Mid-Atlantic 2007 Saltwater Forecast

Mid-Atlantic 2007 Saltwater Forecast

Our local expert clues you in on where to try for stripers, summer flounder, bluefish and other species this season in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. (May 2007)

The 2007 fishing season is here. And it's going to be interesting to see what's in store this season for anglers seeking the big five: stripers, blues, weakfish, summer flounder and tuna.

Once again, recreational fishermen have been made to pay -- not only for the sins of commercial fishermen, but for the incompetence of both the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), this time with the summer flounder (fluke) regulations.

As of a March 1 vote, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Commis-sion unanimously voted on the new summer flounder regulations. The 2007 season will run from May 26 to Sept. 10, with a 17-inch minimum size limit and an eight-fish-per-day bag limit.

Fortunately, the Magnuson Act --the federal legislation that deals with saltwater fisheries -- was renewed. As part of the revamped act, three years were added on to the current Fluke Management Plan, and this gives recreational anglers a reprieve from the unreasonable quotas that NMFS was originally demanding (5.1 million pounds for 2007).

Under the new Magnuson Act, the fluke quota was set at 17.1 million pounds for 2007, 19.2 million pounds in 2008, 21 million pounds in 2009, and 24 million pounds in 2010. While recreational fishermen will still have to take a hit, at least it won't come close to shutting down the season, as was originally thought.

Fishermen have every right to be disgusted with both federal agencies, the NMFS in particular. They're to blame for a Summer Flounder Management Plan that had unattainable goals.

The fluke biomass is in very good shape. Even with the ludicrous MURFS study, the fishery is better now than it was 10 years ago and continues to grow. However, expecting it to reach the 215 million-pound biomass by 2010 was doomed from the start. Because of all the uncontrollable factors involved, fisheries simply don't grow that fast.

There is no need for further restrictions on the recreational fishery. And if the 2006 regulations are kept in place for several more years, the fluke population will continue to grow.

When it comes to the fishing in 2007, the other joker in the deck will be the weather. Last season saw a good spring that produced some very good striped bass fishing. And a decent summer served up some exceptional bluefishing and decent fluke catches.

What does the weatherman have in store for us this season? It's anybody's guess. So keep your fingers crossed that Mother Nature deals us some good cards this year.

STRIPED BASS

The 2006 striped bass fishing was a carbon copy of the last several years in the Mid-Atlantic states. In the Garden State, the fishing started to heat up by early spring, thanks to a mild winter. By April, the fishing had broken wide open in Raritan Bay, and big fish were part of most catches.

Likewise, the fishing in Delaware Bay was also excellent early and kept on producing well into the summer.

How early or how late the better fishing for migrating striped bass will start in Jersey waters is a result of the weather. The one thing that has been the mainstay of early-season fishing is the huge number of local fish that don't migrate out of state waters.

One of the main reasons for the increase in the number of resident bass along the Jersey coast is the large schools of menhaden (bunker), on the increase since the passage of the Menhaden Protection law several years back. Since the bill was passed, the number of resident bass has increased big time as more bass hold over along the coast, especially when mild winters are present.

In short, look for another good spring in Raritan Bay and the surrounding waters.

Most of the early-season catches are made by anglers using bloodworms and clams, and this pattern usually holds into the middle of the spring. Once the bass start to feed on the bunker, then live, cut and fresh bunker will be your bait of choice, along with trolling bunker spoons and big plugs.

Likewise, the spring has been producing bigger bass in the suds along the Jersey coast. In fact, the last couple of years have seen better fishing in the spring than in fall.

In the last several years, Delaware Bay's striped bass fishing has been on a roller coaster ride. Here, too, the reason has been the unstable weather patterns of the last several years. In the last two years or so, the Delaware River has experienced three mega-floods, and the influx of freshwater into the bay has had a lot to do with how erratic the fishing has been.

It has also affected spawning in the river north of Philadelphia. Should unstable weather continue this spring, look for the fishing to be hot and cold once again. However, should the weather pattern stabilize, striped bass fishing could be some of the best in the last several seasons.

