Ken Neill has traveled extensively in his pursuit of fishing memories. He’s got a bunch of them. Along the way, he has earned nearly countless honors that include world records for several species. He’s a Virginia representative to the International Game Fish Association and was recently honored by the Virginia Marine Resources for completing two terms (8 years) as the organization’s associate commissioner.
Yep, lots of memories, plenty of opportunities, and tons to be thankful for. But as trees start to change, the air becomes crisper and the days a little shorter, Neill’s best memories are just starting to repeat themselves. “I fish all year long, that’s the wonderful thing about this area. You can do that,” the 58-year-old Peninsula dentist said. “But the fall is my favorite time of year by far… I guess if there was one thing bad about it, it means winter is coming.”
He’s not worried about frosty times just yet. There are too many opportunities at hand to keep him busy.
One of my favorite sayings during times like this is: “the big problem right now is figuring out which species to target.” Neill says that’s a good thing, as a majority of available species congregate in the southern Chesapeake Bay – meaning you can be fishing for something for a few hours and move on. And in the fall throughout Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, the fish tend to be bigger – partly because they are feeding heavily for their migration south.
“They’re all bigger than in the summer and they are a lot more active,” Neill said. “And there is just so much to target.”
Flounder, sheepshead, spadefish, triggerfish, big red drum, puppy drum, speckled trout, tautog, and king mackerel keep him plenty busy. It’s also about time for the big white marlin run offshore, where the swordfish action should continue to heat up. That also presents the possibility of running into some bluefin tuna. Deep droppers are finding tilefish, rosefish, and sea bass. Yeah, it sure doesn’t sound like things are slowing down with cooler weather.
“This is why I love this time of year so much,” he said. “Half the time, I can just stand at the end of my dock and catch a few pups and trout for a quick dinner.” He can also add in a side of steamed shrimp. While this delicacy has been around local waters for years, the fishery has literally exploded as of late. Neill throws his cast net off the dock around dusk and gets enough for dinner and bait for the next day in just a few tosses.
“It’s absolutely amazing what’s happening with that,” he said. “At the commission, we have really made the effort to protect the fishery because we don’t want it to become a big industry like it is in North Carolina. It appears to be working.”
A highlight of his career at the VMRC came when the General Assembly relinquished its control of the commercial menhaden fishery to the state agency. For decades, menhaden was the only species not under VMRC control. “A real highlight for me and for the entire commission” said Neill, who recently took on the role as chairman of the IGFA’s North American Council’s conservation committee.
Neill had to cut our conversation short. He had another patient getting ready to head to the chair. And you know there were plans to wet a line in the cooling fall waters.
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