Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Good Guys Win - Bad Guys Loose - Striped Bass Poachers Go to Jail and Pay Big

There recently has been a lot of press about a federal case against striped bass poachers including fishermen, fish buyers, fish dealers and restaurants. The links below offer plenty of reading about the lengthy case. Finally, striped bass criminals are being prosecuted in a big way with jail time, license suspensions and big fines. Read all about it with these links or Google for more information. (copy and paste each web site as I can't seem to make them hot links)




This case is likely just the tip of the iceberg. But a step in the right direction.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Maine Striped Bass Need A Hatchery For The Kennebec River

Maine’s striped bass fishing has become a marginal fishery after being considered world class in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The short story is – 90 percent of Maine’s available fish are born in the Chesapeake Bay system and that system isn’t producing the stripers it ones did. That’s a story all its own. Maine’s Kennebec River does produce native fish which helps fill in a void in our available striper biomass. But that population of fish has also dwindled. So, what’s the answer to this complex problem?

The good news for a few years is that our striped bass fishing will be for big fish as the population mix of stripers consists of a few precious year classes of fish over 30 inches with few meaningful year classes following to fill in for the near future.

We in Maine can help ourselves by improving the production of striped bass in the Kennebec River. It won’t solve all our problems but it will help and we in Maine can control the effort while the Chesapeake Bay problems, commercial fishing and poaching are addressed by others.

Here's my take. We really don't have a good handle on striped bass spawning locations in the Kennebec River but the young of the year index has been established and notes that striped bass are spawning in the Kennebec and have been regularly since the stocking program began. There probably are some native fish doing the same. We just don't know.

During the early 1990's and early 2000's, the Kennebec River was recognized as a "World Class" fishery, a strong guide business component had been established and recreational anglers were having a great time catching varying sizes of striped bass by the dozens every day during the season.

During that same time frame, my logs remind me of the "GREAT" early season fishery we had beginning sometime around the 10th to 15th of May every year. These fish ranged from 28" to 40" plus and were present in schools, not just random singles and doubles.

I contend that these big fish were Kennebec River fish returning to spawn. Most of the larger fish from the Chessy and Hudson Rivers are still deep up those systems spawning, not yet migrating to Maine during mid May. As these early May fish passed through, they would continue to and up the Kennebec to disappear to some mysterious spawning grounds. I know someone knows these locations but just won't share the information.

By the time the early flush of Kennebec River spawners reached their upriver homes, migrating fish from the Chessy and a few from the Hudson Rivers would begin filtering into our systems around mid June and early July. WOW - another burst of big fish for us to enjoy.

Then around July 1, the Kennebec River spawners would begin to filter down the river providing another group of fish feeding on herring drops outs.

All this action before any dams were removed from the Kennebec. Now that a few dams are gone, striped bass have more habitat to spawn in and more nursery grounds to grow in.

Then the fish would settle in for the summer for great fishing through October. There were always plenty of big fish.

My contention is that over 20 years we fished out to many of the Kennebec River spawners with liberal regulations.

For instance - There is a well known nursery, feeding zone in the Kennebec River that holds very small stripers all summer long. They are like teenagers with a full refrigerator - EATING-EATING-EATING all summer long. I wanted that area closed to all fishing but couldn't rally any support for such a crazy idea. You can still see many boats there every day catching 8 to 12 inch fish one after the other. Guides bring sports there just to say they caught a fish today. That's a sad situation for the ones WORLD CLASS striped bass fishery.

There are and have been some special regulations on the Kennebec and surrounding areas to help protect the spawning stock. That's a good thing but the river needs more protection. Thinking out of the box thoughts include: No bait fishing or no bait fishing zones. No keep rules (catch and release only). Closed nursery grounds. No netting of bait by any means. Two rods per boat and possible more ideas. Perhaps Maine should have its own striped bass hatchery. Maybe new, strict regulations like these could be put in place with a sunset clause so they must be reviewed in say three to five years.

Just look at western state's trout waters to see what they have done to provide WORLD CLASS fisheries. Consumptive fishing will never create the ones $87 million Maine, recreational fishing attraction the Kennebec River had in the late 1990's and early 2000's.

