After one of the most miserable winters in recent memory, it looks like Mother Nature is dialing us in for some fantastic spring fishing - just in time for the return of The Virginian-Pilot's Fishing Forecast.
It's shaping up to be a great weekend.
So let's start things off with an old favorite - at least for this angler - the crappie.
Speckled perch, as they sometimes are called, are one of America's favorites for a lot of reasons. They usually are plentiful when you find them. Despite the average weight of about half a pound, they can grow much bigger - with 2-pounders not uncommon and fish topping 3 and 4 pounds not unheard of. Even a few 5-pounders have been caught.
And they are one of the best-tasting freshwater fish. With high reproduction rates, there rarely is any harm in taking a few home for a meal.
Virginia and northeastern North Carolina have some great crappie spots, but there is no question that a stocked private pond is the best place in the world for big slabs - especially if the water is deep.
The cold, yucky winter delayed the spawning process for many crappie, so they still can be found in relatively shallow waters of lakes, rivers and ponds. But things are going to progress quickly, and many likely will spawn just before and after the April full moon on Tuesday.
The Fishing Forecast this year features some new elements, with pier and surf reports incorporated in their respective locations. Eastern Shore action will show up in the Southeastern Virginia section. And each week, I'll bring you a tackle tip, a fishing by the numbers or news updates.
With speckled trout off-limits for keeping, many anglers have shifted their inshore intentions on puppy drum. They have been plentiful and eager in the Elizabeth River, and in Rudee and Lynnhaven inlets. Some fish also should be available in Little Creek Inlet.
Speckled trout are still available in the same waters, but it's catch-and-release only.
The same holds true for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay. While many fish have moved toward spawning waters up the Bay, some still are available along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Croaker have started to show in a few nets. As water temperatures rise rapidly, it shouldn't be long before they start to take rod-and-reel offerings. The waters around the James River Bridge are some of the best early on.
Flounder have started to show into sloughs around Chincoteague and Wachapreague on the eastern side of the Eastern Shore. Catches will be better on falling tides, when waters warmed in the marshes spurn feeding.
Tautog catches have been decent from around coastal wrecks, and action should get better closer to shore and in the Bay as waters warm. Jump on this species quickly, as the season closes at the end of the month.
Some wrecks are producing quality sea bass, but the season is closed.
Deep-dropping along the Norfolk Canyon when boats can get out continues to produce tilefish and grouper.
And there have been reports of decent action in the area for tuna, thanks to a warm water eddy pushing to the west off the Gulf Stream. Bluefin tuna have been reported in the area as well, but NOAA has closed the trophy fishery (tuna measuring greater than 73 inches) effective 11:30 p.m. Friday.
Bluefin tuna have dominated the scene out of Oregon Inlet the past few weeks. But keeping fish longer than 73 inches becomes a no-no at 11:30 p.m. Friday, and only one shorter than 73 inches can be kept per boat. Some yellowfin and dolphin could be available in warmer Gulf Stream waters.
Along the beach, the first red drum and cobia have started to show - with the best action to the south around Hatteras Inlet and along Ocracoke. Things should really start to heat up in the coming weeks. Sight-casting for these two brutes is an exciting experience.
In the sounds, puppy drum have provided the best action. Speckled trout are off-limits.
Crappie and yellow perch are high on the list of most anglers. These tasty panfish are being taken on live minnow and on jigs on most waters. The Northwest River in southern-most Chesapeake, and Indiantown Creek in Currituck County, N.C., are the top two yellow perch- producing waters.
Largemouth bass action also can be fantastic this time of year, with fish on all fronts starting to roam shallower waters in search of a good meal. Males on some waters have started to prepare beds for the coming spawn.
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