The spring run of big rockfish consists of females that have completed spawning in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and are heading for the ocean. They will be hungry and looking for a big meal, and big lures, to fill their empty bellies.
While we all know that elephants do eat peanuts, they would much rather have an entire tree. The same is true with rockfish. They will eat minnows, but would much rather have a nice, juicy menhaden.
To this end, it is going to be more productive to troll big spoons, shads, and plugs rather than bucktails. Umbrella rigs with a big shad trailer are going to out-produce anything smaller. Big MOJOs were made for just this purpose.
My personal favorite has been either a big Crippled Alewife in chartreuse or a 4-1/2 Huntington Drone in silver. I run either spoon on a 30-foot leader of 50-pound mono behind a ball bearing swivel that is attached to a trolling sinker heavy enough to get the lure into the strike zone. Quite often I will employ wire line when trolling these spoons.
I have never used the umbrella rigs that carry spoons instead of tubes or shads, but I expect they would work well on the early run rockfish. Rigged with Drones or Crippled Alewives, they would imitate a school of menhaden and should ring the dinner bell for any big rockfish in the neighborhood.
I don’t see many anglers using big plugs during the spring run, but they certainly should work. The Mann’s Stretch 25 and 30 plugs were deadly on rockfish when I ran charters in the Lower Bay, and so were the big Rapala deep diving plugs.
The number one striped bass lure along the New Jersey Coast is the bunker spoon, and the Tony Maga model is the top producer. This lure does take special tackle and a learning process, but the results will be worth the time and effort.
With potential changes coming to striped bass regulations in 2020, you’ll want to get out there and give some big lures a try.
By Eric Burnley
For information on spring rockfish regulations, visit 2019 Maryland Trophy Rockfish Regulations.