Fast-running channels provide an 'edge' when chasing stripers


April 27, 1993|By PETER BAKER

The cool spring and above-average rainfall have delayed the rockfish spawn, and that might mean good things for fishermen during the May trophy season, which opens Saturday.

With the greater number of stripers still in the rivers, more should be moving back down the bay during the month-long season than were last year.

Still, catching a striper 36 inches or longer might take as much luck as skill, and the popular tendency is to look for an edge. Channel edges, current edges, bridge piers and pilings or an area where fish on the move will be funneled into a deeper channel.

Unlike fall fishing for stripers, the large rockfish that are legal in the trophy season do not school. Rather, they travel alone or in small groups, intent on returning to coastal waters as quickly as possible once they have spawned.

And the business of catching them is a cat-and-mouse game -- select an area where fish will have to be and work it thoroughly.

The twin spans of the Bay Bridge is such a place. The majority of stripers that spawn north of the bridges exit the bay by swimming south, and the topography creates a funnel through which they must pass.

And since fishing is allowed only from the north span south in the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay, anglers at the bridge get first crack at the spawners heading south.

Horseshoe Point and Bloody Point create another funnel area, as do Cove Point and Taylors Island, Cedar Point and Barren Island, and Point Lookout and the Middle Grounds.

Break out the charts and look for the deeper channels early in the striper season, areas where the bottom steps up sharply from 60, 70 or 80 feet to 25 or 30, and troll them deeply and slowly, starting in deeper water and working toward more shallow areas.

If that area coincides with an exit channel from a major spawning river, such as the Choptank or Patuxent, so much the better. Try fishing the area below the river mouth first.

The larger stripers generally do not settle into areas and feed before resuming the trip to coastal waters. They feed on the move, and the choice of lure is especially important because natural baits are prohibited in the May season.

The traditional lures are large bucktails and the larger sizes of spoons such as the Crippled Alewive or the Tony. But over the past couple of years plastics have come into use more frequently.

The knock on plastics is that slashing bluefish tear them up. So far this year, there are no blues in Maryland waters. Stripers are the only game in town, and plastics will stand up to them pretty well.

Some of the plastics that have been improved and enlarged over the past couple of years are sassy-shad type fish shapes that have a molded tail that gives them incredible action, and curly-tailed grubs longer than nine inches.

One advantage the plastics have over the spoons is that when fitted with a lead head of 2.5 or 3 ounces they can be trolled shallow without an in-line sinker ahead of them. On heavy line they also can be cast when fishing the bridges, for example, and will get down deeper quicker when the current is running fast.

When selecting your lures -- whether bucktails and trailers, spoons or plastics -- think big. If a mature striper can make a meal of a 12-inch menhaden, it will bang a bait of similar length.

Also keep in mind that only about 1,000 legal stripers were checked in last year and many thousands more fish that did not meet the 36-inch minimum were caught and released.

Take the time to release the fish carefully, keeping them in the water whenever possible and avoiding direct contact. Wear a pair of cloth gloves or use a wet towel when handling the fish. Barbless hooks are a good idea, too.

If a fish is played out by the time it reaches the boat, take the time to revive it by moving it head first into the current, allowing water and oxygen to pass through its gills.

Before you head out, be certain to buy the $2 rockfish permit and the tag that must be attached to the one legal-sized fish allowed per angler during the month-long season.

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