Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter crappie fishing chases away cabin fever

If given a choice, most professional bass anglers -- the cast-for-cash guys and gals -- will pick America's panfish No. 1, the crappie, as their go-to species when fishing for fun and relaxation.

The famous TV angler Bill Dance readily agrees. A few years ago, when I spent several happy days with Dance in his home state of Tennessee, he said, "We'll go bass fishing in a big lake not far from my house, but to tell you the truth, there are days when I'd rather hook a crappie."

Nancy Knupp with Piscataway Creek crappies
It's no different for our small circle of fishing pals, and when winter gives a case of lockjaw to most other species, the crappie frequently saves the day. What we do can be copied almost anywhere. Crappies are very democratic when it comes to fresh waters or the tidal, brackish rivers we visit most often. They'll snatch up a variety of lures and baits in occasionally predictable locations -- and not all of them consist of sunken brush piles that many crappie hounds construct to keep their prey available.

Whether we go after the speckled tusslers in such Virginia lakes as Kerr, Gaston or Anna, or the upper tidal portions of the Potomac River, as well as an assortment of ponds and small lakes on Maryland's Eastern Shore and the adjacent state of Delaware -- crappies can be caught all through winter if the water isn't totally iced up and keeps you from wetting a line.

In the Potomac, a hop above the Wilson Bridge, few places will equal the Spoils Cove when it comes to crappies. (A word about the name Spoils: It's the name the federal Coast & Geodetic Survey gave it. Even if a local bass fishing guide, who has an ego the size of the Washington Monument, wants people to use his name instead of the "Spoils," he should know that only the government can determine the name given to various geographical locations. So it's the Spoils. Period.)

Andy Andrzejewski with a fat winter crappie
We begin a typical crappie hunt in the cove, using dropshot rigs with 2-inch "black shad" or "emerald" green color Berkley Power Minnows that look like the real McCoy. An 1/8-ounce, even 1/4-ounce drop weight can be used. A simple 1/8-ounce or 1/16-ounce white or chartreuse hair jig, or similar weight jig hooks that hold small white, blue, or chartreuse plastic grubs can also be good crappie lures. If push comes to shove, a small live shiner or bull minnow fished on a hair jig and is slowly hopped and retrieved over the bottom, or near it, can be deadly. So can 2-hook bottom rigs that hold a pair of shiners and are kept in your target area with a small bank sinker.

In the case of the Spoils or anywhere else, we use fairly light rods (although I do not like super ultra-light outfits). For me, a light-tip spinning rod and a small reel loaded with 6-pound test monofilament will do. However, if I cast a 1/8-ounce jig hook with a fringed tube bait or a curly-tailed grub, I actually prefer 14-pound-test FireLine in the smoke-grey color because the lure will surely lodge on a bottom snag of some sort. The FireLine is strong enough to pull the hook straight and out (it can be re-bent with a pair of needle-nose pliers) and the fishing can resume.

We begin our search in roughly 8 and 9 feet of water near shoreline drops. If the bites do not come almost immediately, we move in a little shallower, depending on water temperature, of course. In the case of water that is less than 5 feet deep, I often attach a thumb-tip sized bobber some 3 or 4 feet above the artificial grub and let it hop around a bit with barely noticeable shakes of the rod tip.

The dropshot rigs can be moved slowly. If a crappie sees it, you'll feel the hit almost instantly.

Gene Mueller and a fine Spoils Cove crappie
When we leave the Spoils, the next stop might be Swan or Piscataway creeks where marina docks, bulkheads and old sunken pilings can give up good catches. Just remember to work your lures in a variety of depths if the bites do not come quickly. Farther down the river, Virginia's Occoquan feeder river, Pohick Bay, or Potomac and Aquia creeks, can be fine crappie hangouts. But there are dozens more, including the Mattawoman and Chicamuxen creeks in Maryland.

Half the fun can be the location of a new spot. One thing is sure, the crappie is at home in all of Maryland's and Virginia's brackish rivers and freshwater lakes.

No.1 Grandson’s first whitetailed deer

Guest blog by Joe Novak

Pierce Hill and his first deer -- a fine buck
The day arrived at O’Dark-Thirty like so many other hunting days for this grandfather-grandson pair, the boy nudged awake by his grandfather rubbing his crew-cut head and in a rough, slow and low voice telling him, “Come on boy! The day is nearing and there are deer to be after.”

This was the first day of his second season carrying a gun during a special youth hunter day here in Maryland -- a special day for only those 16 and under to hunt accompanied by a licensed adult. Like last year, my role would be guide, observer and coach and like last year the grandfather within all three was filled with anticipation of that moment when the boy would fill
his first hunting tag.

The morning was cool, but not cold; calm and dead quiet still, the leaves crunched underfoot as we made our way down the path to the double-wide ladder stand in the bottom, settled into the stand and prepared for the day. The thoughts of the grandfather within the guide wandered back to the boy missing two deer the previous year as a result of flinching in anticipation of the recoil. I was confident the boy had overcome the flinching as a result of shooting skeet on a regular basis since spring, this year would be different, no flinching.

Slivers of bright sunshine streaked the bottomland as dawn eased into day, quiet and uneventful. We sat patiently, heads lowered with chins propped atop folded arms resting on the auxiliary shooting rail, intently watching for movement -- the boy left and I to the right. Periodically, over the two hours we sat, I used deer contact calls and impatient estrus doe bleats in an attempt to beckon an amorous buck.

