Maryland Rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay
When it comes to promoting can’t-miss attractions at winter sports and outdoors shows, Maryland tourism has plenty to offer. For those who enjoy the good life, there are all those restaurants with menus loaded with crab dishes from bisque to cakes to, well, just plain, old peel-and-eat crabs. For those who just want to relax, there are all of those sparkling, white-sand, clean beaches that – depending on one’s wants – can be laidback or a haven for nighttime “wildlife.”
For anglers who hold a fascination with creatures that swim beneath the surface of the water and the challenge of catching them, there is a special attraction that draws them to Maryland every spring to fish the sparkling waters of the Chesapeake Bay. That attraction is the special season for trophy rockfish in Maryland, and it’s no surprise that these monster striped bass are the state fish of Maryland.
Maryland rockfish season in the Chesapeake Bay has a narrow window. Maryland rockfish regulations allow for rockfish season to run from mid-April to mid-May, and anglers may keep just one fish that must be a minimum of 28 inches in length. Now, that’s one big bass, but there is always the likelihood of catching one 40 inches or longer – which earns the angler a recognition citation from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Past Chesapeake Bay Records
According to statistics based on long-standing catch records, a 28-inch rockfish is approximately six years old and weights between 10-13 pounds; a 35-inch rock is approximately 10 years old and weights between 18-21 pounds; a 40-inch rock is approximately 13 years old and weights between 26-30 pounds. Using that formula, the 67.8-pound record Maryland rockfish was approximately 19 years old.
Chesapeake Bay Rockfish Charters
For Capt. Russ Mogel, who operates a rockfish charters service out of Chesapeake Beach, the business of fishing for rockfish in Maryland has added to his enjoyment of targeting the trophies. For nearly 40 years, he has been a licensed charter captain and his 46-foot long, 14-foot wide “Mary Lou Too” custom fiberglass boat is a fishing machine that can accommodate more than 20 anglers. “We always made fishing for rockfish a family event, and that hasn’t changed just because we run rockfish charters,” Mogel said. “Every spring we get together with some friends from back home and some other folks to go after rocks.”
Annual Fishing Trip
One of the best aspects of this annual Maryland rockfishing trip is the night-before planning session at Abner’s Crab House on the docks at Chesapeake Beach within sight of Mogel’s boat. Fortunately, not that much planning really needs to be done – leaving way too much time to hammer away at the seemingly never-ending supply of steamed crabs.
It was all of this – and more – that attracted my brother Jim, whose fishing mostly consists of targeting trout on Pennsylvania streams, and me to go after Maryland rockfish. He has spent his entire life out-fishing his older brother, but the trip produced his biggest fish ever – a 35-inch, 18-pound rock.
As enjoyable as it was to see my brother catch his biggest fish ever, it was even more enjoyable to make family history on the trip. Yes, this time age was served, as for the first time ever in our head-to-head fishing excursions my 37-inch, 19-pound rock allowed me to claim bragging rights.
My fish, however, was not close to being the biggest fish on this outing, as three of the seven anglers on the trip boated Maryland citation fish that met the state’s 40-inch minimum for a certificate. Jim Drexel of Hamburg, Pa., had the lunker with a 44-inch, 35-pound rock, as the seven anglers caught a combined 273 feet and 163 pounds of fish, for an average size of 39 inches and 23 pounds.
“These big fish come back to the bay from New England in late October to feed before moving south to winter off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas,” Mogel said. “Weather conditions are always a concern on the bay as you move into November, which is why most of the fishermen we’ve had over the years come down to target trophy rockfish in the spring.
“There’s no better way to start the fishing season than catching a trophy rockfish in Maryland. You just never know what’s going to be on the other end of the line.” Maryland rockfish regulations state a one fish limit for anglers. Depending on the action, the one-fish limit for trophy rockfish can make for a short day on the water, which gets into the “more” part of why we booked with Mogel.
After everyone had their fish, we had the option to participate in the catch-and-release tagging program he conducts – used to help monitor and protect the Chesapeake Bay rockfish population from being overfished. So while you can’t keep many fish or use multiple lines as per Maryland rockfish regulations, you can still enjoy the thrill of reeling in a rockfish out of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed off the Atlantic Coast. It was, in every way, a can’t-miss trip with rockfish charters that will lure our party back to the Chesapeake Bay.
Original Article by Doyle Dietz
About the Author
Doyle Dietz is a retired sports and outdoors writer who currently serves as outdoors editor of The Pottsville Republican and Herald. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and blackpowder editor of “The Browse Line, the publication of the PA Deer Assoc. He has a weekly outdoors radio program “Experience the Outdoors” on WMGH and WLSH.