Only weather was worth keeping as trophy rockfish season opens


GRASONVILLE -- It couldn't have been a better morning. The weather was warm, the lack of wind allowed the Chesapeake to lay flat, and waters were just a tad dingy. Ideal.

But where were the fish?

Welcome to Saturday's opener of the bay's trophy rockfis season that lured thousands of anglers in tiny rowboats, large trawlers and yachts, still others in runabouts, charterboats, sportsfishermen rigged with fly bridges and outriggers, and even a clamming dredge that trolled at the Bay Bridge.

Near Gum Thickets, a sailboat trolled under sail, a larger sailboa with sheets furled trolled under power. Many participants obviously were families. Everyone wanted to catch a rock that met the 36-inch legal minimum.

Few did. State Comptroller Louis Goldstein fishing aboard Capt Ed Darwin's charterboat got one at the Bay Bridge that was a hair short, so back it went. So did three others on the craft.

"The fish are there, and I got a couple that were big enough t keep the day before while trolling for blues," said Darwin. "I was marking fish on my meter all day [Saturday], but they wouldn't bite. Maybe they knew."

An unidentified angler out of Chesapeake Beach got 53 1/2 -incher, ounces shy of the 55-pound state record set nearly 20 years ago by Pennsylvanian Eric Shank while trolling at the C&R; Buoy between Chesapeake Beach and Tilghman Island. Another of 39 1/2 pounds turned up out of Chesapeake Beach, said Rod and Reel dockmaster Shaker Black.

Harrison's Chesapeake House at Tilghman weighed in a 49-incher of 48 pounds taken by Lurlie Kunkel while fishing Capt. Allen Faulkner's charterboat. Robert Lawrence got a 40-pounder 46 inches on a yellow Nick's Stix Stinger aboard Capt. Bud Harrison's Pleasure Merchant.

Near Point Lookout, about 200 were taken, reported Capt. Bruc Scheible, but only two were keepers. Bill Brenner got a 42-incher of 25 1/2 pounds while working a jig in a chum line.

Only artificial baits are allowed in the season that closes May 27 but it is legal to set up a chum line for blues, then fish it with jigs.

But where are the blues, the big ones that were scattered fro Point Lookout to Chester River only last week? Suddenly, they are as rare as rock of 36 inches or more prompting fears they have left.

"Without the rock, we would have been dead," said Capt. Budd Harrison. Of 14 trips he booked for the opener, all but two said they came to try for a trophy rock. Despite the record-tying 22-pounder caught there last Thursday, blues are forgotten.

The rock season also boosted business in tackle shops. Jac Barnhart of Outdoor Sportsman in Essex said business was second only to last October's opener of the fall season. Sean Wasmer checked in a 31-pounder taken on a Huntington Drone spoon; Jim Fisher, a 46-incher of 34 pounds caught on a 21 Tony aboard the Handshake.

Clydes of Lansdowne issued 393 free permits on the day befor the opener alone. One man was kept busy all day writing them out, but many applicants also purchased tackle. In all, Clydes issued 1,500 permits before the opener.

Most of the rock were taken on large spoons or bucktails, an some of the better areas for biggies were the C&R;, Silver Ball and Gooses. The Bay Bridge can't be ruled out, nor can Hooper Island Light and Holland Point.

Aboard Capt. Calvert Bregel's MissDemeanor, sons Ross an Mark Bregel, Ed Wenzlaff and I trolled from the Bay Bridge to Gum Thickets, then to Hacketts, and around the Bay Bridge, about 22 miles in all -- and we saw one rock caught aboard the private boat Rags off Brickhouse Bar. We passed about 1,000 boats to see one undersized fish.

The airwaves were filled by gripes of charterboat skippers abou the Department of Natural Resources' alternative fall rockfishing proposal to have an Oct. 12-27 combined charterboat and recreational season. The Striped Bass Advisory Board will meet to hash this out tomorrow night at 6 at Matapeake State Park.

Hopefully, the board will realize it is just an advisory group, an the DNR -- which has the ultimate responsibility of managing the resource -- is obliged to at least offer for consideration an alternative suggestion.

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