Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening to you, fishtalkers — whenever and wherever you might be kicking back, I hope you’re either plotting a winter fishing trip in the coming days or brimming with anticipation for the spring angling right around the corner. Either way, this month I wanted to take a moment to address a topic I received a lot of emails about this fall when the rockfish bite was ramping up — sort of — on the Chesapeake Bay fishing scene.

tiny rockfish and anglers
I wanted to put this little fishin’ gal on quality rock like nobody’s business. Instead, this was about the best we could do… but a good time was still enjoyed by everyone aboard.

About that “sort of”: while the action did pick up some in some part of the Bay this fall, looking at the big picture, it was a pretty dang poor season in several ways. Many areas that have solid fishing one year after the next were slow at best, and those areas that did get some play offered up fish that were smaller and present in smaller numbers, by historical norms. Rockfish over 30-inches were relatively rare, fish above the 34-inch class were very few and far between, and the bites that popped up were often much harder to take advantage of thanks to the sporadic bird action and rapidly moving, smaller schools of fish.

Sometimes the reports didn’t seem to reflect the overall state of the fishery, and I heard from several readers who had difficulty catching fish even in the areas generating good reports, who felt that what they were reading every week was overly-optimistic. In retrospect, I believe they had a valid point.

Here’s the deal with what we put in the reports every week: it’s an amalgamation of input from tackle shops, FishTalk contributors and staff, charter or guide operations, and readers. We don’t include rumors, third-hand info, or Facebook fantasies except for occasions when it’s unusually interesting for some reason, and in those cases we always state which reports are “unconfirmed” or “not photo documented.”

In the past year or two, as the number of anglers out there has multiplied the volume of reader reports in the mix has grown substantially — which we’re thrilled about. It’s awesome to see members of the fishing community, especially so many new ones, reaching out to help each other enjoy some success rather than adopting the all too common and somewhat selfish us-versus-them mentality. However, everyone needs to understand that it’s rare we get reports for skunks. Most people are excited when they enjoy some success so they’re happy to spread the news. But if they had an off day, we usually don’t hear about it.

There certainly are exceptions, and if you read the reports every week you’ve seen them. But when the fishing report says something like “reports from the Point Lookout zone are mixed, with one reader checking in to let us know he caught multiple 30-inchers this week and another reporting just a few throwbacks,” in all likelihood I’d expect there are 10 or more additional anglers who were unsuccessful (but didn’t speak up) for everyone who hit it big (and did).

I believe our reports are very valuable, and I know for a fact that the info in them is thoroughly vetted as best we can. However, I’d also advise anyone reading them to take everything with a grain of salt. Yes, we (mostly that means I) do make mistakes, and no, by their nature fishing reports — from any source — will never paint a complete picture. On top of that the fish change their patterns, move around, or just plain disappear all the dang time.

More importantly, I’d also advise anyone who struck out after reading a good report to not let that discourage them. Everyone draws a blank sometimes, and last season on several trips I couldn’t find a keeper fish myself. On a couple-few I drew a complete and utter skunk. It happens. But like most things in life the real key to success in fishing is persistence. Keep casting, because sooner or later you will get ‘em. Besides, as long as you remember how lucky you are to be out on the water searching for that tug, you’ll be having fun regardless.

- By Lenny Rudow