Changes are on the way for coming rockfish season October is likely to be prime time


September 05, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

If the Maryland General Assembly's Administrative Executive Legislative Review Committee approves, 1993's fall striped-bass (rockfish) season likely will open Oct. 1.

Although this season will be nearly identical to 1992's, there will be some significant changes.

Depending on water temperatures on opening day, there's a good chance large numbers of rockfish still will be congregated in the upper bay, especially in an area ranging from the Susquehanna River south to Love Point.

Most of these fish will measure 15 to 24 inches, but a few might top 36 inches, a size that last season had to be released. Under the latest proposal, anglers would be allowed to keep large rockfish, a practice some scientists feel can be detrimental to the recovery of the species.

Informed sources at Maryland's Department of Natural Resources say the season probably will run the entire month of October, plus a few selected days or weekends in November. Anglers will be allowed to keep one fish daily measuring greater than 18 inches and the 36-inch maximum size limit will be eliminated. Charter-boat anglers will be allowed to keep two fish daily measuring 18 inches or larger.

Maryland's slice of the rockfish pie recently was increased to 2.3 million pounds. Of that total, individual recreational fishermen will be allocated 977,500 pounds and those fishing aboard charter boats will be allowed to harvest 345,000 pounds. Commercial fishermen also will be permitted to harvest 977,500 pounds.

When translated into numbers of fish, recreational anglers will be allocated approximately 150,385 rockfish during the 1993 fall season. This is based on an average weight of 6.5 pounds per fish, a size DNR says is in abundance throughout Maryland's portion of the bay.

However, most rockfish caught in Harford County's portion of the bay this summer have been significantly heavier, particularly those inhabiting the swift-flowing waters of the Susquehanna River. Many of these fish tipped the scales at 12 to 20 pounds.

To fish for rockfish, recreational anglers will have to purchase a rockfish stamp that sells for $2, plus a regular Chesapeake Bay sportfishing license. However, if you purchased a stamp for this past spring's trophy season, the same stamp can be used for the fall season.

Where's the best place in Harford County to catch legal-sized rockfish? Depending on water temperature, the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River, at the base of Conowingo Dam, could produce loads of big stripers.

Successful anglers usually fish from the catwalk with bucktails trimmed with live shiners or yellow pork rind, however, various forms of cut bait and live eels also can be highly productive.

Small-boat anglers and those willing to wet-wade can cast a variety of small to mid-sized surface plugs in the fast waters between the mouth of Deer Creek and the upper end of Robert Island.

The secret to success is to concentrate your efforts during periods when water is flowing through Conowingo Dam's turbines. This usually takes place on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Weekend anglers likely will find good striper action below the mouth of Deer Creek, downriver to Lapidum Landing. Although the most productive fishing method will be trolling surgical hose eels and bucktails from small boats, shore-bound anglers often catch fair numbers of rockfish while casting large, live shiners, bucktails and Atom Poppers.

The shallow waters of the Susquehanna Flats is always a good bet for big stripers, some topping 36 inches. The grass-covered delta only can be reached via small to mid-sized boats with shallow drafts. Sassy Shad, Atom Poppers, Cordel Pencil Poppers, spinnerbaits, shallow running crankbaits and live eels are all effective when fished during high and ebb tides.

The holes and lumps adjacent to Pooles Island usually hold good numbers of rockfish, however, until recently, most measured less than the 18-inch minimum size.

If the weather's relatively cold, rockfish from the Susquehanna River and Susquehanna Flats often migrate to these areas to feed heavily in preparation for the coming winter. Trollers using wire line rigs, long monofilament leaders and quarter-ounce bucktails trimmed with live minnows traditionally score well in this particular area.

Nearly 25,000 fishermen likely will converge along the drop-offs adjacent to Swan Point near Rock Hall, a location where large numbers of big stripers were taken during the past three seasons.

Live eels, big Sassy Shad, oversized bucktails, surgical hose eels and deep running, saltwater crankbaits should produce rockfish ranging from 18 to 40 inches when fished along the channel edge during high and outgoing tides.

DNR's Director of Fisheries W. Peter Jensen says the catch will be closely monitored by DNR biologists to be sure the poundage allocation is not exceeded.

If catch averages are similar to those of last year, there's an even chance the season will run its full length. But if success rates are significantly higher, anglers should expect an early closure.

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