With lots more fishing than keeping, fall rockfish season is going per plan


October 20, 1991|By PETER BAKER

By Thursday morning, the weather had turned horrible, with heavy rain, winds in excess of 18 knots and gusting to 40 and air temperature struggling to move out of the 40s. The Chesapeake, from Dolly's Lump to Brickhouse Bar, from the Bay Bridges to Bloody Point, presented an intimidating panorama of whitecaps and rolling seas.

And, frankly, I was kicking myself for not fishing harder earlier in the week. But, then, this business of good days mixed with bad is what rockfish season is supposed to be about.

Last year, when the season was closed after 10 days of unseasonably warm good conditions and incredible fishing pressure, was an aberration.

Still, there was a temptation to rig a tarp in the lee of the Western Shore below Tolly Point and cast poppers out to the drop-off, hoping that a 2-foot striper would rise and take the lure sharply.

Earlier in the week, during short trips on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, no fish longer than 22 inches had been caught from my boat, although for the most part, we had chosen to avoid the madding crowds at the Bay Bridges, Love Point and Hacketts Bar.

Working mostly from the mouth of the Severn south along the dropoffs of the western shore to Thomas Point, a dozen and a half stripers from 14 to 22 inches had been turned up -- and in each case, the fish higher than the legal minimum of 18 inches seemed more suited to more growth than the table.

Live eels, it had been decided, would not be allowed aboard my boat. Stripers swallow eels head first and the hooks too often are imbedded deep, where removal is sometimes difficult and can be critically damaging.

Rather, spoons, bucktails and poppers were used because these lures usually produce a hookset in the lip, where removal should be quick and easy.

On Monday, four stripers over the limit and another handful of blues and smaller stripers where brought to the boat and released. On Tuesday, a companion enjoyed a short afternoon of casting to small schools of stripers feeding just below the surface, bringing in a half dozen or so on a 1-ounce Kastmaster spoon.

Wednesday morning, with the wind upward of 15 knots, was a bust, with four of us aboard a friend's sailboat catching nothing more than crab pots.

Wednesday afternoon produced only two stripers and another handful of snapper bluefish, and by Thursday, the two striper permits were burning a hole in my pocket.

What if the season were closed early? What if, what if, what if?

Probably there is no reason to worry.

The state does not expect to close the season early and fully expects to extend it into November.

Remember this fall season never was meant to -- in fact cannot be meant to -- fill freezers with fish. Rather it was to expose a certain stock of fish to the skills of recreational fishermen, to promote fishing rather than catching.

And I -- and most of those people I have seen fishing in the same areas -- have done more fishing than catching.

And those who are catching seem to be releasing more than they are keeping.

It is a season that circulates money in a stagnant economy. Recreational sales generally are off, but rockfish season has caused a spurt of business for bait and tackle retailers, gas docks and marine supply stores.

The stocks of fish that are being fished on are young fish. Judging by DNR charts that determine age by length and weight, relatively few fish older than 5 or 6 are being caught.

That is as it should be, because the older, fully mature fish have migrated into the ocean and will not return until late winter or early spring, when separate regulations will apply.

It is, frankly, a fishing season that seems to be working as it was designed to work, a plan that has benefited from last year's experience.

If, by Saturday evening when the first part of the season is scheduled to close, a striper that suits the table has not been caught, the permits will go into the same drawer that holds the permit from last spring -- and as soon as DNR opens the extended season, I expect I will go out once again.

Perhaps a friend of mine has all this in perspective.

"I used to go fishing, what, once or twice a year?" he said. "But this rockfish season, I have been out at least half of the mornings before work.

"It is a reason to be out there before all the bull of the day catches up with me. The fish? I put them all back, anyway."

Rockfish stats

.. .. .. .. .. ..Age.. Class


12.. .. .. 1.0.. 2.. ..1989

15.. .. .. 2.1.. 3.. ..1988

19.. .. .. 3.5.. 4.. ..1987

22.. .. .. 5.3.. 5.. ..1986

25.. .. .. 7.2.. 6.. ..1985

27.. .. .. 9.3.. 7.. ..1984

30.. .. ..12.5.. 8.. ..1983

33.. .. ..17.1.. 9.. ..1982

35.. .. ..20.8..10.. ..1981

37.. .. ..24.3..11.. ..1980

39.. .. ..27.9..12.. ..1979

40.. .. ..31.5..13.. ..1978

41.. .. ..35.1..14.. ..1977

43.. .. ..38.5..15.. ..1976

44.. .. ..41.9..16.. ..1975

Source: Department of Natural Resources

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