2nd straight banner start to rock season expected

On The Outdoors

April 22, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Rockfish season opens tomorrow on the main stem of Chesapeake Bay, and according to reports from Department of Natural Resources biologists, the timing is close to perfect for the second consecutive year.

The season is limited to the water of the bay from a line extending from the mouth of the Patapsco River east to Swan Point and south to the Maryland-Virginia border. On June 1, all tidal waters in Maryland will be open.

Minimum length for the April and May season will be 28 inches, with one fish per day.

Crews from DNR's Fisheries Service who have been monitoring the rockfish spawn on the Potomac River reported peak activity early this week, which means the stripers will be moving out of the river into the main stem.

"The Potomac is among the first of the [tributaries] to see peak spawning. The Choptank and points north are usually slightly behind," said Fisheries Service biologist Martin L. Gary, who tracks catches for DNR. "If that's the case, that may be great news for anglers fishing the opening days of the striper season especially in the mid to lower bay, where the action in the first six days of 1998's spring season may have been the best ever."

The spring rockfish season is timed and restricted to certain areas to allow angling after the fish have spawned and started their annual migration out of the bay and north along the Atlantic Coast.

Unlike fishing for concentrations of rock later in the year, the spring season for migratory fish can seem to be hit or miss because post-spawn fish move somewhat independently out of the rivers.

"Bear in mind that this is a fishery in which if a boat were to fish all day and get three to four keeper stripers, they would have had a good day," Gary said.

"Whether we see a repeat of the phenomenal fishing that took place in the first five to seven days of the 1998 season remains to be seen, but information from the DNR striped bass stock assessment surveys is encouraging."

The best areas to fish often are the edges of deeper channels leading from the tributaries to the main stem of the bay, with some anglers preferring the Eastern Shore edges, where the salinity is higher.

Natural channel restrictions or confluences also can be good choices.

The state-record rockfish (67 pounds, 8 ounces) from the bay, for example, was caught off Bloody Point, where the deepest channel narrows and the waters of Eastern Bay and the West, Rhode and South rivers join the main stem.

Trolling is probably the most favored method, because large areas can be covered, and spoons, parachutes, bucktails and shads and umbrella rigs can be trolled at multiple depths. And while 45- to 60-foot water often are good choices, the big stripers often are taken from the top 15 feet of the water.

But, said Gary, timing is everything in the spring fishery.

"The striped-bass spawn has a huge impact on the success of the springtime fishery," Gary said. "Last year, a huge pulse of down-running stripers from the Choptank fueled what was largely agreed to as the best spring season ever. So, barring the influx of any cold, wet weather, the striper spawns in the Choptank and other tribs to the north should go off soon."

Big bass galore

The tidal Potomac is a fine fishery for largemouth bass -- perhaps the finest on the East Coast, pro anglers have said during tour events there.

But, judging from a Bassmasters tournament last week, the California Delta area of the San Joaquin River near Stockton appears to be even better.

"I have never seen so many big fish and so many limits weighed in " Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society official Dewey Kendrick said after the first day of the California Western Invitational. "There were numerous 7- to 9-pound bass that we didn't even bother to put on the scales [for big fish of the day]."

Mark Tyler of Concord, Calif., led the charge with 34 pounds, 7 ounces, a tour record for a five-bass limit. The 26-year-old Tyler's limit included a 14-pound, 9-ounce largemouth that broke the tour record by a pound.

By the end of the tournament on Saturday, however, Tyler had fallen out of the top three, and the tournament was won by Robert Lee of Angel's Camp, Calif., with a tour record of 78 pounds, 3 ounces.

"I've been to a lot of the places which people say have the best bass fishing in the country," said Lee, who won a $26,000 bass boat rig. "Hey, I'm sorry, but they don't hold a candle to this place."

The fishing report

Salt water

Upper Chesapeake Bay: The hook-and-release season for rockfish continues on the Susquehanna Flats, with DNR surveys showing more than 94 percent of the catch to be males and that most were in the 18- to 22-inch range. White perch and catfish action, meanwhile, has picked up in the Susquehanna River and other upper-bay tributaries. The hickory shad run on Deer Creek is peaking, with anglers encountering some fish to 17 inches.

Tidal Potomac River: Largemouth bass are moving into shallow bays off the main river and creek shallows, where they have been aggressively hitting crankbaits, jerkbaits, plastics and spinnerbaits.

Ocean City: The mackerel run continues, but reports from the Ocean City Fishing Center are that the fish are scattered, although a few days ago head-boat anglers had one of the best mackerel days in years. Tautog on near-shore wrecks, flounder moving into the back bays.

Fresh water

Upper Potomac: Water levels have been high, and showers are forecast through the weekend.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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