Post-Weekend 4/23 Striper Opener Update:
Wow... just, wow. We all thought last spring's opener was poor? It was, but the striper opening in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake this past weekend was about as dismal as it could have been - and may well go down as the slowest striper opener in history since the moratorium was ended. We attended the Boatyard tournament party, where we discovered that out of around 100 boats participating, there was a grand total of seven fish checked in. We spoke with anglers departing from marinas and charter fleets as varied as Rock Hall clear down to Point Lookout, and heard about skunks, skunks, and more skunks. We spoke with five anglers who were on charters (Rock Hall, Kent Island, Deal, and two from Chesapeake Beach), none of whom saw any action at all. Out of dozens of readers we spoke with only two had caught keeper fish (one each). And members of our own staff put in a combined 16 hours on the water to catch exactly zero fish.
Saturday had excellent weather and seas, and anglers blanketed the waters of the Bay - there was no shortage of effort. Sunday the fleet was a bit thinner but we still saw good numbers of boats between Thomas Point and the Bridge. On both days water quality in the Upper Bay was okay but not great with a sort of chalky tinge and areas of reddish-brown water; from the Bridge down to the Choptank area it was overall pretty good though somewhat spotty with some streaks of discolored water (particularly during the outgoing tide). And south of there, it was about as good as one can hope for at this time of year. Still, the usual variables seemed to have little bearing on how successful any anglers were. It would seem that the fish just aren't out in the open Bay in significant numbers, and we have to hope that the DNR nailed it with their reports last week that the stripers are in their spawning rivers, waiting for temperatures to rise a bit so they can drop their eggs. If that's accurate the very near future should hold some awesome fishing as these rockfish leave the Bay, however, we can't help but point out that in past springs when it's been this chilly there have been far more roe-bearing fish still heading into toward the spawning grounds on opening day. The next two weeks will be telling... very telling.
Spring trophy rockfish season is finally upon us, fellow anglers, and whether you're planning to tow a ginormous spring trophy striper trolling spread, try to trick them with chum, or give it a shot chasing trophy stripers from a kayak, one thing is for sure: a healthy dose of solid and current intel will help you find success come opening day. Our updated fishing reports will be posted on Friday by noon, as usual, but we figured that considering how big a deal this fishery is, we should make some extra effort to look at the state of the Bay as a whole.
Water temps through the Bay are ranging from the upper 40's to the lower 50's, with the recent sunny days adding several degrees in most areas and reaching as high as 54 degrees. Even up-river areas are still just getting into the mid-50's, so the striper spawn has probably not even begun yet with the exception of a few early fish here and there. However, the number of large fish being caught out on the main Bay hasn't been particularly impressive. Middle-Bay anglers have probably been doing best overall, followed by Upper Bay trollers. On the Susquehanna Flats, it's mostly been smaller males caught - in very large numbers during the warm weekend. Yes, a few big girls have been mixed in, but from the general tone and overall reports, we're thinking it's been about 25 or 30 to one. There have also been plenty of reports of perch and catfish anglers accidentally catching stripers in some mid-river locations on the Eastern Shore and in the Potomac, but again, the vast majority of these fish have been males.
The DNR has reported last week that "Except for the Upper Bay Susquehanna Flats area, most large female striped bass have arrived in their spawning rivers." What we've heard from readers and while gathering our reports doesn't provide evidence for this, but the DNR scientists certainly know better than us on this count and this could simply be because of a lack of fishing effort (or legality) where these spawners currently are. We hope they're right - otherwise, an awful lot of pre-spawn fish are going to be caught this weekend.
So: what does all this add up to? We'd expect fishing on the open Bay to be decent but probably not spectacular for the opener, with many of the fish being caught still bearing roe. The Middle and Upper Bay zones should continue to be most productive at first, but after another week or two of warm, sunny days, we should see more of a mass exodus and as fishing ramps up the hot zone(s) are likely to shift with different waves of fish passing through. We're not about to try to guess which part of the season will be best - what do you think we are, the weatherman? - but depending on how much sunshine and warmth we get in the near future, the best part of the trophy season will likely be a bit later on as opposed to right at the start.
Some areas that have steadily been providing the best reports in the recent past: the Mid-Bay channel edges from Chesapeake Beach to the Patuxent, the Bloody Point area, the CCNPP (though you have to expect huge crowds here when the season opens and likely a very short bite at daybreak and sunset), and the channel edges from the Dumping Grounds to Rock Hall. We haven't heard much from the western side from Thomas Point north, but we've only talked with a handful of anglers who have probed this stretch (most of whom caught small fish in the mid to upper 20's). Anglers who have had success have been catching fish around schools of bait in 20 to 35 feet of water, so if you find the bait on the meter and see some big marks near by, working the area a bit is probably a good move. Hot colors have been white, chartreuse, and pearl.
Good luck, folks - be sure to check in on the latest reports after noon, Friday.