Saturday, November 11, 2023

11.11.23 Let's talk about striped bass mortality....


       According to the ASMFC in 2022 6.8 million striped bass were killed. That was up 32% from 2021. The striped bass meet their fate in the following ways, recreational harvest, recreational catch and release mortality, commercial harvest, and commercial discards. Of the 6.8 million striped bass killed rec anglers were on the hook for 90% of the dead bass and the commercial sector 10%. Some would argue those numbers are inaccurate and that the science is incorrect. 

      The ASMFC reports that recreational catch and release anglers kill 9% of the bass that "swam away strong". I get it. As good of a job that we do hooking, fighting, landing, and releasing these fish some will die, no matter how good of a job we think we did. For fly anglers, a single, and barbless or pinched downed barb, definitely helps reduce the mortality. The same can't be said for other types of fishing. The trollers, the jiggers, the plug chuckers, and the live bait crew surely contribute heavily to that mortality number. And then add in the snag and drop crowd and the numbers will surely be higher. And while head and charter boats fall under the recreational numbers catching a striped bass from a boat and then the releases from a higher elevation, like over the rail releases, just paint a bleak picture of fish "swimming away strong". They are caught far from the boat, in deeper water, in heavier currents, and at times with the boat in gear. Not good. 

     We have heard the argument "the fish are too big" but that hasn't stopped the floating mass of anglers out there fishing, especially early on, into pods of big fish that are surely outside of the 28-31" slot. There is no enforcement regarding snag and drop fishing and improper catch and release techniques that occurs daily on the boats, and yes, on the beaches. That occurred when the big bunker were around and will continue as the peanut bunker show up along the beaches. 

     A few years ago the above picture made its way around the internet. It kind of showed what is wrong with striped bass fishing at that time. An all out slaughter of big fish. There was no taking into account what year class fish they were or how much of a contribution those fish made to the SSB population. While it is good that in these times we don't have images like that around to turn your stomach what we've seen as far as fish pics, especially from the boat crew, is very alarming. That's not to say the sand-breaded images of big fish about to be released from the beach are any better. We have all seen the 9%'ers, like it's a gang, floating in the water or washed up on the beaches this fall. 

     Some argue that it's the new slot regulations that cause an increase in mortality. The slot has been tightened down to decimate the 2015 year class, thinking that'll protect the big fish, that anglers still fishing have no other move but to throw, literally, them back. Large barbed or double treble hooks or weighted treble hooks add to injured and dead bass. And I won't even mention the time spent on the decks, held vertically, and tossed like albies back into the water. 

      The above image is kind of like the 2023 poster picture of the year. It shows a Hunter Biden-ish guy laying on top of dead slot sized bass. I'm not picking on the guy, but c'mon man. But tis' the season now. You see the fall run continues and now it's game on and for the harvest mortality numbers to increase. Up to this time it has been mostly big, if not huge, bass crashing bunker in pods off the beach or pushed up in range of the surfcaster. But now they have moved off and south, although a wintering over population still hangs around the Raritan and Lower New York Bay and the New York Bight. 

     The other few days I got into those 2015 year class fish. At times all you wanted. It was the first time this fall that I saw multiple fish up on the beach and being carried back to the parking lot. They are legal fish and the anglers have a right to harvest them. The ASMFC and the individual states say so. 

      If you ever want to know the story about the striped bass you caught, and then released or kept, then just look at the two charts above and below. Your 31 inch fish, which you can now keep, is about seven years old and weighs somewhere about 15 pounds. It came from the 2015 year class of fish, which was the last god year of YOY recruitment in the Chesapeake Bay, the home to the greatest percentage of natal waters where striped bass reproduce. Yes, I know, there are a ton of factors that contribute to poor recruitment, including environmental conditions in the Bay, which is poorly managed. 

     During the peanut bunker blitzes when the bass have the bait on the beach it isn't uncommon to see frustrated spin anglers trying to dangle an 8 inch metal lip or pencil popper into the wash trying to get a bite. It's funny, and disturbing, to watch. Do you need that 28 inch fish that bad? Is that what the plug builder had in mind? At that time it's the fly rodders time to shine. Just keep casting out 1,000 feet and let us have our due, it doesn't come that often. Soon though, you'll see the snag and drop crowd making their way from the boats to the beaches. We saw it last year and in 2016 the year the bass blitzes were on the beach up and down the Jersey Shore for extended times. 


But this year the 10/0 weighted treble hook has been banned. I have seen and posted what the snag and drop crowd has "designed" as an alternative. There a few variations of the circle hook snag and drop contraptions out there now. Some use two circle hooks, some use three. Now, the law states if you use

live bait, in part or whole, it must be fished on a circle hook. Period. It doesn't say it has to be a single circle hook. It doesn't say you can snag and drop with a circle hook set-up. Win for the live bait anglers. 

     Tackle shops have legal versions tied these up and they are available. Head boats tell anglers what to bring including a "legal" snag and drop setup. I don't know what the survivability of live-lining snagged and dropped circle hook fishing is but I think it wasn't what the powers that be had in mind. Circle hooks are kind of designed for the bunker chunk, worm soakers, and eel fisherman. The idea is due to the design. The fish eats the bait, pretty much passes it through their digestive tract, and right before it shits it out you set the hook which comes through said tract and hooks them in the corner of their mouths. A J-hook doesn't do that. 

      But, when fishing circle hooks, people in the know say there is a technique. A fine line between fishing it properly or not. You have to be in contact with the fish, let him have it a bit, then pull back to have that hook set in the corner of the mouth. Will a double or triple circle hook set-up have the same result? Is it good for the fish? Will that angler, who is taking one for the table, cease fishing, and potentially killing another bass that has to been released, because he has reached his/her legal limit? 

    It's about to be open season on those 2015 slot fish. When I mean open season I mean the slot sized fish have moved "in" or "out" and are actively feeding. The above pic I grabbed is from a very reputable charter Captain who alway fishes, and harvests for his harvesting clients, legally. The pic shows legal slot fish coupled with fish in the 24-28" range. If you're in NJ the Bonus Tag program is in full effect. That's an additional bass at 24-28", so two a day, through December 31st. It'll happen on the boats and on the beaches. I saw guys reel in a striped bass the other evening and while the fish was slopping at their feet they were looking out at the busting bass. I know, we get excited, but we need to treat these fish better before the numbers, fabricated or real, lead the powers that be to put more restrictions of the fishery. Next Wednesday is the New Jersey ASMFC Addendum II meeting where options to protect the 2015 year class are up for discussion. Look at the options below and see what you think the 

regulations should be for next year. The public comment period is open so now is THE time for your voice to be heard. Don't bitch if you don't do anything. A few posts back I posted how to submit a public comment. For most fly anglers it's simple, make it catch and release, single hook only, no live bait, with catch and release or seasonal closures if other methods are allowed. Sound harsh, it is, the next option will be another moratorium, which people like me and most the people fishing don't remember as we weren't in the game back in the mid-1980's