We need a progressive thinking striped bass program in Maine's DMR, not just a "we need to study it" attitude. We need a "can do" program with leadership that will follow through on developing such a program without being prodded by outside interests. We need a real saltwater license. Some call it a registry. That’s just a play on words so you feel better about it. A registry doesn’t sound like a new tax. The license passed last year and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2011 season is an embarrassment. DMR needs money to develop a Maine striped bass program. Only a meaningful saltwater fishing license controlled entirely by DMR will provide funds to do that.

The Kennebec isn't the only Maine river that historically produced striped bass.

In 1995, Michael J. Little penned “A Report On The Historic Spawning Grounds Of The Striped Bass” in the Maine Naturalist magazine. If you can find a copy of the article you will be surprised. The abstract below is just a tease of what the report contains. Or go online at: http://www.jstor.org/pss/3858211 to see options of purchase or go to your local library for online help. I was surprised at his findings. This report is quite interesting and worth your time to find. Send me an email for more details on how to get a copy of it.

It will take several years to improve the Kennebec striped bass stock. Action, not studies need to be brought forward sooner rather than later.

We are missing something in Maine. It's all about leadership in Augusta. Now is the time to influence the selection of that leadership. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree Advocates For Better Striped Bass Fishing

Below is a cut and paste of a post Maine's Matt Boutet put on several web sites today.

I just received a copy of this letter that went out from Rep. Pingree's office today ahead of next week's ASMFC meeting:

Robelt H. Boyles
Chair, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1444 I Street, NW
Washington DC, 20005

Dear Chair Boyles,
Thank you and the rest of the Commissioners for your hard work protecting some ofthe most important fisheries on the East Coast. The ASMFC is a true model for how states can work together to manage interstate resources in ways that recognize each state's particular needs.

I know how difficult your job as Commissioner must be and I understand the tough trade-offs that you must make in setting fisheries policy. As you well know, your decisions can have an enormous impact on the jobs, livelihood and culture of our coastal commlmities. The striped bass populations off of Maine have decreased dramatically over the last few years and today I am writing to you to highlight the impact of increasing the commercial harvest of striped bass on Maine's coastal communities and to urge you to consider strong conservation measures.

While Maine has a long history of commercial fishing, we do not currently allow commercial fishing for striped bass. Affectionately known to Maine fishermen as stripers, these fish provide one of the few easily accessible saltwater sport fishing opportunities for coastal anglers.

Striped bass start arriving here in early summer and usually leave in October. When they are residing off our coast, striped bass provide a valuable recreational fishery, supporting tackle shops, fishing guides, charter boats and tourism.

Even though there have been many improvements in the management of striped bass and stocks are healthier than they were 30 years ago, recent data shows some disturbing trends for the health of the stock as well as for the viability of Maine's recreational striped bass fishing industry. Anecdotally, the fishing is poor compared to the quality of Maine's fishery in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The most disturbing trend is the continued lack of smaller schoolies Maine -- anglers are not seeing these fish.

I have heard from former fishing guides who are no longer in business because ofthe decline in stocks. I have heard from guides whose business is way off. One guide says, "Up until five years ago I had a waiting list of people wanting to fish with me. No longer does that list exist and my business has dropped 40 percent in the same time frame." Another guide says "the fishing is so bad that my son is afraid to start up a guide business and carry on the family tradition." A third guide writes, "It used to be common for my customers to catch 10 to 15 Striped Bass per half day trip. Now I am lucky to catch one or two. There have been more trips that have gotten "skunked" in the past two years, than all my previous fifteen seasons combined."

These anecdotal observations are reinforced in NOAA data about fish landings in Maine. In 2006, there were over 4 million striped bass landed in Maine. In 2008, this dropped to about 520,000 fish, further dropping to 300,000 in 2009 and early reports indicate 2010 will not be any better. While this decline may not trigger formal management actions as it does not reach the critical level of overfished, it should be cause for concern.

Additionally, Maine is on the northern edge of the range ofthe striped bass, and the significantly decreased catch here and in the southern edge of the range indicates that the range of the fish has contracted. One guide in the Penobscot Bay area used to fish in his home town but now he has to drive several hours to find stripers. It is not clear at all that any management action would be triggered if there were no striped bass caught off of the Maine coast and this seems to be a fundamental failing of the current management plan.

