With moratorium over, reverence for rock has faded all too quickly

Bill Burton 7/8 7/8

July 12, 1991|By Bill Burton

ANNAPOLIS — .TC ANNAPOLIS -- After a while, you get so you can tell the difference. The tap, tap, tap, slam is the introduction of a hungry spot on the other end of the line; larger white perch dispense with the preliminaries.

But, too often there is the different kind of tap before the slam It's more deliberate; the slam is harder, and the fight is even better. Fun yes, but twice already it has prompted Pete Backus, Harry Leavitt and I to move to another location.

Before the mid-1980s, who would have thought anglers woul leave waters where rockfish of 1 to 3 pounds -- occasionally larger -- were feeding? Now we can't keep them, it's illegal to target them, and in hot weather the stress of a scrap can kill them.

So, when rock predominate, we move. Backus, who owns th boat, came to catch fish for eating -- and it's his boat, and Leavitt and I prefer not to risk injuring rock in waters of the upper bay where low salinity hikes chances of mortality among released fish.

Obviously, not everyone agrees. The boat drifting 50 yards fro us catches mostly rock, and tosses them back, and all four aboard seem to be enjoying every encounter.

One fellow aboard has embellished his bait offering. He is usin a feathered jig, not something one who knew anything about fishing would choose for perch and spot.

But, he's having fun, you can tell by his gleeful howls -- and tha seems to be all he cares about. The reverence one held for rock during the moratorium has pretty much dissipated now that we have had a falland spring season, restrictive as both were.

On the way out and closer to Gibson Island we encountered boat carrying two fly fishermen working white poppers. It was obvious they weren't trying for perch and spot either.

We are using bottom rigs; Backus and Leavitt bait them wit pieces of bloodworms, I'm using grass shrimp. Both baits score about the same, though more rock seem to like the shrimp. I'm tempted to switch, but shrimp also seems to attract the larger perch like the 11 3/4 -incher I caught at Belvedere Shoals.

Backus and I both use beaded spinner hooks, Leavitt i old-fashioned and wants nothing on the end of the line that can't catch a fish. His hook is plain, and it doesn't seem to catch the bigger fish.

We are drifting, not anchored. Backus likes to cover as muc water as possible. Even when we pass over an obvious good school, he declines to anchor. After drift-fishing the upper bay for 44 years, he has decided it's best to take a chance on drifting over the same school again later than it is to anchor on it -- and miss a chance at something different by not drifting.

And we did get something different earlier when we tried Ba Bridge pilings. But we had to anchor there, and Leavitt got two sea bass, both of near a foot, and at the same time. One on the bottom hook, and the other on the top. They were the the only two bass taken aboard before we hauled anchor because the rock were too aggressive.

These rock were smaller than the 18-inch minimum we ca expect when the fall season opens, probably Oct. 9 for both recreational and charter anglers. Ours were from 12 to 16 inches. Maybe, they'll grow past 18 by October when, incidentally, anything over 36 inches must also go back.

The fall proposals are not yet finalized, but the Department o Natural Resources earlier this week gave its final OK to the recommendations of the Striped Bass Advisory Board -- and the only thing between now and then is approval by the Administrative, Executive, Legislative Review Committee. AELR cannot on its own change the proposals -- it either accepts or rejects them, but it can pressure for a change.

Also earlier this week, in planning for next spring's troph season, the Striped Bass Advisory Board decided it wanted a 32-inch minimum and fishing all through May in '92. Last May, the minimum was 36 inches, and only 159 keepers were checked in during the season that ran for two weeks and three weekends.

The DNR figures a full month of fishing with a 32-inch minimu could mean 3,800 keepers, a bit over its target of 3,000. So it is reserving a final decision for the time being.

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