Last week, the boat was headed north of east toward the Bay Bridge on a short shakedown cruise, reaching to a puffy northwesterly, with a note pad and pencil on the cockpit table and a single trolling rod set at the transom.
In the puffs, the sloop heeled deeply. In the lulls, it righted some and the rudder bit deeper and sent a slight tremor up the post to the wheel.
In the cabin, a settee cushion fell to the floor, and gear in lockers, cabinets and drawers resettled itself with a jumble of unalarming sounds.
During the first 20 minutes, the note pad was filling with things to do -- tension the forestay and port shrouds, reverse and rerun the topping lift, grease both genoa winches and realign the self-tailing cam on the starboard one, and so on.
Through it all, to that point, the most desirable sound was missing -- the scream of the trolling reel as a big rockfish took the line.
Although it was more than a week before the spring rockfish season would open this Friday, catch-and-release is permitted year around. And catching and releasing a nice striper at any time is welcome, something that wasn't a great possibility in the middle of the 1980s.
But after a five-year moratorium on catching rockfish and seven carefully managed commercial and recreational seasons, rockfish have been declared recovered from the threatened-species status that initiated the moratorium in 1985.
This spring, the minimum length again will be 32 inches through the end of May, and the daily limit is one per angler. All fishermen must have the appropriate state licenses and a rockfish stamp in order to keep legal-sized fish.
The April-May season is largely a matter of trolling for mature jTC rockfish, most of which will have completed their activities on the spawning grounds in the bay's tributaries and will be leaving bay waters to migrate north to New England for the summer.
Powerboat trollers will use large white or chartreuse bucktails, parachutes, umbrella rigs (limited to two baits with hooks) or big spoons, such as Crippled Alewives or Tonys, in similar colors.
Those trolling from sailboats, where simplicity of rig and a limited number of rods are important, given the standing and running rigging that must be worked around, might want to try different lures.
Rapala, Mann and Mirro-Lure all make hard, diving baits that can be trolled at speeds up to 8 knots, and in some cases faster. Those with a green mackerel pattern seem to work well for spring stripers, with lengths of 8 to 10 inches a good choice.
A more conventional lure that works well without multiple swivels, trolling weight and leader is the Reliable Bunker Spoon, which carries a weight bolted to its body and will run 6 to 8 feet down on its own.
Whichever type of trolling rig is selected, lures should be in excess of 7 inches, as they mimic the menhaden on which the stripers will be feeding.
Big stripers are likely to be caught in the same water, no matter which trolling rig is used -- the edges of the 40- and 50-foot contours, which seem to be the favored migratory routes, with the eastern shore perhaps favored as the season progresses.
Lures seem to have the most success when fished within 15 feet of the surface.
One good area early in the season, if only because it is close to my marina slip, is the western edge of the shipping channel between Thomas Point Light and the Bay Bridge.
Last week, after the sloop had been headed back toward the Severn River, a striper hit and quickly stripped the line -- wind blowing, boat heeling, reel screaming -- before turning and being brought alongside. The guesstimate before it was released while still in the water was that it was 36 to 38 inches.
It, as have many other spring stripers, was taken coming across the wide area of 50- to 40-foot depths west of the deep trench that runs along Kent Island.
Other spring hot spots for stripers include Love Point, the southern areas of Swann Point Bar, The Dumping Grounds, Gum Thickets, C&R; Buoy, Parkers Creek, Cove Point, Cedar Point, Point No Point, the mouth of the Potomac, Hooper Island Light, The Gooses and the edges off Sharps Island Light and Poplar Island.
When setting a trolling pattern, try fishing east to west or west to east so that you cover variable depths. Mark where fish are encountered on the depth finder and then zero in on those areas.
Catch rates can be expected to be low in comparison with the fall season, because the migratory fish generally are not schooled up as they leave the bay. But by choosing areas where the bay and its deep channels narrow, the chances of intercepting migrants will be improved.
Fishing will be open only in the main stem of the Chesapeake from Brewerton Channel at the mouth of the Patapsco River south to the Virginia line through the end of May.
The dates, minimum sizes and creel limits for the spring and summer recreational and charter-boat seasons for rockfish are as follows:
April 25-May 31: 32-inch minimum, one per day, in the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay from Brewerton Channel off the mouth of the Patapsco River south to the Virginia line. Eels may not be used as bait.
June 1-June 15: 28-inch minimum, one per day, in all waters of the Chesapeake and tidal tributaries except for the Potomac River.
June 16-July 6: 26-inch minimum, one fish per day, in all waters of the Chesapeake and tidal tributaries. (In the Potomac River, minimum is 18 inches with creel of one per day).
Pub Date: 4/20/97