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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

   20140901MetroCastweb

River Herring moratorium coming

If you have not heard by now, there is a river herring moratorium coming. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has passed the moratorium for the entire east coast starting January 2012. Every state will have to comply with it as well unless they can show scientific data to prove that their management plan allows for sustaining the population. We have until 2010 to produce this plan. However, it will not happen, due to lack of data and lack of money. Background
River herring and alewife populations were in good shape in the 70’s and 80’s but have dropped 90% in the last two decades, according to the data collected by the federal government. Local anglers who used to dip and catch herring in the rivers have noted the sharp decline as well. As a young kid I recall the herring filling pickup trucks and falling out as guys drove off to hours of scaling, gutting and salting. Now, if you see a guy with a bucketful, you are careful to note what he is casting to catch them and you pray you get a bucket of them yourself. Four states on the east coast have already closed their fisheries. Three New England states and North Carolina put a stop to harvest. Like rockfish, the river herring are anadromous fish, spending most of their life in the open ocean before hitting tidal rivers to spawn.

Upcoming Action
Since Virginia (VMRC) does not have the money to get the data together nor the time we are pretty much out of luck in opposing the ban. The cost for the collection is estimated by Jack Travelstead of VMRC (Fisheries Chief) to cost a quarter million a year. The ASMFC stated they needed four to six years of recreational herring catch data before they would even consider allowing Virginia to lift the ban.

The money would have to come from the General Assembly and we all know the chances of that happening.  Interestingly there is no known significant commercial harvest of the river herring in our waters. However, there is a serious bycatch problem off shore in federal waters. Federal waters are defined as waters three miles or more off the coast.

In a news release I found the following statement from ASMFC: “Preliminary analyses indicate that, in some years, the total bycatch of river herring by the Atlantic herring fleet alone could be equal to the total landings from the entire in-river directed fishery on the East Coast. Based on the Board’s request, the Commission will send a letter to the Secretary of Commerce supporting efforts underway by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils to effectively monitor bycatch of river herring in small mesh fisheries, and encouraging additional resources to support the cooperative efforts to better manage anadromous fisheries.

Additionally, the Commission will request that the Secretary of Commerce take emergency action with regard to implementing the bycatch monitoring measures recently under discussion with New England Council.

The Plan will be available by mid-June and can be obtained via the Commission’s website at www.asmfc.org under Breaking News or by contacting the Commission at (202) 289-6400. For more information, please contact Kate Taylor, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at (202) 289-6400 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Mark Fike

 

CBBT offers good saltwater angling

If the economy has you in a crunch and you want to find a place to do some saltwater fishing that won’t empty your wallet you might want to consider fishing on or around the CBBT otherwise known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. This 20 mile long span of four lane roads cross the bay as Rt. 13 to the Eastern Shore. The alternating trestles or islands, bridge the tunnels that are a little over a mile long each. The islands are just over five acres in size in addition to Fisherman’s Island, which is a National Wildlife Refuge. The water depth along this structure ranges from 25-100 feet offering anglers a variety of saltwater excursions. Specific species that are commonly caught and sought after include bluefish, rockfish, spot, spadefish, red drum, croaker, spot, cobia, trigger fish, tautog, and sea bass.

Anglers who have their own boat can find fishing good anywhere along the complex. It has been my personal experience that fishing the areas where the islands give way to either a bridge or a tunnel is a good starting point. The current is moving here and the transition zone attracts plenty of bait and therefore predators. The large amount of riprap and pilings provides an incredible amount of cover and habitat for the fish too. Be sure to take along plenty of weight to get the bait down on the bottom and an extra anchor and rope. I would also keep a close eye on the weather. Although if it storms and you get caught in the rain or lightening and cannot make it to port you can hide under the bridge, but be careful you don’t slam into the rocks or pilings!

Anglers who need a place to fish because they don’t have a boat can fish from the Sea Gull Pier on the southernmost island nearest VA Beach. This pier is a massive 625 feet long, wheelchair accessible and offers deepwater fishing rarely found elsewhere. The neat thing is that there is no fishing license required! There are cleaning stations and a good scale to weigh your catch. The $12 fee will get you access. For more information about the fishing pier or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, call (757) 331-2960.

