Although it was supposed to last for a month, Maryland's first striped bass season in five years will close down Sunday evening because thousands of determined anglers caught almost all of the statewide limit during the first four summer-like days of the season.
The season began last Friday. Based on nightly polling of hundreds of fishermen, inspections of the
8,000 boats that were out on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and checks of the thousands of fishermen coming ashore, the Department of Natural Resources estimated yesterday that the quota of 318,750 pounds of striped bass for recreational anglers will be reached Sunday.
"I thought it might have gone the entire season, until Nov. 9," said Torrey C. Brown, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources."But first, the fish were there, and second it was a fabulous weekend, four perfect days if you include the holiday."
Dr. Brown also said that based on catch and poll data compiled by the department, a substantial amount of the additional charter boat quota of 112,500 pounds has been caught as well. So while the charter season will remain open, the state will reduce the daily "creel limit" for charter passengers from five rockfish to two, be ginning at 5 a.m. Monday.
"It's likely that the charter boat rockfish season will also be shorter than anticipated," Dr. Brown said.
He said his department had decided to analyze the data as quickly as possible in order to avoid overfishing of the bay.
The news was not altogether unexpected to the state's anglers, who jostled each other all weekend long to get to the tasty sport fish.
At Tochterman's tackle and bait shop on Eastern Avenue, 17-year-old fisherman Sam Schofield said he'd been out several times this week.
"Myself, I thought they were going to close it down after Monday," he said as he wound some line onto a reel.
"Even before the season started, people were out on the bay, looking around and trying to get ready for the season, even though they weren't supposed to. I have never seen that many people out there."
Mr. Schofield added that he wasn't displeased that the season was ending, saying, "Maybe some fishermen won't get their fair share, but we won't have maniacs out there for a month driving the fish to extinction."
On Sunday afternoon, he and some friends went out on a 28-foot Bayliner and pulled in four "stripers."
The biggest was 8 1/2 pounds, but they had to throw about 30 undersized rockfish back, he said.
That's about in line with the average, Dr. Brown said.
"Anglers were getting about a third of a fish per trip. Most people were catching 10 undersized fish for every one they could keep," he said.
He added that anglers were on their best behavior.
Out of 8,000 boats checked, only one had kept over the creel limit. A few dozen other fishermen were given citations for keeping undersized fish, DNR officials reported this week.
Dr. Brown estimated that as much as a third of all the state's recreational anglers were out on the bay at some time this week.