Then it happened, movement 90 yards out to the south and east of our position, I saw the glint of antlers and horizontal movement through the underbrush.

In whisper-soft voices it unfolded like this.

Grandpa: “Pierce, a buck at 2 o’clock along the inside edge of the underbrush; he is moving right to left, see him?” Seconds clicked off as the gun was readied and brought on target, the buck now standing still 85 yards away and looking for the doe making the calls.

The Boy: “Grandpa, I don’t have a shot . . . too much underbrush”.

Grandpa: “Hold on boy, he heard the calls and he is interested . . . just wait, he’ll move.”

After a minute of standing motionless looking in the direction of the stand, the buck turned to walk away and the guide, made one short doe bleat using just his vocal cords and a camo-gloved hand shielding his mouth to soften the tone and divert the direction. The buck stopped and turned around again, took two steps toward the young hunter and stopped, facing the stand, again
staring. Suddenly behind the stand the observer heard a deer walking down the hill from the north, directly toward them, the deer stopped 15’ behind treestand, it was another buck, a big buck, a real big 6-point buck!

The Boy: What is that grandpa?

Grandpa: There’s another buck behind us, close, real close, do not move.

The Boy: What do I do?

Grandpa: Stay focused on the buck out front of us, if you swing around you will spook both and end up with nothing; stay focused, boy; keep the cross-hair centered on him. If he turns, aim for the ball of the shoulder; do not shoot until I tell you to.

Meanwhile, the big buck moved slowly behind us, past our position and heading south at a very slow lumber, stopping briefly at 20 yards and turning broadside to eye the smaller buck, who stood motionless in the underbrush before moving on. When the big buck disappeared, the smaller buck began a slow steady deliberate walk directly toward the doe sounds and the young hunter with the cross hairs focused on him.

The Boy: Grandpa, my heart is pounding . . .

Grandpa: Slow deep breaths boy, it will help control your breathing and steady your aim. . .

The Boy: I can’t, Pop. If I do I’ll wheeze loud from the bronchitis (he was on the tail end of getting over pneumonia and bronchitis) I have to breathe in short breaths . . .

Grandpa: Do what you have to do, boy, to stay quiet; you’ll do fine, just breath slow, stay focused on that buck and keep the cross-hairs on the middle of his chest and if he turns aim for the ball of his shoulder.

The buck kept the slow, steady, deliberate walk directly toward the pair, stopping every few steps to stare directly where the doe bleats had emanated from, finally stopping behind two large tulip poplars about 10 yards from the ladder stand.

The Boy: Grandpa, I don’t have a shot, all I can see is his butt.

Grandpa: Wait him out boy, he doesn’t know we are here and he has to turn left or right to get around the trees. Watch his butt move and remember his head is going in the opposite direction so adjust accordingly when he moves.

The Boy: Okay, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Shoot as soon as you have a clear shot at the ball of his shoulder. The words had barely passed my lips and . . . Ka Boom! The buck stood straight up on his hind legs and dropped into a sitting position, then bolted
forward around the tulip poplars and directly towards the stand in a low flat run, getting closer to the ground with each step forward until he ran out of legs twenty steps behind the stand. We watched in wide-eyed amazement over the events that had just unfolded in four or five minutes.

The boy’s eyes were big as saucers and lit like stars in the night; his grin beamed from ear to ear and told the whole story without a word spoken as high fives and a hug were silently exchanged.

Congratulations, grandson! That is one fine buck and an EXCELLENT job
getting it done, you did well buddy, I said.

Thanks, Grandpa!

Did you feel the recoil, I asked, and the boy said, “Not at all grandpa! Not at all.”

A culmination of six years of apprenticeship served at my side was summed up with one shot and a buck laying 90 feet from where the bullet struck. The boy, true to his aim, righted the flinch of the 2009 season.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Generous resident goose limits make hunters happy

Ask any Marylander who owns a sizable, open property with lots of grass, maybe a chopped cornfield or acres of previously harvested wheat, even kale and other greens, and the steady complaint you’ll hear is that the Canada geese are driving them crazy.

My neighbor, Wes Harris, who lives by the shores of the Port Tobacco River, can’t stand the graceful birds that can attain weights of up to 12 pounds, sometimes more. “We see them fly in, sit on our lawn, nibbling on the grass, and all along we know what else they’re doing. Yeah, that’s it. We end up slipping and sliding on their droppings.”

In Harris’ case, the Canadas that frequently foul his beautiful property are almost without fail the resident geese that dot the skies of Southern Maryland, but also central and northern portions of the state. They’re not the migrants from the country their ancestors originally came from, hence the name Canada goose.

As best as I can determine there is no difference in the taste of a migrant vs. a resident goose. If they’ve been feeding on field corn, wheat, grass and other luscious veggies, they taste wonderful. I dry-pluck a bagged goose (a nasty, time-consuming job), but after it has been roasted to perfection, well salted, peppered, with halves of apples and onions, maybe some celery stalks resting in the well-washed body cavity, you tend to forget all the work you’ve put into the plucking chore. This hard work, perhaps, is one reason why some of our hunting pals skin a goose, then roast it in a turkey-size roasting bag, or simply cut out the breasts of the bird and fry slices of it.

Parts of Maryland are overrun with geese, hence the
very liberal bag limits.
How did the resident goose population come about? Most game experts agree that probably began when a goose was wing-shot by a waterfowl hunter. It got away when it fell over water, but could no longer fly. Being monogamous birds, its mate would not leave the injured partner whose wounds healed eventually, but he or she still could not take to the skies. When a wing is broken, the goose simply finds an out-of-the-way hiding spot and its partner stays with the slowly healing bird. It can swim, walk on land, and feed on various greeneries until the time comes to breed.

