The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Summertime Fishing

Locklear Story 0416 II Sam Loustanua"How will I know when a fish bites?" "Young Sam" asked his grandfather, Sam Locklear. Both Sams and younger brother, Nate, were fishing the Severn River with me last summer. It's always a treat to have enthusiastic ten- and seven-year-old anglers aboard, especially when a trip starts like this one. The words were hardly out in the air before two chunky white perch climbed onto the teasers on Young Sam's line, nearly taking the rod out of his hands. 

We were fishing a 12-14-foot-deep restoration oyster reef near the U.S. Naval Academy. This particular reef, an underwater point jutting out into the channel, is an example of where oysters thrive. The reef is elevated in the water column where currents bring the oysters food, carry away waste, and attract other critters—like worms, barnacles, grass shrimp, and mud crabs—that in turn attract predators like white perch and rockfish. We could see the perch on my skiff's fishfinder. The Severn has more successful restoration reefs like this one—they form the happy side of this story. 

The other side isn't as pretty. With supper on ice, the Sams, Nate, and I went upriver to a 25-foot-deep reef that showed hard bottom but no fish. It's a survey site for an upcoming restoration project, so we got out an electronic temperature/salinity/oxygen meter and lowered its sensor's ten-meter cable to get a profile of the water column. As usual for summer here—and in too many other parts of the Chesapeake system—the dissolved oxygen measured below two milligrams per liter from the bottom up to about 15 feet. That's a lethal level for perch and rockfish and stressful even for crabs. In fact, on the bottom that day, the level was below 0.5 mg/l—low enough to kill worms. No wonder the fishfinder screen was blank below 15 feet. That's what a "dead zone" looks like. This is the ugly side of the story. It illustrates why we concentrate oyster restoration in shallower water. 

As Memorial Day approaches, we've got dead zones on our minds. But why do dead zones form each summer? From human-caused nitrogen pollution. Take a look at this excellent graphic from YSI, Inc. (the maker of my oxygen meter). It concentrates on the Gulf of Mexico, but the global map shows hypoxia ("the environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms") all over the Earth, including the Chesapeake.

What can we do about it? We have a plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, and it's slowly turning the bad stuff around while we celebrate successes like these new oyster reefs. Want to make sure that Young Sam, Nate, and thousands of other youngsters have a healthy Bay to grow up around? Click here to find out how you can help.

John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist

 


Joseph's Clean Water Story


19052267_25244661_thebayThe Bay has played a huge part in my life. I've been fishing since I was two years old. The first time being back in 1998 on the Choptank River with my dad.

My life has revolved around the pursuit of fish. Living in Maryland has given me opportunities to do so. But, over the years the lack of clean water, fish, and forage has affected the fishing tremendously. I've had to pursue fish in other states like New York, New Jersey, and even down south to South Carolina.

The fishing has declined, and I'm beginning to see less fish every day. Growing up I used to see schools of bunker being blitzed on by stripers. It was hard not to see a school of baitfish roaming around. But now its all but ghost waters. These bunker schools don't appear—if you're lucky you can see a few swim by. If you're lucky.

Being a U.S. Marine, I learned the value of pride in oneself. I take that pride into where I live and fish. I love Maryland, and I'd love to fish here, too. But without the proper care and pride taken into caring for the Bay's health, I've had to pursue fishing elsewhere. I'd love to see more fish and more life within the Bay. And we can help. Whether its by picking up trash, recycling oyster shells, planting underwater grasses, or releasing a large cow striper in the spring to spawn—it's these small things we can do to help.

I want to see a Bay that we can not only fish, but can swim in as well. I hate hearing people bad mouth the health of the Bay, instead we should hear more people telling each other about how they helped the Bay and how it played a role in their lives. The Bay provided me with fishing and an opportunity to relax and have fun. But with its health depleted we need to help give back to the Bay that has given so much to us.

—Joseph Anonuevo
Ellicott City, Maryland 

What does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your clean water story here!


