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The First Rockfish of the Year

Right now it’s catch and release; Trophy season opens April 16

Once again, I heard a story I couldn’t pass up: a concentration of rockfish up to 33 inches. It was my dream setup and perhaps a chance to catch (and release) my first rockfish of the season.
    I was sure of only one thing. I had not dressed warmly enough for the morning. My teeth were chattering and fingers shaking from the chill as well as the anticipation when I threaded the soft plastic tail onto a half-ounce jig head.
    Selecting a five-inch saltwater Bass Assassin that had been productive at the end of last year, I tied it on my fluoro leader and began to explore, fan casting, drifting and hard-twitching the lure just over the bottom.
    A half dozen casts was all it took.
    I was tight to a good fish taking drag and shaking its head while it ran all around my skiff. I had squashed the hook barb flat — per DNR requirements for this time of year — so had to be extra careful not to allow the least bit of slack lest the fish throw my hook. After an extended struggle I finally eased the brawny rascal to the side of my skiff and into the net. Sweet victory.
    Leaving the still-struggling 25-inch striper entrapped in the mesh, I hurried to ready my camera and get a quick picture. Catch and release this time of year rarely causes mortality or even injury to the fish. Still, as soon as I could I slipped it over the side and back into the cold, clear water of the Bay. The fish jetted away, leaving a small cloud of milt in its wake.
    I couldn’t believe my luck. Then four or five casts later I was hooked up again, then again and a few minutes later yet again. Though the bite slacked off within the hour, I managed to scratch out a total of seven excellent fish by 11am, altogether a fantastic day for my maiden rockfish trip.
    On the way back to the ramp I reminded myself that the best fish of the day (the 25-incher) was still 10 inches under the minimum for the coming trophy season. Today, that ­didn’t matter a whit to me. The scrappers that were feeding that morning allegedly had some bigger cousins nearby. If they continue to hold and feed in that general area, I may have an excellent chance to score a trophy rock come opening day on April 16.