Slow Start to Trophy Season
By Dennis Doyle
As I spoke to the angler standing on the smooth, sandy beach, his attention darted past me and over my shoulder. I looked around and behind me one of his rod tips dipped again then again. “You brought luck for me,” the young man stated as he stepped over and freed the rod from its holder. The thought that he might be calling me good luck a bit early entered my head but as he pulled back on his 10-foot surf rod, it bent deeply indicating something substantial was solidly at the end of his line. “A catfish,” he announced within a few minutes after he skillfully lifted and cranked the reluctant fish slowly to the shoreline.
We were at Sandy Point State Park the Sunday after opening day at about 9 a.m. and Jesus Chacon was beaching his second fish of the morning, both it turned out were hefty channel cats of about 24 inches. “I’m giving them to those picnickers over there,” he indicated. “They’re putting them right on the grill.”
“I fish here a lot this time of year but I’m from Costa Rica,” said Chacon, “and in a few months I’ll be back at my home trolling for blue marlin in the Pacific. But fish are fish and this is fine with me.”
His sentiments were echoed by all of the six or seven anglers persevering along the sandy shoreline who appeared happy with anything that pulled on their lines.
The tide was low and still falling, not the best of conditions for the beach but it was overcast with just a sprinkle of rain and very little wind. That could mean things might get better really fast. With a rising tide and a bit of luck, the conditions within an hour or two would be excellent. The next two anglers along the strand, Vince Lassahn and his brother Jacob from Baltimore, were also patiently waiting for things to improve.
It was a very sparse group at Sandy Point for this time of year but the forecasted rain and a painfully slow traffic backup since 6:30 a.m. on the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge were also responsible. The first week of trophy season was off to a slow start and though some boats out in the Bay were doing well, reporting a few large stripers, most weren’t, with mostly throwbacks.
This could be due to a number of causes this season, the first being some relentlessly nasty winds, the next being few migratory stripers over the 35-inch minimum seem to be hanging around. The warm weather we’ve been experiencing lately might have accelerated the spawn as most of the successful reports I have heard told of spent females even in the smaller sizes. Of course, that could be a good thing from a spawning perspective, but for the anglers spending hours and hours on the Bay waiting for some big fish activity, it was not so good. Their terminal rigs at Sandy Point were set up for small fish; I didn’t see any circle hooks larger than size 1/0 and most of the baits being used were on the small side, both the bloodworms and the menhaden pieces
That’s not to say that big rock won’t take a small bait, but this time of year it would be very unusual. The anglers explained that though they knew big baits would be better, what they had was all that was available at nearby stores. They all were using pyramid sinkers, the usual choice at this location at Sandy Point.
The tidal currents here will sweep baits secured with bank, bass or egg sinkers easily down current and require the constant resetting of rigs. Pyramid sinkers will hold bottom much better and require less attention. One- to 5-ounce sinkers are the norm this time of year as are 9- to 12-foot surf rods. Surf reels holding lots of braided line and/or mono up to 30-pound test was also in evidence. The parking lot for the marina at the State Park was also poorly attended, undoubtedly due to the traffic backup and the weather forecast.
Upon arriving home, I briefly considered returning to the park with my own surf rig, knowing of a location or two where I could acquire more suitably sized baits. But then the heavens opened up and a torrential downpour commenced. I put on the pot for some fresh coffee and picked up my latest paperback.
The season is young and there will many more days to enjoy when the sun would be shining.
As is usual this time of year the weather is wildly inconsistent. But there are big stripers out there. For trolling anglers they seem to be split evenly between the eastern and western sides but there are also lots of throwbacks. The hottest baits are once again big bucktails with 9- to 12-inch sassy shads in white and chartreuse presented in the top 15 feet of water. Light boat traffic this year may be quite an advantage to those getting out. Bait anglers are not really successful yet with stripers this year but channel and blue cats are making up the difference. The snakehead bite around the Black Walnut River drainage is coming on slowly but definitely coming on.