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Catch the return of catch and return

OUTDOORS -

April 06, 2008|BY BILL ANDERSON

The special catch and return season for striped bass -- one of Maryland's premier fishing opportunities -- is under way on the shallow waters of the Susquehanna Flats, near Havre de Grace, Md. Each spring, this area at the top of the Chesapeake Bay is visited by huge female stripers returning to spawn. The season runs until May 3.

This season offers anglers a chance to catch very large striped bass in relatively shallow water using light tackle. It is a rare treat to hook up with a big female striper in a few feet of water using fly tackle, medium weight casting or spinning tackle.

The Chesapeake Bay is the single most important spawning area for the East Coast striped bass population. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the East Coast spawn takes place in the freshwater rivers that run into the Chesapeake. As the fish migrate up the bay from the ocean, they move into the various river systems and spawn in relatively fresh water.

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The techniques for fishing this large area are basic. Most anglers drift with the wind and tide and cast until a concentration of fish is located. When the fish are located, the area can be drifted again and again until the fish move on. The fish also can be located by watching for birds working over stripers that have herded baitfish into schools, or by the concentration of boats.

One of the main forage species for the spawning stripers are white perch, which are also concentrating in the area to spawn. As a result, the better lures are ones that imitate shad in the larger sizes. Small to medium white bucktails also are effective.

If fly fishing, old-time standards like Deceivers and Clousers in white and chartreuse work great. Some fly anglers also do well using big popping bugs, but I have had my best luck using underwater flies and an intermediate sinking line.

The fish must be returned to the water as quickly as possible, and anglers should use tackle heavy enough to allow them to land a fish quickly, giving it a good chance of recovering. The line should be in the 15- to 17-pound test class, with enough rod to move a striper weighing 20 pounds or more. I usually use a 10-weight fly outfit and heavy tippet, which puts a lot of pressure on the fish to get it in and released.

The waters of the Susquehanna Flats are quite shallow in many areas, so boaters must pay attention to the channel markers. In addition, sudden winds over these open waters can make for potentially dangerous boating. Be sure to check the weather forecast and monitor the weather service radio broadcasts.

This early season is very popular and the waters might be crowded on weekends, but the crowds are much lighter during the week.

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