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2014 was annus horribilis for anglers

As the days start to lengthen out ever so slightly, 2014 comes to an end and, for many anglers and commercial fishermen, it could not come sooner.

The bottom line is that this has been the worst year for fishing in just about anyone's memory. And that is without anything even approaching a redeeming feature.

Let's start off with wahoo. Normally the mainstay of the commercial fishing industry and a species that sports fishermen actually expect to catch on a regular basis, this year saw the wahoo keep a very low profile indeed.

The expectation is that the early spring sees a run of wahoo that is often short-lived but which is usually very productive. As that slows down, the fish generally scatter and can be found throughout the area usually fished by local boats. As the summer progresses, numbers drop off somewhat as does the size of the fish with “lizards” in the ten to twenty pound bracket, thought to be the young of the previous year having achieved adulthood, being commonplace. This past summer saw a dearth of wahoo, of any size.

Not only were these predatory fish in short supply but the ocean robin, a favourite live bait, were conspicuous by their absence.

A few observers linked the lack of the bait to the lack of the fish, but this seems highly unlikely. Ocean robins is a bit of a misnomer, because the fish is actually more linked to the reef platform than it is to the open sea where they are not encountered by fishermen. But this is where things started to unravel.

Normally a few minutes chumming over the deep reef sees hordes of robins appear behind a boat willing to please buy this year, there were few fishermen who were able to chum up any with any degree of regularity.

Several tournaments saw strategies based on catching robins early and then taking them out to the Banks or other preferred fishing grounds come unstuck when it proved impossible to catch the baits in the first place. The mystery endured into the autumn when the lack of “frigate” mackerel compounded the live bait problem.

Although the movements of such fish and their interaction with the predators is a complex web with little known for certain, there is some likelihood that the lack of the primary bait species in the local area had some relation to the failure of the autumnal wahoo run to materialise. This proved to be devastating, hitting the commercial industry hard because so many rely on a good late run to stockpile enough wahoo to last through the winter months.

Perhaps suffering a fate similar to the robins, whatever that was, befell the yellowtails. Some will recall that last year there were schools of just shy of legal size yellowtail snappers that would invade the chum slick in clouds.

This was taken as a sign that the following year would see almost countless snappers attain legal size and become a real target species. In short, they failed to show up, period. The same might be said of the yellowfin tuna. This was the species that put Bermuda on the angler's map in the 1950s and Sixties. Chumming for Allisons during the summer was the basis for most of the light tackle tournaments, in particular the Bermuda Anglers Club International Light Tackle Tournament.

Sad to say, everyone involved in tournament fishing was left scrambling to catch any recognised game fish in order to amass enough points to make the competition worthwhile.

High summer meant that it was billfish season and while the major tournaments posted some successes, there was no denying that things were markedly slower than they had been in previous years.

A useful comparison can be made by taking the Big Game Classic and analysing the catch per boat. This takes into account the fact that virtually all competing boats fish the three days and that their capabilities are something close to similar. For the 2012 tournament, the 39 teams participating caught 52 billfish for an average of 1.33 fish per boat. In 2013, the figure was 1.43 fish per boat, with roughly the same number of boats taking part.

This year, there were more boats fishing: 48, to be exact. But instead of more effort resulting in more fish, the total number of billfish caught was also 52, making for an average of 0.92 fish per boat. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that such figures indicate a major downturn on the capture rate.

Naturally, there are a few imponderables such as weather, fish migrations and so on, but as any skipper will tell you things were slower than usual. The quality also seemed to be down although this is harder to quantify, particularly when many of the fish caught are released.

Fortunately for competition anglers and for some commercial fishermen, the amberjack and bonitas remained fairly consistent and figured prominently in the overall landings.

Late into the season, presumably a result of the massive amount of seaweed that came into the local area, there were some better than usual numbers of dolphinfish. Not enough to even out the shortages of the traditional game fish but welcome enough.

Some of the more creative skippers found bottomfishing productive but that did not do a whole lot for eth sportsman who has been left wondering where 2014 went and what went with it.

The winter months are always a time when effort drops off to nearly nothing but during this break nature usually replenishes the stocks. So while wishing you a great new year, here's hoping that 2015 will see a return to normalcy where the average weekender can go forth and have the wahoo, tuna and marlin provide some Tight Lines!!!

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Published December 27, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 26, 2014 at 5:25 pm)

2014 was annus horribilis for anglers

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