by Dr. Julie Ball IGFA Representative, Virginia Beach
Winter in Virginia began its reign with fury, with one of the largest snow storms in recent memory kicking off the long cold season. According to weather experts, February will continue to hurl relentless cold fronts and winter storms our way, making saltwater fishing expeditions erratic at best. Many anglers will simply give up until Springtime.
Ocean striped bass will likely continue to show little to no activity inshore, with the fish so far off the coast that no fishing boats will encounter the schools of rockfish until they return to the Chesapeake Bay to spawn in the early spring.
The speckled trout and puppy fishery will once again be a question mark this year after another early season hard freeze prompted a wide spread kill in early January. Now most trout experts are not optimistic. But anglers could still luck into some speck action, with the best bets on Rudee, Lynnhaven, and Little Creek Inlets, some backwater areas of the Eastern Shore, and the Elizabeth River. Puppy drum and school-sized striped bass are also a possibility in these same areas. Regulations allow up to five specks per person stretching to a minimum of 14-inches, with one of the fish allowed to be larger than 24-inches.
Although interest is low this time of year, some keeper tautog are available on coastal wrecks and deeper structures off the Virginia coastline. With the tog limit set at a modest three fish per anger at a minimum of 16-inches, most folks are reluctant to brave the cold and elements at these odds. Crabs work well for bait, but with crabs scarce this time of year, folks will turn to alternative baits such as clams and green crabs. Some very big fish are historically caught in March.
Virginia boats will continue to watch for the elusive bluefin tuna off our coast, but these brutes are usually solid off North Carolina by now.
When the weather is stable enough to get to deeper water, those who are willing to brave the elements can expect to find big blueline tilefish along the 50-fathom curve, although weeding though endless pesky dogfish will make productive catches a challenge. Jumbo seabass will also bite in these areas, but they are illegal to keep right now. Closer to the Canyon’s edge, other deep-water species are active, such as golden tilefish, blackbellied rosefish, and a variety of big grouper.