Chesapeake Outdoors By C.D. Dollar
Vol. 9, No. 14
April 5-11, 2001
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Early Rockfishing on the Susquehanna Flats

Less than a week old, the Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release fishery has already created a buzz with decent catches being reported. In fact, fly-fishing and light-tackle anglers from across the country are taking part in the special month-long season because it combines a strong conservation ethic with the good prospect of catching large rockfish.

On the Flats, fly outfits in the 8- and 9-weight class loaded with full-sinking lines (350-500 grain) on short but stout leaders work well. The fly of choice may vary given water conditions, but Closures, Deceivers, and Half and Halfs three to five inches long tied on hooks from #1 to 2/0 are effective.

Light tackle outfits should consist of medium to medium-heavy rods and reels loaded with at least 12-pound test line. One-quarter ounce to one-and-one-half ounce white bucktails with a twister tail, Bass Assassins and other subsurface lures in a variety of colors work as well. Anglers are strongly encouraged to change out treble hooks, and if you want a picture, take it fast and handle the fish carefully over the water.

Opening the Susquehanna Flats to catch-and-release fishing was not without controversy, however, as state resource managers worked to balance the health of the fish with their obligation to provide opportunity. Everyone has an opinion on the viability of an April fishery and its impact on the fish.

But two years of analysis conducted by Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists dispelled the notion that the Flats is a spawning area or an area where females assemble in large numbers. Second, catch-and-release mortality rates are directly related to water temperature, and in April on the Flats, temperatures are low enough that fish mortality is low. If fish behavior changes and new studies show that spawning fish are being impacted, I bet nearly all of the anglers who fish the Flats would agree to close it.

This prized gamefish has rebounded in last decade, but it was only 20 years ago when recreational fishermen and commercial watermen almost fished them into oblivion. Driven by pollution, poor water quality and decimated habitat, which also contributed to the rockfish's near demise. By 1985, Maryland took a bold step and closed its fishery completely, as did the entire Atlantic Coast.

A moratorium is the last resort and a dangerous way to manage a fishery. No one believes that our precious blue crab is in that much peril yet, but the rockfish crash (together with crashes of sturgeon, shad and oysters) is a poignant, timely lesson about the precarious pitfalls of managing a fishery by crisis. These past examples are more reason why Virginia and Maryland should enact more restrictive regulations and adopt more comprehensive management strategies.

Still, concerns persist about the decreasing numbers of menhaden, a primary forage species for rockfish, and the scarcity of large, old fish coastwide. The proposed new coastal management plan, which focuses on long-term issues, is encouraging. Couple it with the increasing conservation ethic among recreation users and commercial watermen, and the future of our rockfish stocks looks good. Now we must do the same for the crab.

Maryland's 2001 Striped Bass Season
(Check DNR for specific regulations)

April 1 –April 30: Susquehanna Flats Special Catch & Release Fishery

April 20 – May 31: Spring season, Chesapeake mainstem: One fish per person per day, 28-inch minimum.

June 1 – November 30 Summer/Fall season: Two fish per person per day, 18-inch minimum, w/only one 28 inches or larger.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly