Sunday, February 26, 2012
Playing tag with sharks
Ever since I visited Captain Charlie Donilon at his South County, RI home I felt I had to get this story out, his story, one that has been told by others in the past. He has been been televised on National Geographic Explorer, NESN and Chronicle. Feature articles have written about him in the Providence Journal, Wall St. Journal, Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine, Rodale’s Scuba Diving, RI Monthly, and On the Water to name a few. Every now and then you meet a great fisherman… a great charter captain… or a great person. Captain Charlie Donilon of Snappa Charters, Point Judith, RI is all three.
He runs the most diversified charter business in Rhode Island. He takes people on harbor and lighthouse tours, shark cage diving , bird watching, underwater photography charters, ash burials at sea, wreck diving, whale watching , fishing of all types and just about anything else you want him too. “That’s why they call it a charter service and not a fishing service. You have to be diversified to make the business work.” said Donilon.
He is an advocate and big supporter of sustainable fisheries. “One might think that I’m in the wrong business. I hate to kill fish.” He continued, “But some customers want to take the fish to eat and I totally understand this. Last year we had about 300 shark contacts and we tagged about 143 of them. I say “contact” because we did not kill one shark and this included nine mako sharks.”
Capt. Donilon said, “I can remember I had six guys on board one day. They were all excited about shark fishing. They all wanted to kill a shark.” But, one by one, Capt. Donilon talked them out of it. He convinced them that they should tag and release as it was a great contribution to science and the sharks.
Being an advocate for sustainable fisheries doesn’t mean he can’t find the fish. This winter I was struck by customer Adam Durant’s comments about cod fishing with Captain Donilon, “We had the pleasure of heading out with Capt. Charlie Donilon on Tuesday… Started on the East Grounds (off Block Island) and landed six keeper cod… another five black sea bass and a couple of good scup… all in all a great day of fishing with an outstanding Captain.”
I asked Capt. Donilon about one of his most interesting days on the water with sharks. He said, “One day we (he and his charter party) came across a 20 foot great white shark (approximately 4,000 pounds). That was in 1983, that year there were many great white sightings off Point Judith. It was July 21st and all on board wanted to kill the shark at first, then most everyone agreed that tagging it would be much better, all except for one guy who was furious with me because he wanted to take the shark and have its “jaws” as a trophy.”
Charlie has been fascinated by sharks for a long time, long before he had a charter business, long before he was the first one in the region (since 1976) that would take you shark diving in a cage. He would study them, read books, articles and scientific studies about them. He met Peter Benchley at a who’s book (and movie) Jaws, characterized sharks as many think of them today. Captain Donilon said, “Peter Benchley said that Jaws vilified sharks, made them out to be bad… almost evil. They are not villains. During our meeting Mr. Benchley said, ‘If I knew back then, what I know today about sharks’, he would have never portrayed them as he did in the movie.”
Donilon sees a fascination in the eyes of those that hire him. “There is something about sharks that attract people; it might be the excitement… the danger… perhaps the image of them as bad. Customers just want to get close to them, to reach out and touch them.”
Snappa Fishing & Diving Charters has been involved in the business of sport fishing for the past 40 years, their web address is http://www.snappacharters.com/ .
Chef Dean Scanlon and Capt. Dave Monti to speak about fluke at RISAA seminar Monday
Fluke (summer flounder) fishing tips and fluke cooking tips will be featured at the Monday, February 27, 7:00 p.m. Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) meeting this month. Capt. Dave Monti of No Fluke Fishing charters and noted local fishing columnist will share fluke fishing tips from expert guides, charter captains and anglers. Chef Dean Scanlon, owner of L’attitude Restaurant, Cranston, RI will share tips on how to care for your fluke from the moment you catch it so that it is a safe and delicious meal once you get it home. Dean is a chef and a fisherman, he and Maria Scanlon started their restaurant 11 years ago. RISAA members can bring a friend at no charge; non-members are asked to make a $10 donation. Seminar starts at 7:00 p.m. at the West Valley Inn, West Warwick, RI with optional dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Visit http://www.risaa.org/ for details.
