2012 Rockfish Seasons
Fishing dates are balanced to save spawning fish
The trophy rockfish season — which ran April 21 to May 15 — was a good one. The first two weeks saw many big fish taken, lots of them measuring over 40 inches. The last week or so, however, proved a disappointment. Most of the really big fish had by then left our area of the Bay to return to the ocean.
The average size of stripers taken the last several days of the trophy season dropped precipitously as the majority of big fish had spawned and returned to the ocean. The good news is that on May 16, the possession limit increased to two fish and the size limit dropped to 18 inches.
Spring Turkey Season: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset thru May 23.
The Chesapeake is widely recognized as the striped bass nursery of the Atlantic. Over 80 percent of all the striped bass, or rockfish, swimming our Eastern Seaboard were born here. They leave the Bay at about the age of five for a migratory oceanic life, living in the Atlantic, visiting as far north as Nova Scotia and cruising as far south as Florida.
These fish can grow to well over 50 pounds. Each spring they return to us to spawn. Early spring is the only time when the true giants are present in our waters, so that’s when we have our trophy rockfish season. Trophy anglers are permitted to keep one fish 28 inches or larger.
The timing of that season is targeted to these big fish, ideally those that have already spawned. This year, a number of events contributed to an earlier-than-normal spawn and the exit of bigger fish before the end of the season.
Early reproduction was due partly to abnormally warm winter weather. Spawning is triggered by water temperatures, among other things, and we had ideal water conditions much earlier this year than has been the norm.
We also had a later-than-usual opening day, April 21. Maryland Department of Natural Resources regulations mandate Maryland’s trophy season to begin on the third Saturday of April. This year that Saturday fell late in the calendar month.
These events together caused the early exit of the trophy fish, particularly the biggest female rockfish, usually the first to reproduce. The good news of course is that the vast majority of trophy-sized females taken this season were no longer carrying roe. A big female rockfish can carry in excess of four million eggs. That translates into lots of new rockfish for future seasons.
A New Rockfish Season Opens
The second phase of the Chesapeake’s striped bass season began May 16. The possession limit increased to two fish and the size limit dropped to 18 inches, though only one of the two fish may exceed 28 inches. This restriction protects older, bigger rockfish to retain a more representative population of all the year classes.
Fishing is still restricted to the main stem of Chesapeake Bay. Rockfishing is also permitted in areas of the Chester, Choptank and Patuxent rivers (see DNR website for more detailed information and maps).
The Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release season in the uppermost Bay ended May 3. But on May 16 the regular, catch-and-keep season opened there, and on the Northeast River as well, with a limit of one fish, 18 to 26 inches.
The Susquehanna Flats is defined as upstream of a line from Sandy Point to Turkey Point and the Susquehanna River and downstream from a line connecting the Susquehanna State Park Boat Ramp in Lapidum to Twin Rocks to Tomes Wharf in Port Deposit. The Northeast River is also included.
All limits are intended to protect fish still spawning in the tributaries.
At this time of year, spawning fish represent a minority of the overall population, but it is still vital to allow the species to continue its reproductive activities unimpeded.
Come June, Wide-Open Fishing
On June 1, all striped bass spawning are assumed completed, and all areas of the Chesapeake, including the tributaries, are open. The limit throughout the Bay will then be two stripers, 18 inches minimum size, only one of which may be over 28 inches. Those restrictions will run uninterrupted until the season ends December 15.