Fishing on or around the CBBT requires stout gear if you are serious about fishing. Sure you can go out there with a cheap spinning out fit and catch a few croaker or spot but if you hook up to a bull red, a door mat flounder or a tog you are going to find yourself outgunned quickly. The amount of rocks and other structure will allow fish to rub or cut through lines quickly if too much give is given via weak reels. Due to the fact that large specimens are commonly available given the proximity to the ocean, I would recommend a good quality rod and reel. I would also err on the stout side with a medium heavy action setup.

My father and I went out there to tinker around the third island and hoped to find a few spades or triggerfish last summer. I also knew dad wanted to drag up a few flatties. With that in mind, he tossed his live spot into the current near the beginning of a bridge span next to the island. He was using one of my better spinning set ups but in medium action. Within a few minutes we noticed something cruising along the boat that was very large. About that time the rod dove and the reel began screaming in agony and the fight was on. Dad got the fish near the boat a few times but eventually the fish wrapped a piling and snapped the 25-pound line like nothing. I saw the fish again and realized they were bull reds. What a fight we had before the fish broke off. I cannot wait to get Dad out there again. Who knows what we may find next trip.

I bring this up because late May and June are prime times to find spades, triggerfish and all the other fish too. Now is a good time to begin planning a trip. To get to the CBBT from King George it takes between two hours and a fifteen minutes to three hours depending on traffic and the time of day you go. There are motels and hotels nearby and plenty of bait shops too. Get your tackle locally and have it in order to maximize your time fishing. Send us any pics you take of fish you catch.

Mark Fike

 

Shop carefully and support local businesses when possible

On a recent trip to Fredericksburg, I learned something of value that I felt would be worth passing on to readers. Simply put: It pays to shop.
 I was shopping around for a handgun and decided to stop at a local, independently owned shop near town. I found something I was possibly interested in but was not quite sure I wanted to spend that much money quite yet.
 So, I took a drive to think about it. While driving and running other errands I passed a mass merchant that carries firearms in town and decided to stop in and see what they had. While their selection was quite a bit larger, their service was lousy and believe it or not the same exact handgun I thought about getting was over $250 more!
One would think that a larger retailer that has a chain of stores could purchase firearms cheaper than the independent dealer. Whatever the case, the little guy was far cheaper.
I decided that while I was in the “big” store I would take a look around and price ammunition. The ammunition that was available was double the price of what it was a few months ago. A box of 30-06 ammo for hunting was $40 for 20 rounds.
 I was stunned because in December I went to an independent dealer north of us on my way to bag a deer in the mountains and bit the bullet so to speak and forked over $21 for a box of rounds. I thought that was expensive. A call back to them for this article shows that at least one dealer in our area is trying to make some money on the scarcity of ammunition at our expense.
I also called a mass retailer south of us and found that their prices although higher than some were well below what I found locally.
The bottom line is that you need to call around for availability and price. Don’t get ripped off with inflated prices! It is too bad we don’t have a small independent gun dealer or outdoor shop nearby. With the economy like it is I doubt anyone would want to venture out and do that right now. If we had one though, I bet they would do some business!
Side Note:
I am not sure how many of you are aware but ammunition of practically all types are scarce and look to remain scarce for the foreseeable future. When I say scarce I mean that most handgun ammunition cannot be reliably found anywhere locally or nationally.
Many rifle calibers are also scarce. I even went to the websites of well-known ammunition suppliers and one had a note on their site stating that it could be four to six MONTHS before ammo was available! It seems that either some folks are very concerned about the future or they are not so sure the current administration will leave firearms and ammunition alone.
Supplies for making ammunition don’t appear to be much of a problem.  Whatever the reason you might want to take stock of what you own now and what you might need in the near future.

