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But where have the bigger fish gone?

Cutting the engine a good distance from the shoreline, we drifted quietly toward a projecting erosion jetty. It was the one that reached farthest from shore, creating a sort of false point along an edge full of shoreline protections. 

Nearing casting distance, I lowered my anchor, and we skidded to a stop. When our minor disturbance subsided, we prepped light spin rods.  

They were five- to six-footers with small 1,000 series reels spooled with ultra-thin, misty copolymer monofilament, ideal for the pursuit of white perch. All the better, they were tipped with gaudy spinner baits irresistible to the species.  

These long, narrow rock piles are common structures along the Bay. Perch gather there for relief from tidal currents and use the nooks and crannies for hiding from the many predator species in the Bay. Various critters such as minnows and grass shrimp that the whities feed upon also visit these jetties. 

My cast was met with an instant attack, a hook-up, then the buzz of my drag. It was a long, intense struggle to keep connected to the obviously large perch. A lot can go wrong during a perch battle, from a hook tearing away from too much rod pressure to a dislodged hook from too little. 

My buddy’s cast was firmly intercepted as well. Those first two fish measured 10 and 11 inches. They were also the biggest we would land, though we would eventually catch and release more than 75 fish. 

Perch aficionados repeat what I fear: The number of perch 10 inches and over has decreased to a distressing degree. 

White perch can reach 18 to 19 inches. But few encountered these days in the middle Chesapeake exceed nine inches; most are much smaller. That’s not a great recreational fishery.  

Informal (and off-the-record) conversations with Bay fisheries biologists suggest that diminishment is an unintended consequence of our commercial fisheries policy. Netters have few constraints beyond an eight-inch minimum size. Reporting is voluntary. Thus we have no solid basis for species management.  

Male perch begin spawning by two years old and females at three, when they are four to five inches long. The fish that grow slowest will spawn the most until they reach legal commercial target size of eight inches. Thereafter they are fair game. As the market for the fish has become ever more lucrative, I suspect harvests have grown — though nobody knows given the current voluntary reporting. 

Is that why we’re seeing and catching so many small white perch, at least in the middle Bay? 

Department of Natural Resources budgets and salaries are supported by the license fees from about 300,000 Maryland anglers, who rate the white perch as their most frequent catch. Seems to me that managing the species to create a quality recreational fishery is an appropriate objective. What do you think?  

 


Fish Finder 

Middle Bay fishing has been ever more miserable, with rockfish scarce and of barely legal size. A large school of quality stripers north of Swan Point (Hodge’s Bar) was quite hot and productive last month. But it was the only bite, and their numbers have been worn thin. Most areas from the Bay Bridge south on both shores remain barren. The fault has been laid in many directions, from an unusually cold spring, to dolphin pods chasing the rockfish north, to dead zones, to excess netting over winter, to a rumored increase in recreational poaching. 

Crabbing is another disappointment. Recreational harvests have become consistently miserable, and now commercial crabbers are reporting that they’re barely breaking even. The cold spring was blamed for the poor numbers. But now it appears that the scarcity could be the result of the high winter mortality, perhaps higher than even the winter dredge numbers indicate. Nobody really knows, though the big rains certainly didn’t help. Nor the resultant vast releases from the Conowingo Dam. 

Way Downstream …

Way Downstream comes from Ocean City, where the federal court case over the right of women to go topless may be bare-ly beginning. 

Let us first unveil some facts: Last summer, Ocean City approved an ordinance forbidding women to cast aside their swimsuit tops. 

In January, five women — among them Megan Bryant, of Lothian —- filed lawsuit in a Maryland U.S. District Court challenging the ordinance as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

“This lawsuit is about confirming the legal right of women to be bare-chested in public in the same places men are permitted to be bare-chested in public for purposes other than breast-feeding,” the complaint reads. 

The suit observes that it’s normal for men to go shirtless, an “act associated with power, strength and freedom.” 

In the pokey ways of federal civil suits, it was Ocean City’s duty to respond six months later. 

On July 27, the town filed a defense asserting that the women’s Equal Protection Clause argument is faulty because that provision doesn’t say that things that are different should be treated the same. 

The filing refers to the “indisputable difference between the sexes” and the town’s interest to protect public sensibilities, asserting that bare breasts in public “may not be offensive to everyone” but remain “unpalatable” to society. 

The naked truth is that no decision is expected for some time, perhaps not until chill winds have people so bundled up that there’s no way to discern the difference between women and men. 

Sandy Marron of Heritage Harbour collects books for soldiers.  

Operation Paperback, a non-profit founded in 1999, sends shipments of books to military bases all over the world. Marron is one of 19,000 volunteers under the Operation Paperback umbrella.  