At the same time, what happens in other states has a significant impact on Maine's fishery. The striped bass that come to Maine are almost all from the Chesapeake stock. Maine's small breeding population of stripers in the Kennebec River enhances the fishery but does not sustain the populations. In the Chesapeake, the Young-of-the-Year numbers are falling, indicating that in future years there will be fewer stripers migrating up the coast. There have been disturbing repmts about poaching in the mid-Atlantic areas and also reports of significant year class mortality due to bacteria infections. It is my understanding that the current fisheries models do not account for either of these sources of mortality and because of that, the models could greatly increase the number of paper stripers without those fish actually being present in the wild.

In Maine, we are still seeing some big fish, but the absence of small fish makes me concerned for the future of the resource. The anecdotal data, taken together with the information about landings, and the models as well as the importance of recreational striper fishing to Maine's coastal economy, lead me to urge you to support strong conservation measures for stripers. We have seen in so many fish stocks that when we fish hard on a particular species, we ultimately end up destroying a once valuable fishery. Removing the big females in the brood stock at the same time as not having good year classes of younger fish is a recipe for collapse.

When you are making your decisions about increasing the commercial catch in the Chesapeake and elsewhere along the east coast, please keep in mind that such an increase has a direct and adverse impact on Maine's recreational striper fishery. I look forward to working with you to maintain a healthy striped bass population that can support all our coastal communities.

[Chellie Pingree]
Member of Congress

Note: the original file was a pdf, so this is a grab from that - any typos/oddities are my fault.

It's time someone in Washington took notice as to what's happening to stripers.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My favorite charter has always been people new to striped bass fishing, especially father and son combinations. The excitement and joy of catching that first striper is a life long memory. The pair pictured has already planned on their 2011 fishing trip. I am told the son couldn't stop talking about the "big" fish caught. That joy is part of what keeps me going.

The fall striped bass and false albacore fishing season has begun. Albies or Fat Alberts have arrived in the waters of the south coast and Cape Cod Massachusetts. It is time to fish with abandon for the next month and a half. September and October are times to search for that fish trophy of a lifetime.

As I write, Hurricane Earl is making its way up the east coast of the United States. Right behind it are Tropical Storm Fiona and Invest 98. Such weather conditions will really mix things up, hopefully producing some of the fastest fishing action in a long time. Stand by for an interesting fall fishing season with blitzes someplace along the New England Coast.

Have a safe and rewarding finally to the 2010 striped bass season.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Large Striped Bass and Football Blue Fin Tuna Promise to Reward Fall Anglers in Maine - All Reports Are Positive

“Striped bass over 30 inches are always a reward of the quest.”

As August approached my fishing waters, catching striped bass in the high 20 inch to low 30 inch range continued good. Tough fishing, but a handful of good sized, fly caught fish every day. Water temperatures continued to be cool despite all the hot weather this summer, so the fish stayed active enough to make for some positive trips. All this makes for a good outlook during September and early October striped bass fishing along Maine’s coast.

The other exciting news in late July was the arrival of big numbers of blue fin tuna from Kittery to Boothbay Harbor waters. Tuna have been on all the traditional waters as well as within one to two miles of land in many locations.

The tuna rules changed mid summer. All recreational tuna anglers are restricted to catching one fish per day per permit from 27 to 60 inches. No longer during 2010 can a recreational tuna angler keep the one “Giant” per season as previously allowed nor fish from 60 to 72 inches.

Bluefish on the other hand seem to be missing east of Portland and good south of Portland again this year. They might arrive late, but don’t expect many big rush.

When the striped bass fishing gets challenging, many folks quit, leaving fish alone for those willing to meet the challenge. I love the situation. It allows me to figure out where, when and how to catch some good fish without worrying about several boats being on my spots the next day. I have been fishing some very unusual locations and employing innovative techniques.

Without revealing all my secrets, I will say a few things to keep in mind for another season. One – never leave fish to find fish. We have all heard that one before and broken that rule in the past without to much penalty. But under current striped bass fishing conditions, if you find fish they may be the only ones for miles around. Stay on the location for at least a full tide. Be patient and the fish will teach you what to do. And, go back to that location day after day until it dries up. Treat the location kindly and it will reward you with several weeks of consistent fishing when stripers are in short supply.

