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Volume xviii, Issue 7 ~ February 18 - February 24, 2010

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Rockfish Dreamin’ on a Winter’s Day

Five must-have Bay rockfish lures

Winter is the time to review your tackle inventory. Once the season starts — and that’s just weeks away — there will be many other things to distract you. You won’t want to get into a situation on the water that requires a lure that you don’t have. So equip yourself with a few of each of these rockfish baits that have consistently produced on the Chesapeake.

Fishing by the Numbers

The Number One all-around rockfish lure has to be the bucktail jig. The classic artificial bait for all occasions, it has undoubtedly, over time, caught more stripers (and probably more fish in general) than any other single lure. It can be cast, trolled, jigged, bounced and drifted.

It can be fished simple or tipped with live bait, strip baits, pork rind or soft plastic attractors. With just this one lure and the correct technique, you can always put fish in the box. Basic colors for the Bay are white, yellow and chartreuse, though the jigs are crafted in every color humans have imagined. A selection of sizes from one-quarter to two ounces will cover just about every condition in the Tidewater.

The Number Two bait on the Bay is the soft plastic jig. It can be fished like the bucktail jig and has become increasingly popular since the first lure of this type (Mann’s Stingray Grub) made the jump from freshwater to saltwater over 30 years ago.

Bass Assassins and BKDs (Bass Kandy Delight) are the overwhelming favorites in the mid-Bay. Zoom Super Flukes, Fin-S, Mister Twisters and the Berkely Gulp series are surefire fish-foolers as well. The best colors for the Bay in order of popularity are lavender over pearl-grey, chartreuse glitter, lavender with silver glitter over pearl-grey, white, chartreuse, yellow and pink.

The Number Three lure for Chesapeake outings has become the swim bait, a relative newcomer to the lure scene. Tsunami and Storm lure companies make the more popular of these deadly attractors, but plenty more manufacturers are providing competition. Lifelike baitfish imitations in varying colors are molded in soft plastic over a strategically weighted hook. These lures are designed to move with a shimmering, swimming motion when retrieved. They have proven irresistible to stripers throughout the Bay.

The Number Four artificial fish-fooler is the Stingsilver-type vertical jig. The two-ounce size is the most widely used, but it is available and effective in sizes from one-quarter to over four ounces from a variety of manufacturers. The best colors seem to be silver, gold, chartreuse green over yellow, chartreuse and white.

This lure is often augmented with a smaller teaser jig or fly tied 12 to 18 inches up the leader. Jigged just off of the bottom, this lure is probably the top producer of light-tackle fish caught in deep water from late summer well into fall.

The Number Five rockfish lure, and the most exciting to use, is the top-water plug. Rockfish react to the lure with visibly explosive strikes, often with numerous near misses making this bait the most nerve challenging and visually spectacular of all the artificial baits on the Chesapeake.

During the last few years, the most popular of these surface action lures has become the Stillwater Smack-It and Smack-It Jr. A distant second, but a still very effective plug, is the Storm Saltwater Chug Bug.

Manufactured with floating plastic bodies, they are baitfish-shaped with a concave mouth designed to make a popping sound, throwing water, sputtering and otherwise creating a noisy surface disturbance that draws rockfish attention from considerable distances.

These top-water plugs are particularly effective in early spring on the shallow flats of the Susquehanna, any time fish are feeding on the surface and in the fall around the mouths of the tributaries in the mornings and evenings. The best colors have been blue over pearl, olive over gold, black over pearl, chartreuse green over fluorescent yellow and all black.

Fish Are Coming

Anglers are waiting for the snows to subside to begin pursuit of yellow perch in the headwaters of the Bay’s tributaries. Meanwhile. preparations are being made for the opening of the Susquehanna catch-and-release rockfish season, which starts March 1, and the new Susquehanna catch-and-keep season, which opens May 16. One fish can be kept from 18 to 26 inches. Spring trophy rockfish season opens April 18 this year, with a one fish over 28 inches restriction.

In Season

Quail season is closed, but rabbit and squirrel are still open for the hardier of us nimrods. The snow goose conservation season remains open until April with no limits on harvest.

Eighth Annual TieFest

The nation’s most celebrated fly tyers and fly casters appear at the Eighth Annual TieFest, the mid-Bay’s premier fly-fishing show, Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Kent Narrows Yacht Club from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free. Exceptionally tasty food and beverages are sold. Lefty Kreh, Bob Popovics, Bob Clouser, Steve Farrar, and Steve Silverio and other fly-fishing and fly-tying experts make presentations and give demonstrations.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland sponsors the event, which also features a host of light-tackle fishing guides and equipment manufacturers. The show always offers many opportunities for improving skills and knowledge in the art of fly-fishing. Sign up for no-cost fly-casting lessons offered by seasoned instructors; kids under 16 get priority. Bring your own equipment to class. Info? Tony Friedrich: [email protected].

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