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Fishing Reports

UPDATE:  This post appeared earlier on ChesapeakeLightTackle.com. It has been reprinted due to recent proposals to require circle hooks year-round for bait fishing in Maryland.

It’s spring in the Chesapeake Bay and time for big migratory stripers. Some of the biggest striped bass in the world are caught in Maryland in the early spring. A few fishermen are already using circle hooks to catch & release big fish on the points near the rivers using bait such as bloodworms and cut menhaden. Circle hooks aren’t just a good idea for bait fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, they’re required by law. Maryland fishermen have been slow to see the advantages of circle hooks. I think that’s because most of us haven’t used them enough, but there’s also confusion about what circle hooks are and how they work. I recently had an opportunity to travel to Providence, Rhode Island to attend a FishSmart conference sponsored by NOAA about catch & release techniques. I came away with some interesting information.

According to extension agents working with Florida Sea Grant, circle hooks have been used for decades in their state by both recreational and commercial fishermen who appreciate their ability to efficiently catch fish. The principle behind the hook is simple. After the hook has been swallowed, the fisherman applies pressure to the line, pulling the hook out of the stomach. The unique hook shape causes the hook to slide towards the point of resistance and embed itself in the jaw or in the corner of the fish’s mouth. The actual curved shape of the hook is intended to keep the hook from catching in the gut cavity or throat.

The advantage to the fisherman is that hooking is automatic. No hook set required. All we have to do is let the fish swim off with the bait then pick up the rod and start reeling. Circle hooks are a fool-proof way to catch stripers when fishing with bait, but do they work to protect the fish?

According to Maryland rockfish scientist Rudy Lukacovic, most of the time they do. Most fishermen will tell you that they still see gut-hooked fish occasionally. That’s one of the drawbacks to bait fishing, but there’s also another problem. There is unfortunately no industry standard as to what makes a circle hook. In fact, some of the hooks you buy off the bait shop shelf may not be circle hooks at all. Just because it says circle hook on the package doesn’t mean it is. There are impostors. 

On a true circle hook, the tip of the hook points back toward the shank of the hook. If it points toward the eye, it’s not a circle hook no matter what it says on the package. Confused?  Then try this: Curve your index finger around the contour of the hook shank and press down a little. If you feel the tip of the hook pricking your finger, it’s not a true circle and won’t work right. The tip of the hook should curve away from your finger.

Circle hooks can be roughly divided into two types, offset and non-offset. The offset refers to the amount of deviation in the plane of the hook point relative to that of the shank. Most of the hooks you see on the store shelves are offset. That means when you lay them down on a table, they won’t lay completely flat. A true non-offset hook will lay perfectly flat on the table. Offset circle hooks are more likely to gut-hook your fish.

Since there can be confusion about what constitutes a true circle hook, some tournaments are specifying certain brands and types as tournament legal. Unless the industry responds by standardizing descriptions, state resource departments and lawmakers may also have to be more specific. Maryland defines a circle hook as:  A non-offset hook with the point turned perpendicularly back to the shank. Circle hooks used in bait fisheries should be “non offset”. That is, if the hook is laid on a flat surface, all parts of the hook lie flat on the surface.

 


Here are some tips for using circle hooks to catch striped bass: 

Keep it limber – Use a slow, limber fishing rod with a lot of bend in the tip. A stiff, fast-tipped rod is more likely to pull the hook out of the striper’s mouth when you pick it up. Ugly Stix fans, this is your cue!

Don’t bury the hook in the bait – If you hide the hook, it is less likely to catch the corner of the fish’s mouth when you start reeling. If you use live bait, hook the bait through the nose or lips so the hook is completely exposed and the gap isn’t blocked. Stripers won’t see the hook and your bait will look more natural.

Crank, don’t yank – Just set your reel to free spool, wait for the fish to take off and start reeling. If you’re live-lining, count to ten before you start. Don’t set the hook.

No need to sharpen – Sharpening a circle hook will damage the tip and make less likely to hook the mouth but more likely to hook the fish’s stomach.

Stay away from stainless – If a fish breaks off, the stainless hooks don’t rust. That means it will stay in the fish’s mouth longer. If a fish swallows a stainless hook, it will probably die.

Go big or go home – Don’t be afraid to use a big hook. A 8/0 or 9/0 hook is great for stripers. Take a look at the big rockfish in the picture below. It takes a wide-gap hook to get over those thick lips! Hooks with a gap that are too small are more likely to gut-hook the fish. For big fish in the spring, use 10/0 or even bigger. Also, pay attention to the quality  of the hook because you don’t want a hook that will bend or straighten.

Catch & Release Tips

Be Prepared – If you aren’t used to using circle hooks, it might take a little longer to remove the hook from your fish. Keep your pliers, de-hooker, measuring device, and camera beside you and ready to use. If the fish swallows the hook, just cut the line as close as you can to the hook. Don’t try to pull the hook out if it’s embedded in the fish’s stomach.

