Volume XI, Issue 42 ~ October 16-22, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

Small Fish in our Big Pond

By my count, the first legal rockfish finally came after 54 of its much smaller and younger cousins had been caught and released. If you were a commercial waterman, you’d go broke or starve with that ratio. But for recreational anglers working a fly rod or light-tackle outfit, those kinds of numbers can be pure gold.

And so they were for the two novice anglers I took fishing recently. They were new to the saltwater game, and their casting skills were rudimentary at best. The abundance of bait in the open waters of eastern Bay gave them plenty of opportunity to catch fish and develop skills. Casting all day for just a few fish happens more than most of us care to admit, but for beginners a slow day can be frustrating enough for them to take up golf. (Yes, I’ve heard it can be that bad!)

After we boated that first legal fish, one of the men joked that of the millions of rockfish in front of us, we must have caught the only legal one. Well, that can’t be true, but small fish are better than no fish.

For my money, October is one of the best times to fish the Bay, even if keepers are far and few between. For sheer numbers of rockfish, it’s prime time, and it’s not uncommon to catch more than 50 stripers a day.

Had my client known we were fishing on fish that will carry the Bay’s resurgent rockfish population into the next decade, he might have been a bit more appreciative. Several previous years of strong spawns now make for exciting action. Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2003 striped bass juvenile index is 25.8, the fifth highest ever measured in the survey’s 50-year history.

No doubt the Chesapeake has more than its fair share of problems, especially where water quality is concerned. But casting into the froth of acres of boiling rockfish is a good reminder that the Bay’s bounty can rebound strongly if only we’d help it more.

Fish Are Biting
It’s definitely transitional fishing on the Bay with the fluctuations in weather and water temps still in the mid-60s. Breaking fish are more consistent but smaller. Our summer, bottom-dwelling visitors — spot and croaker — are all but gone. The shallow-water bite so reliable a couple weeks ago is now spotty at best for this angler. But the breaking pods of rockfish and bluefish provide ample fun as they gorge themselves on anchovies and silversides to fatten up in preparation for winter.

Bunkys Charters in Solomons tells me that chumming at Buoy 72A is still producing keeper rockfish, but they haven’t seen many bluefish recently and no weakfish to speak of. Stephanie of Rod ’n’ Reel in Chesapeake Beach says that the charter fleet is chumming Stone Rock and bringing back limits of rockfish most days, although the ratio of sub legal fish to keepers is fairly high.

If you can get out offshore, then the fishing grounds are pretty thick with yellowfin tuna and wahoo willing to give you a tough fight. But recent spates of bad weather have kept many boats on the docks. DNR reports that last month the area’s offshore fishing fleet took 111 bluefin tuna between September 3 and15, 2003, for 91.72 percent of last season’s catch total.

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Last updated October 16, 2003 @ 12:38am