Good rockfish season expected after trophy season

CHESAPEAKE BEACH, Md. — After two very productive days of workshops and seminars at the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association spring conference and awards banquet at Chesapeake Beach resort, common sense dictated an early departure Sunday and a full-night’s sleep before pursuing Pennsylvania spring gobblers Monday morning.

When Captain Chris Mills, who operates the 40-foot charter boat “Coolbeanz” with Captain Andy Brinsfield as his mate out of Rod-N-Reel Marina, invited six writers for a 6 a.m. departure to pursue trophy rockfish they had enough sense not to decline the invitation. So after being fortified by crab cakes and an all-you-can-eat crab fest as the guest of Chesapeake Beach mayor Pat “Irish” Mahoney, we were ready for any trophy rock that hit on one of the 10 boat rods in the spread.

Trophy season for rockfish, as striped bass are called in Maryland, concluded May 15, but that could be good news for anglers looking to book a charter during the spring season, May 16-31, or summer/fall season June 1 to December 15. During this year’s trophy season, which may not be held in 2020 to conserve the population, the minimum size for a rock was increased to 35 inches from the previous 28 inches to protect the fishery, with a one-fish limit.

During the spring and summer/fall seasons there is a two-fish daily limit between 19-28 inches or one fish between 19-28 inches and one fish longer than 28 inches. With migration of rockfish from North Carolina to New England apparently behind schedule, it is expected some big fish will be stopping off in the Chesapeake — and some holding — during the next several weeks.

Mills has been fishing the Chesapeake for more than 30 years and was soon running the 450-hp Cummins Marine Diesel wide open as he followed his GPS coordinates to an area nine miles offshore that recently had been productive. Meanwhile, Brinsfield began preparing the rods with individual fluke baits and one umbrella rig.

“Yesterday we caught one keeper and had five undersized throwbacks, which sorry to say was one of our better days since the season opened (April 20),” Mills said. “When people ask how the fishing has been, I tell them the fishing is great, but the catching — or at least keeping — has been terrible.”

Obviously, we would not have to endure any “you-should-have-been-here-yesterday” comments.

Less than an hour after leaving the dock planner boards had been position off both sides of the boat the 20-line spread was in place by 7 a.m. With the aroma of coffee filling the cabin and the open staging area the waiting game began, and because the predetermined order on the rods was oldest goes first, I was ready to pounce.

Well, at least hand my coffee cup to Tom Tatum of West Chester, seated next to me as the No. 2 man in the order. Then at 7:20, the center rod on the stern went off, and as Brinsfield handed me the rod he said, “You’ve got a good fish.”

Keeping the rod bowed with the tip up, I began reeling down and lifting – making sure not to give the fish any slack. During the next 10 minutes there were times when the fish held its own and prevented reeling, other times it made runs at the boat, which required aggressive reeling to keep the line tight.

Finally, the big egg sinker above the leader broke the surface, meaning the fish was — hopefully — moments from the net, barring angler error. Reeling to the sinker and moving backwards, we caught our first glimpse of the big silver fish with its dark vertical lines, and with one more step back and one final life of the rod allowed Brinsfield to net it with one swoop.

What added to the fight was the fish had hit on the one-and-only umbrella rig, but sore shoulders were forgotten when the fish was on the deck at 7:30. Measuring a shade longer than the legal limit of 35 inches, photos were taken, the fish went in the box and it was time to relax with a fresh cup of coffee and a hand-rolled Cuban.

While in the midst of telling Tatum and fellow writers Tyler Frantz and Harry Guyer I can arrange my schedule to give seminars on battling trophy rockfish, Tatum got his turn on a rod at 7:40. Obviously, he had observed my technique, because it took him merely five minutes to boat a 39-inch rock — on a single hook.

Unfortunately, those two fish were the only hits during the half-day charter, but after those two monsters being cleaned and shared, each angler went home with a bag of fillets the equal of two smaller fish. And, each angler knew it would have been senseless to have passed on the opportunity to battle a trophy rockfish.

Charter trips with Captain Chris Mills aboard the 22-passenger “Coolbeanz” can be done by visiting www.coolbeanzcharters.com

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Doyle Dietz is a board member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.

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