At Aqualand Marina, Catching Rockfish Is a Sure-Fire Proposition

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Aqualand Marina, located next to U.S. Route 301's Harry Nice Bridge in southern Charles County, Md., has been a busy place all week. The rockfish of the Potomac River are swarming around the edges of the Morgantown power plant's warm-water discharge and the fishing is, oh, so fine.

Sure, it's strictly catch-and-release angling, but nobody is complaining when bites are easy to come by and some of the stripers weigh as much as 12 and 13 pounds, although average weights are in the 3- and 4-pound range.

"This is the life!" said fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski as we caught rockfish after rockfish on 4-inch white, rubbery Sassy Shad lures that were attached to 3/8-ounce lead-headed jig hooks. With the hook barbs pressed down flat with needlenose pliers, it was easy to bring in a fish, grab the jig head, slide the hook from the fish's lip and watch it swim off unharmed.

Nearby, fellow fishing guide Bob Troup watched over clients Charlie Wallace and Kim Harris, both of Carroll County. The trio was all smiles.

"We've caught at least 50 rockfish today," said Troup, "and some of them were in the 10-pound class. In fact, I didn't have time to fish myself. Charlie and Kim did most of the catching."

No more than 100 feet from Troup, fly-fishing charter specialist Brady Bounds' boat sat anchored with Bounds and a client stripping sinking line, hoping a rockfish would fall for sleek streamers. We didn't see anybody catch rockfish on the fly gear, but Troup told us he had hooked a few earlier. By the time Andrzejewski and I arrived - we'd timed our boat launching with a strong-moving, incoming tide around the noon hour - Bounds had switched to more conventional spinning reels, and catching rockfish appeared to be no great challenge.

Incidentally, Troup had an accident aboard his sleek bass boat when a $200 baitcasting rod and reel outfit fell overboard.

"I thought I'd lost it for good," said Troup, "but a Virginia fisherman, Matt Wilkins, snagged the rod with one of his lures after I'd left. What luck!"

Wilkins said he'd return the rod and reel.

Meanwhile, if you want to get in on the fun, a boat is a must. For $5, you can launch at Aqualand Marina, but watch the ramp. It's not the greatest in the world, yet it will do, especially when the water is up. The marina store has Sassy Shads and bucktails if you need to stock up.

By the way, advice from local bystanders inside the store comes fast and furious, but don't pay too much attention. All you need to remember is that incoming or outgoing tides are desirable because moving water activates a striper's appetite. Use at least a 12- to 14-pound testline on a casting or spinning reel with your Sassy Shad lures (white 1/2-ounce saltwater Roadrunners, or bucktails with a chartreuse or white plastic worm on the hook also work). Cast your lure into the water and simply retrieve the lure steadily at medium, even slow, speed. The rockfish will do the rest. We prefer 12- to 20-foot depths, although the fish sometimes can be caught in much shallower parts around the outflow.

As far as shoreline fishing from the marina property's beach is concerned, it will be difficult now to find deep enough water that would be attractive to bait-hunting stripers. It can be done in summer and fall, but this month and next, unless you can make a 100-yard cast with a surf rod and aim it toward the bridge pilings, we don't think you'll hook much of anything.

If you want to try it with a licensed guide, make a reservation with Andy Andrzejewski of La Plata, Md. (301/932-1509); Bob Denyer of Port Tobacco, Md. (301/753-8172); Bob Troup of Seabrook, Md. (301/577-6995) or Captain Brady Bounds of the Lexington Park area - who has also been catching rockfish in the Patuxent River at Chalk Point - (301/862-3166).

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