Short and sweet. That pretty much sums up the abbreviated recreational rockfish season that opened a week ago today and will be closed down Sunday 27 days ahead of schedule by the Department of Natural Resources.
The charterboat fishery will remain open for the time being, but with their daily limit reduced to two from the previous five. There is speculation it, too, will soon be closed -- perhaps by the end of next week, if not sooner.
rTC The news was a shocker, not only to recreational anglers, but also to tackle dealers still unpackaging huge special delivery cartons of bucktails, spoons, surgical hoses, twister tails and pork rind. One bait wholesaler already had left for Virginia to pick up 10,000 live eels for rock fishermen when the news broke.
"It was too good to be true," said Baltimorean Charlie Bacon, who stopped at a Fort Smallwood Road service station after fishing at Fort Smallwood Park where he caught and released two small rock. "I had saved my vacation for next week -- I thought things would be less crowded."
He was half right. There won't be any crowds on the water -- but there won't be any catching of rock either unless he boards a charterboat, which he complained he can't afford.
Look for big sales in tackle shops as dealers try to unload live eels and other perishable baits wanted only by rockfish before the close that takes effect at 8 p.m. Sunday. As for hard tackle -- especially bucktails -- dealers have the choice of carrying them on over-winter inventory, or unloading them now at bargain prices.
Enthusiasm for the season -- which will close after just 10 days of fishing -- prompted dealers to reorder many items specifically for rock to refill empty shelves. The news was totally unexpected; DNR reports indicated sports fishermen weren't catching many rockfish.
In the DNR's weekly fishing report mailed Tuesday, catches of legalsized bay rockfish were generally described as slow. Recreational ocean ocean catches also have been disappointing, but that fishery comes under separate regulation and will remain open (one fish of 28 inches or more per day) through Nov. 9.
Obviously what did in the sports fishermen was the average size of fish taken and their ability to catch them. In establishing quotas, the DNR figured on rock averaging 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. They are averaging just over 6.
That means it is taking just half as many fish to reach the recreational quota of 318,750 pounds as the DNR planned. Poundage so far is not available, but surveys indicate anglers are approaching it fast, so the DNR took the bold and appropriate action.
Anglers got 76-hour notice; that's more than the 48 hours originally decided upon. But anticipated poor weather will keep most small boaters off the bay for a day or two -- and is bad news for tackle shops that would like to unload inventory. Eels are expensive baits for blues.
The DNR reacted to bay and shoreside recreational catch
surveys, which indicate that upper bay fishing has been the best by far. Charterboat captains do their own reporting by mail -- and their reports are still coming in. Their quota is 112,500 pounds.
Had charterboats had a two-fish limit at the offset, their season could have run much longer. Many skippers probably will have to return thousands of dollars in booking deposits.
Last night resentment was building in the recreational community that charter captains -- who demanded and got a five fish a day limit -- can continue fishing, though for a reduced creel. "It's out and out outrageous," griped Essex tackle dealer Jack Barnhart, a former chairman of the DNR Sportsfishing Advisory Commission.
Understandably, there is concern that the larger fish caught in great numbers represent prime local spawning stock; also that a fishery that could only support 10 days of sports fishing will open next month for a commercial fishery.
What will happen if nets are set amidst the huge schools off Love Point where most rock are currently of 6 to 12 pounds?
It's not too early to speculate what this will mean to the proposed spring fishery for rock, or for next year's fall fishery. Forget about the spring affair, and allowing one a day in the fall seems more reasonable.
The District of Columbia and Potomac River seasons run concurrently with the bay season and are continuing for the time being.