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Glory Days on the Bay

With resident rockfish season, ­fishing becomes catching

Trophy rockfish season ends Monday, May 15. On Tuesday, May 16, the second Chesapeake Bay rockfish season begins. At the change, the size limit changes from one fish of over 35 inches to two fish 20 inches or larger, only one of which may be longer than 28 inches.
    Legal fishing areas are limited to the main stem of the Chesapeake from the Hart-Miller Island Dike south to the Maryland-Virginia line plus Tangier Sound and Pocomoke Sound; and the Chester, Choptank and Patuxent rivers and their tributaries. No rockfishing in other rivers, tributaries or creeks, bays or sounds. The geographical limits protect rockfish that continue to spawn in these waters into June.
    Making the transition to angling for resident fish, which will now mostly measure under 30 inches, will mean shifting both equipment and technique.
    This time of year begins light tackle heaven. As rockfish forage in shallower water, they can be pursued on medium-weight spin and casting rods. With the spawn mostly done, patterns emerge as to where the fish can be found.
    As the average size fish will now be about 23 to 24 inches, in tackle drop down to hooks 5/0 and under, leaders 20 to 25 pound or less and lures six inches and under.
    More specifically, trollers should begin dropping back to six-inch sassy shads on their bucktails and parachutes as well as using smaller spoons and swimming plugs. As waters warm, fish begin holding deeper, so additional weight may be needed to present the baits at the necessary depths.
    Chumming, chunking and bottom fishing produce better, as stripers form larger schools, hold in one location much longer and start the post-spawn feed. Alewife, menhaden and bunker (all the same baitfish under different names) continue to be the prefered bait for rockfish. Shore-bound anglers can also rely on bloodworms — jumbos if they can be found — to tempt better-sized fish.
    For now, shore-bound angling is limited to locations that border the Bay proper, among them Sandy Point, Matapeake and Point Look Out state parks. Note that Jonas Green Park and Romancoke Pier, both popular fishing areas, will not be legal until June 1.
    Resident rockfish will now also begin holding on structure such as bridge piers, jetties and along the deeper (five to 10 foot) points and rocky shorelines. This will make them accessible to jerk baits such as Bass Assassins, BKDs, Rapala X-Raps, Rat-L-Traps and similar swimming plugs. At first and last light they will be susceptible to top water baits in the areas along these same structures.