Maryland’s plan to lower the rockfish size from 20 to 19 inches during the Chesapeake’s resident season is a go. Also greenlighted is the requirement for anglers to use circle hooks while chumming or live-lining, regardless of the species targeted, during the season that opens May 16 and runs through Dec. 15.
The one piece of this puzzle that’s not completely settled, according to fishery officials, is the “J” hook question. The department may specify the size of your “J” hook when you’re soaking or drifting bait — be it cut fish, crabs, worms or even those man-made “fake” baits. Or it’s possible they’ll extend to all of the Chesapeake Bay an existing “J” hook rule used on the Susquehanna Flats. DNR is expected to make its decision within the next week or two.
If you’re just joining the conversation, let me try and bring you up to speed, Cliff Notes style: In 2015 Maryland raised the rockfish limit from 18 inches to 20 inches due in part to concerns that the Chesapeake Bay striper stock was under too much pressure. Last year, DNR vetted via stakeholder groups its plan to lower the size, in part to address the mortality associated with the summer fishery. (As I understand it, this process began last summer, though details are probably best explained by DNR or your representative to the state’s sport fishing advisory board.) Once finalized, the agency got the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to sign off. This week, an email was sent out, asking for final public input, due this Tuesday. Agreed; that’s not much time for the average angler to chime in.
Capt. Ken Jeffries, president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association, offers his take.
“In my opinion, there are two ways to address the (summer) mortality issue: educating anglers on catch-and-release rules and techniques, and going to an 18-inch rockfish. The DNR worked very hard on this, and they deserve credit for trying to work with many stakeholders.”
When I first learned of the plan, I thought it was a step in the right direction, mainly because it might reduce the deathly discards associated with summer rockfishing. I still feel that why. And yet, I wonder about these three things:
1. Education. Hundreds if not thousands of casual anglers will not only have to learn how to fish a circle hook, but the differences between them. The non-offset circle hook is the one required; it lays flat and the hook point bends back almost directly to the shank. Circle hooks let the fish “hook” itself — in theory the fish swallows the bait, swims off, and when it turns its head tension on the line brings the hook back up the gullet, wherein the hook cleanly imbeds into the side of the fish’s mouth. That’s the theory, at least. In practice it’s a different matter. Expect a learning curve. It also takes some of the fun out of setting the hook.
2. Ethics. How do you persuade the weekend warrior, who may only have one or two days a month to fish, to take his or her two, 19-inch stripers, stop fishing, and head for the dock? Meaning, since it isn’t illegal to release a 19-incher in the hopes of catching a better grade of rockfish, the risk of handling more fish is still there. Which ties into inadequate or poor fish handling skills. I’ve seen too many fishermen, however well intentioned, wrap-up a rockfish (or red drum) in dry towel for a photo op, thinking they’re doing the right thing. They aren’t. It wipes off the protective slime. Or double-handed gill grabs. No bueno. Leave the fish in the water whenever possible.
3. Enforcement. As if they don’t have enough on their plate already, how will the marine police ensure compliance? I’d struggle at times to differentiate between who’s white perchin’ or catfishing verses rockfishing. Factor in that the fleet congregates in the upper Chesapeake Bay like Nelson’s navy, and the challenge grows, since popular spots like Swan Point, Belvedere Shoals and Podicory in July and August are also good bottomfish areas.
All three are areas in which sport anglers can help educate, and police ourselves. Still, even if all of these factors come together nicely, the fact remains pulling a striper out of 75-to 80-degree water into 90-degree air temperature shocks its system, regardless of how it’s hooked. Does it make sense to close striper season for a few weeks at the end of July? Just asking. And circle hooks won’t do a thing to cure the bay of its long-standing water quality problems.
Which forces me to again address the elephant in the room: We kill too many big breeders, up and down the coast, both in the spring run and again later in the fall. Until we deal with that in a meaningful way, we’ll continue to bicker among ourselves over whether a 18- or 20-inch rockfish makes for a healthier population.
What’s Your Take? If you want to share your opinion with DNR, then you better do it quickly because the comment period closes at 11:59 p.m., this Tuesday. Send your comments via email to email@example.com.
March 7: Free State Fly Fishers. “Local & New Places to Fish.” Davidsonville Family Recreation Center, 3727 Queen Anne Bridge Road.
March 10: “Mid-Shore Fishing Seminar,” American Legion Post #18, 2619 Centreville Road. (Rt. 213) Centreville. Featured speakers include Capt. Mark Galasso and Joe Bruce. Hosted by Capt. Chris Dollar of CD Outdoors and Tacklecove.com. Details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 12: Pasadena Sportfishing Group meeting. Shawn Kimbro on fishing Calvert Cliffs. Talk starts at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park.
March 15: Maryland DNR public hearing on proposal to reopen the commercial black drum fishery. Begins 5:30 p.m. DNR HQ, 580 Taylor Avenue, Room C1, Annapolis.
March 17: Fly Fishing Show. High quality fly fishing dealers, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Towson University’s Potomac Lounge. Details at marylandflyfishingshow.com.
March 27: Angler’s Night Out. “Fly Fishing for Permit.” Hosted by CCA-MD, Boatyard Bar & Grill, Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Happy Hour & food specials 5-7 p.m., film begins at 7 p.m. Fourth & Severn Avenue, Eastport. Details at boatyardbarandgrill.com.
March 31: Free State Fly Fishers (FSFF) Flea Market and Equipment Swap. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free to the public. Davidsonville Family Recreation Center.
April 9: Capt. Pasadena Sportfishing Group meeting. Capt. Charlie Sisson on “Spring Trolling Mid-Bay.” Talk starts at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie Highway (Rt. 2), Severna Park.
April 21-May 15: Maryland’s Spring Trophy Rockfish Season. 1 rockfish per person per day, 35-inch minimum. Check DNR Fisheries website for maps and other restrictions.
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