none in a smaller size range. It is hoped this gives the 2011 juveniles a chance to get to be breeding stock.
A top predator on the great lakes, the muskie was almost wiped out by the topmost predator of all, man. Over the last 30 years, 5 clubs of anglers have helped bring the muskie back. Each club has a large pond that they fill int the spring. Then food gets tossed in to accelerate algae growth. Then zooplankton start growing and feeding on the algae. At this point, the DNR brings along newly hatched muskie which feed on the zooplankton. More food is dumped in on a weekly basis to sustain the growth of the algae and the zooplankton. The DNR keeps track of their growth and once they reach a certain size it is time to release them. They need to be released because at this size they switch to being carnivores and would start cannibalizing each other. So the ponds are slowly drained and when it is low enough the small muskie are collected and transported to the lake. There are now self sustaining populations in the Great Lakes and rather than continuing to stock those, most of the newly raised muskie are taken to smaller lakes to help those populations bounce back.
So these and others, such as steelhead trout in some areas show that conservation efforts can make a difference.
What natural baits are people using in Maryland? It depends on whether you are fishing in fresh or salt water and what species of fish you are going after.
Worms are a prime choice for almost all fish, both fresh and salt water. You can buy them at a bait shop or a tackle shop. Or, you can just go out in your back yard. You should find plenty in a few shovels of dirt. Especially for smaller worms, pierce the hook through the side of their body in several places so they make kind of an S shape on the hook. You need a different strategy for bait stealing fish like sunfish. Take the worm and run it up the hook like you pull a sock up over your foot and leg. That way the hook is completely covered and it makes it very tough for the fish to steal the bait.
Leeches make great bait for most types of fish. They have a sucker and that is what you should put the hook through.
Insects – Grasshoppers and crickets make great bait but you can use almost any kind of water or land insect. Vary the size of the hook you use based on the size of the insect.
Minnows – Another great bait. Keep them in a bucket in the shade with cool water. Don’t crowd them or them or they will die. They will use up the oxygen in the water too quickly. Or you could replace the water periodically although this doesn’t tend to work as well. There are a variety of ways to hook a minnow including through the tail, the back, behind the head or the lips. If you do the lips, put the hook through the bottom lip first.
Minnows – Same as above
Worms – Similar to above for freshwater except that people tend to use sea worms instead of earth worms. Primarily the polychaetes known as blood worms.
Shellfish – Mollusks – Clams and mussels are very good for rockfish, drum, sea trout and perch. Naturally, take all the shell of and thread them on the hook. Worms are good for the fish mentioned as well.
Shellfish – Crustaceans – Shrimp – Put the hook through the tail or either live or dead shrimp. Another choice is to cut them up and skewer the pieces on the hook. Peel the shell if you do this.
Many people think chicken necks are the best bait for crabs. But for years the watermen have used salted eel on their trot lines. This was important because the eel was smooth and didn’t get tangled the way chicken necks would. But so many people have switched to crab traps or pots instead of trot lines that this doesn’t matter as much any more. Probably good for the eel who are being overfished.
You may be surprised to know that there are around 350 species of fish in the Chesapeake Bay.
Some only live in fresh water, some are estuarine fish which can live in brackish water and stand a range of salinity. Some are migratory and live both in the Bay and in the ocean.
Some live here year round, and others are only here for part of the year. Others only come back to spawn and sometimes to die as well. These fish are called anadromous. There are other fish who do the complete opposite and live in the Bay and leave and go to the ocean to spawn. These are called catadromous.
Some of the fish are of no interest to humans for food or sport but are important in different ecological niches or interesting because of quirks in their life style or cycle. Others are bait fish. Some are caught for food for animals or to be used as fertilizer or to make nutritional supplements from.
Some have been overfished and have catch quotas. The ones we like are the ones that are good eating or are sporting to catch.
Right now American shad, white perch and striped bass can be found in the northern Bay around the Susquehanna flats up to Conowingo.
There have been some huge striped bass, also known as rockfish, in the middle part of the Bay, especially around the deep channels at Bloody Point and Thomas Point. You might try trolling with parachutes and bucktails.
In the lower part of the Bay, the steep sided channels have been productive as well. One person caught a 45 pound rockfish on the lower Potomac.
You can now find some largemouth bass in shallow creeks and coves. Snakeheads will hit some of the same lures that the bass go for. You can probably find some crappie as well.
Around Ocean City there have been large bluefish as well as some medium sized drum. Try metal, bucktails, or Got-cha lures. There are also some Tautog going after pieces of green crab and sand fleas. There are some flounder to be had and sea bass season is just opening up.
Good luck fishing.