ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's first striped-bass season in five years opened a couple of hours before dawn yesterday with some anglers expecting a bonanza and others wondering whether the season would be shut down before it had run its five-week course.
Based on reports from charter-boat captains and recreational fishermen, Day 1 of the sportfishing season was neither boom nor bust.
Prime spots on the bay and its tributaries were, however, crowded.
"I have been fishing the bay for a long time, and I never have seen anything like it," said Capt. Ed Darwin, who runs the charter boat Becky D out of Mill Creek. "It looked like the invasion of Normandy."
But for the thousands of boats packed around the Bay Bridge, Thomas Point, Bloody Point and in other traditional spots for rockfish, there apparently were relatively few fish taken.
The Department of Natural Resources, which is monitoring the charter-boat and recreational fishing throughout the season, will not have its first set of official statistics until late next week.
Agency personnel in the striped-bass program were in the field yesterday and unavailable to comment.
"Some people done good, and some didn't do too good," said Capt. Bill Adams, who runs the Aldor out of Bunky's Charters in Solomons. "No, it was not that fast today.
"Some people had seven, 10, 15, 20 rock to a boat, but most of us generally take six people. I haven't heard of anybody limiting out."
Keith Turner of Tommy's sporting goods store in Cambridge said business was at a high level all day, but catches seemed sparse.
"I have heard of a few fish being caught from the [Choptank River] pier and around the shore," Mr. Turner said. "But the fellows from the DNR were around [Friday] morning, and they said they saw only a few fish that were keepers. But the keepers they are catching are between 20 and 25 inches."
Late in the day, there were reports that the Natural Resources Police checked 85 boats on the Choptank and found only five striped bass big enouugh to keep.
During Maryland's sportfishing season, which is scheduled through Nov. 9, the minimum length for striped bass is 18 inches in the Chesapeake or its tributaries. The maximum allowed is 36 inches.
The scarcity of the fish was welcomed by charter-boat operators, who are in no hurry to reach their allocated quota of 112,500 pounds.
Buddy Harrison, who operates the Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island, had 25 charters out yesterday from above the Bay Bridge to below the mouth of the Choptank.
"Most of them didn't get their limit," Mr. Harrison said. "I have seen it a lot better. It's a lot of fish out there, but they're not as easy to catch as everyone thought.
"There is a lot of weekend traffic, the fish are in shallow water, and you get one pass on them. They get scared, and they are gone."
Mr. Harrison, who books a large number of package deals that include overnight lodging and meals before the day's fishing, said that he and his captains met with their customers Thursday night and suggested a voluntary, three-fish limit per person on striped bass.
"Most of them agreed to it," Mr. Harrison said. "Our customers, they all said they would be happy to catch three."
Among Mr. Harrison's boats, three were fishing above the Bay Bridge and brought in seven striped bass among them.
"We had a couple of boats that didn't catch any rockfish," Mr. Harrison said, "and a lot with one per person and two per person.
"Everybody thought it was going to be easy, but it is not. You have to work hard for these rockfish. That's why this is called fishing and not catching."
Captain Darwin also had an agreement with his customers yesterday to cut off their striped-bass catch at three per person.
"We caught well over the limit," said Captain Darwin, who was fishing underwater obstructions and staying away from the madding crowd. "But we kept only three per person for the four people onboard."
In addition to preserving the stocks of striped bass, three fish per day also might prolong the charter-boat season, which can be shut down separately from the recreational season if the quota is reached.
The commercial season starts later this year.
"I was on the White Paper Committee and was the spokesman for the charter boats," Captain Darwin said. "When this [season and allocation] was set up, we didn't realize so many captains would be coming in late."
More than 400 charter-boat captains have registered to fish rockfish for hire. Some 350 were expected.
"A lot of our captains are really concerned that the season could be shut down," Captain Darwin said. "We all get deposits on bookings, and we all would have to come up with the money to refund the deposits."
Cpl. Ralph Parker, Natural Resources Police spokesman, said the day was quiet overall. The only report of a violation directly connected with striped bass was the citation of a group of four men for fishing near Conowingo dam before the 5 a.m. opening, he said.
Fishing for and possession of striped bass while fishing is prohibited between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The only injury reported to Natural Resources Police by 5 p.m. was a fisherman who was hooked in the head near the Bay Bridge.