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Jesus Loves the Little Rockfish - Chesapeake Light Tackle

RipsAt least they must have been precious in his sight last weekend when an epic spring storm kept many fishermen off the Bay on the opening day of Maryland’s striped bass catch-and-kill season.  Water temperatures are lower than usual this April, so there are lots of pre-spawn fish still moving up the Bay.  I’d guess at least a couple of thousand more roe-laden cows made it to the spawning grounds this weekend that otherwise wouldn’t have, but for the storms.  Let’s hope that translates into millions of additional baby rockfish.  Even though I usually root for the fish, I still get excited about opening weekend because the recreational rockfish season in Maryland is definitely worth celebrating.  With all the commercial poaching we saw this winter, it’s amazing to me that there are any fish left to catch.  Since there are still a few around, let’s thank the Lord for that too!

The start of kill season is bittersweet for most light tackle anglers because it means the end of the most exciting fishing of the year – winter catch-and-release.  With one turn of the calendar page, the tranquil miles of open-Bay solitude are overrun by frantic hoards of  frenzied fishermen.  The “meat fleet” returns in force on boats bristling with rods the size of rake handles using dozens of lines spread out hundreds of feet using planer board rigs.  Planer board trolling defines striped bass fishing for many on the Chesapeake Bay.  It’s obviously not my cup of tea, but I’m sure it can be enjoyable since so many fishermen do it.  I just wonder if those guys know what they’re missing.  With a little effort, they could easily catch fish as big or bigger by casting.  So far, 2011 has been a fantastic year for big fish on light tackle, and most of us pray that it will get even better.

This is the third consecutive year I’ve fished the Boatyard Bar & Grill’s opening day catch-and-release tournament.  Although it’s legal to kill pre-spawn fish in mid-April, it isn’t legal to hold a tournament for that purpose.  The Boatyard solves that problem by requiring the fish to be measured and photographed instead of killed and weighed.  While some people keep and eat the fish they catch in the Boatyard tournament, many fishermen let them go on in hopes they will replenish the striper population.  The tournament is usually held the third Saturday in April on opening day.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been the only light tackle entry in the Boatyard tournament.  This year, however, I wasn’t alone — my friend Mark and his crew hit some jigging spots early in hopes of logging another casting entry on the leader board.   It was good to see another light tackle fisherman in the running.

After watching the weather develop all week, I really liked our chances Saturday.  Bad weather is the great equalizer when light tackle anglers take on trolling boats in a fishing tournament.  Strong winds make it difficult to use dozens of lines on planer boards, so the one-man/one-rod concept – and the knowledge required to locate and catch schooling fish – made us competitive.  Unfortunately, the organizers made a last-minute decision to extend the tournament an extra day because of the bad weather.

I was joined this year on Thunder Road by Jamie and Rich.  Jamie almost never fishes on Saturday, but took a rare day off from work for the tournament.  Rich delayed a long scheduled vacation to Las Vegas by a day to fish.   I couldn’t possibly ask those guys for another day, so we only fished on Saturday.  We launched at 5:30 AM into steadily building east winds.  Conditions were a little tough, the fishing wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding.  We caught several nice fish and would easily have made our one-over 28″-per-person limit.  Our biggest was a fat pre-spawn female that would have weighed over 35-pounds, but only measured 40-inches.  The weather was a lot nicer Sunday, and I considered going back out by myself, but didn’t think it worthwhile to fight the crowds.  Instead, I spent the day doing yard work and waxing the boat.

If I get to fish this week, it will be in Eastern Bay or on the west side of Kent Island.  Striped bass are spawning tonight on the full moon, so the close-to-home post-spawn hotspots should be heating up soon.  This marks the beginning of one of the most interesting times of the year for Chesapeake light tackle anglers.  A good understanding of temperature and salinity stratification will surely produce some big stripers in coming weeks.  Look for warmer, oxygenated layers close to lumps and ledges.  Good luck if you get out there.  If the Good Lord continues to smile on us, the weather is sure to get better and the post-spawn fish should be ready to bite!

Posted Sunday, April 17th, 2011 at 10:53 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Jesus Loves the Little Rockfish”

  1. Colin Crozier says:

    Good job and a good read. You be careful now.

  2. jumbo1 says:

    Vampire weekend is not my favorite time of year for sure…Had a great time this weekend..looking forward to more great fishing soon…
    You’re so right, a big majority of these “trollers” have no idea what they’re missing…thanks for a great read…

  3. Jeremy Gussient says:

    It’s a shame we need devine intervention to protect the rockfish spawn. Kill season should start a lot later. Catch and release is just as much fun.

  4. blue marlin says:

    Hard to believe you went out in that and even harder that you caught fish. I agree with you that trolling can be fun. It’s also relaxing because all you have to do is sit there until a fish bites. Nothing wrong with that.

  5. Gitzit2 says:

    Great read, Shawn..as usual 🙂
    Glad you found a way to get out and bend a few rods.
    It is a shame that the all mighty dollar found a way to get a season opened for these prespawn fish. Even before the moratorium you could not keep a striper until after May 15th when these ladies have finished their business.

    Hope to see you out there soon.

  6. Talledega says:

    There is a fine line between a hero and an idiot and I’m not sure where you and your friends fall in. They were predicting 6 to 8 foot waves Saturday. I can’t help but be jealous though.

  7. jumbo1 says:

    Talladega, I would think the most important word in your comment is “predicting”…weather men are very rarely “right on it”…we checked enough weather sites the evening before that we knew when it would be time to leave…everything worked out fine…

    Back to the trolling thing…I bet if you took a poll you would find that the majority of trollers are “meat” fisherman and the majority of LTJers rarely keep fish…

  8. Brad Foxwell says:

    I agree with JUMBO’s comment about trollers. I am fairly “new” to LTJ’ing and simply love it. But as an LTJ’er I rarely keep a fish. I love the taste of rockfish, but if I kept a cow, it would go to waste and I just can’t do that.

  9. Doug M says:

    Amen, brother very good point maybe it will blow hard this weekend too!!

  10. john says:


    You mentioned fishing in Eastern Bay this week. Is this strictly a catch/release area until the Trophy season ends ?? I bought a trailer in Beach Harbor last year and plan to go down tomorrow and fish if the weather holds out. 19′ Twin Vee Cat. Thanks.

  11. Shawn says:

    It’s C&R until June 1, John. That’s a big plus for those of us who fish there because it keeps the crowds down. Great fishery.

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