Gerald Almy: Saltwater citations falter this summer

Gerald Almy

Normally you would expect a large number of citation awards to be given out by now for trophy caliber Virginia saltwater gamefish. With a few exceptions, though, the number of fish registered by weight, when kept, or by length, when released, has been modest this year.

Perhaps that has something to do with the weather. One day it’s unusually cold, the next day the heat nearly sets a record. Expect things to settle down through July, August, and September, when more consistent saltwater action is likely.

Here, though, is a rundown on the tally of trophy catches for some of the popular gamefish that are pursued in the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, or tidal rivers and inlets.

Black drum citations were unusually low this spring. Only 10 fish received awards. One was kept and nine were released unharmed. Angler Ashley Pruitt caught the biggest drum so far this year, a fish that weighed a whopping 85 pounds, 5 ounces.

Blueline tilefish have become increasingly popular in the last decade or so among Virginia anglers. A total of 37 of these fish qualified for awards so far in 2017. All were caught bait fishing, and this unusual fish is so tasty none of them were released. All were kept for later dining delights.

Not one blue marlin or bluefish of citation size has been caught. Expect both of these fish to turn on and reward anglers more in the second half of the year.

Cobias represent a bright spot. They have made a strong showing in the lower bay near the Bridge-Tunnel. A total of 44 fish have been caught and kept, while 25 were released. The largest weighed 78 pounds.

No croaker or dolphin have qualified for awards. Flounder catches have been disappointing as well, with just one big enough for a citation. The angler chose to keep that fish, which weighed 6 pounds, 8 ounces.

The biggest golden tilefish caught so far weighed 53 pounds, 1 ounce. Four of those fish have qualified for awards.

​A huge 5 pound, 7 ounce sea bass tops the award list for that category. All told, four sea bass have met the minimum citation limit. These fish are caught around wrecks and the rocks piled up around the Bridge-Tunnel islands near Virginia Beach.

​A total of 45 sheepshead have met the citation minimum, 38 kept and 7 released. The biggest was 14 pounds, 12 ounces.

​Melissa Kling caught a 10 pound, 8 ounce spadefish to rank first for the listings in that category. Five spadefish have met the award minimum and all of those were kept.

​Only two Spanish mackerel have qualified for awards, the largest weighing 6 pounds, 4 ounces. These fish are caught by trolling very fast and close to the surface, though they can occasionally be caught by casting and retrieving lures as well.

​That’s the technique used almost all the time for speckled trout. Anglers have netted 11 of those fish that met the award minimum that they kept and six that were released. The biggest one kept for eating was a 7 pound, 9 ounce fish.

​No spot have qualified for citations, and only two striped bass, both of which, thankfully, were released. It’s very disturbing to see the decline of big stripers in the lower and middle Chesapeake and Atlantic Ocean waters. These fish had made a great comeback. Let’s hope the low citation numbers are just a result of poor fishing weather this spring.

​No swordfish or tarpon were caught that met awards minimums. But a 21 pound tautog was among 38 of those fish that were kept, while 14 were released.

​A 122 pounder tops the tuna category, one of five garnering citations. Three wahoo were landed and kept, the biggest an 86 pound, 8 ounce fish. Seven white marlin were caught and released as of last week. All of those fish must be returned to the water unharmed to receive an award.

​A mixed bag for Virginia’s saltwater anglers, but expect better fishing in the second half of the year.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.