Rockfish hold up their end on first day

ON THE OUTDOORS

April 25, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Each spring, when leaving the creek at the start of rockfish season, it takes a while to get the feel of a powerboat again -- about 15 seconds, just long enough to throttle forward and thumb the trim switch until the hull is properly on plane and sprinting east toward Chesapeake Bay.

It always takes somewhat longer to catch the first keeper of the season, once the 19-footer has been slowed to a crawl and the trolling rigs set.

This year, despite 24- and 26-inch stripers that slammed chartreuse parachutes over the 45-foot contour south of Hackett's on Friday morning, that first keeper will come after opening day.

But while parachutes and big bunker spoons failed to bring a keeper of 28 inches or more aboard my boat, reports from captains and tackle shops from the Bay Bridge to the Patuxent River indicated a good opening day.

"The fish were cooperating," said Capt. Burt Shaffner, whose Jodie Lee was one of 30 charterboats that left the Rod and Reel docks in Chesapeake Beach Friday. "Just about everyone caught fish -- some more and some less, of course -- and it was in 35 to 80 feet of water from Parker's Creek to above Deal."

A half-dozen charters went out from Capt. Buddy Harrison's Chesapeake House in Tilghman on the Eastern Shore and found their best fishing off the Western Shore south of Chesapeake Beach.

"Everybody caught fish, but everybody didn't catch their limit," said Harrison, adding that most of the keepers brought aboard his boats were between 31 and 40 inches. "But we had to go to Parker's Creek to find them.

"And that's unusual for us to go that far. But you start trolling below the C&R Buoy, and the next thing you know that's where we were when they started hitting."

Launch ramps at marinas and public facilities were busy Friday as anglers made the annual rush, and Marty Lieberman of Marty's Sporting Goods in Edgewater said good catches came from a variety of areas between the Bay Bridge and the mouth of Eastern Bay.

"It has been excellent up through here," said Lieberman, noting that the biggest fish he saw was 45 inches and 16 others averaged 30 to 33 inches. "They've been catching them from 35 to 40 feet of water off Thomas Point to Buoy 83 and a few off Bloody Point."

Darren Rickwood of Angler's near the Bay Bridge and the busy ramps at Sandy Point State Park said the largest catch he saw before the rains hit Friday afternoon was a 47-incher weighing 40 pounds.

An unusual aspect of this year's spring fishery seems to be a large number of rockfish in the 24- to 27-inch range, said Shaffner, who monitors catches and throwbacks by VHF radio.

"They're seeing a lot of stuff -- smaller fish that normally wouldn't be out there at this time," he said. "I couldn't believe it, really, but those smaller fish are there."

A variety of lures are catching fish, captains said, and none seemed to be more effective than another. So, take your choice among bucktails, parachutes, umbrellas or spoons -- but make it big and make it white or chartreuse.

Department of Natural Resources reports last week indicated that the spawn was peaking on the Potomac River, but not yet in full swing in the more northern tributaries. DNR also said cool, wet weather might delay the spawn in many areas, keeping big rockfish in the rivers longer than in past years.

Lieberman said Friday that the cooler weather of the last few weeks and spring rains will make for a better spring season.

"This weather is going to have an effect on the season," he said. "It will keep them in [the rivers] longer, so they're not in such a hurry to spawn and get out of here.

"This year, they're going to hang around much longer."

The spring season, which is aimed at post-spawn rockfish leaving the bay to join the migration north along the Atlantic Coast, continues through the end of the month.

The creel limit is one per day and only the mainstem of the bay is open to fishing.

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