- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2009

Who would go fishing on Christmas Eve? Apparently quite a few people, because large rockfish beckon mightily around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and in the close-in waters of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly those near Virginia Beach. The stripers also can be hooked by trollers working the channel ledges of Virginia’s Northern Neck, where the season remains open through the end of the month.

Then there are the speckled sea trout fans, who cast a fond eye toward the Elizabeth River. For example, Virginia Beach’s Ken Neill and Wes Blow use minnows under bobbers in this tidal river, and they find exceptionally fine speckled trout most any time.

Not to be outdone, some of the hardiest anglers anywhere, the men and women who like to dine on well-seasoned fillets cut from yellow perch, are out and about hunting their favorite cold-weather species. Don’t be surprised if two such perch fanatics, Dale and Nancy Knupp of La Plata, Md., aren’t out in their boat dropping small, scented, plastic grubs into the deep holes of the Nanjemoy Creek in Charles County. Resident schools of yellow perch are available in the Potomac River feeders, including the Chicamuxen, Mattawoman and Swan creeks, as well as the Occoquan River.

Under normal circumstances, it doesn’t matter to the Knupps if it’s Christmas Eve. They’ll start early and finish up by noon or so. But current conditions of the area’s boat launch ramps are not the best. Even if the heavy snow that fell has been removed, there’s a good chance of icing on the ramps.

Imagine the “fun” of backing down a trailered boat, and just when you should stop, the whole rig keeps sliding back - into a creek. It can happen. Some years ago a friend, Phil Dillon, and I tried to launch his boat at Point of Rocks, on the upper Potomac. We backed the rig down on an icy ramp, and it started sliding until the car’s exhaust pipes sucked more water than air.

It took a farmer’s stout tractor and a cable (plus a handful of cash) to pull the vehicle, boat and trailer from the river.

Declines in striper numbers? - The national Stripers Forever organization said it has finished its annual survey of rockfish anglers from Maine to North Carolina, and the news is not good. Striped bass fans report “a significant and continuing decline in the number of fish caught per hour and the average size of those fish,” president Brad Burns said. The group seeks to make the striper a gamefish, protecting it from commercial exploitation.

“When we first conducted the survey in 2003, most respondents felt the recreational fishery for wild striped bass was improving,” Burns said. “But the pendulum has swung dramatically in the opposite direction ever since. In our 2009 survey, 72 percent of the responding anglers reported catching fewer and smaller stripers per hour than in the previous five years, and more than two-thirds of the guides specializing in coastal striped bass fishing said their businesses had been adversely affected by the smaller numbers of fish available.”

Studies have shown gamefish status for the species would benefit the largest number of people in all the coastal states where the fish is found. Sport anglers easily turn out to be big income producers for government tax and license coffers, as well as private businesses, such as tackle shops, hotels, gas stations and boat and electronic depth finder companies.

Martin learns from a pro - Julie Ball said cable TV fishing show host Roland Martin visited the lower Chesapeake Bay to film a segment about large striped bass in the lower Chesapeake Bay. He couldn’t have had a better teacher than charter boat captain Skip Feller. Martin caught rockfish that fell for live eels and artificial lures.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/ sports.

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