Circle hooks aim to decrease amount of 'dead discards'

Sport anglers must use non-offset circle hooks when live-lining or chumming for rockfish. Fishermen also must use circle hooks or J hooks when using fish, crabs, worms, or processed baits.

Thursday signaled the start of what most Maryland anglers call our resident rockfish season in which the minimum size is 19 inches. There is a daily catch limit of two fish per day between 19-28 inches, or one fish between 19-28 inches and one fish over 28 inches.

It should be noted that not all waters are open to striper fishing. Restrictions apply. Check DNR map to learn what waters are open.


Last year, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources implemented regulations mandating sport anglers must use non-offset circle hooks when live-lining or chumming. Fishermen also must use circle hooks or “J” hooks when using fish, crabs, worms, or processed baits.

The new hook requirements were, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastically embraced. The rules sought to address a serious issue facing upper Chesapeake stripers, what Department of Natural Resources calls “the significant volume of ‘dead discards’ in the recreational fishery.”


This principally occurred above the Bay Bridges from late June through July, when the stripers were schooled up off Rock Hall and other spots.

According to Mike Luisi, the Fishing and Boating Services Monitoring and Assessment Director for DNR, the regulations were “designed to address the shared concerns of anglers, charters and conservationists who reported high mortality rates of sublegal rockfish.”

Also DNR plans to step up their outreach and education efforts through online and handing out circle hooks to combat the problem.

(While I’m picking up what DNR is laying down, I remain curious about their position regarding the impact releases from pound netters and commercial hook-and-liners during this same time period have on the fishery).

Sport anglers last year experienced a learning curve when using circle hooks; count me among them. Last year I used 5/0 or 6/0 for the two or three bait-chum trips I went on. Now when I bait-fish – or is that if, given it’s such a rare occurrence – my circle hooks will be in the 8/0-9/0 size range.

To cut down on the number of dead floaters, release the fish in the water using a de-hooking tool. Handling fish stresses it out and removes their protective slime layer that fights infections.

I hear ya – it’s difficult to tell recreational anglers not to take a picture (or ten) of their catch, especially if they only get out once or twice a month. And that’s a non-issue if it’s going in the cooler.

Yet, if we really want to cut down on dead floaters during the summer, go early or late in the day, don’t catch-and-release, or go chase another species.


Many sport fishermen have already taken upon themselves to release larger stripers this year, and a good number say they won’t fish for rock when the water and the air temps get scorching in July and early August. Every little bit helps, but only if everyone does it.

National Safe Boating Week: Go Slow, Bro. That’s what this ancient dude told me as I tried to wriggle past to get a better view of the Krewe of Bacchus at one memorable Mardi Gras back in the day.

The tone in which he said it was pure encouragement, not harsh in the least.

I was reminded of that concept at the end of April when I went through a safe boater instructors course conducted by the National Safe Boating Council ( and BOATUS Foundation (

I’m an experienced captain, having run smaller craft professionally (under 50 feet) since the 1990s. The two-day course was as instructive as it was refreshing. I enjoyed listening to and learning from other pros with different experiences and skill sets.

Since National Safe Boating Week runs from May 18 through May 24, what better time to refresh ourselves on boat-safety basics. Make sure you have enough life jackets for everyone on board, especially kids. And wear them.


The inflatable-style Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are comfortable and meet U.S. Coast Guard standards. Before leaving the dock, give a safety talk to your crew or guests to point out where the fire extinguishing equipment, first-aid kit, flares and throw cushions are located.

Talk over what to do if someone falls over board. Attach the boat motor “kill switch” to your wrist or PFD; there’s a ring on it for that purpose.

Never allow bow riding; not only is it illegal but significantly ramps up the risk of someone getting run over and struck by the boat’s propeller. Spinning at 3,200 RPMs, experts say a prop can cut you more than 160 cuts in no time flat. No band-aid will fix that tragedy.

Since the upcoming Memorial Day weekend typically kicks off the summer boating season it’s a good time to go slow, bro.

Outdoors Calendar

May 16-May 31: Maryland’s Resident Rockfish Season. Minimum size is 19 inches with a daily catch limit of two rockfish per day between 19-28 inches, or one rockfish between 19-28 inches and one fish over 28 inches. Restrictions apply. Check DNR map for open waters.


Through May 23: Spring Turkey Season. Only bearded turkeys, bag limit is 1 turkey per day and 2 bearded turkeys for the season. Daily shooting hours April 18-May 9 are one-half hour before sunrise to noon; May 10-May 23 hours one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

May 20: CCA Baltimore chapter meeting, 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Speaker is CBF’s Dr. Allison Colden on importance of healthy oyster population in the Bay. Little Havana’s, 1325 Key Hwy., Baltimore.

May 26: South River Open Water Swim, 8 a.m. at Sylvan Shores, Riva. Proceeds benefit South River Keeper efforts. Register or sponsorship opportunities at

The Morning Sun


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June 1: 16th Annual CCAMD Kent Narrows chapter “Fly & Light Tackle Tournament.” This event is a “Catch, Photo, and Release” format with Fly, Light Tackle, and Kayak divisions. New categories include “Lady Angler,” “White Perch,” and largest “random/other” finfish. Register at

June 8: Kids Fishing Derby 2019, hosted by the Pasadena Sportfishing Group and Lake Shore-Severna Park Rotary Club for children with special needs. Fernwood Pavilion at Downs Park from 7:30 a.m.-Noon. Open to the first 75 applicants. Registration is deadline is May 30. Ages 4 to 16 with parent or chaperone 21 years of age or older.

June 10: Pasadena Sportfishing Group meeting. Doors open at 6 p.m., meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie Hwy (Route 2), Severna Park.


June 22: Inaugural Chesapeake Rockfish Open, sponsored by Nick’s Fish House. The 6 a.m.-9 p.m. event highlights the Patapsco River. Tochterman’s Tackle gift certificates and more prizes from sponsors. Visit their Facebook page for details.

June 29-30: Fish N’ Paddle Saltwater Slam, Ocean City, MD. Minimum purse of $7,000 to be divided amongst the top 3 anglers. Visit to sign up or for more information.

July 26-28: Huk Big Fish Classic. Talbot Street Pier, Ocean City, MD. Register at

(Email photos, calendar listings and outdoors news to Chris Dollar at