Trophy Rockfish Season
April 16 is the big day
Anglers have been waiting for this event for more than 120 miserable days, ever since the season closed last December 16. These have been cold, snowy, rainy, windy days, days without hope of even a glimpse of Mr. Pajama-sides. But all of that is over on April 16, when Trophy Rockfish Season begins at last.1
Fish Are Biting ...
White perch continue to tease anglers in Bay tributaries. The cold spring weather is making the bite difficult to anticipate. Yellow perch are mostly done, but late-arriving fish will occasionally be encountered through most of April. Shad are showing up, but it is still early for the main runs, and the chill waters aren’t helping. Pickerel fishing is good in the rivers and in impoundments, as is crappie.
Opening Day Party
Saturday, April 16, marks not only the opening day of rockfish season but also the best angler’s party of the year. Boatyard Bar and Grill’s 10th Annual Spring Fishing Tournament (http://www.boatyardbarandgrill.com/) is a gathering of sports people unlike any other. It celebrates not just the biggest rockfish caught and released on that day but also the beginning of yet another glorious year of fishing Chesapeake Bay. If you’re not entered in the tournament, you can still attend the party, which starts at 4pm, with the awards ceremony at 5pm.
Running through May 16, Trophy Rockfish Season is the celebrated month when eager anglers get prime opportunity to tangle with monster, ocean-running stripers as large numbers of migratory rockfish return to their Chesapeake birthplace to spawn.
This year’s consistently cold spring weather may cause the spawn to be a protracted affair. Stripers have already been moving up the Bay and staging, but lower-than-ideal water temperatures could delay egg laying.
That’s both good news and bad for anglers. It’s good news because the bigger fish will be in the area longer. Bad news because the bite may be slow and intermittent.
Where the Fish Are ... Maybe
Presenting baits in the upper part of the water column, nearer the top, will deliver the best results. The Bay’s surface waters will be warmed by the sun and the influx of spring rains more in the stripers’ comfort zones than deeper sections. However, boat traffic on busy days can drive the fish down.
Because of the earth’s counter-clockwise spin, creating the Coriolis Effect on larger bodies of water, the incoming tides on the Eastern Shore are stronger. Conversely the outgoing tides are stronger on the Western Shore. This pull can mean better fishing on the eastern side in the early months of the season as the fish avail themselves of the tidal push to move up into the Bay. Later in the season the spent fish leave, using the stronger outgoing tides on the Western Shore. Thus later action may be better on that side.
Of course, these generalizations can be compromised by the location of baitfish schools, wind direction, currents and even water quality, as releases from the Conowingo Dam frequently send millions of gallons of muddy water and debris cascading down the length of the Bay in springtime.
Because the big guys this time of year are moving up the Bay in small- to medium-sized schools and in unpredictably random patterns, trolling is the preferable method of fishing for them. Covering lots of water and presenting multiple baits give an angler the best odds for locating fish and drawing big strikes.
Preferred lures are large trolling baits that emulate the menhaden, shad and river herring that are also moving up into the Bay. As always, white, chartreuse and yellow are good color choices, while on any given day purple, black or green baits will be red-hot for no discernable reason.
Bait fishing can also be productive, though persistence is a necessity. Striper schools are not stationary this time of year. The fish are either wandering ever northward toward their birthplaces or, after they spawn, southward. The biggest fish are moving on whim, weather and the urge to procreate, then the urge to return to the ocean, feeding opportunistically as they go.
Early morning and late afternoon are the best times for fishing bait, though shore-bound anglers will often do well after dark, when the stripers feel more secure moving into shallow water. Cut fresh menhaden, fresh herring and whole bloodworms often draw rockfish this time of year. Change baits to tempt them.
Anglers fishing from boats can add chum to their efforts with some effect. But essentially, the game is one of trying to be in the right place at the right time.
Arm Yourself Well
Whether fishing from boat or shoreline, replace all worn terminal tackle, replace or at least cut back the worn sections of your line, retie your knots and be sure hooks are needle-sharp. Though you may be skunked more often than not, with persistence, you can also expect some mighty battles with fish of extreme dimensions.