In Chesapeake Bay, striped bass fishing has seen a trend towards smaller fish. No doubt this has a lot to do with the problems the bay's forage base has been experiencing.

While there have been plenty of average size bass around, with good catches being reported well up into the Susquehanna River, some anglers believe that most bass in the bay are resident fish and that the bay is seeing declining spawning and migratory populations. Look for the fishing in the bay to continue to be dominated by average-size stripers, with larger fish being tough to come by.

BLUEFISH

There's surely no lack of blues in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey waters. The 2006 season saw the slammers on the move earlier than normal -- again, more than likely the result of the mild winter.

Last season, the bluefish began moving into Chesapeake Bay in April. By the end of the month, they were off the Delaware coast, moving into Delaware Bay. The front-runners were being caught along the Jersey coast and in Raritan Bay. There's no reason to believe that the slammers won't follow the same pattern -- and timetable -- this spring.

For the last several years, the spring bluefish migration has led to good numbers of these game fish holding along the inshore waters off the Jersey and Delaware coasts. Here again, the reason why numbers of slammers are making inshore Jersey waters their summer home is the large schools of bunker that also vacation there.

Charter and party boats that target big blues in Jersey and Delaware have reported excellent fishing in both day and evening. To win the day's party-boat pool, often you'll need to catch a bluefish in the upper teens.

When it comes to fishing for the blues, an angler has plenty of choices. If you're a shore-bound fisherman, most beaches in Jersey and Delaware will produce some action throughout the summer. Both states also have sizable party and charter boat fleets that target the slammers both day and evening. The fishing really explodes in the fall, when baitfish start their annual migration out of the bays and tidal rivers and down the coast.

In recent years, huge slammers, some around 20 pounds, have been taken well into December! Look for this trend to continue in 2007.

SUMMER FLOUNDER

The 2006 fluke season produced some good fishing in the bays, tidal rivers and all along inshore waters.

In the Garden State, some of the best fishing is in Raritan Bay, with the bigger fluke being taken from the deeper waters of the channels such as Ambrose, Sandy Hook and Reach.

Another area that's been very productive for the last several years is Barnegat Bay along the inland water way. In general, Barnegat Bay is a shallow area. How good the fishing is has a lot to do with how warm the waters get. Really warm summers usually find better numbers of fluke in the channels, while a cooler summer puts a lot more fish on the shallow flats.

In recent years, some of the bigger fluke have been caught along the inshore waters on the lumps in 50 to 60 feet of water within a couple of miles of the beaches off both New Jersey and Delaware.

Here, too, water temperature is the key. Water temps in the mid- to high 70s will put a lot more fish, especially the bigger ones, in deeper -- 35 to 60 feet -- of water.

In Delaware Bay, some of the better fishing has also been in the deeper water of the channels. These waters are prone to strong currents, so heavier tackle and bigger baits are the preferred way to go.

Brown Shoal, the Banana Peal and the waters off Brandywine Light are some of the better spots in the lower bay, while Ship Johns Shoal and Ben Davis Shoal are a couple of good areas to fish in the upper bay.

In the Chesapeake Bay, while there is some good fluke fishing south of the Bay Bridge, the waters north of the bridge, especially those around the state Route 50 bridge, receive most of the attention from summer flounder fishermen.

Water temps in the Chesapeake are routinely warmer than water temperatures found in the bays previously mentioned, which lie farther north. This makes it even more important to fish deeper holes and channels, especially for the bigger fish.

As previously stated, the 2007 flounder season will not depend on weather and fishing conditions only, but also depend on what the Fish Tsars allow anglers to catch.

WEAKFISH

The 2006 season didn't break any records when it came to weakfish catches. Most reports I got from Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey showed some really erratic fishing.

The weakfish are another species that the ASMFC hasn't a clue on how to rebuild. While they would like the public to believe that natural causes are to blame for the decline in weakfish along the Atlantic Coast, those problems can be traced back to the commercial fishing industry.