The female lays her eggs, the young eventually hatch and are zealously guarded by mother and father goose. Those goslings do not know about the Ungava Peninsula in Canada where the majority of the Atlantic Flyway’s geese come from when it’s time to migrate. The Maryland-born youngsters know only the home they were hatched in.

Over the years, this scenario has been duplicated again and again; goslings were produced by the hundreds and now number in the thousands.

It’s one reason why the state needs to control the resident goose numbers. Hunters in the areas where most of the local geese hang out in are allowed to take generous numbers of the birds.

Resident Population Canada Geese (Regular Season)

The regular Maryland 2010/2011 hunting season ran from Nov. 15-Nov. 26, then reopened Dec. 16 and now will remain open until March 5. The daily bag limit is 5 geese per day in Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, Montgomery, and Washington Counties; and that portion of Carroll County west of Route 31 to the intersection of Route 97, and west of Route 97 to the Pennsylvania line; and that portion of Prince George’s County west of Route 3 and Route 301; and that portion of Charles County west of Route 301 to the Virginia line.

Creature baits are all the rage for bass hounds

Ask the now retired bass fishing guide Dale Knupp what his favorite bass fishing lures are when tidal river water reaches at least 45 degrees. “Creature baits,” he’ll say quickly and you might as well do a double-take. Creature what?

Dale Knupp "lips" a bass that fell for
a creature bait.
“It’s no big deal. They’re called creature baits because the very sound of that probably helps sell them,” says the affable Southern Marylander who spends the lion’s share of his time in the upper tidal portions of Maryland rivers, with the Potomac and its feeder creeks between Washington and western Charles County being his all-time favorite waters. “Creature baits are intended to simulate a crawfish. In a study, the Maryland DNR has found that 51 percent of the diet of a Potomac River largemouth consist of crawfish.”

In other words, if you use a lure that kind of resembles a crawdad and you present it properly, you’ll soon find a bass on the business end of your line.

When Knupp begins a day of bass fishing with crawfish fakes, he looks for quickly falling dropoffs in creeks, also steep creek bends and ledges. “In the Potomac, I primarily fish the feeder creeks, but I’ll also look for bass in the main river, near Pohick Bay, Wilson Bridge to Fox Ferry Point, also Fort Washington’s shore drops that are found at the junction of Piscataway Creek and the main stem of the river.”

Knupp uses 14- to 17-pound fluorocarbon line on his baitcasting reels, and 10-pound test line on his spinning reels.

“I tie my line to a football-head jig using the Trilene knot. I also fix one rod up with a 1/8-ounce or ¼-ounce slip sinker and tie the line to an Owner rigging hook – a 3/0 hook for 3-inch baits; a 5/0 hook for 4-inch models – and rig it Texas-style.

In cold water Berkley’s PowerBait creature baits already have a nice scent, but any others will be dabbed with Smelly Jelly – any flavor as long as it has garlic in it, says the former guide. Knupp, however, also is intrigued with Strike King’s new coffee flavors although he has not checked them out just yet.

Knupp’s cast-and-retrieve style begins by zipping the bait to the shallow beginnings of what will quickly become a deep drop. “Short hops during the retrieve will do it,” says the bass expert. “When you do that, the claws of the soft bait will undulate, looking very much like a live crawdad and even in 45-degree water you’ll feel the pickup by a bass. You’ll even see your line jump  now and then,” he adds.

Knupp’s equipment: 6’8” St. Croix medium action spinning rods with fast tips; medium-heavy 7’ St. Croix baitcasting rods; Revo baitcasting reels; ABU Garcia spinning reels.

From left to right, Barlow's Tackle Yo Mama, Reaction Innovation 
Sweet Beaver, Berkley Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, Berkley Chigger 
Craw, Net Bait Paca Craw, and a Strike King Baby Rage Tail.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lake Gaston, Va., gives up bass and stripers

Marty Magone with a 5-lb., 10-oz. bass.
Marty Magone, who lives on the shores of south-central Virginia’s Lake Gaston, has been catching a few good bass in Smith Creek, using a jig worm in 15 feet of water. One of his bass weighed 5-pounds, 10-ounces.

Marty says if you can get out of the creeks (some still show ice), there are lots of bass and stripers that can be caught at the Great Creek junction with the main-lake channel. “Position your boat in about 25 feet of water and cast metal blade baits along the 15-foot ledge,” he recommends. “There’ll be plenty of baitfish and predators in this area.”

Marty says it’s not unusual to hook 10 to 15 bass in a couple of hours, then adds, “some stripers are in the 15- to 20-pound range.”

Lake Anna shows a little action

Dick Fox, of Front Royal, Va., fished Lake Anna on Tuesday. "I put in at Duke's Creek," he said, "and fished the creek down to Dike 3. Managed to find a few fair-ssized bass on Senko plastics." Fox mentioned that hardly anyone was out on the nuclear power reservoir, west of Fredericksburg, but he did chat with one angler who caught a 5-pound largemouth on a slowly-retrieved Rat-L-Trap lure, of all things. Fox also mentioned that the lake appeared to be frozen below Route 208, and the water temperature at Duke's Creek was 38, but at Dike 3 it had climbed to 43 degrees.

