Fun begins Oct. 1 for rockfish anglers

OUTDOORS

September 13, 1992|By Gary Diamond

In just two weeks, the striped-bass season will open in Maryland's portion of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Coast.

The 40-day event begins Thursday, Oct. 1, and ends Saturday, Oct. 31. However, the season will reopen during the first three weekends in November (Nov. 6-8, 13-15, and 20-22).

Fishermen will be allowed a creel limit of one fish daily, measuring 18 to 36 inches. Smaller or larger rockfish must be carefully released, so it's a good idea to carry a ruler or tape measure on your boat just to be on the safe side.

Atlantic Coast anglers will also be allowed one fish daily, however, minimum size for ocean-caught fish is 28 inches with no maximum. The 1991 fall run of striped bass at Ocean City was somewhat disappointing, but a few legal-size fish were taken by anglers casting bucktails among the submerged boulders of the South Jetty. The secret to success was being in the right place at the right time.

The same holds true for Harford County's fishermen. Currently, the fast-flowing waters of the Susquehanna River carry large numbers of legal-size striped bass. On weekdays, during periods when electrical power is generated at the hydroelectric facility, rockfish actively feed on gizzard shad drawn through huge turbines and discharged at the base of the dam. On weekends, when water flows at Conowingo are at minimum levels, stripers congregate in the oxygen-enhanced waters discharged from just one or two smaller turbines.

Although there's never a guarantee when it comes to fishing, successful anglers will likely catch their legal limit while casting small spoons, bucktails and live shiners in the tailrace waters directly below the dam's catwalk. Naturally, much of this success depends upon several factors, including river flow, abundance of bait fish, individual angling skills, weather conditions and, of course, pure dumb luck.

If winter arrives a bit early, causing water temperatures to drop below 50 degrees, there's a good possibility the stripers will migrate downriver. Under these conditions, rockfish will congregate at several traditional fishing hot-spots including: the Susquehanna Flats, Worten Point and rugged bottom areas of the bay east of Pooles Island, locations where some midsize fish will spend most of the winter.

Anglers fishing these regions have several options at their disposal. Trollers using wire line, heavy sinkers and bottom bouncing rigs will likely score well during the early portion of the season. However, some of the largest fish will be taken by those willing to drift fish, using live eels, soft-shell crabs and chunks of peeler crab for bait.

Under ideal conditions -- a 60-degree surface temperature, calm winds and low light levels -- large schools of 5- to 8-pound stripers will frequently go on a feeding binge lasting for hours. Look for flocks of swirling sea gulls, diving erratically as they swoop down to pick scraps of bait fish from the frenzy just beneath the surface.

If you're fortunate enough to discover a lone school of breaking stripers and you're the only boat in the vicinity, you have two additional fishing options. Trollers can slowly work the school's edge with small, in-line sinkers and tiny bucktails without sounding the fish. This particular technique is usually quite effective as long as you remain on the fringe and not troll directly through the center.

The second and often most exciting way to catch surface-feeding stripers is plug casting and fly fishing with light tackle. Most midsize top-water lures or streamer flies resembling small bait fish, draw explosive strikes from marauding schools of rock as they rip through migrating pods of Atlantic menhaden. Renown fly fisherman and retired Sun columnist Lefty Kreh probably described the action best when he wrote: "Casting a big streamer fly into the middle of a breaking school of rockfish is akin to rolling a wine bottle through a jail cell -- it sure attracts lots of attention!"

W.P. Jensen, director of the state Department of Natural Resource's Fisheries Administration, says individual anglers will be allowed to harvest a maximum of 695,300 pounds of rockfish, but they must first obtain a special striped-bass fishing permit before going fishing. Permits are now available at local tackle shops and all DNR regional offices. Jensen says all rockfish must be landed with the aid of a landing net only -- gaffs will not be allowed.

Legal fishing hours begin at 5 a.m. and close daily at 8 p.m.. Anglers found with fish in their possession at times other than those specified will be prosecuted. DNR police say stiff penalties will be imposed and patrols will be out in force throughout the season.

For information on the upcoming season, call 1-(800)-688-FINS.

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