Angler Clean Water Story: The Benefits of Habitat Creation

19052267_25244661_redrelease13As a full-time fly and light tackle fishing guide on the Chesapeake Bay, I find environmental and ecological restoration of the bay vital to the future of my profession. With CBF at the lead, many aspects of water quality in the bay have improved. This is a huge accomplishment considering the stress put on the resource by a large increase in human development in the watershed.

I believe habitat loss is the largest issue hampering the biological carrying capacity of the Chesapeake. Possibly more than 90 percent of the Chesapeake's three-dimensional bottom structure has been lost due to declines in natural oyster reefs and seagrass flats. Anglers can see the effects of habitat loss first hand. I have personally witnessed the disappearance of eelgrass flats. These once productive fishing spots have turned into barren deserts that no longer support biological diversity.

On the other hand, I have seen the positive benefit of habitat restoration projects. The restoration of three-dimensional biological communities through man-made habitat creation is exciting from an angler's perspective. Unproductive two-dimensional bottom is turned into thriving biological communities through projects likes CBF's reef ball program. Anglers are one of the greatest beneficiaries of habitat creation since gamefish are attracted to the variety of forage fish, crabs, shrimp, and worms that 3D habitat supports. One of CBF's reef ball sites has become a reliable fishing stop for me while running fishing charters.

Whether through donations or voluntary participation in CBF reef ball projects, anglers can help turn the tide on habitat loss. It is a win-win for the resource and your fishing experience!

—Chris Newsome, Gloucester, Virginia

As an avid angler, what does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your fishing clean water story or read others here!


Why Anglers Should Support Maryland’s Phosphorus Management Tool

MapPhosphorus is at the center of a big fight right now between Governor Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly.

The Governor, his administration, the farm community, the members of the House and Senate, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation all acknowledge the solid scientific evidence that phosphorus runoff pollution from spreading manure on farm fields is a problem for the Chesapeake. Despite strong efforts by sewage treatment plant upgrades and many farmers, phosphorus pollution is not yet declining in Maryland’s Eastern Shore rivers. In fact, it is actually increasing in the Choptank, causing more damage to this important waterway.

The issue is the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT), developed over 10 years by Bay and agriculture scientists from the University of Maryland to help farmers precisely manage the way they fertilize their crop fields. The farm community participated actively in the development of this innovative tool. Regulations putting it to work would have gone into effect at the beginning of February.

But Gov. Hogan, at the request of the Maryland Farm Bureau and other organizations, pulled the plug on the PMT shortly after his inauguration, saying he wanted to “hit the pause button” to seek more input from farmers. Shortly after, concerned members of the General Assembly filed House and Senate bills to convert the PMT regulations into legislation. Just before House and Senate hearings on the PMT bills, Hogan issued his own Maryland Agricultural Phosphorus Initiative 2015

It is good that he acted, but his Phosphorus Initiative offers loopholes and even more delay. Here is what the Baltimore Sun had to say in its editorial response, "Stand Firm on Phosphorus": "the new rules offer too many off-ramps to divert the cause, particularly a provision that gives the state agriculture department broad authority to postpone their implementation as officials see fit." It's high time we deal directly with the problem of phosphorus runoff pollution in our rivers and Bay. Anglers can help a lot by asking their elected officials to get on with the job. 

But isn't this whole PMT campaign singling out family farms unfairly?
No. Many Chesapeake watershed farmers are making heroic efforts to reduce their impacts on streams, rivers, and the Bay. Just click here to read about the good work that some farmers are doing for their farms and local waterways. Agriculture, if managed well, reduces runoff pollution at very low cost. The problem is that agriculture covers 25 percent of the land in the watershed or 8.5 million acres (note map above). Look especially at the proportion of Maryland's Eastern Shore that is growing crops and poultry. That huge acreage is why agriculture keeps coming up as the leading cause of the Chesapeake's ills. Our Bay and its rivers and streams need nearly ALL of the watershed’s 87,000 farmers to exercise Conservation Best Management Practices. 

We depend on Maryland farms for the food that fuels our bodies every day. But, note the comparative cost figures in the Sun editorial: "...the financial cost [of the PMT] is somewhere in the neighborhood of $22.5 million . . . Eastern Shore poultry producers spend more on advertising. Maryland's annual seafood catch is worth more than that despite its pollution-related declines of the last several decades. And Maryland's boating industry alone is worth about 100 times that. So exactly who should be doing the compromising?"  

Now look at The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake. The Bay watershed is a tremendous economic asset, but it's under severe pressure from us humans and our needs for food, transportation, and housing. Maryland cannot afford an either/or choice between vibrant agriculture and a healthy Chesapeake. We must find ways to have both. Farmers who have already installed Conservation Best Management Practices are showing the way, in teamwork with state and federal agencies, agricultural and Bay scientists, and businesses looking at new ways to use excess phosphorus.

Chart

There is real win/win opportunity here, but getting there will grow more difficult and expensive the longer we wait. It's time for everyone who has a stake in a healthy Bay, especially anglers and seafood harvesters, to urge Gov. Hogan and the General Assembly to reach agreement on this "PMT Pause" and then move quickly to put it to work. 

Every angler and waterman from the Sassafras to the Pocomoke, and all of the rest of us who love those waters, must tell our elected officials that we want SOLUTIONS to the problem of farmland soils oversaturated with phosphorus. Click here to take action now!

Remember: The Chesapeake’s fish and crabs need clean water. And they are essential to prosperous communities in Maryland. We need BOTH healthy waterways and strong agriculture. It’s time to get to work and figure out how! 

John Page Williams, CBF’s Senior Naturalist 


Angler Clean Water Story: A Tale of Three Coves

Chain pickerelI fish in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries several days a week year round. Much of my fishing is done from a kayak, which allows me to get into very shallow water and to sneak up on fish. I see compelling differences in catch success depending on the water quality and clarity of the water bodies where I fish. Here is an example.

This morning I had planned to fish from my small center console near the Bay Bridge. The wind built up overnight and cancelled that plan. My alternate plan was to find some sheltered coves off of the tidal Severn River where I could fish from my kayak. I fished in three separate coves that had very calm conditions.

In the first cove, I had about the best visibility I can remember for September in this area (~4 ft). In less than 45 minutes, I hooked three chain pickerel, which are not common catches in the tidal Severn until winter months. The pickerel were healthy specimens from three separate age classes, suggesting that this local population was reproducing. The first was a young pickerel of ~6-7". The second was about 17-18". The third was a strong fish of 21-22" that pulled the kayak around for a minute or so before running out of steam. All three pickerel were quickly returned to the water.

In the second cove, the water clarity was good, but not as spectacular as in the first cove. I was able to observe a pickerel follow my lure up to the boat and remain a few inches behind the lure for more than 5 seconds trying to figure out whether to bite or not.

In the third cove, the water clarity was somewhat muddy. The fish were not biting well there either.

I wish all the tributaries in the Severn were as clear as I found in the first cove. Imagine how good the fishing would be if that were the case.

—John Veil, Annapolis, MD

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Angler Clean Water Story: Every Little Bit Makes a Difference!

HWD_6559-copy_edited-1Kendall Osborne carefully shows off (before release) a handsome fly-caught red drum from a shallow flat on the lower Chesapeake.

Growing up on a pond (that drained on overflow to the James River), I began fishing long ago. Fly fishing started in the teens and continues to this day. And today, I have the great fortune to live on the water and see a sliver of the Chesapeake Bay behind the house.

As an angler, it is easy to think of practicing catch-and-release as a primary conservation effort. That is indeed the case. But there is so much more we could do: We quit using fertilizer over a decade ago--our yard looks as good today as ever; we pick up the dog poop; we take kids to volunteer at CBF's Clean the Bay Day; we participate in the CBF's oyster gardening program; when we eat shellfish at home, the shells go directly onto our own "reef" by the dock and not into the trash.

