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Articles by Dennis doyle

Autumn’s feeding frenzy will fatten your chances

      I finally got my second keeper rockfish at about 11am, but only after releasing some dozen undersized schoolies and more than two dozen burly and uncooperative channel cats. The sun had already been blazing hot for some time. I was scorched and pooped as I headed back in for a shower, a sandwich and a nap.
      I do love Chesapeake summertime, but I’ve now had enough summer, really. These endless 90-degree-plus days have left me limp and senseless. With surface water temperatures that soar into the 80s with the rising sun, finding rockfish early and fast has become a necessity. There’s not a lot of time to search before the bigger fish have fled down deep to cooler water and unknown locations. But that should change soon.
     Late August gave us a few nights in the 60s, and a lot more are to come now that September is here.
       One of my more reliable piscatorial analysts, waterman and soothsayer Leo James, tells me that he suspects that when the dolphin invaded the Chesapeake this summer and effectively pushed most of the mid-Bay rockfish up past Rock Hall, a lot of the larger fish went up the rivers to escape — and stayed there.
      As fall temperatures arrive, the baitfish in those tributaries will descend toward the mainstem. The big fish that have been feeding on them will follow them down. As the menhaden, silverside minnows and Bay anchovies form their wintering schools and stage for migration, all of our gamefish will start the fall feed-up in preparation for wintertime.
      The shortening daylight and temperature drops trigger all sorts of instinctive behavior in the many species of the Chesapeake. Just about all of it is good news for anglers. 
      To put on fat, our gamefish —rockfish, bluefish, croaker, spot and perch — will start chasing bait actively in the shallows, particularly early and late in the day. We’ll also spot them under birds, working the gathering baitfish schools in both deep and shallow water. The gamefish will stay on station longer, especially when there are overcasts and showers. Bluefish, particularly, will also become more active, especially in the evenings.
      Stock up on your favorite surface plugs, such as MirrOlure Poppa Dogs, Heddon Spooks, Storm Chug Bugs, Offshore Angler Lazer Eyes and, when you can find them, Stillwater Smack Its.
      Swim plugs and jerk baits such as the Rapala X Rap and Yozuri Crystal Minnow will become particularly effective, as will the Bill Lewis classic Rat-L-Trap series.
       Metal jigs like the Lil Bunker, Crippled Herring and the P-Line Laser Minnows will be great for targeting or getting under breaking schoolies for the larger rockfish below.
      Continuing effective are jigs including bucktails and the Bass Assassin; Sassy Shads; soft plastic types, especially the newer paddle-tail varieties; and the BKDs all in lengths to match the baitfish present. To avoid hanging up when targeting the shallows, use lighter jig heads and try fishing them slow and weightless, especially after dark.
      Lure color has always been a contentious issue with just about every angler I’ve ever met. The general rule has always been dark colors under low light conditions; lighter and brighter colors in higher light situations and illuminated areas. Of course the color the fish really want is always the one that you don’t have, so prepare accordingly. 
      Stay flexible in your approaches. Chumming and live lining will continue to produce limits up to wintertime, but light-tackle lure fishing can be far more exciting. If you haven’t tried it, now is the best time to begin.
      To reduce gamefish mortality and mouth-structure damage, consider replacing the treble hooks on your lures with single hooks — or at least flattening the barbs once you’ve got your limit. It may surprise you, but it doesn’t make much difference in the fish you eventually bring to hand.
 
Fish Finder
      As the temperatures drop, the bite heats up. Driven by their fall instinct to feed for the coming winter, rockfish are getting more aggressive, especially in low light. Trollers using small bucktails and soft plastic jigs are finding bigger gatherings of rockfish on the hunt. Light-tackle sports are also increasing, throwing plugs and jigs along anywhere there is current and structure. Bait fishers are getting their rockfish on soft crab, fresh menhaden and big bloodworms.
       Spanish mackerel are showing up in breaking schools all the way up to the Bay Bridge, hitting swiftly moving lures such as Clark’s Spoons, Kastmasters and Hopkin’s Jigs. White perch, spot and croaker are in mixed schools just about anywhere there is a shell bottom at 15 to 30 feet. Crabbers should anticipate a surge when the waters cool a bit.

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. 

How could losing 147 million sooks be healthy?

