Virginia anglers fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, tidal rivers and offshore Atlantic Ocean waters hauled in 6,071 trophy-sized gamefish in 2012. This was only the eighth time more than 6,000 award-winning fish have been nabbed, according to Lewis Gillingham, director or the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament.
As has often been the case in recent years, stripers were the number one catch. They led all other eligible species with 1,331 awards. To qualify this fish has to be 40 pounds or heavier if it is kept, or 44 inches or longer if it's measured and released.
The total included 425 fish, or 32 percent, which were released and 906 fish which were kept. Taken together, they represent 22 percent of all citation fish caught. The 1,331 figure was the second highest ever for striped bass in the tournament's history.
An amazing 107 of these fish weighed over 50 pounds and 22 topped 55 pounds. Eleven weighed 60 pounds or more, among them a new state record of 74 pounds.
Last January and February were mild, allowing the boats to get out almost every day, which contributed to the heavy catch of stripers. Many fish were also caught this past November, when days were often in the 40's.
Speckled trout were the second most prevalent species in the awards tally. They accounted for 1,279 citations. This included 774 releases and 505 kept fish. That represented 21 percent of the total awards given out for all species.
This was the highest speckled trout catch in the tournament's history. Amazingly, specks were landed in every month of the year. Among fish kept, 10 topped the 10-pound mark, and 54 weighed 8 pounds or more, according to Gillingham.
The white marlin was the next most common fish on the awards tally sheet. Some 1,179 were caught off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. All marlin must be released to qualify for an award. This was the second-highest number in the tournament's history, topped only by the 1,253 whites caught and turned loose in 2010.
Marlin started biting consistently in July. They were abundant right through September, and one was even caught on Dec. 1. That fish was landed at the Washington Canyon, far offshore, doubtless on its way south. Thanks to the release-only award program for this species, though, he was only delayed temporarily while he fought the angler and then headed off on his way to warmer waters.
Red drum accounted for the fourth-highest number of citations last year. Some 772 of these battlers were caught and released. Like marlin, these only qualify for awards if they are put back in the water unharmed. The first red drum was caught on March 19 and the last was taken on Nov. 19.
Gray triggerfish accounted for 54 awards. Sailfish drew 81 citations, the second-highest figure ever for that species. Blue marlin anglers had 119 releases, the fourth-highest figure ever for that species. Blueline tilefish had 289 citations registered, their second-highest total ever.
A few species had poor showings. For instance, no spot were registered for citations, the first time that has happened since 1994. No gray trout were weighed in either, and no spadefish met the minimum weight requirement. That has never happened with spadefish since they were added to the citation program in 1995. Trophy-sized flounder are also less abundant. Last year only 99 met the minimum size. Only five croaker met the minimum size limit for an award, the lowest number since 1993.
For more information on the awards program, contact the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, 2600 Washington Ave., Newport News, VA 23607; 757-491-5160, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.