More bad news about Carolina’s stripers

The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group passes along more information from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries about the commercial
North Carolina trawling vessel "Jamie Lynn." The CFRG says the trawler “accidentally” netted some 3,000 to 4,000 striped bass in mid-January. “The haul was so large that the captain of the ship decided to ‘dump’ or release all of the fish except the 50 he was legally allowed to keep,” according to the CFRG.

The outcry from the public has been deafening. Even YouTube had a clip that angry viewers were outraged by.

“What has not gotten much attention though is the overlooked math that this event produces, and the ultimate reward that was given to the very fishermen who caused all this waste,” says the conservation group.

“Let's look at the ‘math’ a little more closely: 4,000 stripers killed in one pull by one trawler on one day. Multiply that by the poundage of one mature striper, lets say, 20 pounds average. 4,000 X 20 pounds equals 80,000 pounds!” One boat can kill 80,000 mature stripers in one day.

North Carolina commercial netters are restricted to a total annual harvest of 480,480 pounds of striped bass. This limit is set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the governing body that oversees fish species, such as the striped bass, along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Of those 480,480 pounds that the Tar Heel state is permitted to “harvest” annually, only 160,660 pounds are taken by the commercial trawling fleet. So, in one day one trawler, on one pull, killed 50 percent of the total allowable allotment.

The dead fish that could not be kept covered the ocean surface like a surreal disaster. But this was real. It can happen in the offshore waters of the Outer Banks every year. As concerns the terrible mismanagement of the species by the state’s marine officials, one conservationist said, “You have to laugh to keep from crying!”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cottontail rabbits make for a fun hunt and fine eating

Left to right: Ron DePalma, Bob Greer, Tommy Nelson,
Preston Drummond
Take it to the bank. If my farmer friend, Bob Greer, puts out the call for a rabbit hunt along his Charles County, Md., field margins and hedgerows, Tommy Nelson wastes little time pushing his three beagles, Amy, Shorty and Three-Paws into the truck box, grab his shotgun, and show up on a narrow field lane where the other participants soon  congregate.

There’ll be Ron DePalma, Preston Drummond and yours truly joining Greer and Nelson, everyone of us decked out in fluorescent orange caps and/or vests. It’s a smart move, lest someone mistake the humans in the thickets as shootable game. We don’t even want to think about that.

So it went a few days ago when Nelson remarked that his little hounds might be mad at him because they hadn’t been “run much” lately and they needed the exercise. Greer smiled. He was sure they’d get a workout on his property. “The red foxes on this land might have done a number on the rabbits,” he said, “but I’m sure we’ll get enough of them to make for more than one good supper.”

In case you’ve never been in the company of eager beagles who’d rather chase after rabbits than eat their kibble, you haven’t lived. Sure, there’ll be times when the bench-legged critters won’t immediately respond to their master’s call, but that’s beagles for you. They have a mind of their own, although sooner or later they’ll “taste” the air and pick up the bunnies' ground scents with fine-tuned noses, then tear loose on ear-piercing romps through a maze of brambles and thickets the moment a hidden cottontail realizes he’s been discovered and takes off hell-bent for election, as oldtimers sometimes say.

As our hunt was getting under way, we had an unwanted delay when a Maryland Natural Resources Police officer showed up unannounced. He had to check us out to see if our guns’ ammo tubes were plugged to hold no more than three shot-shells. Our smoothbores passed the test. Then he wanted to see our hunting licenses, which we did, and I finally told Officer Saunders that he was screwing up our hunt because the hounds were now half a mile away while we had to satisfy the long arm of the law. (By the way, the only way this game cop could have gone any slower “only doing his job,” as he said, would have been if he had stopped the checking process altogether.)

Gene Mueller with a brace of cottontails.
Eventually, the hunt resumed. Saunders went on his way and we proceeded to enjoy the sounds of the beagles. I was fortunate enough to bag the first rabbit, and soon DePalma (who used a small .410-gauge shotgun) and Greer followed suit. Drummond was still waiting for a chance, but that would come eventually. Nelson, who doesn’t even like to dine on stewed or fried rabbit worked like a dog himself, convincing his small hounds to stay near him. “Ya, ya, ya,” he’d shout. “Here, Amy, here, Shorty,” and eventually ask, “Has anybody seen Three-Paw?” The dog who only had three good legs, but ran just fine with the rest of them, soon showed up.

I tell you, there’s nothing like good friends getting together, walking through thick and thin, guns shouldered, listening to the beagles, the humans chatting and laughing and suddenly pointing, hollering, “There he goes.” Sometimes you’d get off a shot, and sometimes you’d have to wait until the dogs turned the rabbit around and kind of hurried it back to the area it was rousted in.
Rabbit stew the way Mother made it

When I was a lot younger it was us boys who had to skin the rabbits (an easy task), dress it, chopping off the feet, discarding the entrails and being careful not to rupture the animals’ bladder, but keeping the livers and hearts. We’d cut off front and rear legs and split the back in two, thoroughly washing the pink pieces of meat.

My German mother took charge in the kitchen. She’d season the pieces with salt and pepper, dust it with a bit of flour, and put it into a cast-iron Dutch oven on top of the stove. The pot already contained bubbling-hot vegetable oil and slowly browning, chopped onions, also several crushed cloves of garlic.

When the meat was neatly browned on all sides, she’d pour either home-made chicken stock or a small can of commercial stock over the meat, add enough water to cover all the pieces, then put a lid over the pot and let the rabbit simmer until it was tender to the fork.

