Upper bay missing out on rock fest


October 16, 1994|By Peter Baker

Much like last year, this fall's rockfish season has been something of a mystery for a lot of fishermen especially in the middle and upper bay, where the catch rate has been low.

Reports out of the lower areas of Maryland's tidal waters -- from the Virginia state to Hooper Island Light -- indicate great striper fishing for chummers and trollers, with catches averaging 5 to 8 pounds.

But farther north, the action is off.

Ask a fisherman what the problem is, and there are many responses:

* The water is still too warm (surface temperature was 66 degrees at the mouth of the Patapsco River late last week).

* There is so much natural food -- perch, smaller rockfish, crabs, eels, clam worms, etc. -- around that the larger rockfish are under no pressure to chase lures.

* Stripers are still scattered and have yet to school up in deeper water, where the traditional action for stripers has been best from mid-October through the end of the season. This year the recreational season will end Nov. 22, a one-week extension from the originally planned Nov. 14 closing.

Dave Blazer of the Department of Natural Resources said the other evening that part of the problem could be that the 18- to 20-inch rockfish are not especially abundant this year because of weak year classes in 1990 and 1991.

Female members of the pivotal 1989 year class, which triggered the reopening of the rockfish fisheries, are 22 inches.

Whatever the reasons, fishermen have a couple of choices -- head far south to capitalize on the great fishing in the lower bay, or be patient and try to adapt to what seems to be a slow change to autumn in the upper bay.

Richard Novotny of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association acknowledges that the early part of last season was a mystery and that this season, too, has been something of a puzzle.

In a normal year, by mid-October boat fishermen should be trolling bucktails and curly tails or shad imitations, the eeling season having passed with the eel migration down the bay.

Trolling at this time of year takes on a different dimension than say, trolling for big stripers on the move during the spring season.

In the fall, the key is to keep your bucktails close to the bottom, and this is best done by holding your rod while running the boat with as little headway as possible.

By holding the rod, you will be able to feel the sinker bumping bottom -- and if the rig is properly set up, then the bucktail will be properly positioned.

Novotny recommends a drop sinker heavy enough to stay on the bottom be tied or snapped to a three-way swivel with two to three feet of 25-pound test mono.

On a second ring, a 20-foot leader of 30-pound mono should be tied between lure and three-way swivel.

On the third ring a shock leader of 60-pound mono should be tied between the three-way and 30-pound wire.

If the rig seems heavy and cumbersome, keep in mind that rockfish feed around structure on the bottom -- oyster bars, sunken boats, channel edges, spoil dumping areas -- and lighter rigs may be badly chafed, cut or broken by passing over and around sharp-edged obstructions.

Novotny also advocates the use of larger lures to attract and catch larger fish.

Instead of a 3/0 bucktail, try moving up to an 8/0.

If you are trolling spoons move up to a 9/0 Crippled Alewive, for example.

Try going all the way up to a 6-inch shad imitation from the three- or four-inch versions.

Novotny says that last fall, using the bigger baits, he did not catch a rockfish smaller than 20 inches.

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