Be Prepared for Opening Day
By Dennis Doyle
We are only one week away from the opening day of the trophy rockfish season. Are your ready for May 1? Local sporting goods stores will be as primed as possible, considering that the COVID restrictions are still impacting the supply chain of baits and tackle. There may not be enough for everyone this year.
A good idea might be to contact stores prior to opening day if you have needs, as the phones may be tied up closer to May 1, or agents too busy to answer them. Be sure your fishing license is valid prior to the opener as well. Luckily you can purchase or renew your license for 2021 online at: https://compass.dnr.maryland.gov/dnrcompassportal.
Check your fishing tackle now, when the season dawns there will be lines of unprepared anglers clamoring for assistance. Don’t be one of them.
Marinas and boat repair shops are already deluged with requests for de-winterizing and making repairs for problems created by winter storage stress. If you need materials for servicing your engines and boats, you might be in luck if you move fast now but as opening day gets ever closer, the shelves of parts, oil and accessories will grow ever sparser.
The single most critical element of your tackle is your line. It’s trophy season and the minimum legal-sized rockfish is 35 inches, and that alone will provide plenty of line stress, especially if it’s seasons old. Don’t wait till the opener to replace your line. The waiting in queues on the first few days will be agonizing.
The next most important element are your fish hooks. Steel fishing hooks don’t go dormant over the wintertime, if they’ve been used in the Bay they’ll rust. A rusted hook requires up to four times as much force to set as a fresh hook and that’s a guaranteed missed fish. Keep in mind circle hooks are now required for bait fishing for stripers, so have a good supply. And be sure they are the right size.
The hooks on trolling lures are particularly susceptible to rusting and dulling and must either be replaced every year or thoroughly honed for all traces of oxidation. If you look at them with a magnifying optic you’ll see why they’ve become dull and resistant to penetration. The older and bigger a rockfish grows, the tougher its mouth becomes.
The last item on the list of critical issues is your rod’s line guides. A cracked guide or a guide with a missing inner ring will absolutely shred your lines under pressure and they are often difficult to detect. If you’ve got a half dozen or so rods you may have over 70 line guides. A quick way to inspect them is to run a piece of fine nylon cloth quickly through each—the fabric will snag on any defects.
Tip tops can be easily and cheaply replaced at any competent tackle shop, but the rest of the rod guides present a problem. They have to be cut off, replaced, rewound and refinished. That takes time and effort. Get that done first and don’t try to get by, they will quickly destroy your line. If you’re using braided line that can be expensive. A new rod may be cheaper—if you can find one.
Fresh bait is an important consideration. If you’re intending to fish light tackle for your trophy, cut bait on the bottom is the surest way to do it and when you’re going after the big guys, the freshest baits and chum possible are worth any effort. They make the biggest difference on the water. If you’re going to use menhaden, alewife or bunker (all the same baitfish) avoid the frozen variety, if at all possible, though it is acceptable as chum and in the end, better than nothing for bait.
When using bloodworms, the jumbo size is almost an essential to seduce a trophy. Sports stores run out of this size fast but you can order them now by mail from Maine where they are all harvested. Do it quick, supplies of those are also threatened as COVID has reduced the number of pickers drastically.
This will be a challenging season for many reasons but the superior angler always remembers the U.S. Marine’s Five P’s: Proper Preparation Precludes Pitiful Performance. Believe it!
All types of fishing for rockfish, including catch and release, has been closed the last few weeks so there is no information on any locations for the migrators. Blue cats, however, have been caught in good size and good numbers at Podickery Point. White perch are reported moving down rivers and streams heading for their summer grounds. Fishing season has started and all is well with the world, get out there and get some.