She’d remove the meat, temporarily rest it on a platter, then stir together a quick mix of water and corn starch, let the gravy come to a boil while slowly adding the thickening liquid. Sir, stir, stir. Taste, taste, taste. Add salt or pepper if needed, but be sure to add 4 or 5 generous squirts of a dark-brown seasoning known as Maggi. It’s available in most grocery stores.

Mother then put the meat back into the thick gravy and put the pot on a hot-dish pad in the middle of the table. Mashed potatoes, peas, a salad, maybe a cool beer or ice tea would round out a great dinner.

Even though Mom isn’t with us anymore, to this day we fix the rabbit stew exactly how she did.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Striper carnage off the Outer Banks

Our fishing friend, Dr. Ken Neill, who keeps an eye on happenings up and down the coastline from Virginia to North Carolina and elsewhere, reports that the striped bass fishing was very good this week, especially for the commercial fishing trawlers who dragged their mesh between Oregon Inlet and the Duck Research Pier.

North Carolina [fisheries officials] allowed their trawlers in on the action this week for their annual carnage,” said Dr. Neill. “This resulted in thousands of stripers floating on the surface. The trawlers are allowed a daily limit [and] this year it is 50 fish. They scoop up schools of rockfish, pick out the largest fish (which bring the most money) and dump the rest overboard.”

Dr. Neill, a Virginia Beach-based dentist who is a highly regarded sport fisherman and sportfishing actvist, added, “It is an extremely wasteful method for the commercial harvest of striped bass.”

Meanwhile, is it any wonder that so many sport fishermen are opposed to the commercial “harvest” of striped bass? This species should be on a fast track to being accorded “game fish” status. If that happened, no more commercial netting of a fish that is invaluable to current and future generations of sport anglers who contribute so much more to state economies than any commercial fishing sector ever could.

Elsewhere during these blue nose fishing days, speckled trout are cooperating now and then around the Hot Ditch and tautogs are available on the ocean wrecks east of Virginia Beach. One of them is the Triangle Reef. Dr. Neill reports that since sea bass fishing is closed the few boaters who seek offshore bottom species are hooking tilefish and grouper.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Will menhaden see some relief at last?

Virginia Beach dentist and super angler, Dr. Ken Neill, passes along a listing of Virginia legislative bills that were supplied by his friend and fellow sport angler, Dr. Bob Allen, who keeps an eye on the legislature. The bills would seriously address the menhaden fishery in the lower Chesapeake Bay and adjacent Atlantic Ocean. If these bills turned into law, the game fish would benefit because they depend on menhaden as a large part of their diet. Sport anglers should go all out to support helpful legislation. Why? Stripers, bluefish, cobias and sea trout eat menhaden. If you want them to grow and prosper, help stop, or at least slow down, the menhaden netters.

Dr. Allen asks, "Has the Virginia General Assembly finally awakened from the menhaden deep sleep?" He added, "An avalanche of menhaden legislation has descended on the Virginia General Assembly session. This unprecedented display of concern for a critical forage fish cannot help but increase our chances for positive action."

Here are the bills:

SB765/HB2280 – Sen. Northam and Del. Cosgrove
Would transfer the authority to implement ASMFC menhaden fishery management plans from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commision (VMRC) where all other Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) directives are handled.

HB1656 – Del. Purkey
Would prevent menhaden harvesting within one mile of shore in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.

HB2369 – Del. Knight
Would reduce current cap on menhaden harvest in Chesapeake Bay (109,020 metric tons) by 20% each year starting 1/1/12.

HB1913 – Del. Miller
Would prohibit the harvest of menhaden by purse seine in the Rappahannock River and its tributaries.

HB2165 – Del. Abbitt
Would assess a fee of $10 per ton on menhaden harvested in Virginia waters. Funds would be used study the condition of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay.

You can track any of these bills at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Digital Camera Helped Put Venison on Table

Ask anybody who doesn’t hunt deer, but who sees a fair number of the whitetailed ruminants stand in the middle of a roadway, or by the side of  busy highways, and they’ll hazard the guess that deer hunting must be easy. All you do is walk into the woods, stand hidden for 10 minutes, a deer will promptly walk up and – bang! – you shoot it.

That’s all there is to it. Or could it possibly be totally different?

A long-time successful deer hunter will only smile at the “deer hunting is easy” scenario. Successful hunting can be incredibly difficult when you’re after animals who live in a broad expanse of forests and meadows, especially when they’re not familiar with humans, car traffic, or winter road salts that will draw them to the edges of highways with frequent disastrous results for animal and automobile.

But if you do it right, study your subject, and are willing to invest more than a little time, there’ll be venison in your freezer. We’re talking about delicious meat that actually is beneficial to your health. (When was the last time your doctor told you that eating red meat is good for you? Venison gets the nod because it has super low amounts of cholesterol, virtually no fat marbling, and surely doesn’t possess chemical additives, hormones and steroids like the beef, pork and fowl bought in our grocery stores.

Over the years, the gods of hunting have been kind to me. Still, there have been times when a previously scouted spot in the woods that offered tree rubs and ground scrapes that were made by bucks, along with ample droppings from does and bucks, did not deliver the goods when the season opened. I would see only squirrels and chipmunks, but no deer.

