The magic word is rockfish.
The 1992 fall striped bass, or rockfish, season opens Thursday. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has agreed to open the spring rockfish season in April, instead of May, and the 1992 striped bass Young of Year (YoY) survey index is double that of last year.
For the fall rockfish season, anglers on private boats must have a rockfish permit, which is available free at most tackle and bait shops. Recreational anglers may keep one striped bass per day.
Anglers on charter boats do not need individual permits because the charter boat operator must report the number of anglers that fish with him or her each week.
Charter boat anglers are authorized two striped bass per day.
The minimum and maximum striped bass size limits for the fall season are 18 inches and 36 inches, respectively.
Rockfish like bucktails, spoons, crab baits and live eels. Many anglers choose live eels because the stripers go out of their minds if they are in the mood for eel. You almost have to bait your hook under a blanket so the fish don't see the eel until you are ready. But when the stripers are not interested in eels, nothing you can do will tempt them.
An appropriate-size bucktail fished along the bottom will tempt rockfish. Overall, I probably do better with bucktails than anything else. Dress the bucktail with either a plastic grub or a strip of pork rind to add more life to the presentation.
Anglers fishing live bait next week should be wary. The water temperature is still in the mid-70s and the bluefish are still here. Many will be mixed with the schools of rockfish.
Bluefish love live eels and will chop off a hunk. Where a rockfish will take the bait head-first, the bluefish attacks tail-first and a half an eel is not much good for anything.
There is another problem using live eels. Often, maybe even usually, the rockfish will swallow the eel, hook and all.
This is not a problem if the fish is going into the box because retrieving the hook usually kills the fish.
Be resigned, if you fish eels and catch a rock, that's your fish for the day. From that point on it's better to use a bucktail so you can select which fish you want to keep. Once he's in the box, and dead, it's time to chase bluefish, white perch or flounder.
Maryland commissioners of the ASMFC attempted to get the Striped Bass Policy Board to reduce the minimum size limit for the 1993 spring, or trophy, striped bass season.
This year approximately 400 legal, 36-plus-inch stripers were checked in. By some strange calculations Department of Natural Resources biologists believe the figure was closer to 1,000, which still is far below the quota of 3,000 set by the DNR and approved by the ASMFC.
During a Sept. 10 meeting the Policy Board denied Maryland's request to lower the minimum size limit. But the board did approve opening the trophy season April 15 instead of May 1.
Maryland's trophy striped bass season still will have a cap of 3,000 36-inch or larger stripers.
Starting the season early will give anglers the opportunity to fish when more big fish are present.
Working against them will be the water temperature. Fish, being cold-blooded, feed depending upon the water temperature. The colder the water, the less they feed.
There may be more fish to catch with the April opening, but few will bite because of the cold water temperature.
The 1992 striped bass YoY index has been released by the DNR, and as presumed, it was good. This year's index is 9.1, better than twice last year's index of 4.4.
The survey was started in 1954 by biologists Ed Hollis and Harold Davis. Joe Boone took over the project in 1962 and standardized the survey.
DNR biologist Don Cosden is the current project leader.
The survey was designed to give a rough idea regarding the striped bass spawning success. Did we have a good spawn or a poor spawn?
It was never meant to compare an index of 4.1 against an index of 6.3.
However, since the survey was the only scientific tool biologists and fishery managers had to measure the striped bass recruitment, it was accepted by everyone as the yardstick for measuring the spawn and, therefore, the striped bass comeback.
The survey is conducted in the major striped bass spawning areas: the Choptank, Nanticoke and Potomac rivers, and at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.
This year's hot spot was the Potomac River, which had an individual index of 22.1.
The index, by the way, is the number of rockfish caught divided by the number of times the biologists fish a 100-foot haul seine.