A good example of the reward for patience is a recent story of the few days I have to fish by myself.

I was determined to catch a striper on a popper – my favorite style of fishing. I work a skinny water location that should hold fish. Conditions were perfect – calm seas and a dropping tide. I spotted a few “V” wakes that didn’t produce. I waited – waited – waited – for two hours. Nothing!

What looked like one fishing feeding its way off the flat began heading my way. I waited, watched and finally made a cast about 30 feet in front of the wake. Pop – wait – pop – wait – pop – wait. A violent surface strike happens, my line comes tight and line begins screaming off the reel and backing appears quickly. This is a good fish! After a champions struggle, the 30 inch striper was ready to be taken and released. The fish was very fat, healthy and ready to rest for another day. Me to.

That one fish was worth the entire morning. I was satisfied as I hadn’t fished myself for weeks. That’s what being patient will reward you with, a good fish to satisfy the quest.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Maine's Striped Bass Fishing Holds Promise For The Remainder of the Season - Poaching on the Rise

Stoat leaders while fly fishing for striped bass has been the rule so far during the 2010 season. Average size of striped bass has been running between 28 and 34 inches with an occasional larger fish. These are fish from the Chesapeake Bay 2003 year class which had a good young of the year index.

The above photo is of a late 2010 June fish caught in Maine waters. We are catching a lot of fish this size in 2010.

The blue-black herring run lasted into July, so the larger stripers really put on the weight. Because there has not been a lot of surface action and the numbers of striped bass are still low, anglers seemed to give up on stripers this year. Even on weekends there haven’t been many fishermen on my waters. In reality, striped bass fishing has been pretty good in comparison to the past three years.
August and September promises to be good for those willing to put in the time. Mackerel, pollack and crustaceans of crabs and shrimp will be prime attractions to stripers during the late season. Flies, lures and baits matching those attractions will put fish on the hook.
But just a reminder, Maine’s keeper size for striped bass remains a slot of 20 to 26 inches or one fish over 40 inches. I’ve seen too many people keeping fish over 26 inches. This outlaw activity is likely a result of frustration from not finding any fish in the slot size. There just aren’t many fish in the slot size available from Maine to South Carolina. That’s the problem for the next few years.
Another outlaw practice I am seeing more of is high grading. This meaning that an angler catches a keeper size fish, puts it on a stringer over the side in the water and hopes to catch a larger fish to replace the one already caught. Just a reminder, that practice is illegal. Some people go as far as to kill a keeper and then throw it away after catching a large slot fish. Some of those striped bass you see floating dead are most likely victims of the disgusting practice.

If you catch a Maine striped bass measuring from 24 to 26 inches, please consider releasing it as there is a high probability it is a Kennebec River born fish which will become a sustaining spawning fish if left to live. We tried to get a law passed to truncate Maine’s slot limit to one fish at 20 to 24 inches for the next two years to protect these valuable spawners, but couldn’t get it done. There doesn’t seem to be any will to help Maine’s Kennebec River striped bass stock which had a dominant 2006 young of the year class which are the fish just coming into the 24 plus inch range this year. It’s a shame the state didn’t try to protect these future spawners of the Kennebec River.
Another volunteer action you can do to help the future of striped bass in Maine is to use in-line circle hooks while using bait.

Using fly head wraps (shown above) in the Carrie Stevens style to identify flies that have extra weight and/or a rattle is useful. Orange wrap indicates the fly has a rattle. Both colors indicate extra weight and a rattle in the same fly. No colored wrap indicates no extra weight or rattle.

As of the first of July, pogies nor blue fish have arrived in my waters.

Fishing striped bass in Maine and on Cape Cod has been much better this season for larger fish but not for numbers. Bait is in ample supply for a good late season.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cape Cod Report - Large Striped Bass on The Fly Rod

It’s 3:00 A.M., June 7, 2010. I’m preparing for another day of guiding on Cape Cod. It’s raining steady, blowing 15 to 20 from the ENE and cooler than previous days. Fishing should be good!

