THOMAS POINT -- At 5 a.m. yesterday, Orion stood west of south and Sirius was close upon the meridian, but the brightest light in the night shone from the flying bridge of a sportfisherman running fast and carelessly inshore of Thomas Point Lighthouse.
Ah, opening day of rockfish season, that curious morning when goldplaters and dinks take to the pre-dawn darkness to stalk Maryland's state fish.
Yesterday morning -- save the fool who lighted his own way and blinded all he approached -- was not the chaotic scene of a year ago, when fishing for rockfish was allowed for the first time since January 1985.
Between Bloody Point and the Bay Bridge, there were knots of boats bottom or drift fishing and a procession of others trolling along the channel edges off the Eastern and Western shores.
At the Bay Bridge, there were several dozen boats fishing bucktails along the piers and rock piles.
But it did not, as a charter-boat captain said last year, "look like the invasion of Normandy."
Perhaps the weather had something to do with it -- air temperature 42 degrees at dawn, water temperature 66 degrees at Thomas Point, the wind south-southwest at 14 to 18 knots and seas 2 to 3 feet and rolling quickly with the tide at full flood.
More likely, the midweek opening kept people away, which is what the DNR wanted when the dates were set. Last year, the season opened on the first day of a long holiday weekend, the weather was exceptionally mild, the pressure on the fish was intense and what could have been a five-week season was closed after 10 days.
If your fishing yesterday was non-productive, Rich Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen's Association, recommends the following trolling setup:
* Rod: 6 to 6 and a half-foot 20-pound class, medium to medium-heavy.
* Reel: Penn 309 filled with monel single strand and a 30-pound test leader of 18 to 20 feet.
* Lures: White or yellow bucktails, 1/0 to 3/0 or a 3-inch Sassy Shad in pearl, chartreuse, chartreuse with black backs, or white with blue or black backs. Crippled Alewive spoons in the 1/0 to 5/0 sizes also will work well. In the case of schools of larger fish, move up to 4/0 or 5/0 bucktails, 4-inch Sassy Shad or a 7/0 Crippled Alewive.
* Trolling rig: Bottom bouncing rig built from a three-way swivel. One ring is used to attach the line from the reel (use a shock leader). The other two are for weight to get the lure deep and for a leader that attaches to the lure itself. The drop line for the bell weight should be about 30 inches long and of 25-pound test. The leader should be 18 to 20 feet long and 30-pound test and tied directly to the lure.
* Boat speed: The boat should be moving slowly enough to keep the weight bouncing on the bottom, where the fish are feeding.
Using Novotny's specifications yesterday, we enjoyed moderate success, catching six stripers between 14 and 17 inches in a couple of hours. All, of course, were released.
Facts and figures
What: Recreational fall season, Chesapeake Bay
Dates: Oct. 9-26, with possible extension of season after Oct. 27.
Creel limit: Two fish per person per season through Oct. 26. If the season is extended, 2 fish per person per day.
Size limits: 18-inch minimum, 36-inch maximum.
Permits: In addition to regular licenses, all anglers fishing for striped bass must have at least 1 rockfish permit in his/her possession. Captured fish of legal size must be tagged immediately. Permits are not transferable. Permits will not be required in an extended season.
Fishing hours: 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., with no striped bass allowed to be possessed while fishing or on the water between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Bait: Live bait is permitted.
Gaffs: The use of gaffs to land fish is prohibited.
Charter trips: Charter skippers may not make more than 2 trips per day.