Tackle season with new tactics

OUTDOORS

April 24, 1994|By PETER BAKER

The spring rockfish season, when live bait is prohibited, is a time to use big lures and fish the upper edges of deeper water in areas that can funnel the stripers toward the fisherman.

The spring season, which opens next Sunday at 5 a.m., is a time of challenge because the stripers targeted are migrating from the spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay tributaries to the Atlantic Ocean.

And during that run for coastal waters and the long trip to New England, the stripers do not school up to feed.

So the tactics are different than in the fall season. First, you must find a promising area, and then you must find a lure that will make a hurried striper pause for a bite to eat.

Last spring, 9- or 10-inch spoons such as No. 21 Tonys, 13/0 Crippled Alewives and the Equalizer Bunker Spoon worked very well, with the Equalizer especially effective. Traditional bucktails dressed with 5- or 6-inch twister tails or sassy shads work well, too.

But the lure that worked especially well for many anglers last year -- in both the spring and fall seasons -- was the parachute, a modified version of the traditional bucktail.

What seems to make the parachute so effective is the undulating motion of long filaments tied before and after a lead head.

The forward strands bend back around the lead head once it is in the water and the pumping action of the lure through the water spreads and tightens the silhouette of the lure, giving it a very lifelike appearance. Add a 6-inch sassy shad, scampi tail or twister tail and the appearance is further enhanced.

In the case of the spring season, when the minimum-size limit is 34 inches and the average minimum weight will be between 17 and 20 pounds, big lures will help get big fish.

As for determining where those migrating stripers might be, the accepted approach is to troll the edges of the shipping channel in the main bay with lures running from 5- to 30-feet deep.

But one can further define striper potential by looking at the major spawning areas -- Potomac, Patuxent, Susquehanna, Chester, Choptank, Nanticoke, Wicomico and Pocomoke rivers and the upper bay -- and setting up on the migratory routes from those areas into the main stem of the bay or Tangier and Pocomoke sounds.

All tributaries and the bay above the Bay Bridge are closed to striper fishing during the spring season, but the large number of spawners in the upper bay and its rivers funnel through the channels at the bridges to migrate to the ocean.

So the area of the bridges and underwater cliffs off the Eastern Shore down to Bloody Point are a good choice -- Brickhouse Bar and Gum Thicketts, in particular.

At the mouth of the Choptank River, Red Buoy, The Diamonds, False Channel and the Clay Banks all are good possibilities along with the Gooses, where the main channel of the bay begins to funnel between Cove Point and Taylors Island.

Off the Patuxent River, Cedar Point Rip has good possibilities on the western side of the bay, as do Cedar Point Hollow, the Targets and the Fish Hawk down toward Point No Point. Along the Eastern Shore, from the western edge of Punch Island Bar south to the Hooper Island Light area, the bottom drops sharply from 12 to 20 feet to more than 100 feet in many areas. Stripers can be expected to be hugging that sheer wall.

Once you have found the waters that suit you, keep in mind that migrating stripers are more likely to be toward the top of the water column than the bottom.

Set your trolling rigs primarily to cover the top 10 or 15 feet of the water column -- and get out early in the season.

This year's spawn is on schedule. After the first two weeks of the season, most of the trophy fish are likely to be gone.

TROPHY SEASON AT A GLANCE

What: Spring trophy season for striped bass

Where: Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay main stem from the north span of the bay bridge south, and Tangier and Pocomoke sounds.

When: May 1 to May 31, unless cap of 5,000 rockfish is reached earlier. Hours are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Size limits: Minimum length of 34 inches, no maximum

Creel limits: One per person per day, with a total of three allowed for the season.

Licenses, permits and tags: Current Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing License, $2 rockfish permit and tags issued with permits

Restrictions: Live bait prohibited. Use of gaffs to land fish prohibited. Fish caught and kept must be tagged immediately through the gill or lower lip. Possession of rockfish while on the water or while fishing between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. is prohibited.

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