The books go to military families, veterans, hospitals and bases overseas. The books help soldiers learn, pass the time or, on deployment, read to their children via webcam. Romance and religious books aren’t accepted.  

Everyone involved with this program is a volunteer, so Operation Paperback is a true non-profit. Each volunteer must find the books, boxes and the money needed to mail the books out. 

“I have worked with this great organization since 2011 and sent out over 16,000 books, puzzle books, men’s magazines and others,” Marron said. 

The Heritage Harbour Woman’s Club, John Taylor Funeral Home, Heritage Harbour Beer Wine and Spirits and Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits help support Operation Paperback. 

To donate, email: [email protected], subject books. 

         On July 26, the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River opened its gates due to flooding and high river flows. By July 29-30, tree limbs, sea grass and trash had reached Spa Creek by way of the Severn River and piled up on the waters of Annapolis Harbor. 

The City of Annapolis’s harbormasters worked hour after hour to clean up the disaster. Now the city is asking volunteers to help haul the mess out.  

“The debris took up almost the whole harbor this morning,” Annapolitan Joe LaScola told Bay Weekly. “But these guys are getting it done. 

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen something like this in 40 years,” said LaScola, a daily visitor to City Dock. 

So, you’re ready to venture into downtown Annapolis. Maybe you’re out for a sunny stroll down Main Street. Maybe you and your friends fancy a night out on the town. Whatever your reason, there’s one thing weighing on your mind: parking.  

Many city-goers avoid parking garages in search of cheaper street parking. Starting this month, the city of Annapolis intends to make garages a sweeter option. 

Heading into town on a Sunday? The Whitmore Parking Garage, on the corner of Calvert and Clay streets, now has free parking every Sunday until 4pm. Later in the afternoon, you can park at Whitmore for just $2. Parking is free all weekend at the Calvert Street Garage, across from St. John’s College. If you’re driving into Annapolis after work during the week, you’ll find free parking after 6pm at the Calvert Street Garage.  

If you’re an Annapolis resident, you can now park for free for two hours at any city-owned parking garage. Pick up your parking pass at 60 West Street for the KnightonGotts and Hillman parking garages.

Way Downstream …

Folks in a fishing village on the Arabian Peninsula definitely had more reason than we did to complain about last week’s heat.

In the town of Quriyat in Oman, the mercury set a record, plunging to 108.7 degrees on the night of June 26, marking the hottest low temperature in recorded history. During the day, it was 121.6 degrees. Those recordings combined to give the town of 50,000 another record, the hottest 24-hour period ever.

The United States still holds the record for the highest temperature on record: 134.1 degrees, recorded on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, Calif., according to the World Meteorological Association.

Play to remember — and repay

After Michael Schrodel’s early death in 2001, his family and brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity of Frostburg State University hosted a golf tournament to celebrate his life and memory.

“He wanted to give back to organizations that helped him when he was sick,” says his daughter Carmen, a student at James Madison University. “My dad liked to golf, so we figured a golf tournament would be a good way to bring people together for such a great cause.”

In 15 years, the Michael D. Schrodel Golf Classic has raised more than $100,000. All proceeds from the Classic benefit Calvert Hospice and the Michael D. Schrodel Endowed Scholarship Fund at Frostburg, his alma mater. 

As well as supporting causes dear to Schrodel, it is, his daughter says, “such a fun day, a reunion of new and old friends!”

Friday, July 20, at Compass Pointe Golf Course, Pasadena. Sign up to play or sponsor until July 15: https://birdeasepro.com/Event/Register/8885.

Take care of yourself and the fish

Temperatures flirting with triple digits mean difficult times on the Chesapeake, not only for anglers but also for the fish.

The young and old are the most susceptible to heatstroke, but everyone needs to be aware of the danger, as it can be fatal.

Heatstroke often gives no warning, ­quickly rendering you unconscious. So take special precautions if fishing or paddling solo. Staying hydrated, continually drinking water, is a must when the temperatures go above the 80s. It would be particularly foolish for the solo adventurer not to don a life jacket.

Should you experience confusion, dizziness or unusual weakness during these hot days, immediately seek cooler conditions and slowly ingest cold drinks to lower your core body temperature. If the symptoms persist or the sufferer begins to lose consciousness, seek emergency medical care promptly.

Fish, too, are at risk during high temperatures. Catch-and-release fishing should be avoided once the mercury passes the 80-degree mark. Mortality skyrockets for rockfish (particularly those 24 inches and larger) hooked during these hot weather days, often despite best efforts to quickly release them.

A number of strategies will minimize heat problems for both the fish and you. Targeting the wee hours, from first light until 10am and from 6pm until last light will minimize exposure to the worst of the sun’s effects for both the angler and the game fish. Those hours are also prime times for the best bite.

