April is striper time in Southern Maryland waters and there is a lot to get ready before the big post-spawn rockfish begin their travels through fishing locales anglers and charterboat captains are familiar with. The 2011 spring was more seasonally predictable than in previous years, so timing could be in favor of opening day fishing action. By mid-April, big stripers should be ready to feed on the move as they head back down the tributaries and main stem channel of Chesapeake Bay. Have the boat de-winterized, in the water and ready to go and with it, your favorite rockfish trolling tackle.
After traveling into the furthest reaches of the Potomac, Patuxent, Choptank, Chester and several other tidal tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, mature striped bass complete their annual spawning cycle and then head back down river. Given the still cool water temperatures, these “rockers” are looking for a big baitfish meal as they travel along the upper water column of channel depth waters. Sometimes the best trolling for the post spawn stripers takes place in the top 10 to15 feet of water along the Chesapeake Bay’s shipping channel. When the April trophy seasons open, the mid channel points where the major tributaries meet the Chesapeake Bay will be locations that promise the most success.
Striped bass in the 20 to 40 pound range are big fish that will be looking for a meal on the go that matches their size and appetites. Lure presentation being in the upper water column means that visibility is enhanced, especially on sunny days. That is why the spring trolling season for stripers favors large lures and limited terminal tackle. One exception to limiting terminal tackle are the ever popular umbrella rigs. Although the metal spreader arms may be especially visible, the six plus trailer baits help offset that distraction. Color of trailer baits including sassy shads in 6 inch sizes should include chartreuse, white and yellow. Lures of choice continue to be Parachutes, Mojos and large banjo-eye bucktails in 4 to 8 ounce sizes. For lure setups other than umbrellas, tandem-rigged parachutes are a good option. During the first two weeks of the season, most anglers will be trolling without any additional weight being added to target big post-spawn stripers travelling in the upper water column. Planer boards continue to gain popularity as they allow for shallow running lures to be trolled outside of the boat’s engine wake and also help limit the possibility of tangles.
The spring trophy striped bass seasons call for sturdy tackle for big fish, so for striper fishing, leave the lighter gauge stuff back at the dock or in the garage until at least mid May. Dependable level-wind trolling reels that hold 40 to 50 pound test line and sturdy rods with at least one roller on the end of the tip are recommended. Heavy gauge snap swivels with safety clips that resist unsnapping during periods of continuous pressure when a large fish is hooked up are recommended. They come with stronger ball bearing swivel points with a sturdier connection to the clip. While this kind of snap swivel is more expensive, significant dollars can still be saved if using them prevents you from losing an expensive lure such as an umbrella or tandem rigged parachutes.
The mid-channel area of the main stem Chesapeake Bay is always one of the more popular places to troll for big springtime stripers. Charterboats and anglers will congregate on either the eastern or western channel sides, depending on signs of bait and big fish. The Lower Potomac River from north of Coles Point to south of Point Lookout will be another big area of water to look for foraging stripers on the move. In the early spring, big post spawn stripers seldom congregate in schools and will be seen on fish finders as multiple large targets across a wide swath of water. Look for these signs and start trolling.
Information on the 2011 recreational fishing seasons in Maryland can be found at, www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries or by calling
1-800-688-3467. To find out about the 2011 recreational striped bass seasons in the tidal Potomac River, visit the website at, www.prfc.state.va.us or call 1-800-266-3904.