Do you really need a net? – It’s a lot easier just to reach down and lip the fish with wet hands or wet rubber coated gloves. Nets cause you to lose fish and they injure them by removing slime. If you must use one, find one that has a fine, rubber coated mesh. You might even consider a a cradle net since that will let you measure your fish in the water.

Handle With Care – If you plan to release a big fish, be sure to support the body weight with both hands. If you have to lay it down to remove the hook, do it gently. Try not to drag the fish through the mud or sand because this can injure it and remove slime. Get the fish back in the water as fast as you can.

In a nutshell, circle hooks are good for the fish because fewer stripers are hooked in the stomach or in other vital organs, and they’re good for the fisherman because they increase hook-ups and reduce missed strikes. Good for the fish, good for the fisherman – that’s a winning combination.

Did you know?  Circle hooks have been around for centuries. Archaeologists have recovered stone circle hooks that are tens of thousands of years old from the grave sites of indigenous cultures. J hooks came about relatively recently because they are easier to make. Once again, modern-day anglers are recognizing the benefits of circle hooks for both efficiency and conservation. This fishing technique, like the hooks themselves, has come full circle.

 

 

 

Fishing Reports

Have you noticed all the creativity in lure making for Chesapeake Bay rockfish lately? The artistry that is going into decorating the lead jig heads that we use while fishing with light tackle is simply amazing. I’m a big fan of the lures these guys and girls are turning out. I was going through some old papers last week when I happened upon the documents I used in 2008 to file for a trademark on the name “Candy Corn Jigs.” It wasn’t a big deal. My thinking was that someday I might want to make and sell lures and it seemed like a cool name for my favorite combination of colors for catching rockfish. That got me thinking about the history of color-contrasting lures and how far we’ve come in the last ten years. In fishing, as with many things, you can get a better understanding of where we’re going when you look back at where we’ve been. Believe it or not, in 2009 you could get a pretty good argument about whether rockfish jigs should even be painted. One light tackle guide from Southern Maryland was fond of saying, “When people ask me what my favorite color is for jig heads, I say lead.” If jigs were painted at all, they were usually only one single color: either red, chartreuse, or white. Fast forward to almost 2018, and we’re seeing all manner of colors and color combinations on the jig heads we use to catch rockfish with light tackle on the Bay. I think we’re all better anglers for it. Read More!

Fishing Reports

By now, you’ve probably noticed that many Chesapeake Bay light tackle anglers are using skirted jig heads when they fish with soft plastic lures. Jigs with silicone skirts are becoming extremely popular in the Mid-Atlantic region and there’s no doubt that they make deadly baits for big striped bass. A skirt on a lead jig head with a soft-plastic bait increases action and creates a wider profile in the water. Skirts also provide color and contrast, two essential big-fish strike triggers.

Skirts on lures aren’t anything new. They got their start in the mid 1920s in Akron, Ohio where Fred Arbogast worked for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. He and his fishing buddies experimented with slicing thin rubber sheets into narrow strips and attaching them to their spinning lures. They caught fish. After Arbogast won several fishing competitions, he took out an ad in the June, 1926 edition of The Hunting & Fishing Magazine. His lures caught on quickly so Fred quit his job at Goodyear to form the Arbogast Lure Company. Read More!

Fishing Reports

So far the winter of 2017 has been a mild one. Let’s hope it stays that way. We’re already catching lots of big stripers along with limits of yellow perch in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. While you won’t hear much on the Internet from me about trophy winter striper fishing, (Don’t worry, it’ll come out, just wait!) I’m happy to share information about how to catch the big ones at my upcoming seminars. In addition to the local and regional fishing shows, you can catch up with me at the Baltimore Boat Show‘s Chesapeake Bay Magazine Seminar Series and at Bass Pro Shops Crappie Madness and Spring Fishing Classic.

This year, in addition to a few talks designed to introduce anglers to light tackle fishing, I’ve added a brand new, more advanced presentation called “Amplitudes & Frequencies – New Technologies & Innovative Techniques for Trophy Light Tackle Stripers.” It’s all about choosing the right lures, line, rods, reels, and mastering specific techniques so you can think down the line and catch those finicky big fish that are so hard to come by. Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science and anyone can do it. Here’s how John Page Williams quotes the concept in a recent issue of Anglers Journal magazine,

Over time, you start to recognize that, whenever your lure contacts something different like a stump, a log, or even a shell, it changes the frequency that’s transmitted up the line and through your rod. It eventually becomes something of a sixth sense because you’re so tuned in to the expected amplitudes and frequencies of the lure as it contacts the bottom that even the slightest change is registered. In that regard, a strike is very similar to an off note in a song, an out-of tune banjo string, or an epileptic spike in an EEG recording, because it’s a vibration that doesn’t fit the expected sequence.   – Anglers Journal, Fall 2016

