Rockfish worth time investment


November 10, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Tuesday morning the wind was up -- blowing strong enough to make one think seriously about fishing from a big, comfortable charter boat or maybe even the Q.E. II -- and the boat had been taken into the river mouth.

In the lee of the southern shoreline, a handful of fishermen on a few other small boats were picking over two small, breaking schools of 14-inch rockfish. Cast, catch, release. Ad infinitum, if one so desired.

After a few minutes of catch-and-release, the boat was left to idle and drift while a screwdriver was taken to the carburetor and the rpms taken down to 500, the fuel mixture leaned out until the V-8 inboard fairly gasped.

The weather forecast called for the wind to drop away in early afternoon. The tide, too, was due to change.

When conditions again became tolerable, the plan was to head out to the edge of the bay proper, downsize lures, increase weight size and catch dinner.

All of which was well and good in the planning stages. But in reality the six weeks of fall rockfish season had been less than satisfying. And the cost of putting rockfish on the table had been exorbitant.

Boat, gear, fuel, fishing tackle, eels, spot and every imaginable size and color of plastic tails and artificial shad. Fuel, ice, drinks, sandwiches, sunscreen. Weights, barrel swivels and snapshackles. Bucktails, spoons, hoses.

Add up the costs sometime and calculate the cost per pound for each fillet you put on the table. It is enough to make one invest heavily in aquaculture.

But in the past week fishing conditions had changed. Despite the warm weather of Indian summer, the big stripers had begun to school, moving from the shallower water of rivers and small bays toward the deeper and warmer waters of the bay proper.

Reports from fishermen and fisheries managers around the bay said that trollers were starting to connect with schools of keeper rockfish more regularly.

Even the smaller fish were feeding on top at times out over the channel edges, and if the smaller rockfish were moving out, then the baitfish must be moving out a half-step ahead of them.

By late afternoon, the wind had fallen away, leaving behind a moderate sea running from the southeast against the turn of the tide.

The machinations with the carburetor had dropped another knot at idle, bringing trolling speed down to two knots.

The big parachute lures and 5-inch shad imitations had been replaced with a 5/0 bucktail and a 3-inch shad, and the 3-ounce, in-line sinkers were replaced with eight ounces.

Below the mouth of White Hall Bay, where earlier in the year there had been too many crab pots in place to risk trolling over much of the area, dozens of gulls were hovering over feeding fish.

A few casts of a three-quarter-ounce Kastmaster spoon showed the surface feeders to be small stripers, from 12 to 13 inches. But on the eastern edge of the school of smaller fish, the fish finder showed bunches of larger rockfish holding close to the bottom in 25 feet of water, where the scraps from the surface feeders drifted down in a natural chum line.

The boat was turned to creep down current along the edge of the surface feeders, a pair of trolling lines set out. Bang. A fish hit, the reel screeched and soon dinner was in the boat -- but not before another large striper hit the second lure and ran off a lot of line.

It, too, was brought to the boat and released while still in the water and one had the feeling that were the catch limit larger than one per day, the fishing would have been good for a longer period of time.

Still, it was one of those days when the cost of rockfish would have seemed cheap at twice the price.

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