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Fishing Forecast: For many, season off to slow start

cdollar@cdollaroutdoors.com

For nearly half of the fishermen I spoke with the first weekend of the trophy rockfish season was slow. In fact, a handful said they even didn't hook up. But other fishermen had really nice stripers to show for their efforts. I also was emailed a photo of a 60-incher supposedly caught off the Potomac near Point Lookout, but I couldn't verify the name of the angler. Shad run is definitely on in all of the traditional hotspots; expect that bite to last another 14 days, or maybe a bit longer.

Locally, the better bite reportedly was south of Thomas Point, and white was the preferred color of lure, so it seems. Here are a few additional takeaways from the first five days: Most anglers feel stripers are still on spawning beds, and upper Chesapeake Bay fishermen have had to deal with dirty water and debris. Some light tackle guys are catching males under 30 inches as well as the occasional keeper rock. Soft plastics (Bust Ems, BKDs, Z-Mans etc.) in 7- and 10-inch with contrasting colors have worked. I've also heard some small rockfish are hitting swim baits (e.g. Storms, Powerbaits, D.OA.s) in the shallows, mainly at the mouths of more southern rivers like Honga and Little Choptank.

Jim Bieler of Marty's Bait & Tackle reports that from opening day up to now "has been tough. We are hearing a lot of "one or none" from just about everyone. Some of the best fishermen we know are struggling. There is a lot of debris out there, so clean your lures often. It seems white is the better color at the moment." One young man, Logan, caught and checked in a 28-pound, 40-inch striper that hit a white umbrella near buoy 85a.

Fishing out of Kent Narrows ..."tough fishing since the start. It would seem the fish are staging to spawn," comments Capt. Mark Galasso on Tuna the Tide Guess the good thing is after the spawn they WIL be hungry. Lots of boats with one or none. (Fishing) can only get better. Dirty water up north, and reports of lots of rockfish staging in the spawning areas."

MSSA Annapolis chapter member Kevin McMenamin fished opening day with his sons Drew and Sean and friend Gary Howser. From the Magothy River they ran south to below Poplar Island where they found cleaner water. Within an hour, Gary reeled in a 39.50 striper, followed a few minutes later by Drew's 37.50-inch rockfish. About an hour later Sean landed a 36.50-inch rockfish, which Kevin said clearly had not spawned yet.

"Seeing (that) this girl had just arrived and not yet spawned we all agreed to release her," Kevin told me. "I quickly de-hooked her and held her in the water to revive her from her battle with Sean. I was wearing rubber gloves and held her firmly by the lower lip for two full minutes. As soon as I eased up on the pressure just a little, she shook her head and made a strong swing of her tail to return on her journey. No other bites that day and we called it quits around 1 p.m."

Kevin said all rockfish were caught in the top 20 feet of the 50-foot water column, and two of the fish were caught on tandem white parachutes with white shads and one on a chartreuse Bloody Point parachute with a chartreuse rubber shad that was behind a small Billy Bar.

I caught up with Capt. Randy Dean of Bay Hunter Charters who says the season "has got off to a slow start but seems to be getting better. I think the fish are still on there spawning beds. Out of the first 12 fish caught aboard my boat nine of them came off of a 12-ounce Bloody Point Spire, all white, single rigged off the boards out 45 feet."

Up on the Flats, the water was still too dirty last week for me to make the two-hour drive. Guides and anglers report the fishing is slow, primarily one would assume because of the turbidity and the spawning. Still, action "should explode any day, hopefully. Water's clearing up nicely," says fly guide Capt. Kevin Josenhans. He shared a photo of a nice 32-inch male rock hooked and released earlier this week.

Elsewhere, the croakers have begun to bite at the mouth of the James and York rivers in Virginia, and black drum and a few red drum have been caught in the surf at Assateague Island. Flounder catches are also increasing in the coastal bays. Cobia fishermen should note that new cobia regulations will take effect May 1 in North Carolina. Anglers can keep one cobia at least 36-inch fork length and there is a maximum vessel limit of four fish. The North Carolina cobia season will end Sept. 1.

BOATYARD TOURNEY: Congrats to the winners of the Boatyard Bar and Grill's Opening Day rockfish tournament. Top honors went to Jimmy Moreland with a 44 incher. In second place was Rich Vigue and his 43.50-inch striper. He was fishing on Mike Killelea's boat. That fish hit a ruby head, white 6-ounce parachute rigged with a strawberry fleck 9-inch shad, Mike told me. Eastport resident Tracy Dirks finished in third place overall, and also captured top honors in the Women's division, with her 43.25-inch rock caught and released aboard her father Dale's boat, Heatwave. There were no youth entries.

STATE RECORD WHITE PERCH: At first George Venker of Baltimore thought it was a catfish. But the tugging at the other end of his line turned out to be the new state record white perch for non-tidal waters. Venker landed his 1.90-pound perch at Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County on a simple bottom rig and a nightcrawler. (Nearly all fish eat worms, right?)

The retired Bethlehem Steel worker told Maryland's DNR he's a regular at the reservoir where he hooked his record catch, which measured 14.75 inches in length. DNR's Erik Zlokovitz certified the fish that bested the previous record of 1.60 pounds set by James Stiars of Bel Air in 2016. Venker told the DNR, "I'm really proud. I'm going back to see if I can an even bigger one."

Email outdoors news, photos and calendar listings to cdollar@cdollaroutdoors.com.

OUTDOORS CALENDAR

Thru May 23: Spring Turkey Season, includes Sundays in certain counties. Bag limit is one (1) bearded turkey per day and two (2) bearded turkeys for the season. Shooting hours 4/18-5/9 are one-half hour before sunrise to noon; 5/10-5/23 are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

April 20: CCA MD Annapolis Chapter Banquet. CBF's Merril Center, 6 Herndon Avenue, Annapolis. 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Email mkupfer@ccamd.org for details.

April 21-23: Bay Bridge Boat Show. Details at annapolisboatshows.com/bay-bridge-boat-show.

May 3: Free State Fly Fishers' meeting. Capt. Tom Hughes, an Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide, will speak on fishing the Bay. Davidsonville Family Recreation Center, 3727 Queen Anne Bridge Road, behind Ford Hall. Free. Contact Joe Slayton, Labjoecool@comcast.net, (410) 757-4646.

May 5-7: MSSA's Championship on the Chesapeake. Details at mssa.net.

May 6: Small Boat Offshore Seminar, hosted by CCA MD Baltimore Chapter. Loew's Annapolis Hotel, 126 West Street, Annapolis.

June 3: Kent Narrows Light Tackle & Fly Tournament. Hosted at The Jetty, 201 Wells Cove Road, Grasonville. Contact David Sikorski at (443) 621-9186 or davidsikorski@ccamd.org.

June 16-18: MSSA's 28th annual Tuna-ment, featuring two new Boat Divisions — under 31 feet, over 31 feet. Register at mssa.net.

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