I’m also very exited about my presentation on Saturday, February 4th at the Bass Pro Shops at Arundel Mills Mall. This is the only talk I do all year about Maryland panfish –  fishing for crappie, yellow perch, and white perch in the tidal tributaries to the Chesapeake. I’ll even throw in some information about hickory shad since we’re expecting another great run this spring in the Potomac River and on the Eastern Shore. Since I both spin and flycast for shad, I’m really looking forward to this year’s run. There will be give-aways, deep discounts, and even activities for the kids. Last year’s panfish seminar set a record for attendance at this Bass Pro Shops and I’m hoping we can break that record this year!

Coming up in March, I’ll be pulling out my old Martin D-18 guitar for the Northern Virginia CCA’s annual Banquet and Auction. It’s Saturday, March 18. I’ll be picking and grinning along to mostly original songs while throwing in a few fishing tales along the way. This has historically been one of the most enjoyable CCA events in the region, so I hope you’ll mark your calendars and join the fun!

As always, you can keep up with my schedule here, or on my Amazon Author’s Page, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook since that’s where I’m sharing the most information and posting my fishing reports these days. Good luck fishing in 2017. I hope to see you at the shows or on the water!

 

Fishing Reports

“I see birds.”

I could hear the excitement in my fishing partner, Jamie Clough’s voice as he scanned the cloudy Chesapeake horizon with his binoculars.”

“Big birds!”

I slammed my 27′ Judge Center Console into gear and Thunder Road was off to the races. Up ahead, through the misty rain, we could see big herring gulls as they swooped and circled high over the water. As if on cue, a group of six or eight birds plunged toward a swirl on the surface. A savage fight ensued and the victor flew away erratically as the other gulls gave chase. In the lead bird’s beak was a 6-inch long silver fish.

“They’re on big bunker. That’s what we’re looking for,” shouted Jamie.

We bolted toward the spot where the birds were diving with our rods and reels at the ready. Before the boat came to a complete stop, we were both hooked up.

“Fish on!”

How was your fishing this fall? By most accounts, it’s been a great season for light tackle casting on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the reasons why we’re catching more fish than ever this year is that, thanks to recent harvest reductions, there is a lot of bait around, especially menhaden. In the Chesapeake, anglers refer to menhaden as bunker or sometimes (incorrectly) LYs. They’ve famously been called, “the most important fish in the sea.” That’s because menhaden are such a critical link in the Atlantic’s food web. At one time, menhaden made up over 70% of rockfish diets. Now, that number has dwindled to something like 8% because there just isn’t enough menhaden to keep the rockfish fed. In fact, the population of menhaden in the Atlantic Ocean is at less than 10% of historic levels. That’s a big drop and a huge problem, not only for recreational fishermen, but for anyone who makes their living in and around the Bay. Read More!

Fishing Reports

A lot has been written about the art in fly fishing. There is grace and beauty in a perfect fly cast. What is more satisfying than watching a colorful trout rise from a crystal clear pool to take a hand-tied floating fly? I just returned from Colorado where I had ample time to fly fish in the cold streams of the Gunnison National Forest. I don’t get to fly fish for trout much, but when I do, I’m always struck by the similarities to light tackle casting for rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the most important aspects of fly fishing is the ability to read the water and cast to where the fish are. Another is presenting the lure naturally so that it moves at the exact same speed as the current. While we don’t hear about it as much, there is comparable art in light tackle casting, even when it’s done with a spinning outfit or a baitcaster.

In my years of fishing both fresh and saltwater, I’ve had opportunities to observe the skills and artistry of some of the finest anglers in the world. As a teenager, I guided some of the best-known bass pros in the country when they practiced for tournaments in my home lakes in Tennessee. I’ve been fortunate enough to wade the pristine streams of the Smoky Mountains with the most knowledgeable anglers in the business, and I’ve fished for bonefish and pompano with the legendary guide families of the Bahamas. Most recently, I was joined on my boat Thunder Road by one of the best-known anglers in the world: the legendary Lefty Kreh. Lefty has been fishing for almost a half century longer than I’ve been alive. He’s forgotten more in his 92 years than I can ever hope to learn.

We caught all the fish we wanted that day, and enjoyed several hours of inspiring conversation. Lefty’s fly casting skills are legendary, but his prowess with a spinning outfit is less well-known. Between hooksets, we talked about casting and jigging techniques as well as patterns and the best ways to approach fishing spots. At one point, the conversation turned to the art in fishing. I’m happy to say that after listening to Lefty’s jokes, advice, and aphorisms refined over his long life of fishing, I came away a better fisherman and, hopefully, a better person.

Here are some of the thoughts I’ve collected about the art in light tackle casting: Read More!

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