Each spring, weakfish migrate up the Atlantic Coast. Commercial netters simply scoop up many weakies before they even get a chance to spawn. If this practice was stopped, and more weakfish were allowed to spawn, it's a good bet the population would rebound in a few years.

During last spring, some big weakfish made their way as far up the coast as Barnegat and Raritan bays. While a few fish in the 12- to 15-pound class were taken in the spring, there was no significant weakfish activity in Raritan Bay until the end of September -- and then the fishing was sporadic at best.

Likewise, the fishing in Barnegat Bay and other bays in the lower part of New Jersey was sporadic as well.

Delaware Bay also saw similar action, with some bigger fish being caught in the spring and mostly smaller fish being caught during the summer, as did Indian River Inlet.

As with most of the fisheries we're highlighting here, how productive this year's fishing is will be a combination of the weather and the numbers of fish that make it into Mid-Atlantic waters.

In New Jersey, look for the first weakfish action to be off Cape May Point and in lower Delaware Bay sometime in late April to mid-May, depending on how soon the water warms in the spring.

Most anglers will be fishing worms and jigging plastic baits when the weakfish are in the lower bay. By the end of May and early June, weakfish will be spread out throughout the bay. Annual hotspots like Gandys Beach, Fortescue, Reeds Beach, Egg Island Point, the Bug Light and the Middle Grounds will serve up better fishing.

Worms, crabs and chicken are usually the top baits in these areas. Light-tackle fishing can be very good when decent numbers of fish show up in the bay to spawn. In recent years, there have also been some excellent numbers of croakers in the bay; these spry fish make for some excellent light-tackle fishing as well.

By the end of May, if the norm over the last few years holds true, Raritan Bay will see some bigger weakfish in the Reach Channel around the 19 and 20 cans, Sandy Hook Channel and the dredge holes. In this area, worms and jigs are the top producers.

In addition to the fishing in Delaware Bay, Indian River and other inlets along the Delaware coast will also see decent spring action. If you are willing to lose a little sleep, it's not uncommon for you to see some tide-runners moving in and out of the inlets and along the beachfront.

Along the coasts of the Mid-Atlantic states, weakfishing has been a crapshoot at best, and it looks like this trend will continue. It's anyone's guess as to what weakfish anglers will experience in 2007.

TUNA

Now let's look at our biggest game fish, the tuna. The 2006 tuna fishing off the Jersey coast in the Hudson, Toms and other canyons was very good -- when the weather allowed the boats to sail. In particular, boats running from the port of Belmar saw a couple of weeks of super fishing, with some boats maxing out on overnight trips to the Hudson Canon.

Most of the catch, which peaked in early November, was dominated by yellowfin tuna, along with plenty of dolphin and some nice-size swordfish. Most party and charter boat captains who target tuna will tell you that last season produced some of the best fishing in recent years. Only some nasty weather, particularly l

ate in the season, kept the tuna fishing from being even better.

Boats fishing out of Delaware Bay ports and ports along the Delaware coast also enjoyed some decent tuna action. Most of the better fishing this past season -- and for the last several seasons -- has been in the Wilmington and Baltimore canyons.

How far offshore the boats must fish has to do with the currents along the coast on any given year. Some years, a good section of blue water breaks off from the Gulf Stream and moves closer to the coast. When this happens, it's not uncommon to see the tunas being caught on the inside edges of the canyons. However, if the blue water stays farther off, then it will be a longer run.

One nice thing about the offshore fishing in recent years is that anglers have been seeing more swordfish, makos, albacore and bonito, which have really been spicing up the catch.

Chunking with butterfish and other baits has always been the mainstay on the bigger boats. However, many charter boats score a lot of tuna by trolling, especially when the chunking is slow. There has also been a trend of better catches being boated by the light of the moon.

There you have it -- a look at the major game fish species found along the Mid-Atlantic coastline.

The last several years have seen increasing regulations on these fish and, let's face it, some tough weather. So keep your fingers crossed that at least the weatherman treats us to good conditions this year.

Find more about Mid-Atlantic fishing and hunting at: MidAtlanticGameandFish.com

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