Thursday, May 26, 2011
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Lower flounder limit doesn’t necessarily mean more fish for the frying pan
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
- Virginia’s hunting totals produce mixed results
- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
Last spring, it appeared that nearly every flounder you’d catch along Virginia’s Eastern Shore was just under the 18.5-inch minimum-size limit. I heard of some boats catching as many as 150 of these flat fish, all of them throwbacks.
So this spring, with the limit graciously lowered to 17.5 inches, you’d expect everyone to be reeling in a much higher percentage of keepers. Right?
Well, it hasn’t happened that way. Many of the fish this season are just under 17.5 inches. I’m thinking if the limit were lowered to 14 inches, everything you’d catch would be just under that.
So what kind of flounder season has it been this spring?
When I put that question to the proprietor of Don’s Tackle Shop on the road to Wachapreague, I got a one word answer:
Wait a minute! Wachapreague, a village of 250 residents, has for years called itself the “Flounder Capitol of the World.” The marshes, creeks, channels and bays that stretch lazily from the waterfront to the barrier islands facing the Atlantic offer fertile flounder habitat. The settlement has attracted visiting anglers in droves for more than 100 years and is reported to be home of the oldest charter boat fleet in Virginia.
So I was rocked back on my heels a bit when the tackle shop keeper reported the fishing to be horrible. He noticed my demeanor and added: “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
This spring, there has been wind, too many fish under the minimum-size limit, wind, cold water, wind, unusual tides and -- did I say -- wind.
Even so, I’m having more success this year than last. While fishing Wachapreague with Kevin Wood, a West Virginian who settled in the village about three years ago, we caught 23 flounder during a day’s outing, two of them keepers.
Our keeper-success rate has been even higher to the south at Oyster. The fishing isn’t spectacular, but there are enough fish, including keepers, to challenge anglers.
I think I say this every year, but the wind has been a major foe. Too much wind can keep you off the water, or it can move your boat too swiftly when you are drifting for flounder or it can dirty the water and spread a web of grass that gathers on your hooks.
You can get an idea of the difficulty of catching big flounder by the fact that through mid-May not a single one has been registered in the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament. Some years, the count would be a couple dozen by now.
The most recent fishing report from Don’s Tackle Shop says the flounder-catching pace at Wachapreague has slowed, but some big ones are showing up, including several 8-pounders.
The big news at Wachapreague is that much of the flounder-related business in town that has been owned by the Lewis family since the 1970s, is now is in the hands of the Johnson family from Minnesota. That includes the cracker-box size Capt. Zed’s Tackle Shop and the Island House Restaurant which has great views of the waterfront.
The Johnson’s managed to lure gourmet chef Charles Thain from the Eastville Inn to the Island House Restaurant and that means flounder fishing isn’t the only game in town. Let me put it this way: the Eastville Inn has become the all-time favorite restaurant of my wife, Katherine, and me under the skills of Thain.
His menu isn’t quiet as elegant at the Island House, but there are ample dishes for you to enjoy his skills of preparing local seafood.
Eating a flounder is the next best thing to catching one.