Fish Post

Tidelines – July 20, 2017

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The plan was that there was no plan, and that was a comfortable place to be since we were fishing with Capt. Chris Kimrey, of Mount Maker Charters out of Atlantic Beach/Morehead City.

From king mackerel tournament fishing, to winter bluefinning, to chasing tarpon and big reds in the Pamlico/Neuse, to trout on the jetties, to nearshore flounder jigging and live bait spanish trolling, and on to any other number of “specialties,” Chris has done it, and done it well.

So with stormy weather moving through the area, our first plan to go east of the shoals was looking a bit risky. Hopefully the weather window would open up soon for a plan B of either trolling for mahi and kings or finding some ledges and live bottom to drag up a couple of grouper.

Chris could sense, though, that we were eager to catch a fish, any kind of fish, so instead of just waiting out the weather, he took us across a big inshore flat off the Newport River and idled up to a grassline. In addition to the live bait king rods, the grouper sticks, and the high speed trolling outfits, he had also brought along a couple of popping cork rigs.

“You can put whatever you like on that jig head,” he instructed, pointing to a baggie of dead finger mullet he had on ice laying beside an assortment of Gulps.

I hesitated, not sure which to choose. Chris sensed the uncertainty and guided me along, “Makes the most sense to me to put a dead finger mullet on. Hard to beat a finger mullet when you’re red drum fishing.”


Zakk Kirby, one of the newer employees at Fisherman’s Post, with a slot redfish caught on a dead finger mullet under a popping cork. He was fishing a shallow grassline behind Morehead City with Capt. Chris Kimrey of Mount Maker Charters.


The dead mullet went on, the rig went out, and then the cork went under—I was fast to a slot red that took me in and around the scattered grass. Zakk followed suit, hooking a couple of redfish himself, and by that time another radar check gave Chris enough confidence that it was time to head for the inlet.

I’d love to continue on about our day offshore with Mount Maker Charters, but I’m going to finish that story in a future issue so that I can address an error Fisherman’s Post made in our last issue. We ran a photo of a sailfish brought out of the water for a quick photo before being released. The error is that though it is common practice, it is against regulations to remove a billfish from the water that you don’t plan on keeping (killing).

We receive many photos of anglers with billfish out of the water, so I’ll use this is as an opportunity to address the practice. For clarity, I reached out to Dr. John Graves of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who has studied billfish release mortality in great lengths. The following is information he sent to help educate on the “why” of the regulation (edited for space considerations):

Many offshore anglers are not aware that in the United States it is illegal to remove an Atlantic billfish from the water unless it is going to be retained. The management measure makes sense, after all, as billfish are adapted to respiring in the water, not out of the water. But really, how much damage does a billfish sustain during the few minutes of air exposure required to take to a photo of an angler with their first billfish? As it turns out, quite a bit!

A few years ago we reported on research on the effects of fight time and physiological stress on post-release survival of white marlin caught on circle hooks. Fish with fight times ranging from 5 to 41 minutes were brought on board for about two minutes to remove the hook, take a 5 ml blood sample from the aorta, attach a pop-up satellite archival tag (PSAT), and release the fish.

In a nutshell, research found that white marlin post-release mortality rates did not increase with fight time. In fact, mortality rates were a bit higher for fish with shorter fight times. Surprisingly, the overall level of post-release mortality was more than an order of magnitude higher than we had previously found for white marlin caught on circle hooks and tagged with PSATs while in the water. Was the high post-release mortality in the study due to the air exposure, the blood sampling, or some combination of the two?

During the first few weeks of September, we deployed 18 PSATs on white marlin caught on trolled ballyhoo rigged with circle hooks, and then brought on board for air exposure times of 1, 3, or 5 minutes (fish were resuscitated for up to 3 minutes prior to release).

The air-exposed white marlin were compared with a control group of 59 white marlin from previous studies that were also caught on ballyhoo rigged with circle hooks and tagged with PSATs, but not removed from the water. There was only one mortality in this group of 59 releases.

All 18 PSATs on white marlin removed from the water reported, and 11 fish survived and 7 died in 30 days. All but one of the seven mortalities occurred within 30 hours of release, with the moribund fish and tag sinking to the bottom.

Overall, post-release mortality for fish with any air exposure (1, 3, or 5 minutes) was 33% or 38.8%, significantly greater than the 1.7% post-release mortality we observed for white marlin caught on circle hooks and not removed from the water. Although sample sizes were not large, there was a definite trend of increasing post-release mortality rates with time of air exposure.

The bottom line is that bringing an exhausted fish out of the water, even for just one minute, can reduce the fish’s chance of survival. So please, keep the fish in the water—it not only promotes conservation, but it’s actually the law.

We all know that there are a number of fishing regulations that make little to no sense, but sound science shows that this one does make sense. Thank you readers for bringing this matter to our attention, and thank you Dr. Graves for giving us the why.