Volume 14, Issue 10 ~ March 9 - March 15, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Dreams Are What Fishermen Are Made Of

There is no season such delight can bring,

As summer, autumn, winter and spring.

—William Browne, 1591-1645.

More than 350 years after Browne penned those words, they still hold true — though old age has taken a bit of luster from winter. Worn bones and slower circulation don’t cope with the chill of winter as they once did. Yet fresh snow remains invigorating to see, though the skis and snowshoes are long departed.

Late winter’s warming trend prods the sap in the maples to circulate, and from it comes the best syrup to ever grace a table. Without winter, what would spring be like if there were no need of her wonders in bringing things back to life?

Autumn with its foliage and cooler weather reminds us winter is coming. If we are to believe old New England folklore, it was the time for the younger folks to put the old fogies like me in the freezer to ensure sufficient provisions in the larder to feed the remainder of the family over the winter.

Summer, well that’s when there is no school, waters are warm for swimming, people take vacations, lawns are brightened by flowers and birds, and sweet corn, tomatoes and peaches ripen.

But give me spring, though I’m long past the age when, as the poets write, young men are smitten with fresh love.

Fish Are Rising

Spring brings a rejuvenation of the Chesapeake and its marine life. Winters are long and cold — though this one has been a sissy — and the warming weather lessens the chill of the Bay. Its year-round inhabitants come to life, as did those frozen old New Englanders thawed by their progeny of folklore.

Other migrant fish start thinking of vacationing hereabouts; some are already moving in — like rockfish, the king of the hill in our Chesapeake.

Spring officially comes March 20, but these delightful fish of silver with long stripes comprised of a series of black scales don’t go by the calendar. God gave them their own way of knowing when a young man’s (and woman’s) fancy should turn to love. Now they’re staging for the spawning run in tributaries of the Chesapeake, where 80 percent or more of the East Coast’s striper hatch takes place.

Meanwhile, for this Izaak Walton and countless others, comes building anticipation. The fish are coming, surely once again in goodly numbers, and we will be ready with hooks to catch some. Maybe somewhere out there will be a true snollygaster, possibly even a record. And maybe I (or you) will be lucky. Hopes and dreams are what fishermen are made of.

The Rules for Trophy Rockfish

Again this year, the catch-and-keep season in the Chesapeake proper opens April 15, and there are no changes in the remaining dates until the final close Dec. 15. But something else will be different. Because we caught too many rockfish in our trophy season (April 15-May 15) last year, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission insists we pay a penalty.

For years, the legal minimum length during trophy season has been 28 inches; this year it will be 33.

Paybacks can be hell, but by May 15, our penalty paid, regulations will revert to the usual for summer/fall: Two fish a day, 18-inch minimum, but only one of more than 28 inches.

Raising the bar by five inches is appreciable, but it is not sufficient to dampen our enthusiasm as we wait impatiently for the opener six weeks hence. We need only a little more luck to get a little more length in the rockfish we can take and keep. Bottom line: We undoubtedly will reel in fewer fish than we can keep this year, which is what the penalty is all about. But we will be fishing and hoping for that fish so big we need never to exaggerate its proportions.

The Lure of Anticipation

Lady Luck plays a significant role in fishing. But there is a factor in catching that is equally important: Being sufficiently prepared in the skill and tackle side of angling so one can take full advantage of the moment when Lady Luck smiles.

Preparation is the key while we’re waiting for the calendar, the act of preparation grants us within our imagination the vicarious pleasure of fighting that fish of our dreams.

The lengthening light each day has roused the spawning urge within rockfish, and from here on much depends on water currents, clarity and temperature. No magic number for degrees in water temperature, but eggs start dropping at about 52 or 53 degrees. Barring other weather factors, the egg drop increases in relation to the temperature.

In my choice of parachutes and bucktails, three colors will predominate; white, yellow and green, and in that order. Also, I will have one or two primarily black, which I will fish on dark or stormy days. Black is a good choice in dark waters as fish look up toward the sky.

To each parachute or bucktail (choose bucktails with much hair; the more the better despite the extra cost), I will add a soft plastic Sassy Shad or Twister Tail to improve action of the rig.

For what it’s worth, if my bait is white, the soft plastic will be yellow or green, and vice versa. I like to mix colors; many don’t.

I will have an assortment of spoons, primarily large like the No. 21 Tony, and mostly silver or white. Again, I buck convention. Spoons aren’t designed to add anything to the hook, but the past two seasons I’ve found an added short white Twister Tail improved catches. It adds flash to the feathered hook.

I will also have a few large plugs of white and chartreuse, several big surgical hoses and a small assortment of free-swimming soft plastic fish-like baits such as the Berkeley Swimming Shad. I won’t have an umbrella rig, though I know they enhance catching — but at the expense of feeling the fight of a fish. Instead I will use double-bait rigs, two to the rod.

Unless the opening days are stormy, rough and cold, I will troll waters of 40 feet or more along the inner edge of the channel. But the baits will be worked only from three to 10 feet down. After spawning, on sunny days many rockfish enjoy the warmer surface waters as they scoot out of the Bay. In bad weather, I would work the baits an additional 10 to 15 feet down.

I will prepare my leaders ahead of time, the same with sharpening hooks, oiling the reels and the rollers on the guides. Again I undoubtedly will break all my resolutions not to buy any more rods, reels and baits, though I already have more than enough to last two lifetimes. In these days of anticipation, one cannot have too much tackle.

Enough said.

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