This year I decided not to take any chances and allow technology to play a role. My wife bought me a Moultrie 5 Megapixel GameSpy D55 Digital Infrared Game Camera that operates on six C-size alkaline batteries and a small computer SD memory card. You strap the camera around a tree (the strap was part of my surprisingly tough D55 unit that, depending on the catalog store and various seasonal specials, will sell for $90 to $110).

Once the camera is secured roughly three feet off the ground, its lens pointing to whatever spot you’ve chosen, the camera is switched on, the protective cover snapped into place, and then left on the tree for at least 12 hours, but I prefer to let it hang for 24 hours. If anything walks within view of the lens, the totally silent shutter snaps a photo and – bingo! – you have proof of any deer traffic in that particular area of the woods. The tiny memory card is removed, then can be downloaded to your computer. In my case, I simply stick the card into one of my laptop’s special ports that are intended to “read” and transfer the contents of the SD card. The pictures show up within seconds.

The first 24 hours that my camera was in place, it delivered the goods. After I removed the card, I went home and inserted the wafer-thin gadget into my computer Nearly 20 photos popped up. At the bottom of each picture was a line that showed the temperature when the picture was automatically snapped, along with the time and date.

More than half of the photos were of various sizes of does, walking past the camera. Some apparently were feeding on acorns and/or beech nuts that are amply supplied in the woodlands that I have permission to hunt in. The recorded times ran the gamut from nighttime hours, such as 7 p.m., 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., to a shooting-suitable 7:30 a.m., even 11:55 a.m.

A day later, the camera once again activated and left in place for 24 hours, more does and fawns were seen, but this time also several bucks showed up.

The stage was set.

A nearby portable ladder stand that had been erected weeks before apparently was in the proper spot. It was carefully hidden inside 3 massive oaks, no more than 50 yards away.

Before the first week of our gun season was over, I had shot and field-dressed two deer, skinned and cut them up at home, neatly labeled packages now resting in a spare freezer that holds only wild game and fish.

Was the purchase of a tree camera worth it?
I’d say “emphatically so.”

Some Atlantic Winter Fishing is Possible

For fishermen, not much is currently happening in the inland waters of the middle Atlantic states. Too much icing has been seen on local boat ramps in Maryland and Virginia. However, given a few days of 40-plus-degrees weather and the boaters will be able to launch from various ramps on the tidal Potomac River and fish such stalwart bass, crappie and perch hangouts as the Spoils Cove, perhaps also launch in the until recently icy Nanjemoy or Aquia creeks. The water around the popular Mattawoman Creek’s Sweden Point Marina boat ramps has been been iced up seriously enough to keep boats from launching.
          Meanwhile, the Chesapeake Bay’s boaters and pier anglers are eagerly awaiting a warming trend – like the kind that arrives in April.
          All the same, down in Virginia’s saltwater, the Elizabeth River is giving up speckled trout of various sizes -- quite often only small specimens -- but this time of year, who’s complaining?
          In the lowest parts of  Chesapeake Bay, even beyond the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, there’s a chance of finding a few trophy-size stripers on trolled spoons, Sassy Shads, or drifted eels.
          Stripers also have been hooked in fair to good numbers near North Carolina’s Outer Banks, including the close-by offshore waters at Kitty Hawk and Nags Head.
          Dr. Ken Neill, the fishing phenom who runs his boat “Healthy Grin” out of Virginia Beach, recalls a recent outing about 20 miles south of the resort city’s Rudee Inlet. “The bite of the day was at Kitty Hawk,” he said.

Walleyes this time of year?
        One of our friends who hangs around Dam No. 4 on the upper Potomac River (up from Taylor’s Landing), says there’s a chance of finding walleyes at the base of the dam. “I’ll be doing it from shore soon,” he said. Colorful tubes and jigs, fished on light line, can do the job, but boaters must remember that this time of year the run of the river can present some dangers. You must consider the very cold water combined with underwater rocks the size of a Volkswagen. Please, be extra careful and remember if you’re in a boat on the upper Potomac you MUST wear a life vest at all times. No exception.

Smallmouth bass are possible
          A few Marylanders use the C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River to reach Montgomery County’s Dickerson power plant discharge waters where smallmouth bass might look at a live minnow or a slowly-retrieved Mepps spinner. Pieces of cut fish bait or nightcrawlers can also produce a catfish or two if you use a bottom rig and plenty of patience.
          Hey, it’s winter and sometimes that’s the best you can do.

Relax, Soon it Will be Yellow Perch Time

Gene Mueller caught this perch on a Mann's Sting Ray
Down here in the middle Atlantic states, by the end of January, a horde of small-boat owners and shoreline anglers begins to hunt for a fish that fights like a wet dish rag, is difficult to scale, and its fillets taste only so-so by most standards ­­-- not nearly as good as some of the other anadromous fish species that invade the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay’s feeder rivers, tidal creeks and quiet, marshy side pockets. But its followers are legion, mainly because it is a harbinger of spring and quite often the only fish that is willing to bite in very cold water.  
Say hello to beautifully marked creatures known as the yellow perch (perca flavescens).
They arrive in late January and early February, settle down in the deep bends of the creeks, awaiting a rise in the water temperature (about 45 to 50 degrees usually does it) before they begin to move farther upstream with love on their mind -- if you get my drift. By the end of February it will be spawning time.
The “bucks” arrive first. They look for suitable spawning waters that offer waterlogged tree branches, rocks, gravel bars and ditches. All of these spawning spots will be in shallow water, usually 3 to 5 feet deep. The perch must make doubly sure that the females’ ribbon-like strands of eggs stay wet when the tide recedes. If the water drops so severely that the eggs are exposed and dry up, the roe becomes useless and unproductive.
But if the strands of roe stay in the water and the male perch can spray their life-giving milt onto the eggs, with a proper amount of sun and slowly warming water, perch fry soon emerges and a veritable feeding riot begins. Every other fish in the tidal creeks, even carp, will attempt to swallow some of the newly-hatched fry, but as nature has ordained, enough of them survive to ensure future generations of perch.

