Fishing season greets optimism by reeling off a few big surprises


May 08, 1994|By LONNY WEAVER

Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, Joyce Williams, Hampstead anglers Mike Burton and Jeff Beatrice and writer Jim Gilford joined me aboard Captain Bud Harrison's Beaudacious early last week as we kicked off this year's Chesapeake Bay fishing season. And what a start it was!

After breakfast at Harrison's Inn on scenic Tilghman Island, we boarded the spacious charter boat with hopes of catching at least one legal-sized 34-inch striped bass (rockfish).

Privately, I suspected we might be in for a long day of trolling because of reports that rockfish had dropped their eggs and were well south of the mid-Chesapeake area that we had chosen fish.

"We might get lucky," Harrison said as he steered clear of Knapps Narrows and down the Choptank River to where it

empties into the Chesapeake. "I know of a couple that have been picked up over the last couple of days."

Harrison made the 45-minute run to the Gooses, off the western shore, and helped mate Barry Stambro set a half-dozen trolling rods rigged with an assortment of #21 Tonys, Sassy Shads and Parachutes. The jig-head Sassy Shads were white, the Tonys were white or blue/silver metallic and the Parachutes were green and matched with like-shaded Sassy Shads.

On our third sweep of the area my rod snapped down, and the Penn reel's clicker sang a song of summer.

"Fish on!," Harrison shouted as I grabbed the rod and felt the weight of a good-sized fish. Everyone gathered around to watch me slowly work the fish to surface. It was a rock, but was it big enough?

Shoulder muscles unused since last fall's rockfish season ached from the weigh of the fish, the weight of the heavy lead sinker and the added resistance of the slowly moving boat. At last the fish was close enough to net and Stambro brought it aboard.

Too small, at 29 inches, to keep. We hurriedly took a few photos and gently returned the striper to the water.

The lines no sooner were back in the water when Burton's rod snapped to life. Burton deliberately fought the weight of a fish that was obviously much larger than mine.

"Wow, that's what Maryland rockfishing is all about," said Goldstein, as Harrison helped remove a 37-inch striper from the net. "That's an 18-pounder, for sure," Harrison said.

But, on this day we had all agreed to return all rockfish to the Bay. After photos, the huge spawner gently was returned to the water.

"We're staying right here," Harrison said. "Lonny's fish hit at 80 feet and Mike's nailed that parachute at 45 feet. Right smack on top of the Gooses."

Goldstein was nearing the end of a tale about bagging this spring's turkey on his Calvert County farm when his trolling rod sang of a hooked fish.

He expertly played the fish to the boat. "Now, that's a shame because a 30-inch rock like that, all cleaned and stuffed with about 2 pounds of lump crab meat is surely heaven on a plate," he said as he returned the fish to the Bay.

Later three fish hit at the same time. Gilford got a surprising and very decent-sized bluefish to within 15 yards of the boat before it escaped. Two rods over, Beatrice was battling his first rockfish. His striper, which also hit a green parachute, measured 29 inches.

But, Williams, a few more rods over to the right really had her hands full of mad rockfish. Like, 38 inches and easily 20 pounds of fighting striper. Williams, who lives in Annapolis and works out of the governor's Chesapeake Bay Programs Communications Office, hefted the magnificent fish shoulder high for a couple of fast photos before releasing it back into the water.

After my surprise at the size of the fish we caught, my next biggest thrill was that bluefish that escaped the bite of Gilford's parachute lure.

I'm also confident that at least two other blues went after two Sassy Shad/lead-head lures during the day.

Harrison also told me on our way to the fishing grounds that he had been getting reliable reports of blues turning up in pound nets in the area of Hooper's Island earlier in the week.

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