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For fun fishing, don’t skip skipjacks
Mar 13, 2013 2:30 pm
The most notable change in the TWRA’s 2013 fishing regulations is a first-ever limit on river herring, commonly known as skipjacks.
There is now a daily limit of 100 and a possession limit of 200.
The skipjack was once considered a nuisance fish by many fisherman because when a school moved in they beat game fish to lures and quickly depleted the minnow supply of bait fishermen.
In tailwaters below dams, schools of skipjacks often number in the thousands.
So why did the TWRA decide to place a limit on a species that is still classified as a “trash fish?”
It was done because even the one-huge numbers of skipjacks are in decline.
Live skipjacks are prime bait for big rockfish and, when cut into chunks, for catfish. But it wasn’t sport fishermen who were taking a toll on the fish. Joe James, an area guide who specializes in catching big rockfish, said skipjack were being processed commercially for bait.
“It’s a big business in some places up North,” James says. “They were coming in and hauling away skipjack by the truck-load to be processed and sold as catfish bait. It was taking a toll, and I agree with the TWRA’s decision to put a limit on them.”
James says sport fishermen and even guides like himself can still take all the skipjack they need under the new creel limit.
“One person doesn’t need more than 100 live skipjacks a day,” he says. “And if someone wants to freeze a supply for future catfish bait, they’re allowed 200, which is plenty.”
Skipjacks are found in all the river systems in Tennessee and are especially prevalent in the fast tailwaters below dams. That’s where most sport fishermen go to catch their skipjacks for bait, often using multi-hook rigs.
The fact that such tailwaters are prime territory for catching skipjacks for bait adds to the concerns of fishermen over the Corps of Engineers plan to block boats from entering those areas.
“It will make it harder to catch skipjacks, no question,” James says. “I’m like most fishermen – I strongly oppose the Corps’ plan.”
While many sport fishermen turn up their noses at skipjacks, others enjoy catching them – especially when nothing else is biting.
Sometimes called “Tennessee Tarpon” for their flashy silver color and leaping ability – similar to their much bigger salt-water tarpon cousins – skipjacks are fun to catch on light tackle. Many a fishermen has excitedly fought what he thought was a big white bass or other game-fish species, then been disappointed when a skipjack broke water and danced across the surface.
They are especially fun to catch on a fly rod, fighting and leaping like a rainbow trout.
A skipjack is not considered edible – too bony and mushy, although there are recipes for pickling the meat in brine. But even though they’re no good in the skillet, they’re fun on the end of a fishing line.
The TWRA made a prudent move to protect them from over-fishing.