Baitfishing the Trophy Season?
You heard right: Trolling is no longer required
Not everyone trolls during trophy rockfish season. A growing contingent of shore-bound anglers fish bloodworms or cut bait on the bottom. They have been catching an ever-more impressive number of big migratory stripers.
An equally expanding cadre of small- and medium-sized boat anglers have also been chumming and chunking fresh menhaden (aka alewife or bunker) to hungry post-spawn giants. A big, juicy bloodworm on a bottom rig is just as effective fished from a skiff as it is from shore.
Rockfish trophy season opens Saturday, April 20, and all is well in the world. Have a great year.
Wild Turkey Spring Season: April 18 thru May 23
Opening Day Rockfish Tournament
The Boatyard Bar and Grill Rockfish Tournament will see its 12th annual gala on Saturday, April 20, in Eastport. Limited to the first 200 boats. Register at boatyardbarandgrill.com.
Either way, it’s a game of patience.
Migratory rockfish entering and exiting the Bay during the spawn usually follow the deeper channels well out from shore. When they get hungry, however, they spread out and forage nearer the edges for the worms, baitfish and crabs that have become active in shallower depths heated by the daytime sun.
Shore-side anglers exclusively target the bottom with their baits. Boat anglers have a different set of challenges.
Cruising rockfish frequently travel higher in the water column, where surface temperatures are more in their comfort zone. Others are actively feeding on the bottom.
Anglers wishing to cover both possibilities will hang a bag of chum off the stern at the surface and another on a weighted line down deep to attract fish to the boat. They’ll rig some tackle to fish the bottom and some to drift back weightless or lightly weighted baits to fish higher in the water column.
Because of the unpredictability of post-spawn striper movement (and depths), a single chance will often be all you get during a long day’s fishing. Constant vigilance is imperative. The most knowledgeable sports, both shore-bound and in boats, also change baits often; every 20 minutes is a good standard. That keeps the scent trails strong and maximizes success.
Surprisingly, rockfish will be caught during daylight hours in as little as five feet of water. Generally in the skinnier depths, however, nighttime is more productive. Circle hooks are not mandated during the trophy season, but they are always a good idea. They are more successful in landing a big fish, and they greatly reduce gut-hooking stripers under the 28-inch minimum that have to be thrown back. DNR studies show that half of all deep-hooked fish die within two hours of release.
Fluorocarbon leaders of at least three feet are also recommended. They are less visible than mono, and you are targeting the oldest and smartest fish. Fish-finder rigs with sliding sinkers are also good, as the weights added to your setup will not be so evident to the trophy-sized fish mouthing your baits.
Dress warmly, preparing for weather much colder and penetrating than you find away from the water. If you are fishing the darker hours, temperatures can suddenly drop by 30 degrees after sundown. Hypothermia is a serious risk during springtime on the Chesapeake, especially for youngsters.