Get rockfish (legally) at right time, place

With striped bass (rockfish) season well under way, it didn't take long for the Maryland Natural Resources Police to find a few lawbreakers.

Five fishermen were cited during a weekend of surveillance at Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River. NRP officers charged three anglers with allegedly taking more than the one-fish daily limit and two with operating without proper navigation lights.


Police said John Thomas Stonesifer, 28, of Aberdeen was found with four rockfish in his possession, three over the legal one-fish daily limit. Stonesifer could receive a maximum fine of $4,500 in district court.

Police said Timothy Gillian, a 29-year-old Belcamp resident, was fishing from a small boat in the Susquehanna River where he allegedly was observed by the NRP taking one fish over his limit. He could be fined up to $1,500.


Police said Havre de Grace resident Anthony Charles Seidle, 31, was cited for hooking several rockfish, then passing the rod to another person to reel them in. Seidle could receive possible fines of $3,000.

Harford County's portion of the bay produces the best rockfish action in the mid-Atlantic region. Most anglers report catching rockfish ranging from 18 to 33 inches on nearly every outing.

Productive local fishing areas include: Conowingo Dam, Susquehanna River, Susquehanna Flats, Turkey Point in Elk Neck State Park, mouth of Elk River, Pooles Island area, Swan Point, Love Point and the Dumping Grounds.

Except for a few isolated locations, traditional Chesapeake Bay rockfish hot spots, especially those south of the Bay Bridges, produced only scattered catches during the season's first two-week period.

Some charter captains and individual anglers blame their lack of success on weather conditions or warmer-than-normal water temperatures. Although climatic conditions frequently affect fishing success, other factors beyond your control often dictate whether you'll catch fish.

First and foremost, you can't catch fish if you're fishing at the wrong location. Rockfish, similar to all species of fish, are attracted to various forms of submerged structures.

Anglers should carefully examine their charts, looking for abrupt changes in bottom contour such as channels, ledges, shoals, submerged rock piles, wrecks and lumps, places where fish are likely to congregate or take refuge from predators.

Once you've located a few prospective hot spots on the charts, carefully plan your fishing trip. Pay particular attention to tides, light conditions, water temperature, wind direction, moon phases and gravitational periods. All are important factors that to a large degree determine whether you'll be successful.


Regardless of whether the tide's incoming or ebb, saltwater fish become more active during periods of moving tide. Essentially, all fish have a keen sense of smell; in order to find food, however, they must depend on tidal currents to carry the scent of forage species to them.

Predators such as rockfish or bluefish then hone in on the odor until their prey is sighted, then attack. When the tide's slack, fish rest a few hours until the next change in tidal currents when they'll resume their aggressive feeding activity.

Fish do not have pupils in their eyes that contract with increasing light. To escape the sun's blinding rays, they either must seek deeper water or take refuge on the shaded side of various forms of underwater structure.

This explains why the most productive fishing period is usually during early morning or late afternoon, times when the sun's angle is low. Under these conditions, predator species will actively search for food in relatively shallow waters, locations baitfish also frequent during periods of low light.

When the sun gets high, concentrate your efforts in deeper water where little or no light reaches the bottom. The only exception to this rule is overcast days. It's not unusual to find large numbers of big rockfish congregated in the shallows when the sun's completely blocked by a dense cloud cover and the tide's at full flood.

Rapid changes in barometric pressure and increases in gravity send fish on a feeding binge. This especially holds true when a large thundershower is approaching. Changes in gravity produce similar effects.


The bottom line is -- to consistently catch fish, you must be at the right place at the right time, fish with the right bait and above all, don't depend on dumb luck.