Dale Knupp and a fat yellow perch
Our small gang of perch regulars includes Andy Andrzejewski, a superb professional bass fishing guide who lives in La Plata, Md., (call for bookings, 301/932-1509). Andy now and then welcomes a day away from the rigors of locating the largemouth bass that keep his clients happy. Then there’s the now retired and expert bass guide, Dale Knupp, also of La Plata, and his wife Nancy, who is a first-rate perch specialist. Whenever I head out from a local boat ramp to join these La Plata friends, I try to convince my better half to come along, but she usually says she’d rather fish when the weather warms up. She’s from Alabama and is instantly forgiven if she doesn’t relish having her rod guides fill with ice while an occasional northeasterly breeze chills the body.
Still, we enjoy every moment of this “delectable misery,” as a Minnesota writer once described his home state’s ice fishing.
We begin with 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 foot rods, small spinning reels and fairly light line. In my case – and because there is a possibility of having your terminal tackle hang up in bottom snags where the perch often hang out – I prefer to use Berkley’s FireLine as strong as 20-pound test that has a diameter no thicker than standard 6-pound-test monofilament. With the stronger FireLine I can pull a hook free and if it straightened during the process, I’ll re-bend it with a pair of needlenose pliers.
Dale and Andy use fairly light monofilament or fluorocarbon lines, taking a chance on breaking off. It doesn’t appear to bother them.
We begin with Berkley brand 2-inch-long Power Minnows in black shad or luminous emerald colors, fished from drop-shot rigs that feature a light, round, quick release sinker, the stand-away drop-shot hook holding the Power Minnow about a foot or so above the sinker. The bait contains a fish attractant flavor and often works as well as a live minnow or some Maryland perch specialists’ favorite, grass shrimp.
Andy also keeps a regular baitcasting rod and reel handy, loaded with at least 12-pound monofilament, that is used with a 2-inch-long avocado color Mann’s Sting Ray grub with a round-headed, unpainted jig hook pierced through the grub’s head and allowed to emerge about a third of the way down the body. When any of us use the Sting Ray, the hook belly and point is exposed, the lure body sometimes smeared with a fish attractant known as Smelly Jelly that reeks of baitfish, garlic, or crawfish. The Sting Ray provides the added benefit of attracting largemouth bass and stripers (if they’re in the creeks at the time).
If you prefer live bait, there is nothing wrong with using a live bullhead minnow of no more than 2 inches in length. High-low No. 1 or No. 2 snelled hooks on a bottom rig, the baitfish’s “lips” pierced through by the hook, can produce nicely. However, we do not feel that live bait is necessary.

If you start looking for truly large yellow perch head to the natural and man-made lakes of Ontario, or upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota where some specimens weigh up to 2 pounds. But since we live in Maryland and most of our catches come in tidal water (although the state’s Deep Creek Lake is home to monster yellow “neds,” as locals call them), we tend to concentrate on a number of the tidal Potomac River’s feeder creeks not far from the Nation’s Capital where good numbers of perch please blue-nose anglers.
Over the years, our favorites have been the Nanjemoy, Mattawoman and Chicamuxen creeks, even the Spoils Cove on the Maryland side of the river, just above Wilson Bridge, or the not-too-distant Swan Creek.
While we’re in Potomac Country, Virginia fishermen can do well in the backwater pockets and little bays close to Alexandria’s Belle Haven Marina. Virginia perch waters also include the Occoquan River, Powell, Chopawamsic, Quantico, Potomac and Aquia creeks. Aquia can be very good, as can the Nomini Bay and Nomini Creek area a good ways downstream, below Colonial Beach in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Virginians also catch quality perch in Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers in the northeastern part of the state, as well as in the state’s James River just below Richmond and in some of the Rappahannock River’s feeder creeks below Fredericksburg.
Back in Maryland, the Eastern Shore’s Chester, Choptank, Wye, Corsica and Nanticoke rivers see spawning hordes of yellow perch. On the western side of the Chesapeake, add the upper Patuxent, South, Severn, Magothy, Bush and Susquehanna rivers. As I mention the Susquehanna, I’m reminded that local perch fanatics often find large specimens in January and February, using live minnows or jigged metal blade baits in as much as 70 feet of water in the Lapidum area.
Meanwhile, be sure to check local regulations about creel limits and minimum sizes. In Maryland you can keep 10 perch of at least 9 inches per day. Last we heard, Virginia doesn’t have any limits on yellow perch.

