Opening of rockfish season is best catch of the day Fall fishery lures large crowds, happy fishermen


At 6:30 yesterday morning, the National Weather Service radio frequencies were broadcasting a record low temperature of 37 degrees at BWI Airport. The sun was about to rise, and the full moon was about to set.

Ninety minutes earlier, Maryland's fall season for rockfish had begun. And while the air over the land was cold, the waters of the main bay were 65 degrees at Thomas Point Light, south of Annapolis, and the air temperature was 53.

Between Thomas Point and North Point, at the mouth of the Patapsco River, hundreds of boats emerged from the fog-shrouded channels of the South, Severn, Magothy and Patapsco, as well as from the rivers and creeks of the Eastern Shore.

By sunrise, several groups of a dozen or more boats had gathered at Love Point, the northern end of Kent Island. Charterboats packed with six or more anglers each, flashy sportfishermen, runabouts, workboats, jon boats -- virtually every kind of boat imaginable.

While the VHF radio crackled a conversation of woe between charterboat captains who had yet to catch a rockfish or see one caught, a woman aboard a 22-footer a dozen yards away brought a 10-pounder to the net.

The woman held the fish up for a photographer. Its black stripes and a purplish tint set off the silver scales shimmering in the dawn.

Her child laughed, and her husband smiled and sent the line baited with a large, energetic eel back to the bottom.

Up and down Maryland's waters of the Chesapeake Bay yesterday, variations of the scene were repeated often. Opening day of the fall season has drawn the largest crowds in each of the past four years, since the moratorium was lifted and limited seasons were initiated.

Larry Hansel, owner of Queen Anne's Marina on Kent Island, said all the charterboats docked there were out yesterday, and most were in by 1 p.m. with their limits of two fish per customer.

"The Maverick, Capt. Chris Rosendale, was back in by 10 o'clock with 12 big rockfish between 8 and 12 pounds," Hansel said.

"Pete Childress [a slipholder at the marina] got one that was 40 inches."

Hansel said that some of the hot spots between Poplar Island and the Bay Bridge were Thomas Point, the Flag Pole and Hacketts. The mouth of the Severn River also turned up several catches in excess of 30 inches. The minimum length allowed is 18 inches.

By 8:30 a.m., the Bay Bridge piers, pilings and rock piles were crowded with fishing boats. There were enough anglers to make one wonder how many stores and offices ashore had unattended counters and desks.

Wendell Jones, assistant park manager at Sandy Point State Park next to the Bay Bridge, said that more than 300 boats had launched there, and a couple of dozen fishermen had taken positions along the beach and jetty.

"Between 5 and 6 a.m. we launched maybe 30 boats," Jones said. "By 7 o'clock we had launched maybe 60, but by 8 a.m. we were well over 250."

By early afternoon, many fishermen were returning to the park with fish, but Jones had no catch statistics.

Harrison's Fishing Center on Tilghman Island had all 15 charterboats out, and Capt. Buddy Harrison said fishing was very good from the mouth of the Choptank south to James Island and Sharps Island north to Poplar Island.

"The morning was great," said Harrison, who had Robert Pascal of the governor's office out. "We had our limit, did a little spinning and then were back in by 10:30 anyway."

Simon Dean of Bunky's Fishing Center in Solomons said that opening day was only a 50-50 proposition.

"Half the boats are in and half the boats are out or have gone out," Dean said. "The fishing has been great, but you can only catch so many and then you have to come back in.

"There are no real hot spots; the rockfish are just everywhere."

At Scheible's Fishing Center in Ridge, near Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac, only four boats were out, but all boats were booked through the weekend.

At the Rod and Reel Docks in Chesapeake Beach, 24 of 29 charterboats were out and brought in limits, as well as some good catches of bluefish and a scattering of large, speckled trout.

"For a weekday, to have that many boats out is real good," said Fred Donovan of the Rod and Reel. "The Stone Rock was the place to be early this morning, but a number of private boats have done real well right off Chesapeake Beach."

If the season runs its full course, it will close Nov. 7 for recreational fishermen and Nov. 21 for charterboats. The creel limit for recreational fishermen is one per day. Charterboat customers are allowed two per day.

If fishermen have been determined by the Department of Natural Resources to have caught their quotas before those dates, the fisheries will be shut down early.

There also is a possibility that Maryland's quota 2.3 million fish allocated to commercial (977,500 pounds), recreational (977,500 pounds) and charterboats (345,000 pounds) will be reduced.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which oversees interstate fisheries from North Carolina to Maine, has asked DNR's Tidewater Administration to recheck its management model to ensure that a catch of 2.3 million pounds will not be more than Maryland's share.

"We are in the process of rerunning the model," said William P. Jensen, director of the Tidewater Administration. "They [ASMFC] want to be sure that the catch figures are right. "Of course there is a possibility that we will have to reduce the quota [2.3 million]. But if we do, I believe the reduction will be insignificant."



* Yesterday-Nov. 7 for recreational fishermen in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries

* Yesterday-Nov. 21 for charterboats in the Bay and its tributaries

* Sept. 15-Nov. 30 for recreational and charterboat fishermen in Maryland's coastal waters and tributaries.


* Minimum of 18 inches, no maximum for all fishermen in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries

* Minimum of 28 inches, no maximum for all fishermen in coastal waters and tributaries.


* One per day for all coastal fishermen and recreational fishermen in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries

Two per day for charterboat customers on the Bay and its tributaries.


* All recreational anglers must purchase $2 rockfish permit before fishing. Permits purchased for the spring trophy season are valid for the fall season.

* Permissible hours for fishing and possession of stripers while on the water are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m

* Use of gaffs is prohibited.

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