The Oracle at Mill Creek: 2021 Will Be a Great Rockfish Year
By Dennis Doyle
It’s going to be a great year for rockfish in 2021, one of the best of the last decade. Despite many forecasts for exactly the opposite, I’ve gotten it on good authority that the rock are already stacked up in great number in the mid-Bay this year and are good-sized. That’s just the kind of news I’ve longed for these last many months but increasingly felt the possibility non-existent.
There is one source of information on rockfish that has been steadfastly on-target better than all the others. Not 100 percent accurate to be sure, which is just not possible, but close enough. I’ve found that any conversation with this witness concerning the Bay and its fish, has been uncannily valid—plus he lives conveniently nearby on the Severn. I like to call him The Oracle at Mill Creek, kind of like our Tidewater’s Warren Buffet (The Oracle of Omaha).
Leo James, a born-on-the-Bay waterman, has been on the Chesapeake day in and day out for three-quarters of a century. He’s seen the Bay at its very best (the ’50s were incredible) and the not-so-best (the last few years have been a challenge) but he’s a firm believer in the Bay’s ability to rise and rise again from our many clumsy and often disastrous attempts at resource management.
Leo has made his living off the Chesapeake’s bounty with a lot of hard work and not just a little insight. The owner and chief cook and bottle-washer at LJ Marina, he has also crab potted, trot lined, gill netted, hook-and-lined, ran fish traps, pound nets and haul seined our waters to the point that not much escapes his notice.
“I believe this season we’re reaching the point that the middle-Bay rockfish population is so numerous that it may be upsetting the balance of other species. I saw an incredible number of small crabs last year that just disappeared as the months went by. The fish just ate ‘em up, too many catfish, perch and rock gulped ‘em all down. That one rockfish limit tilted things too much in the wrong direction.
“The price of rockfish has also dropped this winter (almost 50 percent, unofficially). That’s a clue that there’s a lot of fish in the water. I’ve heard tell that the schools of stripers stretch from the Bay Bridge down past the mouth of the eastern Bay. That’s a long, long way.”
Leo added that “the gill netters working rockfish have to be careful not to set much net out. And if they’re out more than 20 minutes or so, they get so full they can’t pull ‘em back in.”
While the mental image of that for a recreational angler is not particularly attractive, the thought that the rock may actually be so numerous is indeed comforting. It’s only seven weeks from opening day, May 1. We’ll soon see if The Oracle is as knowing as he usually is. I certainly hope so I’m aching to do some good rockfishing.
The yellow perch bite is inching along. The frigid temps haven’t helped much, so some warm days could set it afire. White perch are crowding the yellow run and should start showing up in better numbers soon. It’s worms and minnows under bobbers that are getting the most fish with bait on the bottom being next best. The hickories are not too far away and throwing shad darts in multiple colors working best for them. Pickerel are holding steady throughout the tribs and taking minnows, spinner baits and crank baits as well as surface plugs. The season may not be on fire quite yet but it is smoking a bit and due to take off soon. Get on the water and get some.