Looking Ahead to 2013 Fishing
The coming year will be filled with many outdoor opportunities on the Tidewater, particularly if you’re an angler. The best part is your adventures could start very soon, mid-January, in fact.
Yellow perch continue their remarkable comeback around the Chesapeake. The bite traditionally begins this month on the Susquehanna Flats at a large staging area near the mouth of the Elk River.
Lots of big neds school there from surrounding waters and hold in 35- to 50-foot depths, waiting for the right time to move into local estuaries to spawn. As they wait, many can’t resist a real or fake bloodworm or just the right jig.
Lots of undersized rockfish are swarming the deeper Bay Bridge structures and intercepting any jigs, minnows or bloodworms that white perch anglers might choose to present. The perch are scarce in traditional angling hotspots, probably because of the presence of the rockfish. Pickerel are coming on strong in the fresher water of most estuaries, taking minnows, small spoons and Mepps spinners. Freshwater crappie fishers are venturing out armed with light rods, bobbers and a pail of small minnows. Most other fishing is on hold for better weather, which at this moment seems very distant — though it probably isn’t.
Whitetail and sika deer, firearms: Jan. 4 and 5
Later into February, when these delicious fish migrate to headwaters around the Bay to begin spawning, the action turns to shore fishing in fresher water. Find where throughout the Bay on DNR’s Fisheries website. Click reports, then map index for a simple map.
Late March, the white perch run starts. 2012’s predicted abundance never arrived. Look in the headwaters of most Bay estuaries for fat whities seeking the sweeter waters of their birthplace to reproduce.
April brings rockfish. Our forecast blends good with not-so-good news. The good news is that lots of rockfish. The not-so-good news is many of them will be undersized, ranging from 15 to 17 inches.
These little guys were born in 2011, whose Young-of-Year index (34.6) was the fourth highest on record. They won’t grow into keepers until 2014. For more of the not-so-good, legal-sized resident rockfish are predicted down about 25 percent from last season, which wasn’t a particularly good year, either.
Granted I’m basing my predictions on only one measure, the Young of Year Indices. But those numbers have historically represented the most reliable predictors of year-class populations and total available fish in the Chesapeake.
Striper fishermen will catch lots of fish in 2013 — and throw back most of them. Careful catch-and-release tactics are essential to preserve those awesome numbers and for them to reach maturity.
Speckled seat trout swim into the southern Chesapeake in May. The population of 19- to 21-inch specs that teemed in the shallows last year at Hoopers, Solomons, Crisfield and Tangier Sound provided the very best sea trout fishing in memory. This year, those trophies should be in the 23- to 24-inch class.
In June, Chesapeake fishing busts wide open, starting with the welcome return of Norfolk spot. Three years ago, an entire year class died, trapped in the Chesapeake by an unusual winter weather pattern. In 2012, mature spot were absent. Meanwhile, younger three- to five-inch fish were abundant. This season, those juniors reach maturity.
Croaker seem to be following the same pattern, perhaps after their own wipeout. We saw few mature croaker last year and lots of tiny ones that should grow in 2013.
The blue crab bonanza predicted by DNR for 2012 never materialized. Will 2013 be the big year? I’m not betting on it, until DNR gives long overdue protection to female crabs.
There will be ups and downs, and with so many fish, our Bay gives you lots of second chances.