The Department of Natural Resources and Striped Bass Advisory Board's new regulations and seasons for fishing for striped bass, better known as rockfish in this area, may be tough for some in the short run but should benefit all in the long run.
Harford County's recreational rockfish season begins Wednesday, Oct. 9, and ends Saturday, Oct.26.
This season, recreational anglers will be limited to two rockfishper season. That's quite a change from the two striped bass per day limit of last season. Also, the catch must be tagged with a special permit/tag that will be available from most local tackle shops.
Last fall, Harford County tackle shops enjoyed 10 days of booming business during the rockfish season. Some retailers said the abbreviated season provided them with sufficient revenue to carry them through the slower winter months.
"Last year's rockfish season was a real shotin the arm for us," said Randy Hunton at Hunton's Sportfishing Center in Bel Air. Hunton said he doesn't anticipate the buying frenzy he had last October when anglers were allowed to catch two fish per day.Some of the latest fisheries management regulations, especially those placing additional catch restrictions on rockfish and bass, are causing financial hardships to every tackle shop in the county, Hunton said.
"Although I'm not quite sure what items to stock for the upcoming rockfish season, it should provide much-needed revenue during a time of the year when the fishing tackle business is usually slow," said Hunton.
Dave Anderson at Stonewall Sports in Joppa said: "What's really going to pull tackle shops out of this recession is the upcoming rockfish season. If the fall season is anything like last year,fishermen will buy anything and everything they think will catch a rockfish. The big difference is this year I'll know exactly how long the season will last and be able to stock the shelves accordingly."
Although it's difficult to believe, there was a time in Harford County when the health of the local economy depended heavily upon the striped bass and shad fisheries. Most tackle shop owners believe if the upper bay fishery was still relatively healthy, the local economy would be in much better condition, property taxes would be less and the unemployment rate lower.
Prior to Hurricane Agnes in May 1972 and its devastating effects to the Susquehanna River's fisheries, thousands of recreational anglers elbowed their way to the shores of the river, where they caught American shad, hickory shad, blue back herring and striped bass.
During the early 1950s the county's recreationalfishing in
dustry supported two dozen tackle shops, several boat liveries, fishing guides and even a couple of lure manufacturers. Theriver and upper bay teemed with fish, attracting anglers from Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. Fishermen spent millions of dollars in county restaurants, motels, marinas and tackleshops during the seven-month period when fish were plentiful.
As the number of fish declined, recreational fishermen abandoned the shores of the Susquehanna for more productive waters. One by one, small businesses, many of which were solely dependent upon the bounty of the upper Chesapeake, succumbed. By the time shad and striped bass moratoriums were imposed to protect the remaining stocks of fish, only a few tackle shops remained in the county.
Although shad and stripedbass populations remain dangerously low, DNR officials said both fisheries are being restored. In fact, DNR officials said if shad continue to recover at the current rate, there's a possibility of having a limited recreational season within the next few years.
When striped bass season opens in October, you'll be allowed to catch rockfish throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Major features of the 1991 fall season include an increase in the recreational catch to 456,747 pounds. Each angler will be allowed to catch and keep two striped bass per season that measure between 18 inches and 36 inches. The fish must be tagged with a special permit/tag. Fishing hours are restricted from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Night fishing will not be allowed.
If the recreational catch quota isn't met by the end of the regular season, a second season is proposed to open after Oct. 26. Anglers would be allowed to catch two fish per day until the quota is reached. No tags or permits would be required for the second season.
DNR Director of Fisheries W. Peter Jensen said barring unforeseen weather conditions, he anticipates the recreational quota will be caught duringthe initial 17-day season.
Anglers fishing from charter boats will be allowed to catch and keep two fish per person per day. However, the charter catch quota is only 161,206 pounds. Charter season beginsOct. 9 and ends Nov. 11.
Charter boats are limited to two trips daily during the same fishing hours allowed in recreational season. All fish must be tagged with a permit/tag supplied by the boat's captain.
Where's the best place to catch a striper? If the weather remains relatively warm, you'll find lots of legal-sized rockfish throughout the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River. The best catches will be made from the base of the Conowingo Dam downriver to the Interstate 95 bridge, but don't neglect the mouth of the river and the Susquehanna Flats.
If winter arrives early, striped bass likely will abandon the chilly Susquehanna River and Flats for warmer waters farther down the bay. Under these conditions you'll find good concentrations of rockfish along the eastern edge of the main shipping channel near Pooles Island.
If the water temperature dips below 50 degrees, trytrolling small bucktails trimmed with live minnows in depths of 20 to 35 feet. Look for lumps and depressions or pockets along the channel edge. This type of structure often holds schools of small bait fish, which attract the predatory striped bass.
For additional information on the upcoming striped bass season, call Frances McFaden at theDNR, (301) 974-3765.