The spring trophy season for rockfish closed at 8 p.m. Monday, but there is a feeling among some tackle dealers and charter-boat operators that, in terms of successful fishing, it might as well have closed before it opened.
But then, no one said it was going to be easy.
According to a telephone survey of 30 sites designated as check-in stations for rockfish 36 inches and longer, 142 trophies were caught and registered. The catch total does not include fish taken from charter boats that did not operate from central locations or catches made Monday and checked in after noon yesterday.
Department of Natural Resources figures through Friday indicated that fewer than 100 trophy fish had been checked in.
The spring season was set for large rockfish (striped bass) that come into the Chesapeake Bay each spring to spawn in the upper bay and its tributaries. Fishing for stripers was limited to daylight hours in the main bay from the Bay Bridge south.
"I think that with the warmer spring, the big fish got in, spawned and got out early," said Roger Dye of Sportsman Service Center in Chester. "I criticize the DNR a lot, but I think they had good intentions with this season."
Several people interviewed said the fishing was best early in the season -- and perhaps best of all before the season began. Their opinions seem to back up Dye's feeling that the big fish were out early this year.
"A lot of my customers are local, but they were all headed down to the bay," said Larry Smith of Fulton Station Outdoor Sports in Howard County. "The reports I get are that the fishing was best for the big ones right before the season or on the first weekend. But even so, I think DNR set it up perfect."
At Anglers Sports Center, a mile or two from Sandy Point State Park and the Bay Bridge, seven trophies were registered the first weekend and none afterward.
However, plenty of fish between 28 and 32 inches were caught, which might be an indication of better things next year -- both for businesses and for fishermen.
"The season really helped out business a lot," Shaker Black at Rod-n-Reel Docks in Chesapeake Beach said yesterday. "Now that it is over, you can really tell the difference. Last Monday [May 20], we had 12 boats out. Today we have three."
Darrell Noys at the Bay Pro Shop in Chesapeake Beach said the season was a tremendous boost to business. "It was just what we needed to get back on track after a couple of really bad years," he said.
On Tilghman Island, at Harrison's Chesapeake House, Buddy Harrison agreed but said: "It really wasn't my cup of tea. My proposal [to the Striped Bass Advisory Board] was a 28-inch minimum and a limit if three fish per boat, which would let people go out and get them, get back and still have a few fillets to take home.
"You can't learn it [fisheries management] all from a book. You learn it from 40 years out on the water. And even in the 1960s, when there were plenty of rockfish, there weren't that many over 36 inches."
Rockfish season is over, but black drum have moved in at the Stone Rock, and catches of 60 pounds and larger have been reported. . . . In the lower bay, there are still scattered catches of blues upward of 15 pounds, but many smaller blues are moving in. . . . Skate, spot and black sea bass also moving into the lower bay.
The boat-launch ramp at Lapidum on the Susquehanna River is scheduled to be completed within four weeks, said Robert Ellsworth, chief of the project planning and development division of the Waterway Improvement Program. Ellsworth said the project will provide a new, two-lane ramp, bathrooms and a picnic area.