“I sat there on Beavertail Point, Jamestown with a pair of binoculars looking toward Narragansett Beach. What I saw was astounding, fish after fish, bluefin tuna jumping, one here, and then two over there.” said Captain Jim White. The odd thing is that it was the end of January, 2012.
With many documented reports of tuna, menhaden, and striped bass in Narragansett Bay this winter it made me wonder why. The answer seemed obvious... the weather and the water temperature has been warmer than normal. In fact the Bay temperature has been heating up for nearly forty years, but this is a lot warmer than usual.
How warm you ask? Well it used to be very cold. In 1740 Rhode Island Governor William Green of Warwick said in a note “… the Narragansett Bay was soon frozen over, and the people passed and repassed from Providence to Newport on the ice, and from Newport to Bristol”(Upkike, 1907).
The crew of the Brenton Reef lightship measured water temperature at the mouth of Narragansett Bay every day from July 1878 through January 1942. In the coldest winter recorded (1917-18) the water temperature from December through February was 33.2 F. The average for the whole period of their record (64 years) is much warmer at 39.1 F. (Nixon, Granger and Buckley, The Warming of Narragansett Bay, 2003).
However, even this temperature of 39.1 F is far from the warmer water temperatures recorded this Sunday, February 12, 2012… Conimicut Point, 45 F; Newport, 42 F; and Block Island, 46 F.
I mentioned Newport and Jamestown as this is where bluefin tuna have been crashing schools of herring this winter and a number of dolphins have been spotted off these shores and further into the Bay. And, I mention Conimicut Light because from the Light all the way up the Providence River schools of Atlantic Menhaden have been around all winter along with an unusually large amount of striped bass that recreational anglers have been catching.
This week I asked Jason McNamee, marine biologist, Marine Fisheries Division of the RI Department of Environmental Management his thoughts on the appearance of menhaden, striped bass, tuna and warm water this winter and here is what he had to say.
Jason McNamee said, “… Yes, this is all strange indeed. Our trawl survey has been seeing these menhaden as well, which is quite unique relative to other years. Just as a quick, off the cuff type response, the warm winter we are having has provided an adequate temperature for these species to stay, and survive, over the winter. The bluefin that were spotted (and caught in some instances) I’d say were directly related to the herring population that came in to our area waters. It is a well researched hypothesis that there is a strong correlation between bluefin tuna and strong water density gradients and I have heard people indicate that there was a rapid change in water temperature from inshore to offshore this winter, thus creating a density gradient. What happens at these density gradients is that you get a collection of things like plankton, so species like herring and menhaden will take advantage of the collection of food by schooling and feeding in these areas, and species like striped bass and tuna take advantage of the aggregation of their food source….It has been a very interesting winter to say the least.”
I have to wonder what this might mean for fishing this spring and summer. There is no doubt we can start to fish earlier in the upper portion of the Bay as we can continue to fish the bass that have decided to stay as anglers have done all winter. Also, one might think that our coastal waters, the Bay and estuaries that are holding more bait than usually for this time of year would attract new migrating striped bass more than usual too. We will just have to wait and see.
However, I am also interested in what effect this warm winter water might have on the fish in the summer. We know warm water, excessive nutrients and low oxygen levels have had devastating effects (fish kills) in the summer in the upper portions of the Bay, particularly Greenwich Bay and Cove (see Fish need oxygen too at http://noflukefishing.blogspot.com/2011/07/fish-need-oxyen-too.html ).
Again, we will just have to wait and see.
Shallow Water Striper University Cancelled
Captain Jim White has canceled Shallow Water Striper University scheduled for February 18 and 19. Captain White said, “Advanced registrations were slow so we had to cancel the two day event.”
