Will This Be the Year the Rockfish Return?

The Mid-Atlantic Rockfish season is underway across the waters in and around Hampton Roads. That is great news for local anglers, but will we see the return of this great fish this season?

That is a question that all fishermen are asking, and for good reason. The Atlantic Ocean Striped Bass season off Virginia Beach has pretty much been non-existent for almost 3 years with dozens of theories to why the fish has not been inside the 3 mile legal line.

“It could just be that migration patterns have changed,” says Mid-Atlantic Rockfish Shootout Tournament Director Mike Standing. “There are plenty of fish outside the 3 mile line,” added Standing.

The worlds largest Rockfish tournament is heading into its 13th year but prior to last season, the tournament was hit hard by a lack of fish. One recent year during the Shootout, not a single legal fish was caught in the ocean and the year before, a single legal sized fish won the entire tournament. So Standing moved the Shootout to December last year to take advantage of the Chesapeake Bay season and plenty of fish were caught. “I moved this year’s Shootout to the weekend of December 10th thru the 12th and all the anglers are really happy about that,” said Standing.

Backlash charter boat captain Steve Richardson has made a living putting his customers on the fish for over 40 years. Good luck finding someone with more fishing knowledge than Captain Steve. He’s not convinced that we will see a run on large Rockfish like we saw before the last few lean years, “I don’t plan on having much luck this season in the ocean. Believe me, I hope I am wrong, but the signs have not been good,” said Richardson.

“We have a really bad problem where the fish have not been given a chance to recover. They are fished all season long in the bay. The trawlers devastated the species off of North Carolina a couple of years ago and commercial fishermen are allowed to net the fish in late February and March before they are able to spawn in the spring. Between the trawlers, charter boats, commercial and recreational fishermen, we have depleted the stock,” added Richardson.

While it is still early in the season for Rockfish, your best bet to catch one will be in the Chesapeake Bay. Several local hot spots include the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, James River, High Rise Bridge, Plantation Light, the concrete ships off Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore, the Cell and many of the local river mouths.

Will this be the year the Rockfish return? Every single person who go after this great fish has their fingers crossed, but as Standing said, “You really never know when it comes to fishing. It could be better in the ocean this season than in the bay. That’s why they call it fishing!”