Friday is the big day, the opening of the rockfish season after five long years, and it should be a real zoo.
A great deal has been written here and elsewhere about opening the striped bass season this year. Some people are bitter over the difference in the daily creel limit between recreational fishermen (two per person) and charter boat clients (five per person). And we've heard a bigger debate over whether the season should be opened at all.
Fortunately, that's all behind us now and those who want to go fishing can go fishing and those who do not can stay home and watch ESPN. It is time to test the waters.
Before the fishing begins, however, there is one point I feel needs to be addressed. I have heard some folks grumbling that the recreational and charter boat user groups will snap up their allocation and shorten the season. All I can say is those folks don't know much about fall rockfish fishing.
I believe the fish the first weekend will be relatively easy to catch. So if you want a striper for dinner and one for the freezer, I recommend you get off the couch and out on the water.
After the initial frenzy, the fish will be much harder to catch because they will be spooked and will scatter. A good example of this kind of fishing pressure is the sea trout on the Stone Rock. The fish will take only so much pressure and then they will become hard to find.
Another point not recognized by the "experts" is that the 18-inch minimum size limit was picked to preclude big catches. The majority of the stripers in the bay that meet or exceed the limit are a small percentage of its year classes. The "legal" striped bass spawned in the Chesapeake have already migrated to the coastal stocks and are swimming between Maine and South Carolina.
So don't feel sad when you catch a legal-sized striper and put it in the fish box . . . not so many that we can ignore prudent fisheries management, but enough to enjoy yourself. There are still those among us who want us to feel ashamed if we enjoy the resource.
Earlier this week I talked with Ben Florence, the Department of Natural Resources biologist responsible for the fantastic success of Maryland's striped bass hatchery program. He has begun to release the 4- to 6-inch striped bass spawned earlier this year and raised in hatcheries around the country.
Each year Ben and his crew release about a million of these fish back into the river systems from which their parent stock came. Once the young stripers reach this size they have a high probability of surviving to the legal minimum size.
Consider, then, that in three to four years these fish will have reached the minimum size limit and will weigh about three pounds. Assuming we have doubled our Total Allowable Harvest from 750,000 pounds in 1990 to 1.5 million pounds in 1994, we would only need half the stripers from the 1990 hatchery program to satisfy the commercial, recreational and charter groups. All the stripers spawned elsewhere in 1990 would be free to migrate to the ocean.
I know that life is not that simple and there will be some background mortality on the hatchery fish, but not a high percentage. There really are a lot of rockfish out there, go out and enjoy.
Tomorrow night the Striped Bass Advisory Board, the body working on regulations for the 1991 striped bass season, will conduct a public meeting. This is your chance to voice your opinion.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Department of Agriculture Building on Harry S. Truman Parkway (just off Riva Road).
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.