Big crowds, big fish. The 1992 trophy rockfish season got off to a rousing start last Friday.
I was surprised at the number of anglers fishing on May 1. It was the largest crowd for an opening day that I can remember.
Not everyone caught keeper rockfish, but enough were caught over the weekend to make fishing interesting. And, an unofficial record was set for largest rockfish caught.
The beginning of the trophy rockfish season has always held a fascination for me, kind of like the opening day of deer season in Pennsylvania. Not quite a national holiday, but almost.
Chatter on the marine radio set the stage for the weekend. A lot of people were fishing, an occasional under-size rockfish was caught and released, and sporadically someone would come on the radio and shout, "Forty-one inches" or "Thirty-nine inches," indicating that they had caught a rockfish over the minimum 36-inch size.
On Sunday, Capt. Ed Darwin (charter boat Becky D) landed a huge rockfish. I noticed his boat dead in the water about a mile away and called him on the radio to see if he was having problems. He responded, "Fifty-six inches, and I just released her."
The charter had been booked by Ron Bowman and the would-have-been-a-record fish reeled in by Chris Frederick.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) believes the fish may have weighed in at 75-plus pounds. The state record is a 55-pound fish that was 52 inches long.
Capt. Darwin said, "She was too majestic to kill."
I'll second that. Darwin also released a 50-incher on Saturday.
Ed is not the only charter captain to release legal-size fish last weekend. Jim Smith on Hat Trick and Adrian Joy on Sneaky Snake also released legal fish, and I'm certain there were others.
Catch and release is very popular, part of a wave of conservation that is sweeping the country. The largemouth bass fishermen have been releasing their tournament fish for years, and some billfish tournaments are catch-and-release only. Many anglers both on and off charter boats will catch a few bluefish for the box and then catch and release bluefish for sport.
We must be on guard, however, for there are those who would shove catch-and-release down our throat and attempt to make it law. Watch carefully those who are the proponents of barbless hooks. Mandatory catch-and-release would follow.
Where and how have most of the catches been made? The best locations for legal-size rockfish appears to be the middle and lower bay. Fair catches also have been made in the area from Bay Bridge to Poplar Island.
The majority of the fish have been caught on spoons such as the Crippled Alewive or Tony Accetta Pet.
The Rod 'N' Reel at Chesapeake Beach and Bunky's at Solomon's both checked in 40 legal fish over the weekend. Angler's Sport Center, near the Bay Bridge, checked in 22. One DNR representative thought 225 legal rock may have been checked in during the opening three days.
The big rockfish are on their way out of the bay. We may see a small increase in numbers when the upper-bay spawning fish start down the bay, but the number of legal fish will continue to decrease as the season progresses.
The DNR set a season limit of about 3,000 thousand legal-size fish. It appears there is little possibility that that number will be reached and the season shortened.
While the rockfish are on their way down the bay, a few bluefish are on the way up. I know of nine bluefish caught off Solomon's over the weekend. They varied in size from 4 to 16 pounds.
We've heard plenty of rumors about bluefish from Virginia to the Carolinas, but have no concrete data concerning any large concentrations entering the Chesapeake.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.