Mark Fike

Crappie Bite to Start Soon

There is much anticipation among anglers with the recent warm weather we had until this week’s snow storm.
Spring is not too far around the corner and everyone I have spoken with is ready to enjoy more of those 70-degree days. March is now here as you read this and the crappie bite will turn on very soon.
   Two years ago I was visiting my brother in Louisa when we decided to take a drive to Lake Orange and see how the fishing was going. This was the first week of March. When we pulled into the lot, two good ole boys were offloading their boat and cooler from the lake and calling to the bait shop manager to get the scales ready.
There were five citation crappie over three pounds in that cooler and over thirty more that would cover your hand. I was stunned at the quality of the fishery over there. I spoke to those guys and took a few pictures before heading home.
Last year I used some of the tactics I learned from the guys at Lake Orange to land a number of fat slabs myself at a local pond. It seems that on warm days like the ones we had  recently, the fish will often come into the sunlit and sun warmed shallows to grab any minnows or stray insects that have emerged. I walked the banks quietly and pulled a dozen really nice fish out while sight casting to them. I hope to do the same one-day after work soon. Fish pulled from cold-water sure taste good.
If you want to get in on the action for some early, prespawn crappie, then be sure to sneak out on a day after the temperatures climb into the upper sixties or low seventies.
If you can wait for two days in a row like that the fishing is even better. Fish the shallows or the flats near deeper drop offs or ledges and make long casts when possible. If you can catch a few insects or buy some crickets at Ken’s Tackle in Fredericksburg, the stringer will be heavier.
Also noteworthy would be the prespawn bass action. Last year while crappie fishing I noticed a HUGE bass cruise by like a submarine. I looked at the flimsy little ultralight that I was using and just grinned. I knew I was undergunned but why not give it a shot?
I did give it a shot and within a few minutes the bass took the line and went for a ride making the reel scream like crazy. The fish measured over 22 inches and was very fat. My scale is not very accurate but it appeared to be over seven pounds. Had the fish been given a few more weeks it would have topped eight pounds.
          Not bad for a little ultralight rod and a quick switch of baits from crappie tackle to bass tackle.
I noticed that the bass would not take the bait when I could see the fish and it could see me. Once it got nearly out of sight and I cast the line far past the fish and pulled it back towards the now disappeared submarine it did take the bait. Was it coincidence? I don’t think so. I caught two more fish in that size class last spring doing the same thing at another location. Neither of those fish hit while within sight of me yet I had seen them and they clearly saw me before they swam off and later hit the bait.
Make longer casts, use the drag to your advantage and be patient with the rod so as to not break the fish off.

 

Mark Fike


 

