Rockfish action fast and varied

September 22, 1994|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Sun Staff Writer

Half a decade ago, when Maryland's recreational fishing season for striped bass (rockfish) was reopened after a five-year moratorium, there were predictions that the opening day of the fall fishery would create and perpetuate the same excitement among anglers that the start of deer firearms season does among hunters.

And indeed it has. The opening day for fall rockfish probably is the busiest fishing day of the year in Maryland tidal waters.

This fall season opens Saturday at 5 a.m., with a minimum size limit of 18 inches and a creel limit of one per day for all but charter-boat customers, who are allowed to keep two per person.

The season will close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 14.

In addition to normally required licenses, rockfish anglers also must purchase and carry with them a $2 striped bass permit. If a permit was purchased for the spring trophy season, it is still good for this fall.

Five years into the restricted seasons that followed the moratorium, rockfish are plentiful in Maryland waters, and a large portion of the strong 1989 class that was responsible for reopening the fishery should be of legal size this fall.

The rockfish have recovered so strongly, in fact, that as of Jan. 1, the stocks will be declared recovered from North Carolina to Maine.

So, how does one go about catching a legal rockfish?

If you haven't a boat or a friend with a boat, your best bet is a charter, which will run about $350 a day for six people, or a trip on a headboat, where fees are about $25 per person per day.

Shoreline fishermen will do well to try county or state parks such as Point Lookout, Sandy Point, Matapeake, the fishing pier on the Choptank River in Cambridge, Fort Smallwood and the like.

But if you have access to a boat, the business of catching rockfish becomes more complex because there are a number of methods to try and locations to investigate.

For those in small boats, creek mouths in the lower stretches of rivers are good bets on the falling tide because stripers will gather on the edges of the current to feed on shrimps, crabs, worms and small fish being drawn downstream. Marsh edges close to deeper water also are good choices, because they provide a reliable base to the food chain that leads from small crustaceans and worms eventually to predators such as stripers.

River channel edges, humps and structures such as bridge foundations also are good choices, and it often is best to fish the current eddies created by them.

Spinning tackle -- 6.5- to 7-foot rods light enough to cast lures weighing from about a half an ounce to one ounce and reels spooled with 8- to 12-pound test -- is a good choice.

Rattling lures, lead heads with plastic tails or shad imitations, bloodworms, grass shrimp, clam, crab or cut bait all will work well when fished on the edges of the current.

For deep-water boaters, it is hard to beat eeling at this time of year, because eels will be migrating out of the bay to spawn through the fall season and are a favorite food for rockfish.

The easiest way to go eeling for stripers is to find a jumble of boats crowded together -- the holes off Love Point and the Bay Bridge piers and pilings are pretty good choices -- politely idle in, shift into neutral and drop your baits, all the while keeping an eye out for those around you.

Try rigging a medium boat rod about 6 feet long with a reel similar to a Penn No. 209 spooled with 20-pound test. Pass the line through the eye of a bell sinker weighing about an ounce and knot on a 2/0 to 4/0 live bait hook. Hook the eel through both eyes and leave slack in the line once the sinker reaches bottom. You will feel the eel swimming at the end of the line -- until a striper takes the bait.

Rigs should be stout so that once hooked, a striper can be controlled before it can swim off and tangle the lines of those fishing around you.

Trolling will work well, too, with parachute lures in chartreuse, yellow and white very effective. White, silver or gold spoons in the 5- to 6-inch range and surgical hose of the same lengths in red, green or natural are great alternatives. Lures should be trolled mostly in the top 12 to 15 feet of the water column early in the season and dropped down as the surface temperature cools.

In the bay from the Patapsco to the Bay Bridge, look for humps in hard or oyster bottom and channel edges, especially below river mouths on the falling tide. The current will create the same effect river fishermen expect from creek mouths, except on a much larger scale.

With the season starting a week earlier this year than last, perhaps the most fun fishing will be casting to breaking schools of stripers and bluefish.

With the birds whirling and screeching overhead, silversides and anchovies breaking the surface and blues and stripers chasing them in a feeding frenzy, it is a spectacle to experience -- and the fishing can be hot and heavy.

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