Even out of season, some fishermen can't resist grabbing piece of rockfish

OUTDOORS

September 29, 1991|By PETER BAKER

The Duck Man called early last week to say that the fishing for blues was hot from the shoreline at Thomas Point Park, which was good, because the bass fishing on the Potomac River a few days before had been miserable, the outboard on the fishing boat had become balky from too much bay trolling -- and, well, bank fishing seemed like a great idea at the time.

The Duck Man, some might say, is consumed with the higher mathematics of North America's population of mallards, canvasbacks, wood ducks, black ducks, sea ducks and so on. But he also has an eye for preserving the marine species of the Chesapeake Bay estuary.

He is, it is fair to say, a sportsman, which, judging from the actions of many of the fishermen around Thomas Point on three days last week, makes him a member of a short set.

Thomas Point Park, a 44-acre peninsula operated by Anne Arundel County, is at the mouth of the South River. Since it is a small area, permits are required for entry, and only 60 are issued each month at a cost of $10 for county residents and $20 for others.

The Duck Man knows the short shoreline well, fishes it often and releases his catch.

"Over here is rockfish country," he said, pointing east over a rocky shoal that leads out to Thomas Point Lighthouse. "So, we're not going to fish it -- at least not until the season opens.

"Over there," he said, pointing south-southeast, "is bluefish country. Five-six-pounders cruise through here, and we're going to get them."

Which we did with moderate success while the tide was running.

But, as we were fishing cut spot for blues, a slow parade of other fishermen -- on the shoreline and from boats -- made their way to rockfish country to cast Atom Poppers, rattle traps and metal spoons of various manufacture.

One boat with three fishermen aboard spent more than two hours off the point on Thursday and caught rockfish of various sizes on about every third cast.

Other boats would arrive and fish the broken bottom in five or six feet of water. They, too, usually experienced success on the stripers.

From the point, a decent cast will put a popper or a rattle trap over the rocks, and the retrieve will bring it over a narrow channel, from which the stripers rise to take the lure.

It looks to be a fun time. The action is quick, the fishing relatively easy -- but it also is illegal.

Fishing for stripers is closed to recreational fishermen until Oct. 9.

And the closure is not a matter of catch and release, as is the spring fishery for black bass in nontidal waters, for example. It is a prohibition.

Surely, there are those who will argue that one cannot fish the Chesapeake Bay for a day without catching stripers. But there is a difference between catching and releasing a rockfish while fishing for blues and targeting rockfish.

Poppers and rattle traps do not catch many blues. They do, however, catch plenty of stripers.

One pair of industrious fellows, each sporting a spinning rod and an Atom Popper, made several trips to the point on Monday, caught stripers and then drove away, only to return within the hour, catch another striper and skulk away again. Catch and release apparently is a mystery to them.

Another fellow was a more ingenious poacher.

He, too, used a popper, but he did not slip away in his car. Instead, he would take his catch, loose the rubber collar that holds the trash bags in the park waste cans, slip his fish between the bag and the can and replace the rubber collar. Truly an artful dodge.

Poachers and unethical fishermen are not unique to Thomas Point Park, which is a well-managed and delightful place to fish. They can be encountered throughout the bay, and there are many artful dodges used.

There is an older fellow who runs his boat out to Tolly Point almost every evening and casts poppers to the stone jettys and old pilings along the shore. He, as did the fellows in the boats off Thomas Point, carefully releases the stripers he catches, usually clearing the hook while the fish is still in the water.

But there is little doubt that he, too, is targeting stripers.

There is a crew that fishes the Matapeake pier on the Eastern Shore, and they, too, hit the stripers hard, as do some fishermen on the Choptank River piers in Cambridge.

It may seem a hard thing to pass a chance for the good sport that stripers offer, but it is a decision that should be made by all responsible fishermen.

The struggle to restore stocks of rockfish has been long, and the restrictions of the past seven years -- ranging from the moratorium to the limited fisheries of last fall and this spring -- seem to be paying big dividends.

Why waste the gains made by targeting stripers out of season?

Oct. 9 will be here soon enough.

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