    Good news is scarce these days, so I was relieved when I saw Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ results of the 2018 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey.
    But I did a double-take when I read in the report,  “Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Population Healthy.”
    I was confused. Expecting to see the basis for the claims of health, I came upon the revelation of a 42 percent plunge in spawning female numbers. Wasn’t that seriously unhealthy?
    When, for the first time ever last year, the number of females reached the target level for healthy species reproduction, DNR celebrated. What had changed in a year? Wasn’t female abundance important any more? Aren’t spawning females key to growing and maintaining the overall population? How could losing 147 million sooks be a positive health indicator?
    Next I read that adult crabs were decreasing, too. We’d lost 23 percent — that’s 84 million crabs — in a year. Claims for a healthy crab population seemed to be getting more spurious.
    I was momentarily heartened when I read of a 34 percent increase in juvenile recruitment — until I recalled that last year’s juvenile counts were in the basement. Thirty four percent might not amount to much.
    By now, I suspected not-so-good news was getting a rosy package— not suprisingly as this is an election year.
    I found myself seeing the report as one more troubling signal that the commercial fishery may again be gaining political sway over species consideration. Among earlier troubling signs was the abrupt firing of Brenda Davis, the respected and successful manager of the department’s blue crab program. Rumor was that she had rebuffed a handful of watermen demanding the legal size of blue crabs be lowered by a quarter of an inch.
    That firing sent shock waves through the department ranks, already nervous after the sacking of some effective and popular fisheries program managers the past two years, again allegedly due to commercial displeasure.
    Then came the kicker. As I prepared a final draft of this column, the department published the annual Female Hard Crab Catch Limits for commercial crabbing based on the results of the 2017-2018 Winter Dredge Survey.
    Comparing these limits to last year’s, I hoped to see a reduction in female harvest numbers reflecting the severe winter mortalities. Yet this year’s limits were the same as last year’s — despite that 42 percent population drop. Yes, changes could come later in the season, post October 31 — just at the onset of cold weather, which is never easy on crabs.
    Arguably, but just barely, crabs could absorb another year of these now highly optimistic harvest limits. Unless, that is, we have another poor spawn or another severe winter. In that case, our beloved blue crabs may slip back into crisis, as they so often have. But the elections will be over by then.

The true music of nature is silence

One evening several years ago, when the Chesapeake had experienced a generous influx of gray trout (weakfish), I found a school outside the mouth of a small tributary south of the Magothy. It was just after dark, the tide was falling and the fish were positioned a long cast from the inlet to intercept the baitfish, shrimp and small crabs being carried out by the tidal current.

Throwing a black Clouser minnow on an eight-weight rod with floating line, I was letting the weighted fly sink and swing across the current along the channel cut. On every third or fourth cast, just as the line straightened below me, a fish would gently take the fly and I would set the hook. 

They were nice fish up to 23 inches. The fish fights were often extended, uncertain affairs as seatrout are known for their delicate mouth structure. Avoiding putting too much strain on them was a perfect application for the long and supple fly rod.

Anchored close and off one side of the inlet, I was fishing out of a small 14-foot aluminum skiff that I had modified with flush fore and aft deck areas suitable for fly casting. It was a handy little boat with one drawback: Its thin metal hull could be noisy.

I was very careful moving about, and if I did make a noise, I would wait long minutes before resuming any activity. It was a lovely, calm night, and the waters were extremely flat.

During that particular evening, it was so quiet I could make out the distant croaking that the seatrout — members of the drum family — often make underwater when feeding in schools.

Bringing a particularly heavy specimen on board, I rapped it between the eyes with the weighty end of an aluminum flashlight. It quivered and stiffened. Assured it was sufficiently stunned, I slid it into the ice in my cooler.

Giving the night a few minutes to settle, I once again took my place on the stern casting deck. I had just missed a strike on my last cast when a violent thumping and rattling broke out from amidships. Apparently my seatrout had regained consciousness.

The sound in the still of that evening was loud and raucous, and despite the fact that I waited a number of minutes before resuming my casting, the bite was over and done. The school of fish had fled the area and did not return that night.

The lesson of that evening often comes into mind as I’m fishing. Fish have acute hearing and depend on it to keep them safe. Sound beneath the waves travels five times faster than it does above. Being a thousand times denser than air, water is also an ideal medium for propagation. Sound travels farther, much farther, underwater than above. And fish hear it all clearly.

The Chesapeake’s excellent angling makes it easy to forget that noise discipline is an important factor in fishing success. Sure, some anglers catch fish with their engines running, rock and roll blasting and themselves exuberant. But the smarter, bigger fish have most likely already vacated the area. That’s a fact to keep in mind.

