|Are You Ready to Roll with Rock?
Fish are spawning, and the catching is good
Ah, spring, when an old mans fancy turns to rockfish. Big rockfish.
Bill Burton, 2000
So here we are. Spring has arrived, though as I write, outside it feels more like late winter. I think of the chill and speculate on the meanderings of rockfish in the Chesapeake. Age stacked on the life of an angler does not diminish anticipation. If anything, it heightens it.
The quest of big stripers is warmer, clear and less salty waters, where the cows will broadcast their spawn and the smaller males tag along to fertilize the eggs. Its a spring ritual
has been, I presume, since God created these beautiful silvery fish with black stripes.
Water temperatures are in the mid-40s, and soon as they get to 50, we can expect the spawning to commence. And, in a month, we can expect to begin catching and keeping big fish.
The season opens April 25, (no real eels allowed) with the same regulations as last year: Fish must be of 28 inches; no fishing north of the mouth of the Patapsco or in any tributaries of the Bay. Angling is restricted to the Bay proper to protect spawning fish of the Potomac, Choptank, Nanticoke and the upper reaches of the Bay.
The trophy season ends May 31, and the next day brings the second and last season of the year, a real long affair that lasts through Nov. 30. It will be different than previous seasons.
To protect larger rockfish, a slot limit will be in effect. In the first Bay slot regulation of any kind, we will be allowed one fish a day, 18 inches on up with no maximum and a second fish between 18 and 28 inches. Last year, we were allowed two fish a day of 18 inches or more.
Other states are or should be cutting back on their catch of large rock following revelations that too many of the biggies are being taken along the coast. Were not guilty of that hereabouts, but the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has decreed that we all bite the bullet. Bringing rockfish back has involved much time and sacrifice, so fisheries managers are playing it conservative, as well they should.
The loss of a second fish of over 28 inches isnt too big a deal, so we shouldnt gripe too much. In the summer-fall season, we will be allowed to fish anywhere, no off-limits.
And much of the activity will be in the tributaries if the season is anything like last year when stripers including big fish were in places like the Chester, Choptank, Patapsco, Potomac, Patuxent and Nanticoke where presumably they found many smaller menhaden following what appears to have been a good hatch of the oily baitfish.
Incidentally, as the resurgence of all but the larger rockfish continues, here in the Chesapeake, where at least 80 percent of coastal populations are spawned, there are indications the species is getting cramped in the acceptable habitat department, including good spawning waters.
More fish are wintering over in the Patapsco, Chester and Patuxent; also more are figured to be spawning thereabouts. Previously, the Patapsco and Chester werent considered very important in the rockfish reproduction picture, and the Patuxent though better wasnt thought to be a significant player in boosting coastal stocks.
Currently these three tributaries are not officially considered spawning areas. Thus in springtime it remains legal to fish for rock in them on a catch-and-release basis, as can also be done in the Bay proper. But currently all rock, regardless of size, must go back.
When the season opens next month, 28-inch fish can be kept in the Bay from the Patapsco southward, though in all tributaries the fish must be returned until June 1. Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds are not considered tributaries. Thus fish caught there can be kept once the season opens.
The summer-fall season continues through Nov. 30, and few of us need be reminded how great the angling was from late September through the close several days after Thanksgiving. I started fishing hereabouts in 1956, and last fall was the best run for any time of year that I can recall. Lets hope for a repeat.
Seeing that the Baltimore Sun, with a brand new outdoors writer, hasnt yet published seasons for stripers though the final dates were announced more than a month ago perhaps its appropriate to add the remainder of the rockfish schedule.
The still highly controversial Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release season will be from April 3 through April 30, during which no fish can be kept. Opening the Flats for the first time last year was perhaps the biggest possibly the only mistake Maryland Department of Natural Resources has made in rockfish management since the moratorium was lifted. But to its credit, it has tightened the regulations.
While last year catch-and-release fishing was allowed in the Flats and into the Susquehanna River, this year it will be allowed only in the Flats, between a line drawn from Sandy Point to Turkey Point and the lower railroad bridge near Perry Point to the Northeast River. The Sandy Point referred to, naturally, is not the Sandy Point just above the Bay Bridge.
In the ocean area, from Assateague Island to the Delaware line, previous regulations will be renewed. The season is open year round, two fish a day, 28-inch minimum. Down that way, curiously, no license or permit is required.
I use the term curiously because we of the Chesapeake and its tributaries do need a license unless fishing from a charterboat or other fisheries-licensed craft (the rockfish stamp was abolished several years ago and the fee was incorporated into overall license costs). But Ocean City and Assateague anglers were exempted from the license in a three-way deal involving DNR, the legislature and the late Harry Kelley, who was mayor of Ocean City at the time.
A tidewater license was very controversial then and genial, influential Harry whose position was significant in a final decision made a deal. He wouldnt oppose a license for tidal waters if the ocean area was exempted. So the bill passed, was signed into law and remains.
But that is history. This is today, and fisheries research and management has become increasingly expensive. It involves many more species, some of which are important to the ocean fishery, including sea bass, sea trout, hardheads and flounder. It seems only reasonable that ocean fishermen should now pay their fair share. But no legislator nor the department has the guts to bring this inequity up, so the free ride remains for ocean anglers.
The Potomac River trophy season will be April 22 through May 31: 28-inch minimum, one fish a day. The summer-fall season will be June 1 through Dec. 31: two fish a day with the same slot limit that applies to the Chesapeake.
Are You Ready?
Just think: In a month, the serious hunt for rockfish will be underway, which prompts the question: Are you ready?
Its decision time for baits. Think big, go with large bucktails, parachutes, umbrella rigs, huge spoons, soft plastic eels, plugs or anything else you put in the water with hooks on it. Spring fish are the biggest, and one old adage that holds well into May is bigger fish want bigger baits. Choose patterns of white, yellow or green, and shop now before the rush. The better baits sell out early.