When the reel spool began turning under my thumb, I knew it was no ordinary rockfish on the end of my line. Counting to seven, I threw the Abu reel into gear, and when the line came tight, set the hook. Then my rod bent over to the corks and a stiffly set drag howled as the fish really hit the gas. This one had to be trophy sized — if only I could get it to the boat.
We were anchored up south of the Hackett’s can at the mouth of the Severn River in 35 feet of water on a morning that was glassy calm despite a small-craft warning from NOAA the day before. Not deterred, my fishing companion Ed Robinson checked another forecase, www.intellicast.com, which predicted light winds until almost noon.
We agreed that if the winds were calm we would head out and fish until the weather turned. Launching my 17-foot skiff, we were on station by 8am. A half-hour later, our four rods were rigged and baited with large chunks of fresh menhaden.
A chum bag over the stern was spewing small bits of ground fish into the falling tidal current as we guessed that we had only about three hours of ebb left before slack water.
Then Ed had a run and landed a fat and healthy 23-incher, a good sign there were fish around.
A few minutes later, my bruiser hit.
How to Fish Trophy Season
Chumming during Trophy Rockfish Season is a long-odds affair. Because the big fish are spawning and moving alone or in small packs, it is impossible to determine patterns. They don’t stay in one place for very long, so catching reports are mostly useless. Locating legal fish is pretty much a matter of luck.
With this year’s larger 35-inch minimum size, we guessed it would be even more difficult to find keepers by fishing bait.
Trolling is the most productive technique during trophy season as you’re covering far more water and using big lures. But if you want to use light tackle you’ve got to fish bait.
Our four outfits were medium-heavy, six-and-a-half-foot casting rods with Abu 5600 casting reels loaded with 150 yards of 20-pound fluoro-coated mono, with fish finder rigs, two-ounce sinkers and stout 9/0 hooks on 24-inch 30-pound fluoro leaders.
Reeling in a Runaway Train
It was 20 minutes into the battle before I got a glimpse of the striper. It was definitely a good one. Calming myself and making sure not to force things, I eased it to the side of the boat. Ed got most of the fish into the net. It took both of us to lift it over the gunnel. The lunker’s big tail ran well past the deck-mounted 36-inch measuring tape, so we were sure it was legal. After a quick picture we eased the handsome giant into my fishbox and iced it down.
Ed had pulled all of our rigs out of the water during the battle to avoid tangles, so it took another 20 minutes to get them cleared, baited and back in the water. After that we didn’t have long to wait.
One of Ed’s rigs twitched, then the clicker on the reel started screaming as the fish picked up the bait and headed away at speed. It was another runaway train.
The fight mirrored my own. Almost a twin of the first one, this burly rascal also hung half out of my net as we barely managed it up over the side. Two giants inside of half an hour.
Done by 10am with two trophies in the box, their tails sticking out and the lid bulging open, we headed for the ramp grinning like fools. An hour later, a stiff north wind pushed up three-foot seas with shore-to-shore whitecaps.