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September 18, 2013

Virginia Anglers Dig Deep for Big Black Sea Bass

As cooler weather approaches, fish congregate over offshore wrecks

Sea Bass Battles

For mid-Atlantic anglers, sea bass management is a Catch-22. On one hand, tough regulations for the past several years have resulted in epic sea bass fishing today. On the other hand, conservative catch quotas are keeping anglers from enjoying the largess.
“Sea bass fishing is so good that I’m not allowed to catch them,” complains Capt. Skip Feller, of the Virginia Beach headboat Rudee Angler, and a sea bass advisory council member for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. “Sea bass are not overfished, experiencing overfishing, or in danger of overfishing.”
Feller claims that the problem lies in the coastwide management of sea bass. Since the fish occur in state and federal waters, both sides set regulations. However, once federal quotas are met, the fishery is shut down. Last fall, this conundrum caused the cancellation of the fall season from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. “All summer, anglers up north catch sea bass and deplete the quota,” he explains, “then when the fishing gets good off Virginia, the quota is filled and the federal government closes the season.”
Toni Kerns, the ASMFC’s Interstate Fisheries Management program director, is looking for a compromise. “We’ve introduced addendums that allowed Southern states a smaller size limit, and we reopened the season at the beginning of the year to allow their anglers additional opportunity to harvest sea bass.” In addition, the ASMFC is working to give individual states more control over their seasons and regulations. “We are trying to craft regulations that allow anglers to take advantage of the fishery without overfishing the fish,” she says.
That’s something sea bass anglers, like Feller, would welcome. “Sea bass fishing is better than ever,” he says, “I wish we could go out and catch them.”

 


Sea Bass Time

Sea bass season (which ran Jan. 1 to Feb. 28, May 19 to Oct. 14 and Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 in 2013) ramps up in late summer on midshore reefs in 60 to 100 feet of water, like the Tower Reef, 13 miles off Virginia Beach’s Rudee Inlet. By November and December, the fish move to structure in 120 to 200 feet of water. Triangle Reef, 30 miles east of Virginia Beach, holds big sea bass, flounder and chopper bluefish.
In the dead of winter, big sea bass hold on deepwater wrecks 50 miles offshore. When the season opens in spring, it’s a good time to catch knotheaded sea bass mixed with blueline tiles, grouper and wreckfish on the 50-fathom curve along Norfolk Canyon.
For a list of wrecks and reefs, go to the Virginia Artificial Reef Program website. For up-to-date season and bag limits, go to noaa.gov.


Virginia Beach Sea Bass Charters

Capt. Fred Feller
Rudee Angler
757-425-3400
rudeeinletcharters.com

Capt. Jake Hiles
Matador Sportfishing
757-749-6008
matadorcharters.com

Capt. Steve Wray
Ocean Pearl
757-237-7517
vbsf-hookedup.net/oceanpearl