Fishing has been good this spring on Cape Cod and I will soon return to Maine to see if the striper migration is strong there.
Good fishing on the Cape meaning we are catching larger fish this year using flies. The average size of our catch is running around 30 inches! That’s nice fishing right? Yes it is, but the down side is there aren’t big schools of any size fish. The up side is, a few 18 to 20 inch are showing up. Not large schools of the little guys, but a few. The end of the season will tell us if there is any improvement along the entire coast.
Like previous slumps in striped bass populations, larger fish always become easier to catch as the biomass of fish shrinks and only a couple of healthy year classes of larger fish dominate the fishing. The little guys aren’t around taking your offering before the lazy big guys get it. How many times do you see a smaller fish hooked, being chased by a much larger fish? The smaller fish is more aggressive, so gets the meal first. The larger fish are most likely always there but don’t get hooked because the aggressive smaller fish find the hook first.
One way to avoid the smaller fish is to use over sized flies. A 10 to 12 inch fly on a 3/0 to 5/0 hook will attract the smaller fish but they won’t get hook because the hook is too big. You will feel the small fish “nipping” at the larger fly – that’s a good thing because the “nipping” action will at times alert the larger fish to come take a look and hopefully get hooked.
Not a set in cement process, but usually it is wise to fish the jumbo flies slow and deep using the heaviest sink rate line you can handle. Rattles in the fly also will help.
Jumbo flies have a much material attached which tends to float. So it is important to add weight to jumbos. I always tie in extra weight to the front of the hook shank prior to tying the fly. When I finish the head I code it with colored bands in the Carries Stevens trade mark style. One red band tells me the fly is weighted. One orange band tells me the fly has a rattle. Both colored bands tell me the fly is weighted and has a rattle. This system keeps it simple.
Believe it or not, but The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Service is proposing to increase the commercial quota on striped bass. Hard to believe but true.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sportsman's Alliance of Maine Wants A $25 Saltwater Fishing License for Striped Bass Fishing

Maine's Legislature is debating the concept of a state saltwater fishing fee registry, commonly called a license to comply with federal law. If passed, the fee registry would cost Maine residents $5 per year and non residents $15. If not passed, saltwater anglers in Maine would be required to pay a fee to register with the federal government as much as $25 or more. That all depends what the feds say, and we all know what that implies, more money.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) endorses the concept of Maine running with the federal registry starting in 2011 with the extreme cost associated with it.

If you are concerned about the cost of your Maine saltwater fishing, the fee registry is obviously the way to go. But, that first needs to pass the legislature where there is pressure being exerted by SAM's executive director, George Smith to kill the bill which would send Mainers into a high cost federal registry and no money out of it for Maine. The state fee registry would insure money paid for saltwater fishing in Maine would stay in Maine and remain in the Maine Department of Marine Resources checkbook, not sent to the general funds of the federal government. Word has it that Smith is flexing the political muscle of SAM by threatening state legislators and senators with defeat at the ballot box if they vote for the bill establishing a fee based saltwater registry.

I urge everyone to call, write and email their legislators to vote in favor of passage of the bill establishing a Maine, fee based saltwater registry to avoid paying $25 or more for the federal registry. For Maine saltwater anglers, this is the most important action you can take for your sport today. Don't wait -go to:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Maine Striped Bass Regulation Change Petition - Public Scoping Meetings Within a Week

If you are interested in Maine changing it's striped bass fishing regulations, take a look at the below link to a petition requesting change - thanks.
copy and paste the below link to your search engine.


This action will help rebuild Maine's Kennebec River local striped bass stock before it is lost to overfishing. The action may also help with the entire Atlantic Coast striped bass stock which is in steep decline. Without protection, striped bass stocks are likely to crash. It is time to conserve young year classes of striped bass for the future. For a few years, there are ample numbers of large breeding striped bass to service the Chesapeake Bay spawning grounds. The Big Bay can't handle increased numbers of spawning striped bass at this time. It is a sick eco system.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Maine Saltwater Fishing License - NEEDED

Watch Maine’s legislative process closely as the saltwater license issues continue. Don’t get caught up in the trap of a “free” registry. It’s not free and simply put should be considered a joke. Some politicians and so-called Maine sportsmen advocate organizations will attempt to trick you to believe you should follow their lead when they haven’t been involved with saltwater fishing issues in any meaningful way over the years. The politicians want votes and the organizations want members who pay annual dues. If they can convince you that a “free” state registry is good you are likely to vote for them or join their cause.

