Go fish in the York River

Go fish in the York River

As a professional mariner, I regret to report I don’t know much about fish. Growing up, my mother served a lot of TV dinners. I thought fish sticks peculiar because I couldn’t understand how they could swim efficiently.

Go fish in the York River

When I secured my USCG captain’s license, I had to jump through 49 certifications for the entire business enterprise. No. 50 on the list was Group Fishing License, and I drew the line there.

Fishing constitutes multi-tasking on a sailboat.
We’re moving at a brisk speed under sail rather than sitting idly by. Or we run a serious risk of fouling the fishing line on the prop of the engine. That’s no big deal on an outboard, but on an inboard the prop is way down below the waterline and impossible to reach unless you’re a diver. Remember that Murphy was a mariner.

Go fish in the York River

So I’m indebted to my fellow charter captain at York River Yacht Haven. Capt. Alan Alexander’s website York River Charters outlines the fishing possibilities in nearby waters. This is enhanced by the fact our water is brackish, so saltwater fish predominate in the Chesapeake Bay while freshwater fish populate the upper reaches of the York River. The tides make it more confusing because of turbidity. The pictures here show the different fish to be found. I can’t tell one from the other. Well, except for the shark.

From Capt. Alan’s website:

Go fish in the York River
Striped bass

The charter boat Catchin’ Up II presents our guests a customized trip on the Chesapeake Bay. For you, this may mean tailoring a saltwater fishing charter combining some bottom fishing for croakerspot or flounder with an equal amount of time spent sport fishing by live baiting for mighty cobia or shark, or trolling for trophy striped bass (stripers), bluefish or Spanish mackerel. You might enjoy harvesting fine table fare such as tautog (blackfish), spadefish or sheepshead from artificial reefs, wrecks and other structure.

Go fish in the York River

Some folks enjoy our sport fishing charters that target speckled troutred drum (redfish) or salt water striped bass (striper, rockfish) on light tackle by casting lures along the grass bottomed shoreline flats. Or, you may prefer crabbing for Virginia Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab.

The one fish I know something about, and which you cannot catch, is dolphin. We used to see small pods of three to six twice in August when the river water rose close to 90 degrees. 

Dolphin jumping

Today global warming has pushed the dolphins up from the ocean and Chesapeake Bay well into the York River as early as May. Last year we saw dolphins nearly ten times. They love the sailboat because it’s quiet and has a keel below that rather resembles a dolphin. Sometimes they get so close you can hear the whoosh of their spouts before you see them. When they run parallel to the boat, it makes for an amazing picture.

Scientists at the nearby Virginia Institute of Marine Science have pioneered the world’s largest and most successful seagrass restoration project.“More than 7,000 acres of eelgrass meadows now thrive in Virginia’s seaside bays. These and other seagrass beds provide key nursery habitat for striped bass and other recreationally important fishes. And because big striped bass like to feed along the edge of grass beds, you can use our interactive maps of seagrass distribution, created through annual aerial surveys, to help choose your fishing spot.”

Controversy surrounds one segment of fishingin the Chesapake Bay waters. Omega Protein has a plant in Reedville on the northeast tip of Virginia that nets menhaden by the ton to make fish oil supplements and other products. They use spotter planes to guide big trawlers to the best sports. Sportfishermen in the charter boat business object that menhaden are a basic food for fish and that their removal endangers the fishing industry. Every year the Virginia General Assembly tries to monitor and limit Omega’s catch, but the company routinely ignores it.

Menhadden are controvesial

This year the company had a change of heart. From the Viginia Mercury online newspaper:

For decades, the small bony fish known as the menhaden has been a fixture on the Virginia General Assembly’s agenda.

Every year, the drama has followed the same lines. Some lawmakers and environmentalists concerned about the health of the valuable fishery, the only one managed by the legislature rather than regulators, push to transfer its management to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The industry and its unionized fishermen, concerned that regulators will cramp their business, push back.

It’s been perhaps the state’s dullest political tug-of-war. But this winter, it ended when Omega Protein, the Reedville-based Canadian company that is the largest single player in the U.S. menhaden industry, told a Senate panel that it supported legislation to hand over fishery management to the VMRC.

“The lion,” marveled Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, “shall lie down with the lamb.”

Since then, the House and Senate bills have passed on 73-25 and 40-0 votes, respectively. Why, after so many years of wrangling, was 2020 the year the menhaden fight was resolved?

Noting that “10, 12 years ago I was on the other side,” Democratic Sen. Lynwood Lewis of Accomack, the chief patron of the Senate bill, explained his own altered view in terms of the need to preserve “public trust.” 

But for most stakeholders, the decisive factor seems to have been the threat of federal intervention. After all, it’s one thing for legislators to give up their power to a regulatory body. It’s quite another to give it up to Washington.

“We don’t want the federal government to take control of something in Virginia,” said Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, the chief patron of the House bill. Last November, in response to an announcement by Omega that it intended to exceed its Chesapeake Bay menhaden quota, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ordered that the fishery be shut down in June unless Virginia comes into compliance with the limits. 

Best Fishermen
Best fishermen are osprey

The best fishermen on the York are the ospreys. From 30 feet in the air, they spot their prey and swoop down with a vengeance. They drop into the water with talons down, grabbing the fish as deep as 3 feet, to their great surprise. As they surface, the osprey turns the fish to a more aerodynamic position so he can fly like a drone carrying a bomb. They have a 70% kill rate, highest among all birds. That’s one reason that come spring when they return from South America, the ospreys drive off the seagulls, loons and pelicans because they can’t compete. This video shows how an over-achieving osprey can snare a fish of almost equa weight:

Once, my wife and I were returning from Deltaville in a wicked storm that took six hours of hard work. Upon entering the York from the Bay, the rain subsided and the wind picked up to push us downwind and upriver at an amazing 15 mph. It was dangerously fast and unnerving until I glanced over the side. A half dozen dolphins stayed close to the boat, guiding us all the way in by rising and falling in the water at exactly our pace. It was remarkable.

The video below shows dolphins surfacing in the York. The scene is typical in that most of the time you don’t see anything. Then someone shouts, “Over there!” but by then they’re gone. I have found myself reaching a crescendo of narration about the Battle of the Capes, only to be interrupted, “Look! Dolphins!”

Let’s Go Sail, No Fishing

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Dolphins are the best

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