Meet angling legends, acquire knowledge and tackle
      Chesapeake Bay has produced some of the nation’s best-known anglers, starting with Lefty Kreh and including Bob Clouser, Bob Popovics, Kevin Josenhans, Steve Silvario, Blane Choklett, Joe Cap and Tony Friedrich. These angling luminaries and many more will be on hand to meet and share information at the 18th Annual Lefty Kreh Tie Fest on February 24 and 25 at the Lowes Annapolis Hotel.
       The event has become so popular that it has expanded to two full days of seminars, expositions and exhibits, all crammed full of angling information and techniques. The focus is fly fishing, but the knowledge to be gained here is invaluable for all types of light-tackle angling and covers a multitude of species and where and how to catch them.
      Striped bass, our beloved rockfish, will be discussed in detail. You’ll also hear about redfish, bluefish, speckled and gray trout, white perch, hickory and white shad as well as any other species that visit our waters. 
      If you’ve got a yen to talk fishing, hear information from the legendary pros or curiosity about fly- or light-tackle fishing, this is the place to be. Chesapeake-area fishing guides and guide services are in attendance and eager to discuss what’s available. Don’t miss this chance to meet and hear the most skilled and creative anglers of our day.
      Fly-tying and -casting demonstrations, rod-building techniques, new equipment and fly and lure components will be on site. There will be many free as well as for-fee seminars. Admission is $10 per day or $15 for both days. Anglers under 16 and active duty military personnel are admitted free of charge. Excellent food and beverages are offered for sale.
     For more information contact Tony Friedrich: 202-744-5013; [email protected] or Facebook , leftykrehtiefest). Or search online for Lefty Kreh Tie Fest 2018. 
Other Action
Capt. Tom Hooker Estate Sale, February 9 & 10
        For some great deals on top-grade angling tackle, try the action and prices of this estate sale. The fishing gear and equipment from Capt. Tom Hooker’s Chesapeake Bay Charter operation will be sold this Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm at 3802 Chesapeake Beach Rd., Chesapeake Beach. The sale includes rods, reel, line, lures, hooks, sinkers, coolers and much more. Info: Judy Howard at 410-353p5544.
 
Pasadena Sportfishing Show and Flea Market, February 17 & 18
       The 25th iteration brings lots of exhibits both indoors and out, with food and drink including their famous hot pit barbecue and oysters on the half-shell, sodas and adult beverages. Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company, 161 Ritchie Hwy., Severna Park: 410-439-3474.
 
2018 Saltwater Fishing Expo, February 24
        The area’s top charter captains will be in attendance and giving seminars on tactics and tips for the Annapolis Chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association Expo. Tackle, including lures and other equipment, on display and for sale. Delicious hot pit beef sandwiches, oysters, cold beer and other beverages sold. 8am-3pm, Annapolis Elks Lodge, 2517 Solomons Island Rd, Edgewater: $5 w/age discounts: 
http://saltwaterfishingexpo.com.

I’m buying long rods to fish from shore the windy days of early ­trophy rockfish season

       My latest fishing quest originated in last year’s trophy rockfish season as I was putting in a supply of ice for my skiff’s fish box. Parking near an SUV, I had paused to compare notes with the occupants who were as eager to get into some action as I was, using a different sort of gear.
      They were shore anglers, armed with the long surf-type fishing rods needed to get long casts off the shallow Bayside shorelines of the public areas that have become popular in recent years, especially during the early season.
      I admired the anglers for their zeal even as I pitied them for the endless and fishless hours I suspected they experienced in their pursuit of trophy rockfish from land. Yet the anglers assured me they were doing well.
      Since it was just over a week into the season, I smiled. Many anglers claim they are doing well, particularly if they aren’t. It’s really nobody’s business but their own.
      Just to reassure myself that I wasn’t missing anything, I asked if they had any pictures. Of course they did, and one dived into the SUV to fetch his phone. My jaw dropped at a picture of him and his two buddies with three of the biggest, fattest trophy rock I had seen yet that year. 
      He also confided that those fish weren’t the only ones they’d scored but conceded that they’d already been out four or five days during the trophy season. Plus, they had released some trophy-sized fish during the earlier March and April catch-and-release season. 
      My opinion of the opportunities afforded to shore anglers shifted considerably. I had not yet managed to get my skiff out on the water even once. It wasn’t that I lacked the free time. What I lacked was calm seas. It had been blowing since opening day.
      Weather is one of the biggest drawbacks of boat fishing during the trophy season. It’s not so much a problem if you’ve got a larger craft that can handle a good chop and provide shelter from the chilly winds that blow over the Chesapeake in April. For smaller skiffs like my 17-footer, it’s a showstopper. Getting out even once a week is often a challenge with our cold and windy springtime weather.
     Shoreside angling suddenly began to make a lot more sense. There are publicly accessible sites up and down both sides of the Bay, usually with a lee shore sheltered from the worst of any small craft advisory winds. If I wanted more time on the water, I decided, perhaps I should join the long-rod crowd. But the only long rods I had were fly rods.
      As it takes time (and financial resources) to put together a proper set of tackle, I put it off until the following year, which is now upon me. Doing a bit of research in the meantime, I determined what was needed and have begun to put together a couple of outfits. 
      The most popular surf sticks for shoreside fishing around the Chesapeake are nine- to 11-footers coupled with a 5000- or 6000-series spin reel capable of holding a few hundred yards of 20- to 30-pound monofilament or braid. The extra-capacity reels are necessary because shore-bound anglers often make casts of 150 to 300 feet, then have to contend with the sizeable runs of big fish.
      Right now I’m looking forward to a busy early season beginning in just a few weeks. When it’s too cold and windy to take out my skiff, I’m planning to be along a shoreline in a comfortable beach chair, clad in well insulated clothes and sipping a warm beverage, with an eye on my rods, waiting for trophy rockfish to come by and take my baits.
 