Nighttime fishing is also an option for the more adventurous — as long as you are completely familiar with areas to be fished and prepared with good communications, extra flashlights, batteries, cold refreshments, a GPS and a fishing plan with specific locations in the hands of someone on shore. Wearing life jackets is also strongly recommended.

Rockfish are particularly active after dark and will often haunt shallower water in search of prey. I can attest that a striped bass will locate and inhale even a black fly or lure fished on a moonless night in three feet of water with no trouble. Your part as an angler is to exercise extreme stealth and silence in your approach.

It is illegal to be in possession of rockfish while angling after midnight and before 5am, rules that apply for shore anglers as well as boaters. Possession of any other legal species, though, is permitted. 

Croaker and seatrout are also very active after dark, often more so than any time during the day, and will move into shallower water and feed more aggressively. Use crab, bloodworm or shrimp as bait. Seatrout are suckers for Assassin-type soft jigs fished slowly near the bottom.

White perch in the larger sizes will likewise remain active in the darker hours. Searching with noise-producing lures such as one-eighth and one-quarter-ounce Rat-L-Traps is particularly productive and can often attract marauding rockfish, a definite challenge if you’re using ultra-light tackle. 

SPCA reprises its two-species Cruise on the Bay

Annapolis is one dog-friendly town, from water bowls and treats outside of Main Street stores to events made just for furry friends.

On July 19, Annapolis further appreciates its dogs when the Anne Arundel Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals partners with Watermark Cruises for its sixth dog Cruise on the Bay.

“A cruise,” says Watermark’s Katie Redmiles “because the dogs can get the breeze from the water and we don’t have to worry about problems with getting them into places.”

Dogs and their people board Watermark’s Harbor Queen boat at City Dock to cruise 6:00 to 7:30pm. Both decks are open air, so the dogs have a lot of room.

Half of the ticket price benefits AASPCA dogs in need.

Liz Herrick of Glen Burnie and her Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix Bodhi and Pomeranian Pippa will be aboard. “My favorite activities are those that contribute to causes that I care about, so this was a perfect choice for my two pups and me,” she said.

Karisa Josephson of Dunkirk is boarding for the first time to help the cause. She is, she says, looking forward to “spending time with my friend [her dog] and the many people who love doing things with their pets as I do.”

Doggie pools afloat with hot dogs add to the fun for pups who can cool off in the water and go bobbing for a snack. 

“I bring my dog every year, and he really loves it,” Redmiles said. “Dogs, believe it or not, like to get out on the water, so I’d say it’s more for the dogs, and they happen to bring their people along.”

Humans will have fun, too, with light food donated by Graul’s Market, an open bar, raffles and silent auction items, the latter two going to the dogs.

Watch for babies and respect elders 

The common snapping turtle’s life history shows extreme longevity and perseverance.

They begin their life by cutting through an eggshell, digging through a half foot of dirt, then crawling up to a half mile to water. Many eggs are eaten by raccoons, and the tiny young are food for many animals, even other turtles. Living on a diet of insects, tadpoles and minnows, the young spend most of their time hiding in dense pond weeds.

The first two years of life are the hardest. Very few, maybe one percent, survive. 

Snapping turtles grow slowly, taking 15 years to reach maturity. Their lifespan is unknown, but some tagged individuals have been over 100 years old and weigh close to 90 pounds. Locally, some have been up to 75 pounds. A large common snapping Turtle may well be older than you.

They are ambush predators, eating almost anything that comes along — and that list is quite long. They have been witnessed killing a raccoon, but generally they eat fish that swim too close to gaping mouths.

Through winter, snappers hibernate under water and frequently under mud.  

In the warm seasons, they mate. The female can store live sperm for several years, waiting until the conditions are right for egg laying. Starting in the late spring, female common snapping turtles laden with up to 75 eggs haul themselves out of the safety of water to find an area suitable for laying eggs. The nesting area can be up to a half-mile from water and uphill.

On their journey, you might see them crossing roads, laying eggs in gardens, hissing at pets and blocking trails. As for human contact, for the most part they are shy, but when cornered they can be very aggressive. Their strong jaws can cause serious damage to hands and feet.

To rescue a large snapping turtle crossing a road, either use a shovel to lift it or toss a towel onto the head and back and pick it up by the sides of the shell. Picking it up by the tail can tear the artery going into the tail and cause the animal to perish. Some people are able to pick them up by the shell at the area where the back legs go in, but there is a risk of getting bitten or scratched. Move the turtle in the direction that the turtle was already going.

Mid to late summer is the time the turtles hatch from their underground nests. They are a little more than an inch long and look like a clump of dirt or a partially smashed acorn. The hatchlings are usually only noticed when they move or are discovered by a pet. If you find a baby turtle, move it to a nearby body of fresh or brackish water. Snappers cannot survive the salinity of the ocean.