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Rockfish On!

Hooking up with a striper is sweet, and sweeter still if it’s a keeper

The sound of line being pulled off a reel sent both of us into high alert. The tip of my nearby rod in its holder flexed only slightly under the pressure of the run. Except for the meager tension of the clicker, the reel was in free spool, and line fed out smoothly as the fish accelerated off with my bait.

Fish Are Biting ...

   They are biting with warm days and gentle breezes no longer a rarity. The limit on rockfish as of May 16 is two fish with an 18-inch minimum size. Only one fish may exceed 28 inches.
    Trollers are reducing the sizes of their baits, going to smaller bucktails and sassy shads and varying their depths as fish are often scattered in the water column. The rockfish are also responding to chum, though sometimes inconsistently, as our resident fish begin to return to their traditional haunts and schools.
    Nice croaker are being caught in the evenings at Sandy Point, Matapeake, Romancoke and the Severn River Bridge, with some big ones in the mix. Fat white perch are there, too, as they return from their spawning runs up the tributaries.
    Norfolk spot have not yet arrived, and it remains to be seen if the enormous winterkill of juvenile spot will significantly affect their population. Crabbing continues to surprise with good early runs, though it’s not happening everywhere.

    I picked up the rod, flipped off the line-out alarm and lightly thumbed the spinning spool. This fish was definitely committed. As I threw the reel into gear, the line came tight and I struck hard. My heavy-action casting rod curved into a hard arc. Fish on!

Know Your Fish

    At last we had gotten a beautiful day. The sun was shining warmly in a clear, blue sky, the Bay was calm and a good flood tide was running. Setting up about a half-mile off the mouth of Whitehall Bay in 35 feet of water, Mike and I were chumming and fishing fresh-cut menhaden for rockfish.
    We had known before we started that this would be an against-the-odds outing. Even under the best conditions — and ours were pretty good — fishing bait in springtime in the mid-Bay is a chancy affair.
    Most rockfish were still in their post-spawning mode. That meant they were gathered in small, wandering groups, the larger, migratory fish feeding randomly and moving ever southward back to the ocean.
    The resident fish were also scattered singly or in small pods and not yet beginning to feel the urge to school with their brethren. There is no discernable pattern to fish movements this time of year. Hence it’s almost impossible to anticipate their whereabouts.
    Trolling is really the most effective springtime tactic, covering lots of water and constantly searching. But the endless April rainfall and resultant releases of silt-laden water from the Conowingo Dam at the head of the Chesapeake had fouled large areas of main stem waters and made dragging lures maddeningly unproductive. We had decided to take our chances, putting out a scent slick and soaking bait. Maybe the fish would find us.

Perseverance and Luck

    Finally, after two hours or so of waiting, we were into fish. At least one fish. It made a good run up current, parallel to the boat. The taut line made a delicate but distinct zipping noise as the fish bulled through the water back toward us. I cranked furiously to keep this rock from gaining slack. Finally, when I had caught up with the striper and increased tension, the fish reversed course and headed away. Now my drag was hissing and complaining as line streamed back out.
    It took a few minutes of tense rod and reel work until, at last, we caught a glimpse of the thick, striped, silvery body flashing through the murky water alongside. Mike scrambled for the net. Hoisting the hefty devil over the side, we celebrated.

But Not Quite Enough Luck

    Perhaps prematurely.
    For a few agreeable minutes, we had both forgotten the trophy season parameter of a 28-inch minimum. Our euphoria faded as we realized that our guest was shy by at least two or three inches. Reluctantly, I hurried it back over the side.
    Mike recovered from our disappointment. “First striper of the year!” he announced, offering me a high five.
    “Hell yes,” I agreed, instantly reclaiming some of the elation. Just a couple of inches short. But still the first striper of the year.

Gill Net Controversy Continues

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources is considering using GPS technology to manage commercial gill net operations. At issue is whether to require all watermen in the fishery to carry on board a transponder to identify them and their location on Natural Resources Police monitoring screens. The Watermen’s Association has endorsed the concept.
    Fine and well, if knowing where the good guys are is the key to the illegal netting problem. It isn’t of course. Transponder monitoring is easily avoided. DNR does not now, nor will it in the foreseeable future, have the resources and manpower to prevent those not playing by the rules from poaching rockfish with gill nets.
    The growing consensus among the conservation-minded is that the cost of effectively monitoring these commercial netting operations should either be born by them through increased license fees, or, alternately, the net allocation could be transferred to another gear type, such as hook and line, which can be effectively managed with current manpower.
    Gill-netters would not lose their share of the fishery. They would only fish with different gear at a different time of year.