Let your voice be heard, attend public hearing on fishing regulations
Wednesday, February 22, Public Hearing. 6:00 p.m., URI Bay Campus, Corless Auditorium. Agenda to include proposed changes to the Management Plans for most salt water species including fluke, striped bass, tautog, menhaden, scup and more.
Capt. Dave Monti and Chef Ralph Battista to speak about fluke at RISAA seminar
Two topics, fluke (summer flounder) fishing tips and fluke cooking tips will be featured at the Monday, February 27, 7:00 p.m. Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) meeting this month. Capt. Dave Monti of No Fluke Fishing charters and noted local fishing columnist will share fluke fishing tips from expert guides, charter captains and anglers. Chef Ralph Battista, owner of Luigi’s Restaurant and Gourmet Express, Johnston, RI will share fluke cooking tips. When not cooking at his restaurant Ralph spends time with his family aboard his boat Hook’n & Cook’n. RISAA members can bring a friend at no charge; non-members are asked to make a $10 donation. Seminar starts at 7:00 p.m. at the West Valley Inn, West Warwick, RI with optional dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Visit www.risaa.org for details.
Where’s the bite
Cod fishing on both the Seven B’s (1.800.371.fish) and Francis Fleet (1.800.662.2824) vessels has been good. Larry Norin filed this report on a cod trip he took last Thursday aboard the Island Current out of Snug Harbor. “We left the dock around 5 a.m. and headed to the East Grounds off BI. About 15-20 total people on board. One Captain, two mates, about ten regulars and a few first timers. … We dropped the first clams down while on anchor around 6:30 a.m. Bent rods all over the place with mostly dogfish and the occasional Cod. We moved and re-anchored on the structure and got away from the Dogs. We moved one other time and headed west and very close to the island. It was a slowish pick all day. I managed four dogfish (most caught way more) two conger eels and twelve cod, two were released that were 21 inches the rest were 24-28 inches.”
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Fishing regulations for 2012
OK, so most recreational saltwater fishing regulations have not been established at press time, however, we do have a good idea of what they might be. Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC) species Advisory Panels (AP) review stock assessments, past fishing activity, regulation options and solicit public comment on proposals. Some of these panels have met and others have not. But thanks to Jason McNamee, marine biologist for the Marine Fisheries Division and his associates at the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), we have a good idea of what fishing regulations will ultimately be in for 2012. I interviewed Jason at press time; here is a summary of what we can expect for 2012 recreational regulations.
The striped bass AP met January 17th to review both commercial and recreational regulations. Stock assessments have been deemed healthy so recreational regulations for 2012 are likely to be status quo… 28” minimum size, no closed season with a possession limit of two fish/ person/ day. Commercial regulations are likely to be status quo too. However, Jason McNamee said, “There was public comment on the start date of the spring commercial striped bass season, so there may be further discussion on this start date at the next public hearing.”
Summer flounder (fluke) recruitment stock assessments used by the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC) offered conflicting information last year. The June recruitment was at 80 million fish, and the August was 60 million. Jason McNamee said, “The conflicting data would have created a need for a 2012 adjustment. However, recreational fishing experienced an under harvest in 2011.” The under harvest was so great that even with lower recruitment we may still experience a liberalization in recreational fluke regulations this year. The 2011 regulations included an 18.5” minimum length with a May 1 to December 31 season and seven fish/person/day. An increase to eight or nine fish will be explored, vetted both at the January 31st AP meeting and the February 22nd public hearing. So overall we have good news for fluke in 2012… status quo or a slight liberalization.
Black sea bass are regulated both the ASMFC and States. At a recent ASMFC public hearing, species management plan options discussed included managing the species state by state or by two different regional options. The Rhode Island black sea bass AP discussed these options on January 19th and sentiment came down on the side of the state by state option. Stock assessments have been good so an early season start might be in order along with an increased bag limit of one or two fish. So 2012 regulations are likely to be liberalized with the season starting July 1st, rather than July 11th as it was last year, and run through December 31. The 13” minimum size will likely stay the same with an enhanced possession limit from 12 fish/person/day to possibly 13 or 14 fish/person/day.