Wish a Fish Foundation Needs Your Extra Gear
      If you’ve got an excess of any kind of fishing equipment that you’re no longer using, the Wish a Fish Foundation could use it (410-913-9043). The Foundation is intending to raise money by selling donated fishing gear at the Pasadena Fishing Flea Market on Feb. 17 and 18 at Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Hall, 161 Ritchie Hwy., Severna Park.
      Wish A Fish accepts donations on Thursday, Feb. 15, when some afternoon and evening help would be welcome. Volunteers are also needed to help at the tables at the flea market (outside but in a tent) on the 17th and maybe 18th, 7:30am-2pm: 
410-439-3474.
 
 
 

The season is already underway

      It’s starting now. The yellow perch run is on the way, with the white perch run right behind it. Despite our wildly unpredictable weather this time of year, Maryland’s 2018 fishing season is opening up — whether you’re ready or not.
      Hardier practitioners will reap the first and richest bounties, as always, so don’t be misled by freezing temperatures. The fish may hesitate during periods of extreme cold but not for long. Temperature is not the primary element affecting the coming and going of fish. They’re also driven by the increasing sunlight, lunar phases, tidal flows and the inexorable changes in their bodies. Females are already swelled to bursting from the copious quantities of roe they are producing. Males are overflowing with milt.
       Staging areas are the right places to target, the deeper water up in the tributaries where the schools of fish will build up awaiting whatever secret signal their senses need to start for the headwaters to spawn. Yellow perch prefer 45- to 55-degree water for reproducing. Improbable as it seems, on a sunny, 60-degree day, the shallows of a tributary can easily reach those temperatures, though Bay waters may remain in the 30s.
       If nothing else, it’s the time to break out your spring perch fishing tackle and get it ready for action. Light lines need replacing more frequently than heavier tests, so check yours. If they appear chalky, stiff or in any way suspicious, replace them now. Four- to six-pound test is the way to go this time of year. Each spool refill at a local sports store costs $3 to $4.
        A seven-foot, medium-weight spin rod is adequate for pan fishing. However, maybe this spring is time to invest in a six- to six-and-a-half-foot light- or ultra-light-action rod matched with one of the many 1000-series spin reels. It is far more satisfying to use tackle matched to the fish, and casting the lightweight lures and baits you’ll be using will be far easier. Your accuracy will be vastly improved, and light bites will be far more detectable.
       The best terminal setup is a pair of shad darts about 18 inches below a small weighted casting bobber. You can tip the darts with grass shrimp, minnow, bloodworms, earthworms, butter worms or any combination. 
       You’ll also need some warm clothes: hip waders or high boots if you’re a bank angler, some warm wool gloves (fingerless are best) and a few hand warmers, just in case. If using minnows for bait, don’t forget a small bait net. Nothing will numb your hands faster than having to plunge them repeatedly into your live bucket for baits.
        A five-gallon pail remains the best general tackle container: bait bucket, fish holder and sometime seat for when the bite may be slow. A thermos full of hot beverage can also go a long way to making the cold more bearable.
       Yellow perch must be at least nine inches in length — a 14-incher is a citation — and the possession limit is 10 fish per day. They, like white perch, are best prepared cleaned, rolled in panko crumbs and fried in hot peanut or corn oil until golden brown. Many devotees insist that yellow perch are better than whites, though that argument could be endless.

