Chesapeake Outdoors By C.D. Dollar

 Vol. 9, No. 49
December 6 - 12, 2001 
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Later Season Better for Anglers and Fish?

I’ve got a question for Maryland anglers: Would you be willing to give up fishing for rockfish for six months or even a month in the height of summer in exchange for extending the season into the first two weeks of December? In a highly unscientific poll, I posed that question to three hard-core fishermen. All empathetically said “yes,” they’d gladly take that trade. After all, the late-season pattern in recent years has proved that the local fish don’t turn on until September, and larger ocean-run rockfish don’t show up in our part of the Bay until the middle of October at the earliest.

These rockfish stay well through December; just ask the scores of Free State anglers who cross the state line after the Maryland season ends to fish in the waters of the Commonwealth. Case in point: a friend recently fished the Bay Bridge Tunnel and reported that he and his group caught several hefty stripers, including two 41-inchers and three rock that measured better than 35 inches. (He also caught a five-foot conger eel that he said fought like a 20-pound rockfish.)

Research has proven that mortality among released rockfish increases dramatically when water temperatures climb into the upper 70s. Couple that with the fact that from mid-June through August many anglers target rockfish by chumming, the process of using ground menhaden to produce an oil slick that attracts predators like rockfish and bluefish.

Several fishermen and charter captains I spoke with this season said that the ratio of undersized fish to keepers (18 inches and above) sometimes ran as high as 20 to 1. There were trips that yielded more than 75 fish — without a legal fish in the bunch.
Even if you are a conscientious angler and use circle hooks religiously, have dehookers at the ready and deploy other tools and techniques to minimize the stress on rockfish, you still run a high risk of killing fish.

Granted, rockfish are the glamour sport fish in the Chesapeake, but it amazes me that with so many other fishing options — including flounder, croaker, and spot as well as the offshore pelagic species — some anglers seem so intent, manic even, on going after rockfish even when the catching is slow.

Successful rockfish spawns in the last six years bode well for a stable population, despite concerns about food sources for larger fish, particularly menhaden stocks. But one thing is for sure: the pressure on the Bay’s rockfish from recreational fishermen is growing significantly. That fact alone makes it critical that resource managers continue to think and rethink management strategies.

Now I think I’ll go south.

Fish Are Biting
With mild weather making it feel like early September instead of early December, there are still plenty of fishing options. Bountiful fat white perch can be found off many oyster reefs and other structures. These tasty fish are also schooling in deeper holes of Bloody Point, Breezy Point and the Choptank River. Bay Bridge and Kent Narrows are other choices. Trout are also still in our part of the Bay. Want rockfish? Head to Virginia waters. Live minnows and flashy lures such as RoadRunners are taking chain pickerel in the Severn and Magothy rivers.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly