- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ken Neill of the Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk corridor says the fishing for rockfish in the Atlantic Ocean is outstanding.

“With the mild winter we are having, I do not see any reason for it to stop until the fish make their spawning run,” he says.

Neill reports large stripers getting caught up and down the coast.

“If you want to catch big rockfish, you need to be along the coast of Virginia right now,” he adds.

Not only are the striped bass providing great outings, the jumbo sea bass are filling any vacant hiding spots in the offshore wrecks. Neill said some sea bass up to 7 pounds (which is big) have been caught, and a fine number of 5-pounders is available. Some large chopper bluefish are still out in the close-in ocean portions.

To illustrate the fine fishing, Neill and his wife, Tricia, took their boat north toward the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands Monday and found a massive amount of “working” birds and fish some two miles off Fisherman’s and Smith islands. We’re talking about rockfish anywhere from 38 to 47 inches in water as shallow as 10 feet, although the best action was had in 20-foot depths.

If you’re interested in such fishing, get in touch with the Virginia Beach Fishing Center (757/422-5700) and ask about charter boats. Also ask Claude Bain of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament (757/491-5160) to send you a pamphlet that lists all charter operators on the state’s coast and Chesapeake Bay.

Meanwhile, tautog catches have been pretty good around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and the general area of the bridge-tunnel shows a presence of fat stripers.

Local fishing is good — We have no idea how strong winds might affect the local fishing in the next several days, but in the early part of the week it was quite good.

It begins with Dick Fox of Front Royal, Va., who returned to Lake Anna, west of Fredericksburg, and again found willing largemouth bass in 10 to 20 feet of lake water.

“The weather has a lot to do with what happens in the next few days,” he says, “but I’ve been using shiners or tubes on dropshot rigs and have been doing very well.”

Meanwhile, those who have visited the Spoils Cove on the Potomac above the Wilson Bridge have been finding some willing crappies, bass and catfish. Most of the catches have been made with small grubs on 1/8-ounce jig hooks. A fish attractant spray or cream helps. A number of locals use live minnows, and they remove many crappies from the cove — maybe too many.

Yellow perch hunters are out in force, and they are finding a few early staging schools of “ring” perch, as they’re sometimes called, inside the Occoquan near the railroad bridge, as well as in the Mattawoman, Nanjemoy and Aquia creeks.

The Patuxent River should show some action, but recent rains have turned it far too muddy to allow decent fishing.

Menhaden debate — Today the Virginia House of Delegates will debate whether the state should comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which recently ruled to reduce the commercial harvest of a filter fish, the menhaden. Menhaden are in declining supply because for too many years the fish has been netted by the tens of thousands of tons to be converted into oils, fish meal and other products. The menhaden reduction fishery, as it is known, is under fire from sport fishing groups because this fish is the top food item for many species that are important income sources for the recreational fishing industry in Virginia.

If the state doesn’t go along with the catch limits imposed by the ASMFC, Virginia will face sanctions by the U.S. Department of Commerce. It could lead to a moratorium on menhaden fishing.

During the summer, the ASMFC voted to limit industrial harvests of the Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden population. But many sport anglers believe the new caps on the catch — 105,800 metric tons this year — to be generous. The cap is supposed to remain until 2011.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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