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There’s More Than One Way to Catch a Rockfish

Live-lining can beat chumming — without the stink

      Placing the hook just in front of the dorsal of a small perch, I lowered it into the water off the side of my skiff, drifting not far north of the Baltimore Light. My live bait jetted down, seeking the bottom 20 feet below. It never reached its destination. It was intercepted by a hungry 10-pound rockfish that was about to make my day.
       The line poured off of my reel while I lightly thumbed the spool. The big striper swam ever deeper with the small fish held tightly in its jaws. Crushing the perch and descaling it, the rockfish then turned the snack round headfirst and began to swallow it. Then I put my reel in gear.
      Coming tight to the fish, I lifted my rod smartly and set the hook. Running, twisting and turning, the fish put on quite a routine down below. Next it came to the surface and threw another tantrum. It was my best fish scrap the whole of the season.
      Recalling that catch as I scrubbed down the deck of my skiff for about the 10th time since our April opening day, I reckoned it was time to put away the chum bag and the often smelly mess that technique entails.
      Just days ago, I had reconnoitered a substantial school of five-inch and under white perch and felt that it might be time to start live-lining. Live-lining is an exciting and less odorous enterprise than chumming. It is also, under the proper circumstances, more productive. 
      I got out my portable live well and made sure it was operating.
      I use the same tackle I employ in chumming, though with different terminal setups. For live-lining, I prefer to use lighter leaders, no more than 20-pound test fluorocarbon, connected to the main line with a black-finished, stainless-steel, ball-bearing swivel. 
      That setup allows me to add a small rubber-core sinker above the swivel in the event that the tidal current is preventing the live bait from getting promptly down to the proper depths. The main line is my standard fluoro-coated co-polymer line, also 20-pound test.
      As I prefer to live-line without weight, I’ve found the most productive tide phases to be the slower portions of the tidal flows. The first hour and a half of moving current or the last hour and a half allow my baitfish to get deep to attract our quarry.
     The most important aspect of live-lining is the aerated live well. A five-gallon pail will work in a pinch, but it will only hold eight or nine baits effectively and must include an electric aerator. The liveliest baits are the best baits, so keeping them in clean, well-oxygenated water is a must.
     I prefer to drift while live-lining, but there are situations when anchoring can be advantageous. When fish are holding in front of bridge supports, pilings or within more complex constructions, anchoring up-current and drifting your baits back close to and into the structures can be very effective. 
      The last consideration this year is using circle hooks. I suggest at least a 4/0 size. Remember to let the fish’s pressure set the hook and to place it into your chosen bait so that it breaks free when you come tight to the fish. Burying the hook can mask the circle hook’s point, allowing your bait to come back out of the fish without finding purchase.
 
Fish Finder
     The rockfish bite has been mostly excellent, with more than a few fish over 30 inches but most in the mid-20s. The best chum bite has been around the Bay Bridge down to Tolley’s on the western side and onto the Hill on the Eastern Shore. Good luck has been had around Love Point, but it has been inconsistent. Those same areas have produced for trolling boats as well. But the honey hole for anglers working soft plastic jigs has been the Eastern Bay with a hot bite the last two weeks.
     Good rockfishing has been reported for land-based anglers at Sandy Point, Matapeake and Romancoke as well as the Naval Academy Bridge at Jonas Green Park, but it has been generally inconsistent, not an unusual situation this time of year.
     White perch have been found on the channel edges around most tributaries, but the fish have been small. Larger fish should be showing up any time now.