Burton on the Bay:
Get Ready to Rock

"We are waiting for the long-promised invasion; so are the fishes."

	-Winston Churchill


Yes, we're waiting for the long promised invasion, an armada of charter and private craft on the brine of our Chesapeake Bay. But I don't know about the fishes. Little do they realize that Friday, April 23 marks the opening of Maryland's trophy rockfish season.

Sir Winston Churchill was referring to the long-awaited Allied landing on French soil when he spoke those words. This time around it's fun: the enjoyment of catching big fish, rockfish, the biggest of the year.

As I write, the spawn of huge cow stripers is underway in the tributaries, primarily the Nanticoke, Potomac, Choptank and probably the Patuxent. Also in the extreme upper Bay.

Once the eggs are dropped to be fertilized by smaller males, the big fish are anxious to head down the Chesapeake to the Atlantic where they will head up the coast. Other anglers will cast their lines from Assateague Island and Ocean City to Maine and New Brunswick.

The Maryland season is a long one, the longest since the moratorium was lifted in 1990 - it continues through the end of November - but the first segment is the one we're waiting for. That's when we get our shot at the legitimate trophies, the big females, each of which has dropped millions of eggs to ensure the future of the fishery.

For those who want a fish that can be big enough that no exaggeration is necessary, the last weekend in April and much of May is the time.

Something else about this early season within an overall season of more than seven months: Everyone with a boat has pretty much an equal chance of taking a fish of bragging size.

The catching boils down to being at the right place at the right time. Once the trophy season is history, rockfish school up by the thousands, sometimes the tens of thousands, and the fishing is different.


No Experience Necessary

At trophy time, the big cows are loners. Once they spawn, they're in a hurry to get to the ocean, so they take off. They move down the Bay in ones, twos or small patches.

The most skilled of anglers, the pros and the amateurs have pretty much an equal chance of being at the right place at the right time: at the precise time a trophy rock is passing by as they chum or troll. It's that simple. Luck plays the major role in latching onto a fish that will more than fill the biggest pan in the household, providing more than a meal or two for the entire family. Also a story for the one with the rod.

Perhaps I've made it sound too simple. Though luck - being at the right place at the right time - is the deciding factor, in fishing we realize a fisherman's knowledge cannot be overlooked. The angler must be doing things right at the time Lady Luck smiles. Otherwise, luck is wasted.


Helping Lady Luck

Following are suggestions for those who want to challenge big fish as they depart our Bay. Be prepared for that moment of luck.

· Do most of your fishing along the edge of the main shipping channel, deep water of from 40 to 60 feet or more. That's the primary route the post-spawners take.

· Though fishing deep waters, don't fish deep. These fish are often found in the top 20 to 25 feet of the water column. While trolling, I often catch best in the top 10 feet. The water is usually warmer in mid to late spring near the surface and, like you and I, fish prefer comfort.

· Have faith in the old adage that big fish like big baits. Wouldn't you after spending weeks preparing to spawn and stuck in shoal waters near the tidewater line where pickings are lean? If you were famished and at a buffet, would you prefer a small cube of cheese or a big slab of beef?

· When it come to lures, two colors stand out: white and yellowish green, they're proven. Though there are days when other colors score. If spoons are your choice, add silver and gold to the spectrum.

· In trolling, which will be the most popular method in much of the trophy season, use large bucktails or Parachutes. Add to them soft plastic Twister Tails, Sassy Shads or huge slabs of commercially packaged white, red or yellow pork rind. Chumming gradually begins as waters become a bit warmer.

Other options include an Umbrella Rig, which is a collection of soft plastic Sassy Shads of medium size with one or two much larger with hooks, a bait to duplicate a small school of fish. It's the most effective yet least fun-to-fish-with bait for the Chesapeake. It's like dragging an old boot, and when a fish is on it's like reeling in a sunken barge. But it sure catches fish. And if that, to you, is more fun that feeling the fight, then go for it. I'd rather stay home.

Still other options are large Bunker Spoons, costly but real big fish getters. Also good are Big 'n Grubs, the head of which can weigh a pound. And speaking of heavy baits, Fat Boy makes one that proved very effective north and south of us last year. Its lead head is about the size of a tennis ball and weighs five pounds. No kidding.

Trolled plugs are rapidly gaining in popularity. Go with the new Mann's Magnum Stretch 18+, a modified version of the Mann's Stretch 30+ that was the top plug on the Chesapeake last year. It doesn't fish as deep, and rock will be close to the surface. I prefer the oversized Rapala Shad Rap that looks more like a menhaden, which rock will be feeding on.

In traditional spoons, the Crippled Alewive, Tony Accetta or Huntington Drone are the most effective, and stay with the biggies of those lines. The bigger the better.

And may your fish be the biggest of them all.

When to Catch Rock in Chesapeake Bay

| Issue 15 |

Volume VII Number 15
April 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times

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