The Scup stock assessment is good and the species was under fished in 2011, “Recreational landings were about one half of what was allowed.” said McNamee. The species is managed regionally with CT, NY, MA and RI. The RI season was extended to December 31st last year and this is likely to occur again in 2012. Additionally, there will likely be a liberalization in the number of fish allowed. In 2011 the minimum size for the private angler was 10.5” with a 10 fish/person/day bag limit. However, for party and charter boats the minimum size was 11” with a special season possession limit that jumped from 10 fish to 40 fish/person/day from September 7 to October 11. The enhanced bag limit allows charter and party boats to fish the species when other fish are not as available, yet they have to catch fish at least 11”. McNamee said, “There was some sentiment at the AP meeting to make the season onsistent with one set of regulations meaning a 10.5” fish for party and charter boasts as well as private anglers with a 25 fish bag limit.” This proposed change would likely receive some push back from the charter and party boat industry as they rely on the enhanced bag limit to allow their businesses to function when other species are not aggressively fished. Overall, it is good news for recreational anglers targeting scup in 2012, the season will likely be lengthened and the bag limit may be enhanced.
Tautog harvest numbers were low in 2011, however the assessment does not include “Wave 6” which in November and December. The tautog AP will meet February 6. Liberalization will likely not occur in 2012, regulations will likely be status quo. Split seasons with a 16” minimum size. An April 15 to May 31 spring season with three fish/person/day, a closed season June 1 to July 31 and then a three fish/person/day season from August 1 to October 12. The bag limit increases to six fish from October 15 to December 15 with a ten fish per boat limit in all periods except for charter and party boats which do not have to adhere to the ten fish per boat limit.
Menhaden. Jason McNamee said, “We believe recreational anglers were happy about how things worked out last year.” McNamee was referring to the closed sections of Narragansett Bay… Greenwich Bay and north of Conimicut Light were closed to commercial boats. When asked about the apparent abundance of menhaden in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay in the fall McNamee said he did not think new restrictions and enhanced weekly monitoring (with air surveillance to manage better) had an impact on the volume of fish in the Bay. However, McNamee said, “Perhaps the schools were not fished as often commercially and this kept them together. So less commercial fishing may have created an apparent enhanced volume of fish.” He continued to say that the impact of lower targets imposed by the ASMFC will hopefully be seen over the next few years and menhaden will be more plentiful along the east coast and in Narragansett Bay.
Fluke and tautog tips from the experts
Last week we shared striped bass and tuna fishing tips from expert anglers and captains who appeared on stage with George Poveromo at the Saltwater Sportsman’s National Seminar Series. Here are some fluke and tautog tips from local and national experts.
Fluke fishing tips
· Best place to catch fluke is where you normally fish for striped bass as they both like current, structure, squid, silversides, etc. Try fishing in your favorite striped bass spots and you are likely to catch fluke too.
· In Spring, fluke tend to be in low water, they like feeding on sand eels.
· Captain John Rainone of Lil’ Toot Charters said, “Start shallow in spring and move to deeper water as the water warms.”
· Captain Rainone’s favorite places to fish for fluke include many spots around Block Island… the North Rip area, the northeast side of the Island as well as the south side. Other spots include Cow Cove, Clay Head and the mouth of New Harbor. Off the center wall at the Harbor of Refuge is a great spot too.
· Wind and current should be going in the same direction, ideally start from shore or the high spot and outward toward deeper water
· Use pink squid rigs if squid is in the water, some like to use whole squid in the spring
· Look for bait pods and you will find fluke, just as you would when striper fishing
Tautog fishing tips
· Tautog usually show up in the spring when the water turns about 50 degrees
· Many use soft baits in the string, like worms or grass shrimp and fish in shallow water
· Expert angler “Crazy” Alberto Knie said, “If you get multiple taps the tautog is sensing the bait is not natural. After the first tap I let the rod drop, say the word “barracuda”, and then I cross its eyes setting the hook.”
