Cold, rain, wind and otherwise miserable weather. That’s the standard spring day in 2011. I can’t remember another year when I have gotten so few days on the water by this time.
April 16, the opening day of rockfish season, was particularly difficult, with a morning that saw at least half-gale winds and an afternoon that added torrential rains. April 17 proceeded with a blow so bad that a 23-foot boat capsized with five anglers on board off of Thomas Point, requiring a Coast Guard rescue.
Fish Are Biting …
Buddy Abbot’s boat caught 16, but the average tournament catch was only two or three fish, and they were significantly smaller than those generally caught this time of year. That is an indication that the really big fish haven‘t gotten here yet.
Temperatures have been unseasonably cold this month. In addition, the Conowingo Dam releases at the head of the Bay have been frequent because of our near-record rainfalls. Since the discharges are from the bottom depths held back by the dam, water temperatures are significantly colder than surface temps and further lower Bay temperatures.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported on April 13 that the first major rockfish spawns had finally occurred, primarily on the Nanticoke and Choptank rivers. That’s reassuring. But overall, big spring-run stripers from the ocean are slow in arriving in this part of the Chesapeake.
Generally, anticipate a prolonged spawn this season with large rockfish possibly transiting the mid-Bay to and from their spawning sites well into late May. You can also anticipate an immediate acceleration in the trophy season bite when warmer weather finally arrives.
Better temps will also ignite the shad runs and push the white perch fishing — so far sputtering along in our tributaries — into overdrive.
We still need two or three days of sunshine and 80-degree weather this April to light the fuse for freshwater fishing. The resultant explosion, when it comes, should include largemouth bass, bluegill, perch, crappie and pickerel — all at once. Mother Nature is anything but predictable. Stay ready to take advantage of whatever happens.
What’s Coming in May
Though April has been decidedly disappointing fish-wise, I count on May to bring much better weather and better fishing. From May 16 to May 31, you can begin to catch and keep one rockfish 18 to 26 inches on the Susquehanna Flats.
May 16 to May 31 on the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay (from a line between Tolchester to the south point of Hart-Miller Island south to the Maryland-Virginia line) you can begin to keep two stripers over 18 inches, but only one of those may be over 28 inches. The use of live eels as bait in the mainstem will now be legal as well. Possession of a striper between midnight and 5am continues to be prohibited.
Treat Rockfish as a Treasure
Natural Resources Police have also stepped up enforcement of no rockfishing zones in all of the spawning areas of Bay tributaries and will continue to do so until the tributaries become open for legal rockfishing from June 1 to December 15.
Recently, 12 out-of-state anglers were arrested for targeting spawning stripers on the headwaters of the Choptank River. Spawning fish undergo significant stress in catch-and-release fishing in freshwater zones, suffering high mortalities. Released fish that survive often immediately leave the freshwater spawning sites for higher salinity waters to recover. It is not known if they ever return to lay their eggs.
Because of the delayed spawn this year, many large females will be caught over the next few weeks before they have propagated. Big cow stripers can produce over a million and a half eggs. It is legal to keep these fish, but it is far wiser to release them to continue their journey and reproduce. It all depends on whether you want the next few years to be better than the last. You can tell if you’ve caught an unspawned cow by her still-bulging belly and extruded traces of yellow roe.