Spring Trophy Rockfish SeasonPosted on: April 18, 2018 By: FHMD
Early morning on the 21st April as the first rays of sunlight peer over the low-lying Eastern Shore of Maryland, excited anglers from all corners will be dropping lures into the main branch of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s finally opening day of rockfish season! The flats of the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that feed it are the breeding grounds for the striped bass population, known locally as rockfish, the East Coast’s most popular game fish. As winter turns to spring, the migration is on, giving everyone the opportunity to catch a true trophy fish.
The date is designated to give the large, mature females a chance to reach the breeding grounds in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, ensuring a healthy population in the future. On opening day, the Chesapeake Bay is alive with boats, and some say you can walk from boat to boat to reach the Eastern Shore from the Western Shore. You will see everything from 46-foot charter boats alongside a boy and his dog in a small jon boat. I have even seen an Amish buggy with boat in tow, horse trotting towards the ramp on opening day. Yes – spring has truly arrived in Maryland.
The most popular method to target trophy rockfish is to troll multiple lures as these big fish are passing through, using the channel edges to guide them up and down the bay. Typically traveling alone at this time of year means targeting them requires covering ground and trolling multiple lines through the water column to give the best opportunity to catch one of these very large fish.
A spring trolling spread consists mostly of tandem rigs with big shads in either white or chartreuse, often deployed off planer boards with little or no inline weight as the fish on the move are higher in the water column. Large umbrella rigs with a trailing lure are trolled off the corner rod holders. Speed is also an important factor; 2.2kts through the water is considered the ideal speed as the rockfish is a rather lazy, opportunistic hunter when the water temperature is below 55 degrees. Fishing on the 40-foot edges of the main shipping channel is the default starting point for most anglers as the fish are moving up or down the Bay.
Light tackle enthusiasts chase the fish around structures, shallow water, and warm water discharges. Pre-season catch-and-release has been epic this year with some monster fish caught at the light tackle hot spots. This year’s hard winter and cold spring means the water temperature is still low for this time of year – so expect a late spawning run with lots of opportunities for the angler.
Limits during trophy season are one fish over 35” per person, from April 21st to May 15th. 2017 was a great year for rockfish, with many fish in the 42” class. Projections for this year are just as good. Fish over 40” are eligible for a citation and entry into the Maryland Department of Natural Resources fishing awards at the end of the year.
The Susquehanna flats and most of the rivers are closed or restricted to catch-and-release only through trophy season. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has a great interactive map, giving real-time updates on which areas are open and when. Click here for more information.
Conservation is very important in this fragile ecosystem on the Chesapeake Bay. Please respect the limits on fish as they protect the biomass to ensure we have a healthy breeding stock. The past few years the fishing has been very good. Let’s keep it that way.
This post was written by Captain Tom Weaver
Images courtesy of the author