Ready to rock? Pull out right tackle

OUTDOORS

September 14, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Many bait-and-tackle stores already are starting to push their rockfish lures for the fall season that opens Oct. 1, and with good reason, because once the mania begins, the right tackle can become scarce.

And choosing the right tackle is important for a couple of reasons -- the success of the catch and the welfare of the fish, which are more plentiful and larger than they have been for at least a decade.

For example, a rockfish (striped bass) that came out of the controversial 1989 year class that triggered the reopening of rockfish fisheries in 1990, could easily be 18 inches or longer and above 3 pounds. An 8-year-old fish could be about 30 inches and weigh more than 12 pounds.

Given the 18-inch minimum size proposed by the Department of Natural Resources, the smallest legal fish is far larger than the 12-inch rockfish that could be taken before the fishery was closed in 1985.

The fall season is targeted mostly on resident rockfish, those fish that have yet to join the migratory coastal stocks. But there will be larger rockfish in the bay as well -- some as old as 8 and more than 12 pounds, and others much larger that have returned early.

There also will be great numbers of smaller fish, but because we will be targeting fish 18 inches and longer, and this year apparently there will be no maximum size, it makes some sense to use larger baits.

Take, for example, three successive catches made recently in the bay with a three-quarter ounce Hopkins Shorty cast into the same group of breaking fish -- a 12- to 14-inch striper, a 10- to 12-inch bluefish and a 18- to 20-inch Spanish mackerel. While the overall length of the fish varied, the key element, the mouth, was of similar size on each.

Simply, a fish cannot eat something that cannot fit in its mouth.

So, this fall, spend the money and step up in size on the bucktails and spoons you troll. You might catch fewer fish, but those you do catch will more likely be keepers.

If you must fish with smaller lures, crimp down or file off the barb so that the smaller fish may be released with minimal injury.

Rich Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, recommends 8/0 or 10/0 bucktails and a 9/0 Crippled Alewive spoon, for example. Bucktails can be dressed with sassy shad-type, fish-shaped plastics or plastic or pork-rind tails.

Novotny said that while using the larger lures last year he did not catch a striper less than 20 inches.

Eeling will play a large part in the early part of the fishery, when bay waters are warmer. And because stripers are more likely to take and swallow live bait than artificials, remove the barbs on your hooks before you start fishing or switch to artificials once you have caught your keeper for the day. Remember, Maryland's seasons are reviewed annually, with bycatch mortality a factor used to measure the impact on the rockfish population. Fishing responsibly will help ensure Maryland's seasons continue to expand.

A review of DNR's proposals for the fall seasons is scheduled today by an arm of the state legislature, and a decision is expected no later than tomorrow. As submitted, the proposals call for charter boat and recreational fisheries to open Oct. 1, with a one fish per day limit for recreational fishermen and a two-fish limit for charter boat fishermen.

The recreational season would run through Nov. 7 and the charter boat season through Nov. 21. Either season would be closed immediately if catch quotas were reached before the proposed closing day.

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