· Captain John Rainone said, “Keep your rig simple, one hook and a sinker. Two hooks only add additional hardware that can get caught on structure.”
· George Poveromo said, blackfish often take advantage of the slower stages of a tide to feed. The slower stages of a tied also enable anglers to effectively fish difficult structures.
· George Poveromo introduced a simple tautog rig designed to fit in-between structure and rocks… The “knocker-rig” can be used on a 30 pound braid main line with a fluorocarbon leader, an egg sinker (2 oz.) slides on the fluorocarbon that is tied to a circle hook. The sinker and the hook tangle less frequently because they work their way into structure together … and here is the best part… you can attract the fish by tapping on the structure with the sinker and bring it right to your bait… thus the name “Knocker-Rig”.
Important recreational fisheries meetings
Now is the time to let your voice be heard at important Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC) meetings that impact recreational fishing. For more information on these meetings contact Jason McNamee, DEM Marine Fisheries Division at 401-423-1943. Meetings take place in the Hazard Room at the URI Coastal Institute (Bay Campus), South Ferry Road, Narragansett, RI.
Thursday, January 19 - RIMFC Scup/Black Sea Bass Advisory Panel Meeting - 6:00 PMFriday, January 31 - RIMFC Summer Flounder Advisory Panel Meeting - 6:00 PMTuesday, February 6 - RIMFC Tautog Advisory Panel Meeting - 6:00 PM
Wednesday, February 15 – RIMFC Menhaden Advisory Panel Meeting – time TBD
Wednesday, February 22, Public Hearing for input on policy/regulations for many species. Agenda to include proposed changes to the Management Plans for most species. Visit www.dem.ri.gov for agenda, meeting time and place.
Safe ice for fishing and skating
At press time, there were no “Safe Ice” postings on the Department of Environmental Management’s website regarding the three State Parks they monitor including Goddard, Lincoln Woods and Meshanticut State Parks. DEM says it takes five to seven days of temperatures in the low 20 degree range before ice may become safe. And, this is no guarantee that it is safe. Call your local city and town to check local ice conditions or DEM for the State Parks they monitor at 401.222. 2632. Visit DEM’s Parks website for an ice safety guide at www.riparks.com .
East Bay Anglers spring fishing flea market
Mark your calendar. The East Bay Anglers will hold their Spring Fishing Flea Market on Saturday, March 31, 2012 from 9:00 a.m. the 12:00 noon inside at the Riverside Sportsman’s Club, East Providence, RI. The cost of a table to sell your stuff is $25, the cost to attend the flea market is $2 (children free). This is for both fresh and saltwater gear. Call Dave Fewster for information at 401.230.8201
RISAA seminar on Clean the Bay and Tarpon fishing
Two topics will be featured at the Monday, January 30, 7:00 p.m. Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) meeting this month… the “Clean the Bay” organization will present on its activities in Narragansett Bay and a humorous view of Tarpon fishing will be given by Al “Gag” Gagliarducci, noted fishing lures maker and popular East Coast presenter. RISAA members can bring a friend at no charge; non-members are asked to make a $10 donation. Seminar starts at 7:00 p.m. at the West Valley Inn, West Warwick, RI with optional dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Visit www.risaa.org for details.
Question and comment from reader Paul Johnson
Question: “Hello Dave, I really enjoy your column… (and) have a question and comment for you. Every day recently you can see several large commercial fishing boats within in stone throw of the rocks off of Narragansett. I assume they are getting herring and squid. Are they under any regulations or can they just take all the bait fish out of that area? No wonder the game fishing as died off Narragansett. I think a couple of the boats are pair trawling…”
Answer: I responded to Paul’s e-mail this weekend… Yes, there were pair-trawlers off Narragansett this past week fishing for herring (we think). Bob Ballou from DEM’s Marine Fisheries Division was addressing the issue, exploring with his legal group what could be done short term, and long term DEM may explore regulating via legislation.