Ten years ago, if you told me I'd see a redfish tail behind my house I would have bet the farm against it. Now I've seen it! The water quality in the Chesapeake is improving, and anglers can help on and off the water.

Practice catch-and-release, but also pick up the poop and eliminate the fertilizer. Get your favorite restaurant to donate shells to restoration projects. Pick up that stray holiday balloon you see on the water. It only takes a minute. We are heading in the right direction, and we need to keep going. Every little bit does make a difference!

—Kendall Osborne

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Angler Clean Water Story: Simply Put

BrandonWhite_LatearlLine_StripedBass_flyrod
Simply put, the single most important variable in my mind to having a healthy fishery not only in my home waters of the Choptank River, but the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, is having clean water. I have been fishing and living on the Chesapeake since I was a little boy. Over the years I have seen how grasses have decreased as a result of polluted water and other various pollutants.

It wasn't too long ago I was able to fish the shallows of the Choptank River and consistently catch white perch, striped bass, and other finned animals. While I am still able to catch some fish, the Choptank is now the second most polluted river in Maryland and as a result, the fishing does not even compare to when I was a kid. While making sure we have sustainable fishing regulations for both commercial and recreational anglers is important, in my mind the single most important variable neccesary for a healthy ecosystem is clean, unpolluted water.

Brandon White, Easton, MD

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Angler Clean Water Story: Where Have All the Stripers Gone

StripedBass-rockfish-closeup-BlairSeltzCBFStaff_458x232
Photo by Blair M. Seltz.

The impact of pollution on the Chesapeake [and its] fish is very significant. Pollution in the form of too many nutrients causes low oxygen levels during the warmer months and this causes the stripers to move around quite a bit. The areas where they can find tolerable oxygen levels seem to be shrinking each year which makes the Bay less habitable. Traditional locations where stripers have been caught for years are no longer productive.

You can have wonderful structure with loads of baitfish on it but no stripers because there is not enough oxygen in the water to support them. Finding fish consistently in the warm months has become much more challenging because they are moving all the time and one cannot see nor determine oxygen levels without expensive test equipment. An area may look good and have lots of bait but there is no way to tell if the oxygen levels will support the [top] predators.

Capt. Richie Gaines, Queenstown, MD
Capt. Richie Gaines has been guiding anglers in the region for more than 20 years and has earned a reputation as one of the top light tackle guides on the Bay. Richie is a "guerilla" guide and fishes the entire Bay, moving with the fish to follow the best bite. Fishing the Bay year-round from the Susquehanna Flats to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel has provided a great deal of experience and taught Richie how to be versatile in applying techniques and locating the fish.

As an avid angler, what does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your fishing clean water story or read others here!


Angler Clean Water Story: Clean Water Laws Need to Have Teeth

 

Neo_003580-01_PA_brook-trout_NeilEverOsborneiLCP_695x352
Photo © Neil Ever Osborne

I am a brook trout enthusiast. The fish is arguably one of the most striking freshwater fish to be found. Brookies need clean, cool water to survive. Loss of forests and runoff that carries sediment into streams are major threats to brook trout. I've watched the stream behind my house decline over the past 20 years, due mostly to development and farming along small feeder streams. The trout are fewer in number and smaller. If the declines of the past 20 years occur for another 20, I wonder whether brookies will even live there anymore. The laws protecting streams should have teeth.

Dave Wise, Lititz, PA

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Angler Clean Water Story: Healthy Estuaries, Healthy Fish

Eric fly fishing in mattawoman, roggeStriped bass, speckled trout, red drum, and many other species of interest to anglers, as well as the species that they prey upon, are dependent upon the estuaries and upon submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) at some point or points in their lives.

Healthy estuaries and a healthy overall Chesapeake Bay are vital to healthy fish populations, and we all need to be concerned about anything that would compromise that health, and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

 

Ken Schultz, Accomac, Virginia 

As an avid angler, what does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your fishing clean water story or read others here!