Rock regulations pinch Conowingo anglers


October 20, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Over the next few weeks, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and its technical committee will finish sorting out the future of the rockfish, which earlier this year was said to have flourished to the point of amazement over the past decade.

Flourished to the point of being declared recovered as of Jan. 1, 1995.

And while that is good news to most bay fishermen, there are anglers in the upper bay and on the Susquehanna River who might not benefit from the resurgence of the rockfish.

"There are some special problems up there, especially in the Susquehanna River near the Conowingo Dam," Dave Blazer of the Department of Natural Resources said. "It's a tough choice that may be harmful to a few businessmen and restrictive to some fishermen, but we felt that the regulations that have been in effect are in the best interest of the rockfish."

From June 15 through Sept. 15, the regulations at Conowingo prohibit attempting to catch rockfish from the dam's catwalk and ban all baits and lures except earthworms, nightcrawlers, chicken livers, doughballs and prepared scent baits.

The result of those regulations is that fishermen no longer flock to the catwalk, where in past years the railings would be crowded with anglers fishing the productive waters below.

"Between mid-June and mid-September," said Terry Rhudy, who owns Conowingo Bait and Tackle, one of several bait shops on the road down to the catwalk and Fishermen's Park, "there has been a 50 percent reduction in my business and in the other businesses here.

"In the summer months, when most people fish, these regulations are just killing us and taking away the angler's opportunity."

And while the regulations are designed to protect rockfish captured by the blockage of the dam and captivated by abundant food sources, there are catfish, carp, walleye, bass and perch available to be caught.

Blazer said that catching fish -- especially rockfish -- from the catwalk poses special problems because of its height above the water. When a striper was taken and released, much of the time it was simply thrown back over the rail, and the compression from the fall often was fatal.

"Add to that that the water there is virtually fresh and very warm in summer, and you get a high mortality rate just from the fish being badly hooked," Blazer said at a recent meeting called by DNR to discuss the future of the Conowingo restrictions. "We feel that it is a no-win situation."

Boat fishermen, too, are restricted from fishing the base of the dam and the area downriver to the power lines that run across the river at Rowland Island.

Shore anglers at Fishermen's Park immediately below the dam, however, can use lures and other cut baits.

Blazer said that when the ASMFC and its technical committee finish the evaluation of the rockfish population, it is possible that Maryland fishermen will get a 90-day season in addition to the May trophy season.

The bay above the Bay Bridge is likely to remain closed during the trophy season to protect spawning fish, Blazer said, and the tributaries below the bridge also will remain closed.

A 90-day non-trophy season probably would include June, part of September, October and part of November in most of the bay and its tributaries.

"We don't want the [non-trophy] season to go much later than it does already," Blazer said.

So, while some upper bay fishermen will benefit from a longer non-trophy season, the Conowingo anglers probably will not.

"The fact is, and what really bothers me," Rhudy said, "is that rockfish are being killed throughout the bay all summer. Why are we still being restricted?"



As Chesapeake Bay water temperatures have fallen deep into the 60s over the past week, rockfish have been moving faster toward deeper water, and Martin L. Gary of the Department of Natural Resources reports that by the weekend there should be a great increase in schooling activity.

The lower bay continues to offer good action on legal size stripers at the Middle Grounds, Mud Leads and Tangier Sound.

In the bay above the Bay Bridge, Love Point and the lower Chester River have been good choices with live eels drifted over oyster bars.

In the middle bay, from Point No Point to the bay bridges, chummers have been doing well at the Stone Rock.


Small blues in the surf along with a few puppy drum and kingfish. Flounder fishing has been very slow. Yellowfin tuna providing action at Washington Canyon at the 35- to 45-fathom lines.

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