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A Perpetual Series of ­Occasions for Hope

We have to be ready to fish hard when the rockfish finally bite

Once water warms, the rockfish will spawn, and we may start catching them.
      Big rockfish are still a no-show. Discouraged by the absence, the number of anglers has dwindled as well. Low water temperatures are the culprit blamed for this unusual paucity of big fish cruising the Bay proper. DNR fishing reports say most of the rockfish in the area are still high up in the tributaries awaiting the proper conditions to spawn.
      Recent reproductive activity has been reported in the upper Choptank and the Nanticoke, and there is every expectation that some warm spring rains and higher daytime temperatures will jump start the spawn and blow open the trophy season, perhaps by this coming weekend. I am wishing it will be true.
      John Buchan, a Scottish politican and avid angler, wrote in the late 1800s that “Fishing is … a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” In my conversations with fellow anglers over the years I have found that he is right. So I allow myself to believe not only that the fish will finally show up but also that this could be a banner year.
      While wishing, I haven’t remained idle. The next best thing to actually fishing, while awaiting better conditions, is fooling with your tackle.
       I have checked all my gear yet again. Though I had changed out my line in the middle of last season, I did so again. You can’t be too careful when facing a real monster.
       Changing out my leaders from No. 25 fluorocarbon to No. 30 became a recent project, not that the breaking strength was the issue. It’s the diameter and hardness of your leader material that becomes important when targeting older fish. The big guys, if you’ve had the opportunity to examine many of them closely, have very sharp gill plates on the sides of their heads that become fluted and sometimes jagged with age.
      Imagine your leaders rubbing up and down a serrated knife. How long would they last? Better be on the safe side. You won’t hook one of these guys twice.
      Of course if you go too heavy you risk your setups being too visible to the fish. They are not stupid, and a lot of these older fish have had a close call with an angler a time or two.
      Next I re-examined all of my hooks and discarded any that showed a hint of rust or any evidence of not being needle-sharp. Big rockfish have tough mouths, much more puncture-proof than those of younger (and smaller) fish. As you’re using a larger and thicker hook size, it will be more difficult to set, particularly if you use light tackle. The innate flexibility of a light tackle rod does little to assist in penetration, and you need every advantage to succeed.
       Of course if you’re using circle hooks, which are recommended though not mandated for this trophy season, getting a good hook set is simpler, as the circle hook inevitably finds purchase only in the corner of the fish’s mouth. That location is one of the strongest aspects of its whole mouth structure and the most easily penetrated. Keep that in mind when choosing your hook type.
      When things finally break, migrating stripers will be moving rapidly. After the big females have completed spewing their eggs, they will be on their way back to the ocean posthaste. They will not tarry, and while they might be more eager to eat, they will do so on the run. We all have to be ready to fish hard when the time is finally right.
Fish Finder
The trophy rockfish bite remains tepid. Some big ones are being boated here and there, but finding fish is a long and hard task. Sooner or later, though, we are bound to get that post-spawn deluge of fish.
In the meantime the shad are bursting out, particularly in the Choptank and at Deer Creek near the Susquehanna Flats. The white perch run has peaked, and the fish are returning downstream. Pickerel remain a reliable bite with some big ones often in the mix. There are always some good-sized catfish lurking. Their rather homely demeanor is more than made up for by their excellent table quality.