The federally mandated marine registry that started January 1, 2010 was begun to establish a database of marine anglers for the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey. To avoid having anglers pay the Federal Treasury about $25 for registering in 2011, Maine must either establish a saltwater license or provide a registration that could be free or issued at a nominal fee.

Though there is no fee involved for the National Saltwater Angler Registry in 2010, most anglers will have to register before fishing in 2010. Non-resident saltwater licenses from states with a comprehensive license (such as New York, Delaware or Florida) will serve as registration. Youngsters under 16 don’t have to register, nor do anglers fishing exclusively on party and charter boats since those are covered by a separate survey. If you fish only in state waters, and not for anadromous species such as striped bass, river herring and shad, you’re also exempt.

Those holding the Highly Migratory Species permit don’t have to register, but their passengers must do so. To register go to: countmyfish.noaa.gov and click on the Angler Registry link, or call the toll-free registration line at (888) MRIP411 (1-888-674-7411) from 4 a.m. to midnight daily.

Technically, if you are fishing salt water smelt in Maine, including at commercial smelt camps, you need to be registered on the federal system as there currently isn’t any system in Maine to cover the Federal requirements.

Maine’s Department of Marine Resources has said publicly that they have no intention of enforcing the federal mandate because they aren’t receiving money to do so. It is an unfunded mandate and the State of Maine is going broke. But, there are federal enforcement officials out there.

During 2010 there really isn’t much to be concerned about as long as you sign up for the free 2010 federal registry. Beginning January 1, 2011 you must be in compliance with the federal mandate. That means if Maine doesn’t have a saltwater license by then, you will be required to register in the federal program to be legal at a cost of $25.

Should Maine have its own saltwater fishing license? I believe it should. Reason number one is because Maine’s fee most likely will be much lower than the federal program. Most other northeast states are charging $10 to $15. Maine won’t get any of the federal funds but if it has their own state license, the money is all the state’s. Plus, when saltwater anglers are officially counted, additional federal money from the Dingell-Johnson Act funds will be distributed to Maine. Win!! Win! Maine’s Department of Marine Resources will receive new found funds badly needed to go forward with saltwater recreational programs of enforcement, striped bass enhancement programs on the Kennebec River and eventually other rivers and as time goes on more devoted efforts to other saltwater, recreational programs in Maine. Another bonus could be a full state reciprocity law so you could use Maine’s license in other states that offer reciprocity.

There are people, politicians and organizations in Maine who want to stay in the dark ages, advocating for a so called “free”, state saltwater registry vs. a state saltwater license. Even if such a “free” registry was for real, that would keep Maine in the dark ages with no money to go forward to improve the state’s saltwater fishing resources or provide badly needed law enforcement.

The so called “free” state registry has been investigated by the legislative people who determine the cost of new legislation. Guess what, they reported that the so called, proposed “free” registry would actually cost the state $300,000 to $500,000. Guess where that money would come from? Most likely out the Maine Department of Marine Resources budget (we lose again) and/or by taxing other entities such as smelt camp renters, commercial smelt fishers, tidewater guides, bait shops, boat dealers, tackle shops and any other schemes that surface that aren’t free.

Every coastal state has no choice but to have a state coastal fishing licensing system or pay for a Federal Registry - every year. It’s the law of the land. There’s no avoiding the issue. Payment begins January 1, 2011. Pay the Feds or pay the State. Maine will never see one penny of Federal Registry money. Maine will keep all money generated through a state, saltwater fishing license. A so-called “free” state registry won’t be free and won’t generate a penny of revenue for Maine. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Maine needs to elect to have a saltwater fishing license in place by January 1, 2011.

Maine’s recreational, saltwater fishing cannot improve and go forward with meaningful programs for Maine’s residents without money. For the first time, Maine can begin to fund such programs if a saltwater license is in place to raise money.