Low cost therapy can bring home the bacon, too

   When my phone rings, I normally don’t care to answer it very often. What little time I have to myself I prefer to spend doing something away from computers and the other electronic gizmos today’s fast pace world relies on so much.
   However, when my phone buzzed a few weeks ago, and I looked at it to see who needed to speak to me.
    I grinned.
   The name and number were very recognizable and welcome to ring or buzz me at anytime. Local outdoorsman, skeet shooting extraordinaire and all-around good ol’ boy, Scott Rollins, was calling and asked me if I wanted to accompany he and his father on the last day of goose season to a farm about an hour away to do a little goose calling and hunting.
   Now if he had asked me to come shoot skeet with , I would have had to ask the charge for lessons as he and his father are both superb at making clays disappear in a short puff without so much as breaking a sweat.  But this was goose hunting, and even I could dust a goose now and then and make it drop from the sky.
   After checking my schedule and realizing it had once again been a very long and tense week, I knew that I really had no choice. I had to go with the Rollins men to regain my sanity.
   We agreed on a time and place and arrived within a few minutes of each other. The Rollins men are quite adept at setting up a goose spread and have a keen goose sense that allows them to put honkers on the ground and on the table very reliably.
   I know because I have hunted with them and have witnessed their skills. This day was to be no different. They did most of the set up and then we got into the layout blinds that they brought along.
   Our setup was along a small pond that was a magnet for geese in the area. While thousands of geese would not light in the pond, several dozen could. Gently rolling grain and cow pastures surrounded the pond, giving the geese a place to feed and all but sweetening the package for any passing honkers.
   The dam was to our left and we had backed up the layout blinds to a few fallen trees among the grass and stubble in the pasture next to the pond. I had to admit I was excited. I knew I was in excellent hands in my field goose hunting class and the morning was promising to be a good one.
   We were not in the blinds very long when I heard Scott say that we had some birds inbound. I could hear them honking and Scott soon began coaxing them in with his Zink call. His ability was very impressive. Although the geese were cautious and decided to circle around right over top of us, they eventually came right in over the dam. I remember looking up through the mesh in the blind I was reclined in, watching them float over, wobbling back and forth as they checked out the spread, the pond, and the area in general. I could see individual tail feathers as they went over. It was a gorgeous sight to behold with these seemingly ungainly birds gracefully wheeling over our position. Once they passed around, I heard them come back in our direction and then the curt, “Take EM!”
   A few shots rang out as I watched the pair of geese tumble to the pond’s surface. We did have some disappointment though as my dog was unwilling to retrieve the geese. Some of the problem was likely a few bad experiences he had a few years ago with a lively goose that decided to hammer him, and some of the problem was his age. I really need to retire him as I could see he just is too old to be called upon to do any heavy lifting anymore. It was a tough call for me to make but it was the only bad moment in the whole day.  
   Mr. Rollins used some ingenuity and we were able to get the geese off the pond within a few minutes. Another lone goose came in a short while later and Scott promptly splashed him too. It was then that the sun climbed high enough in the sky to begin warming the blinds and making the day very peaceful and therapeutic.
The flights slowed down and we had an hour or so of a break but remained in our blinds stretched out in a comfortable reclined position with just our heads poking out. My dog took a turn stretching out beside me and then moved over to sprawl next to Scott for a while.
  Resting there in that blind listening the melodies of the birds as the wind swayed the trees and rippled the water while allowing the sun to keep me warm was a bit too much. I caught myself snoring and hoped no one else had noticed. I really did not have to worry too much though as I suspect both of the other men caught a few Z’s and counted a few geese-errr I mean sheep—in their blinds too.
   After another hour or so passed, Scott quickly hunkered down in his blind and told us he heard a big flock making its way toward us. We all waited patiently for them to come streaming overhead. Moments later, a flock of fifty birds or so cupped in behind us right over our heads. The setting sun gleaming on their wings gave their feathers a rich amber shine as they glided down to the serene waters of the pond. With the gentle sun on my face, and my heart thudding against my chest from excitement, time seemed to stand still as I stared up at the birds, which were now right above my head.
   They dipped and jinked from left to right, making their voices heard as they slowly descended down into range. A few of the lead birds crashed down into the water; Scott gave the firing order again and we sent a few more heavy birds spiraling down to the water.
   As things began to slow down, we eased back into the blinds and “rested” after trading stories, sharing some hunting lore and discussing some of the latest gear back and forth a bit more before calling it a day. Breathing some good ol’ farm air while totally relaxing and even nodding off for a few minutes made me realize that the best therapy that I ever tend to get is with good friends while on the water or in the fields among God’s creation.
   Nothing beats the cost of such therapy either. You can share as much as you want or as little as you want, and then go home at the end of the day feeling better without a huge bill for the hour or so you might spend in someone else’s office.
   Generally I prefer my office, which is the one I share with friends out of doors. If you ever need some good old fashioned, low-cost therapy and have a good friend or two, grab a fishing rod or a gun and head for the fields, forest or waters. I doubt you end up disappointed. Who knows, you might bring home dinner too!

Mark Fike and Scott Rollins

Let the season go out with a bang....yours!

