- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

As many local anglers put their outings on hold because of the cold weather, it might be a good time to look at the cap on the number of large rockfish that can be hooked in the Chesapeake Bay every spring.

The Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association is ticked off about it; a number of Chesapeake trollers are griping and just about all the licensed charter boat captains on the bay are upset about the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Striped Bass Management Board denying a Maryland request to eliminate the current cap, which the state’s rockfish trollers have been fishing under for more than 10 years.

Instead, Maryland trollers will have to abide by a mandated 30,000 trophy rockfish cap, which will affect the income of the professional captains and could become a big nuisance to private boaters. Recent trophy fish had to meet a 33-inch minimum, although 28-inch minimums once were the norm.

In regards to the cap, the MSSA’s Rich Novotny said, “It’s not based on any scientific data.” He pointed out that the multistate ASFMC refused to increase the Maryland trophy rockfish take despite signs that stripers from previous years that now have grown into large specimens have increased. The MSSA said this spring’s trophy season will allow the catching of only half as many big stripers as could have been caught.

The feeling of getting short-changed is not universally shared by some private Chesapeake boaters who figure it’s not necessary for the biggest rockfish to be hunted down in large numbers. But if you put yourself into the shoes of a charter boat captain who has mouths to feed and bills to pay, this is a real problem.

All the same, reader Fred Passarelli, who fishes in St. Mary’s County waters, made a valid point about the 30,000 trophy fish cap handed down by the ASFMC.

“How are they going to police this rockfish cap?” he asks. “Who’s going to count the fish?”

The charter boat operators will keep a tally, but private boaters don’t necessarily pay attention to such things. If a recreational boat owner trolls the bay waters in search of one of the springtime rockfish, who will know if he has caught one, taken it home, then go out again to try for another?

Mind you, I’m not advocating breaking the law, but in the end the Department of Natural Resources suddenly will state that the cap has been reached and that no more trophy stripers can be kept for a time even though it has no earthly idea just how many have been removed from the bay’s waters. I guess they will use only charter fishing operators’ numbers as a barometer.

As far as the average angler is concerned, ask yourself how many times you’ve been checked by marine patrols while fishing on the Chesapeake? In decades of fishing, I’ve only had one Natural Resources Police patrol check a boat I was on. My guess is that this hotly debated rockfish cap will be exceeded by leaps and bounds.

Nothing happening on the ‘Doah — Dick Fox, my Shenandoah River contact who lives in Front Royal, sent the following: “River very clear and of average height; water temperature is 38 degrees. We fished Saturday. Never had a bite.”

Need we say any more?

Yellow perch are possible — Hardy boaters who use live minnows, grass shrimp or small, scented plastic grubs in some of the feeder creeks of the tidal Potomac are finding a few yellow perch and some hefty crappies and scattered bass. It has been done in the Mattawoman; the Occoquan, Potomac and Aquia creeks; and the Nanjemoy. Fair warning about Charles County’s Nanjemoy, however. That Potomac tributary already is being visited by the commercial netters who, ostensibly, are hoping to trap gizzard shad and such in their nets. But they also go after yellow perch so don’t be surprised if overall numbers are way down again this year.

Don’t forget Washington Boat Show — The annual Washington Boat Show rolls into the Convention Center on Mount Vernon Place NW on Feb. 15-19. Besides seeing hundreds of the latest boats, there also will be high-tech specialty vehicles from four James Bond movies, including the villain’s chase boat from “Live and Let Die,” and the Bath-O-Sub from the 1971 film “Diamonds are Forever.” For additional information, go to www.washington boatshow.com.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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