If you fished for speckled trout, white marlin, red drum, cobia or sharks in Virginia in 2014, chances are you enjoyed fantastic action and may have even latched onto a trophy! If you went after flounder, stripers, spot, croaker, or gray trout, not so much.
All told anglers fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, tidal rivers, and the offshore waters of the Atlantic hauled in 5,040 fish that qualified for awards in the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, according to director Lewis Gillingham.
“This was slightly below the 10-year average of 5,219 citations,” he said.
Citations are awarded to any licensed angler who catches a trophy-sized fish and the tournament does not require advance registration or entry fees.
As they did in 2013, speckled trout accounted for the largest number of citation-sized fish among the 35 eligible species — a total of 1,476. Some 1,034 (70 percent) of the trout were released. Another 441 specks were kept for eating. Eleven fish topped the 10-pound mark, while 56 weighed 8 pounds or more. The top fish scaled a hefty 13 pounds, 5 ounces. Speckled trout accounted for 30 percent of all citations awarded in 2014.
Good Year For White Marlin Anglers
White marlin anglers also had a terrific year. Some 928 of these spectacular, tail-walking fish were caught in the Atlantic off the Virginia Coast. This was the fourth highest total in the tournament’s history and accounted for over 18 percent of all citations awarded for the year.
Blue marlin anglers tallied 72 citations. Both figures continue a trend that began in 2008 with above-average numbers of marlin being caught. Both white and blue marlin are only eligible for “release” citations, to protect the fishery.
Red drum anglers racked up the third highest number of citation awards, almost 18 percent of the total, with 925 trophy fish registered. This is down slightly from 2013, when 995 awards were given for red drum, but still represents the second most productive year for this species in the tournament’s history.
The fishing season for trophy red drum is a long one in Virginia, according to Gillingham.
“The first fish registered for a citation was taken off of Fishermen’s Island on May 2,” Gillingham said. “The last trophy submitted came from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel area on November 11.”
As with marlin, all red drum registered for citations must be released.
Shark citation numbers topped 100 for the first time since 1989. All of these fish were returned to the water unharmed. Trophy cobia catches were also up in 2014, with 232 of the prehistoric-looking brown fish entered for awards. The top fish weighed 92 pounds. Anglers reported that cobia in the 30- to 45-pound class were abundant, making prospects for 2015 excellent. It takes a 55-pounder to nab an award. Cobia action should heat up in May.
Striper, Flounder Catch Rates Dissapoint
Several species disappointed anglers during the 2014 season. Virginia is world-famous for its winter striper fishing, with fish up to 70 pounds available. But these big true bass were scarce compared to a normal year in the lower bay and ocean waters during December, January and February. Of course, “scarce” is relative. Some 463 citation stripers over 40 pounds were still caught by cold-weather anglers!
Flounder citations were also a letdown, with just 61 registered. A few years back hundreds of these tasty brown and white fish met the 7 pound minimum weight requirement for an award.
Only one spot and one gray trout met the award level for those species. Fishing for both of these fish has been relatively poor for nearly a decade. Spadefish and croaker awards were also at low levels.
On a brighter note, some 23 bluefish weighing over 16 pounds were registered for citations. It’s not like the 1980s, when hundreds of big blues were caught and anglers wheeled the day’s catch back to their vehicles in grocery carts. But better than a few years back, when only one or two met the minimum trophy weight.
For more information on the awards program or this year’s fishing prospects, contact Lewis Gillingham at 757-491-5160, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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