By Mark Fike
Journal Outdoor Writer

Hunting season is all but over for a few months with only squirrel and rabbit season left in our area.
Given the economic situation in our country we all feel a bit tense and most of us are thinking before we spend any money. One small fix to the stress and a way to save a little money in the next few weeks would be to get in the woods during the waning days of small game season.
Taking a walk after work or on a Saturday in the local woods is a good way to relieve some stress and temporarily forget about some of the problems we are facing.
It is also nice to grab a .22 rifle or a light gauge shotgun and find a sunny spot against a tree or a log to soak up some sunshine on these cold days. Reliving a few childhood hunting trips is right up my alley, anyway.
The other benefit to take a walk. Besides the exercise and effort to relax a little is that you can put a little bit of meat on the table in the process and it is guaranteed to be lean and nutritious.
Tips
Squirrels are plentiful and finding some to bag is as easy as getting into the woods a few yards. The last two walks I took permitted me to see a brace of squirrels before traveling twenty yards into the woods.
First of all, wear drab clothes but don’t feel you have to get totally camo clad. I wear a chore coat and some jeans and a warm hat with some comfortable boots to sneak along.
Walk slowly and stop often. In fact, during this time of the season most of the squirrels that are seen will be on the ground. If you can sit still for ten or fifteen minutes, you will be amazed how many squirrels start appearing. Look for them near oak or hickory lots where they have buried nuts earlier in the season and are now looking to retrieve the nuts.
A careful eye will turn up where squirrels are frequenting. Look at fallen logs and stumps for nutshells. That is a dead give away to squirrels in the area.
Sometimes when you are walking along in the dry leaves it sounds like a dozen cows tromping through. I dread the sound and cringe at each step but I have also observed that many squirrels could care less.
In fact, last week while taking a quick walk before dark I got within ten feet of several squirrels, as they were busy eating. Too bad I was not carrying my firestick.
However, there are the squirrels that bolt like lightening when they hear the first crunch. Simply note where they run and then find a good spot to observe and wait them out. Fifteen minutes ought to do the job.
Late in the season, as we are now, the better option for squirrel hunters is the .22 rifle (or a .17 if that is your preference). Make sure you know where the little .22 bullet will impact at longer ranges and take head shots only if possible to save meat. Squirrels will often be seen at quite a distance and with a thick hide and fur to keep them warm shotgun pellets can have a tough time penetrating for a clean kill at distances over 40 yards.
 If you really want to use your scattergun take close shots only and if possible aim forward on the critter to keep pellet damage to the minimum.
When I dress out a squirrel I make a slit in the fur across the back and then pull the skin back exposing the meat to the ankles and wrists. Taking a pair of snips I cut the joints and then quarter the animal.
If you want, you can work the little strip of backstrap off as well. This way you never have to remove entrails.
There is no real meat to fool with on the ribs anyway and the method described here is quick and less mess. After dressing out my squirrels I place them in a small bowl or zip lock for four or five days. The aging process tenderizes the meat amazingly well while in the refrigerator. The last six or seven squirrels we have had in soups or fried have been very tender and have come right off the bone. This season ends January 31st.
If rabbits are your game, there are a few more days in the season to bag them. Hunting until the end of February will be enjoyable and rabbits seem to be plentiful this year. Hunting rabbits with a dog is the most fun and productive but if you know where to find the rabs you can take a leisurely walk and stop and wait every once in awhile to see if Mr. Thumper shows up.
A shotgun is likely the better choice here but a .22 will work well if you are a decent shot and are more apt to see the rabs are longer ranges such as hedgerows or old fence lines. Frequent such areas as well as cutovers to find more rabbits.
Early successional growth is where the most rabbits breed and feed at this time of year. While rabbit hunting you may want to field dress any you take that will stay in your game vest more than a few hours. Use surgical gloves to dress them. Rabbits have been known to carry tularemia. As with squirrels rabbits age well in a cool refrigerator and are great on the table.
Both are good fried the old Southern way rolled in cornmeal but they also dress up gravy and dumplings very well and look great in a casserole dish with veggies roasted or baked.
Take advantage of the few days we have left. Get a load off your mind, take a walk in a local woodlot or field, enjoy the clean, cold air and take home some old fashioned dinner. Consider it the cheapest therapy and least expensive meal you have had in awhile!

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