Federal Bureaucracy Affects All Saltwater Anglers

It all began when the federal National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  had the bright idea that tidal water sport fishermen needed to be counted. A new federal pain-in-the-neck program began. Saltwater anglers had to register with NOAA so the Feds could learn how many people fished in tidal waters and what they were after. Phone calls might be made after being registered.
          At first, the whole registration deal was free, but scuttlebutt has it that in some jurisdictions it might cost each angler as much as $15 per year.
          Happily (or unhappily) a number of states stepped in. “It will not cost you anything if you are a tidal water angler,” they said. “We’ll register you and the information will be automatically provided to NOAA,” added Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources’ Fisheries office.
          Virginia kind of said the same thing.
The object is to create a state phone book, of sorts, consisting of the names and phone numbers of saltwater fishermen. Both jurisdictions promised that its registration would exempt licensed anglers from having to do anything but supply the information. However, one NOAA-registered fisherman from Charles County, Md., told us that a woman called him to gather information for NOAA and she said that her call wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Over 25 minutes later, the man who received the call was ready to hang up. He said, “She went on and on, wanting to know where, when and how I caught stripers, how often I went out, and she kind of expected me to remember exactly what day I was out, what time it was, and all that kind of stuff.”
As you read this, nearly every saltwater fisherman (16 and older) in Maryland and Virginia will need to be counted somehow. In Virginia, either a valid saltwater fishing license is required or the angler must register with the Fisherman Identification Program (FIP) every year.
Virginia’s tidal water anglers who have an annual saltwater fishing license or an annual Potomac River Fisheries Sport Fishing License, DO NOT have to register with the state FIP. You will be automatically registered when you buy a license and give your contact information. Much of the tidal Potomac River, by the way, is shared by Maryland and Virginia through something known as the Potomac River Fisheries Commission even though Maryland owns the river lock, stock, and barrel. (Don’t ask me why Maryland continues to allow an agency that is headquartered in Colonial Beach, Va., to dictate how things must be done on the historic Potomac.)

          Virginia anglers under the age of 16, lifetime license holders, and paying customers on a licensed charter or head boat DO NOT have to register with the state FIP.
What irks me to no end is the way Virginia and Maryland deals with boat owners whose craft is specially licensed to cover all anglers aboard, or those who might be fishing from a commercial pier or private property, or who are 65 years and older.
All of those mentioned above must be registered. The registration is free, but what a pain in the neck it will be.
          Say your cousin Ed is visiting from Indiana and he arrives at 10 o’clock one evening in hopes that you will take him out by 5 a.m. the next day in your boat that is licensed to cover all those who fish from it. “Ed would have to be registered,” said a friendly counter lady at the DNR’s Hallowing Point facility in Calvert County. “You could just get on your computer and enter and you’ll be walked through the process. It’s easy.” In Virginia you can go to (or call toll-free, 800-723-2728) which also sounds easy, but it’s an unneeded intrusion into our lives.
If you do not know if you are exempt from having to buy a Virginia license you’ll find a list of exemptions at
          By the way
Maryland and Virginia have a reciprocity agreement. Each state honors the other’s license, but if a Marylander plans to fish in Virginia saltwater – even if properly licensed in the home state – he or she must register with the other state’s Fisherman Identification Program. 
No one yet has mentioned how the states plan to enforce the NOAA registration and what, if any, fines will be levied if you’re not registered.
Oh, brother! The fewer government regulations I see, the better I like it.
(If your state differs greatly from the regulations enforced by Maryland and Virginia, let me hear from you.)

Saltwater Changes Made by Maryland DNR

Martin Gary, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, alerts tidal water fishermen that some important changes have been made to the state’s recreational sport fishing licenses for 2011. They include creation of a comprehensive saltwater license for tidal waters in Maryland including Ocean City and the coastal waters. Changes include license fees for non resident anglers and modifications to the requirement to register for anglers exempt from purchasing a license. For additional information on Maryland Fishing Licenses, please visit one of the following links:
Recreational Fishing License Information Page
To buy a Recreational Fishing License, there are three options:
Questions about Maryland fishing licenses? Contact or call 410-656-9526.

Small-boat Winter Maintenance

Your fishing boat and its outboard motor sit on a trailer in the backyard or the family driveway, covered by one of those irritating blue tarps sold at the local hardware store. It is winter and all you can hope for is that spring will soon arrive.
But have you made sure that your small johnboat or fiberglass craft will be ready when the robins sing?
Francis Guy of the highly regarded Guy Brothers Marine store and repair facility ( in St. Mary’s County, Md., says far too many people didn’t even bother to winterize their boats in late 2010. “Do it now,” he urges. “It’s not too late.”
Guy says if you want to make sure that your boat motor will kick over when warmer weather arrives, begin by checking the fuel source and the quality of the fuel. Is it clear? Are there any particles in the fuel? Pour a small amount of it into a narrow glass tube or see-through plastic container and allow the fuel to settle. It will quickly show if there’s water in the tank. (The water will sink and the gasoline will be on top.) Of course, if dirt or unexplained particles are visible, get rid of the gas and refill the tank with fresh gasoline.
If the motor has a separate, free-standing oil tank, make sure the oil is not contaminated.
Guy also says that you should make sure the outboard motor’s lower unit is serviced. The gear case oil must be changed and if it’s a 4-stroke motor, the engine oil must be replaced.
When all that is done, start the motor and let it run awhile and watch for the motor to spit out a jet of water, which means the cooling system is working. Just be sure you’ve attached water-hose earmuffs to each side of the outboard’s water intake holes before you start the outboard.
 “One thing a lot of boaters never look at – until it’s too late – is the boat’s steering,” says Francis Guy. He wants you to check and see if it’s freely and smoothly turning. If not, you might need to have it serviced.
After all the winter pre-fishing checks, Guy says you ought to start the motor and let it  idle at least once a month until the time comes for regular weekly fish outings.
Finally, hook your battery to a charger and let it trickle-charge once a week. Check also the fluid levels and be sure to use distilled water if the levels are low.