Long wait in upper bay now paying off

On The Outdoors

June 11, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Yesterday's fishing report incorrectly listed the minimum length for rockfish through Sunday. The minimum is 28 inches.

The Sun regrets the error.

For several years after the 5-year moratorium on fishing for rockfish was lifted at the start of this decade, waters of the upper Chesapeake Bay remained closed for the spring season on big spawning rockfish.

The reasoning of state Fisheries Service biologists was to protect a major spawning area and the mature migratory rockfish that late each spring or early summer reproduce, leave the bay and travel as far north as Nova Scotia.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Some upper bay anglers have complained through the years that they were being shut out close to home during the spring season, while others have chosen to grin and bear the situation, confident the future of the rockfish was worth the sacrifice.

Now, in the 13th year since the moratorium was declared in January 1985, those seasons of fisheries planning and anglers' sacrifice apparently are starting to pay extraordinary dividends.

Take, for example, the results of the third annual Rock Hall Rockfish Tournament: The 100 rockfish (striped bass) brought to the weigh-in station last weekend averaged more than 32 inches in length. Of the hundreds of other stripers reported, few were under 24 inches.

This catching, largely in upper bay waters, was being done in June, weeks after many fishermen believe migrant spawners have departed.

According to Department of Natural Resources data, this is the third year that the June portion of the spring season has produced very good rockfish angling in the upper bay, after the striper action has slowed in the lower- and mid-bay areas.

"Why do these fish appear in this area [Swan Point] and the Baltimore Light area at this time?" asked Fisheries Service biologist Martin L. Gary. "It may be sheer speculation, but the observation of numerous ripe males and few spent females may indicate a much slower emigration from the northern bay spawning areas than previously thought."

While the minimum size limit will remain 24 inches through Sunday night, on Monday the limit will drop to 18 inches and the daily creel limit per person will go up to two, and all Maryland areas of the bay and its tributaries will be open for fishing.

"Up until a week ago, very few large stripers had been caught above the bay bridges," said Gary, who tracks recreational and charter-boat catches. "If history repeats, these fish may hang in the chum lines through the July 12 season closing date. Fishing finally looks very promising in the upper bay."

Fishing updates

Ocean City -- Inshore, the fine flounder action of the past month has slowed, with far greater numbers of smaller fluke taken for every keeper. Sea trout, however, are increasing and scattered from the inlet to the Route 90 bridge. In the surf, kingfish, sea trout, bluefish and occasional large rockfish are active. Richard Elwood of Salisbury checked in a 44.5-inch, 30.5-pound striper at Buck's Place in Berlin. Elwood caught the striper in the Assateague surf.

Offshore, the Mako Mania Tournament out of Bahia Marina was won by Mel Nelson of Philadelphia with a 497-pound mako taken aboard the Nancy Ann at the Hambone. Nelson caught the shark on 50-pound test line and landed it after a fight of more than two hours. The first bluefin tuna of the season, one 35 pounds and another 45 pounds, were reported from the north end of the Fingers. Big bluefish continue to range from the Bass Grounds to the Fingers. Head boats are doing better on sea bass and the first big tautog of the season showed up last weekend.

Upper Chesapeake Bay -- Greater numbers of rockfish have been moving down the bay to the Love Point, Swan Point and Baltimore Light areas, where chumming will turn up greater numbers of fish but trolling seems to catch a larger size. Mrs. Virgil Buttrum of Rock Hall won the Rock Hall Rockfish Tournament with a 22-pounder measuring 39 inches. Second and third places went to Kent County anglers Dave Schulte (21.7 pounds, 37 inches) and Art Kendall (20.3, 37.25).

Middle Chesapeake Bay -- Rockfish anglers have been getting a mixed bag of smaller fish from the 1993 class and occasional larger stripers over the 24-inch minimum. Oddly, the western shore areas from Buoy No. 1 off the West River and from Franklin Manor to Plum Point have been producing the largest stripers in 24- to 36-foot depths. The cool weather of the past week has slowed the croaker bite in many areas, but the weather is expected to warm again by the weekend. Increasing numbers of sea trout are mixing with croakers. Flounder action has been good on the eastern channel edges, especially at the northern end of Poplar Island Narrows, Eastern Bay and False Channel. Flounder from 16-19 inches are not uncommon. Black drum action has been sporadic but could turn on at any time.

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