A promising rockfish season awaits


September 29, 1992|By PETER BAKER

Thursday morning, Maryland's fall rockfish season will open for sportfishermen. For each of the past couple of years, by first light the Chesapeake Bay, its lower rivers and shorelines, have been cruised by boaters and stalked by bank fishermen, each intent on an early shot at a striper.

This fall, however, the urgency may by diminished. The season will run through October and the first three, three-day weekends of November -- and the creel limit has been established at one fish per day for recreational fishermen and two fish per day for charter boat customers.

A persistent recreational fisherman could take home 40 rockfish between 18 and 36 inches in length. A wealthy -- some might say pennywise and pound-foolish -- charter boat fisherman could take home as many as 80.

But probably few of us will have the opportunity to fish every day.

So it becomes important to make the most of those days we can fish -- both in terms of taking only legal stripers and properly handling those fish that must be released.

The most opportune time to fish for stripers is when the tide is rising or ebbing. The best places to fish for them are areas where there are smaller fish and worms for them to eat and changes in the bottom contour or surface structure that provide refuge and ambush points.

Throughout the tidewater, adult stripers are at the top of their food chain. They are big, aggressive fish capable of moving quickly from an eddy into a fast current to snatch a baitfish or lure being carried past.

Stripers like to position themselves, head to the current, on points and dropoffs just out of the faster current. A bucktail with a pork rind or twister tail cast up-current at the Bay Bridge rock piles, for example, and brought back with the current is likely to bring a striper back with it.

Everybody in our part of the world who ever has fished for stripers knows of the bridge and its pilings and rockpiles and how to fish them.

But the same concept should be used whether trolling, casting to a shoreline, grass bed or a submerged pile of rubble:

* Check the bay and river charts for areas with good potential, oyster bars that extend from 10 feet of water to 25 or 30 and are positioned to have a good tidal flow over them, grass beds that closely abut rocky shorelines or rip-rap, eroded shorelines that are studded with stumps or fallen trees, piers or docks that extend into at least 10 feet of water, areas where warm water is released from power pants or water treatment facilities.

* Consult the tide tables for Fort McHenry and correct the time for the location you plan to fish.

* Then head out to fish the two or three hours that follow 90 minutes after the change of tide, trying to work the current break on the edge that is away from the source of the tide.

* If you are planning to cast to a shoreline, silver or white spoons such as the one-ounce Kastmaster work well, as do half-ounce white and chartreuse bucktails with a variety of colored twister tails. Large, shallow-diving crankbaits and rattling lures will work well over deep grass beds or along rocky shores.

* If you are trolling, I like white, No. 15 Tony spoons or Crippled Alewives with stinger hooks, although surgical hoses and bucktails with twisters will work well, too.

You might not get your legal fish each time, but you will get the opportunity to release stripers that are too small, a chance to give something back to the resource in almost the same condition as it was when you caught it.

If you are using treble hooks, crimp down the barbs or substitute with barbless hooks. Without the barb, the hook will be easier to remove from a fish that is not a keeper.

If you are fishing for the dinner table, use heavy line so that the fish may be brought to the boat or shore more quickly and with less stress on the animal.

If a fish is obviously too small, release it in the water with as little human contact as possible. Using a wet towel or a pair of soft, wet gloves will prevent the acids from your hands from harming the protective slime on the fish's body.

If your lure has been taken too deeply to retrieve it easily with a dehooker or a pair of needlenose pliers, cut the leader quickly and let the fish go.

If the fish must be brought into the boat, handle it with a soft net and cover its eyes with a wet towel to settle it.

Rockfish seem to be recovering from their low point in the early and mid 1980s. If you have spent any sizable amount of time on the bay or its lower rivers, it would be hard to deny stripers are there in enviable numbers.

If we fish them selectively and handle them properly, those numbers should continue to grow -- and the season can be expected to be expanded.

Tide corrections

To determine tides at these locations, add or subtract hours and minutes as noted.

(Based on Fort McHenry)

Eastern Shore

Hooper's Island.. .. .. ...-5:10

Kent Narrows.. .. .. .. ...-1:30

Taylor's Island.. .. .. ...-3:10

Matapeake.. .. .. .. .. ..-1:38

Sharp's Island Light.. .. .-3:48

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