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My Trophy Season’s Good Ending

Good, but not quite good enough

      I had spent some five days on the water over the last couple of weeks, 30-plus long listless hours, waiting for this. My rod tip finally twitched, then twitched again. I eased my outfit from the rod holder just as the fish began to run. Perfect. Giving it a brief five count I put the reel in gear and, as the line came tight, I lifted my rod firmly. Big fish on.
      The last of seven boats anchored south of the Baltimore Light, we were trying to score a trophy-sized fish on light tackle. The other six craft had been on site since early morning until, one by one they pulled anchor and headed in with their fish boxes empty. Only my friend Frank and I remained. 
       Chumming the channel edge on a falling tide on an almost perfect morning with calm waters and comfortable temperatures, we held out for a late tide bite. With six outfits streaming aft with chunks of fresh menhaden on the bottom in 33 feet of water, we refused to give up. 
       The odds were long for a 35-inch keeper and getting longer as the morning wore on. But we knew the big fish were starting to come out of the rivers, having finally spawned. 
      My buddy was trying out his new chum grinder, laying out a slick with menhaden that had been netted earlier that morning. We also had a chum bucket rigged below on the bottom sending out extra scent and fish morsels. The tidal current was slowing with just two more hours before full slack when the first of our rod tips began dipping.
Odds On
     Picking up my six-and-a-half-foot rod and throwing the Abu baitcaster in gear, I came tight to a good fish. It was good to hear the drag singing for the first time this year.
       A few minutes later, I released a fat 30-incher. Before I could clear the net, Frank hooked a good one as well on a medium-action spin outfit. It took a while to guide that fish back to the boat through the other rigs still in the water. Netting a thick and healthy twin to my own, Frank removed his circle hook from its mouth and sent it back to grow up for next year. The odds looked like they were improving for us, with multiple hits.
       We ended up boating five nice rockfish that morning. The largest was a 32-incher, just three inches short of legal size. All of the fish we released were quite an experience on our gear. Pulling anchor as the current finally died we headed in, happy with the results. We had given the trophy season one last good try.
      The best news is that in the coming days the delayed spawn will present the very real possibility that while now pursuing our smaller resident fish, we’ll catch an outsized migratory fish exiting the tidal rivers.
Fish Finder
       The second rockfish season started May 16. Two fish of 19 inches or more may now be kept, but only one of them can exceed 28 inches. Circle hooks are mandatory for chumming and live-lining. Anglers simply fishing baits on the bottom are urged to use circle hooks as well, though it is not mandatory. Treble hooks are now illegal with any kind of bait for all species.
       The bite has improved with nice-sized but not quite legal fish. In the coming days, we’ll see if the big migrators finally show up or if they have slipped out on us.
       Trolling is likely to get the majority of the really big fish, but enough should show up for chummers and for the shore fisherman to make it a memorable month. Big baits including 12-inch Sassy Shad should do for the boaters, with large chunks of menhaden and jumbo blood worms doing the trick for bait anglers. Don’t ignore live-lining small perch. They will be prime baits for rock until later in the summer, when the spot show up. At that point rockfish will seldom take anything else.
      Smaller trolled baits should also be used to tempt the resident fish showing up in ever-larger numbers as the spawn fades. Smaller chunks of menhaden will also prove superior for the now-legal schoolie rock.
     White perch are returning to the deeper areas of the tributaries and should be turning up in skinny water any time now. No crabs yet.