Has it been five years, really?
Sometimes it seems like only yesterday we were catching and keeping rockfish of the Chesapeake; at other times, it seems so awfully long ago.
In any case, fishing resumes Friday at 5 a.m. in Maryland with possibly a quarter-million anglers joining in the effort before the scheduled close, Nov. 9. Whether the season lasts that long is questionable.
The Department of Natural Resources has established a quota of 318,750 pounds of rockfish for recreational fishermen who do not fish from charterboats; the figure is 112,500 pounds for those who do fish from charter craft. When and if either segment reaches its quota, that segment will be shut down.
A Potomac River commercial hook and line fishery was closed prematurely after only four days of fishing last week when daily monitoring indicated the quota set by the Potomac River Fisheries Commission had been exceeded. Catches were so good, the dockside price of rockfish fell from $4 a pound to $2.50. Observers said one commercial fisherman made $8,000.
In Maryland, none of the commercial seasons open until after the scheduled close of the recreational fishery.
The biggest problem expected by sports fishermen is keeping baits in the water long enough for rockfish to take them. What some describe as record numbers of bluefish are everywhere -- so thick it is feared they will grab offerings before rock can get to them.
Another problem facing Chesapeake Bay anglers is catching rock between 18 and 36 inches. All others must be returned promptly. In the Atlantic Ocean, the minimum size is 28 inches -- and there is no ceiling.
Should the recreational season run its full course, it could spare many charterboat skippers from financial ruin because of dismal early-season bluefishing. Many charter skippers have booked 20 30 rockfish trips at from $250 to $400 per day.
The Rod and Reel Docks at Chesapeake Beach already has booked 500 rockfish trips. An early close could mean financial hardship for the hard-pressed charter skippers.
* After all these years, where does one start fishing, and how and with what? Following are bait and fishing area selections of some of the Chesapeake's best-known fishermen:
* KEITH WALTERS, author of the new book "Chesapeake Stripers," has two game plans. He will first cast bucktails and small floating Z-face Atom Poppers around rocks and stumps in shallow waters of the Choptank River. That failing, he will switch to trolling bucktails with Ripple Rind added in deep waters of the open Chesapeake.
* CAPT. BERNIE KING, skipper of the charterboat Jodi Lee out of Rod and Reel Docks, Chesapeake Beach, also is prepared to fish two methods. One is chumming the mid-bay with clams; the other is to troll surgical hoses or bucktails of size 3/0 with black heads and either yellow or white hairs. His bucktail selection also could include the Italian flag pattern, a mix of red, white and green.
* CAPT. JACK JOHNSON, of the charterboat Aldor out of Solomons, plans on fishing exclusively with bucktails of all white or all yellow with yellow pork rind added. Bucktail sizes will be 3/0 and 4/0 and fishing will start in the Patuxent River, then perhaps move to Punch Island in the bay.
* GUIDE EARL ASHENFELTER will make his choice depending on Susquehanna River conditions. He either will troll Rebel swimming plugs or medium-small bucktails with black head, white hair and a -- of yellow added -- and hooked to it a light-colored Sassy Shad.
* CAPT. BUDDY HARRISON, skipper of the charterboat Pleasure Merchant out of Tilghman Island, is thinking big -- trolled bucktails of sizes 6/0 or 7/0 to avoid catching rock of less than 18 inches. Starting in deep waters of the lower Choptank, he also will use surgical hoses of red and natural shades.
* CHARLIE EBERSBERGER, proprietor of The Angler in Annapolis, will seek surfacing rock in 3- to 6-foot depths from Thomas Point to Hacketts Point, then cast light-colored Atom plugs or Rattletraps.
* CAPT. ED DARWIN, skipper of the charterboat Becky-D out of Mill Creek, is trying to get grass shrimp for chumming the upper bay. He also will troll large surgical hoses trying to avoid bluefish and deep-troll small Baltimore Bait Bucktails in deep holes from the mouth of Eastern Bay to Hacketts to Belvedere Shoals.
* FRED MEERS, maker of Crippled Alewive lures, first will use a 7/0 two-tone blue CA Spoon with white underside near the mouth of the Chester River. He also will troll 3/0 and 5/0 spoons to duplicate small silversides upon which rockfish feed.
* FRANK VISCARDI, originator of Mister V's surgical hoses, is considering trolling from Pooles Island to Love Point with bucktails with soft white plastic Twister Tails added and also dark-colored -- perhaps black -- Mister V's hoses.