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Tight lines: Old habits die hard when it comes to rockfish

It's that time of the year again. Where the weather has failed to prevent offshore excursions, social pressures and the festivities associated with this time of year have also done their share to keep anglers home. Those few who have successfully avoided such pressures have been treated to masses of seaweed and a conspicuous lack of fish. There has truly been little to encourage a venture out onto the briny, certainly by the weekender who, no doubt, has competing priorities.

Things are pretty grim when a day's trolling by one of the Island's most experienced fisherman ends up with a brace of dolphin; no doubt one of the few possible benefits brought about by the mats of seaweed. Not even a solo wahoo to provide a remnant of the expected. So much for winter trolling at the moment, things may improve but it is getting to be that time when effort is seriously reduced and it is very difficult to ascertain the actual state of things offshore.

More success was had by boats working Argus Bank, bottom bouncing their way to profit — at least they hope! One such commercial boat put in long hours but managed to come up with something like 300 pounds of bottom fish and a selection of the so-called “floaters”. Bottom fish would be comprised primarily of coneys or barbers with some hinds adding a bit of class. The bulk of the weight would probably come from the jacks, amberjack and bonita that can be found in reasonable numbers at this time of the year. Usually willing to please, often in pairs or small schools, the average bonita probably betters ten pounds so it doesn't take long for the weight to add up. Gwelly or the average lesser amberjack are a few pounds apiece and an amberjack can be anything up to 100 pounds or more. Some years ago a Banks' haul would have been substantially larger and consisted almost solely of rockfish and grouper with the red hinds considered not worth keeping. Which brings us back to the demise of what was the most valuable of the Island's fishing resources, the groupers.

Bad enough that they used to form large aggregations that made fishing for them akin to shooting fish in a barrel but things actually got worse, in fact, almost Biblical.

Grouper spawning brings to mind the sower who went out to sow seed. Some fell on poor soil; some got eaten by birds and a portion took root and yielded a crop. This degree of randomness is exhibited almost perfectly by the grouper spawning tactics.

The aggregations see numbers of males and females undergo mating with the release into the water of millions of eggs. Each fertilised egg will develop into a larva, with luck make it through a number of stages and ultimately become a tiny grouper and then, ultimately become a full-sized specimen which will eventually reproduce, if it isn't caught first. Once a really recognisable fish, groupers are pretty much top order predators on coral reefs with little to fear from other reef dwellers, just from the fishermen of various sorts.

Where the problem starts is right after spawning. The eggs which have been successfully fertilised, what percentage is really unknown, are left to the whims of the currents and other oceanic motion. They pretty much just drift around for a while before eventually settling out. All along the way, some of these are readily devoured by other fish and other marine predators, others are swept out into the deep where they are lost forever and still others end up in ideal conditions where they start the long, complicated road to adulthood.

The situation is confounded by the reduced numbers of fish that make the pilgrimage out to the spawning aggregations. With this type of reproduction, more is better and the continued decimation of the population over the years has made grouper a less than likely catch nowadays. Probably the saddest comment of all is that this is the case in many places where the grouper was once king. Fisheries authorities worldwide are making efforts to try to preserve what they have left but it is a difficult battle. Old habits die hard and there is no doubt that rockfish is a most delectable morsel.

Notably the black rockfish seems to use a variation to reproduce and this may explain why there are still numbers of them around. Rather than form large groups at a single location, they may use the harem approach with a single male escorted by several females. While this is encouraging, too much fishing pressure will mean reduced numbers and, in the long run, they too could become a thing of the past.

So much for musing on the future, back to the here and now. The next few weeks will probably hold precious few opportunities for any form of sports fishing despite the increasing lack of enchantment with the season's staples of ham and turkey. There will be days when the weather will be glorious; low humidity, a gentle breeze and calm seas. The problem comes from having these coincide with times that allow one to slip away form work or other duties. The absence of any report of fast action is deterrence in itself, considering the value of time and the need to get things done at this time of the year. For many keen anglers, for the next little while, the back burner will be the place for any thoughts of Tight Lines!

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Published December 06, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 05, 2014 at 5:45 pm)

Tight lines: Old habits die hard when it comes to rockfish

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