Fish Finder

Yellow perch are moving up into the tributaries. During the last cold snap, stalwart anglers made some holes through the ice in the upper Magothy and caught a number of yellows and not just a few whites. Spawning is definitely happening, though small males of both species are always the first on station. Pickerel are also up there in the tribs. Their spawn is imminent. Don’t ignore crappie either, as they too are schooling and becoming active in fresher water.
 
Hunting Seasons
Wild turkey: Jan. 18-20
Duck: thru Jan. 27
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Whitetail and Sika deer, bow season: thru Jan. 31
Canada goose: thru Feb. 3
Snow goose: thru Feb. 3
Rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
http://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Documents/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf
 

When the cold really sets in, the hardy angler goes fishing

      Bitter cold is not enough to describe the single-digit temperatures that descended on Chesapeake Country in late December and early January.
     In Erie, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, this is what winter is like. This year the small city broke into the news (yet again) for not only low temperatures but also record Christmas snows: over five feet in four days. Weather like that is one of the reasons I moved to Maryland some 50 years ago. But for people thereabouts, it’s no big deal.
      Anglers in that neck of the woods simply make the transition to hard-water fishing. They are quite content to continue the pursuit of yellow perch, walleye, crappie, sunfish, pickerel and Northern pike throughout the winter.
     To do so, they equip themselves with ice augers, snow shovels, pop-up ice tents or small shacks on snow skids, space heaters, some tip-ups or ice rods, a slotted ice spoon for keeping the fish holes clear and some minnows or a handful of grubs or butter worms for bait. 
     Our recent temperatures have been low long enough to create safe ice (four inches or more) on many Maryland freshwater impoundments. Exclude brackish tributaries as the salt content lowers the freezing levels and the tidal currents make ice unsafe.
     Deep Creek, Smithville, Tuckahoe, Unicorn, Urieville and Waterford are among the hundred or so constructed lakes scattered throughout the state. Always keep in mind that sufficient ice is the essential requirement for safe angling. Check with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (www.almanac.com/content/ice-thickness-safety-chart) to be sure that the waters you’re interested in fishing are considered safe. 
     The basic equipment is simple, though, like my home-state ice-fishers, you can dress it up all you want. A boring auger, powered or manual, is a real help in making an ice-fishing hole, but I often used a steel spud or wrecking bar for chipping out access to the depths. Attach a rope to the bar and wrap the end around your arm so that when you break through the ice the tool doesn’t slip from your grasp and go shooting down to the bottom. 
     It is also a great advantage to have fished your chosen waters before they ice up, especially as you will have an idea of where the deeper areas lie. You’ll need at least eight feet of water to have a chance at getting fish. Avoid the areas, no matter how attractive, near any outflow as the moving water creates dangerous and unpredictable ice thicknesses. 
     An inverted five-gallon bucket with some kind of cushion makes a satisfactory seat, and a pop-up tent will break the wind — if you don’t mind cutting a hole in its floor. Space heaters can be a comfort if you are careful with the exhaust gases, always providing adequate ventilation.
    Small 18- to 24-inch rods (with appropriate reels) adapted for kids during the regular season are what you need for ice fishing. For bait, use small minnows, worms, grubs and similar trout baits, both real and synthetic. Add shad darts as an additional attractant. Small jigs and spoons will also work. Hooks up to No. 2 work well. You’ll only need a split shot or two for weight to get down near the bottom.
     Storing caught fish is simple. Dropping them outside on the ice freezes them up quickly. They are then easily handled and carried home in your bucket. The fish will generally resume activity as they thaw, so make allowances on the way to the cleaning table.

Gifts they’ll really appreciate

     What to give the dedicated Chesapeake Bay angler on your list?
     The most helpful suggestion I can offer — if you haven’t already received exact, specific instructions from the individual in question — is to remember the Rule of Don’t.
     Don’t guess. Don’t rely on your instincts (unless you fish a lot more than they do). Don’t ask a friend who kind of knows something about the sport. And don’t ask a sales clerk. If you’re not 100 percent sure that you’ve found a gift that will be gratefully accepted, don’t buy it. 
     There are, however, some exceptions, including a few of my favorites. 
Lenny Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Chesapeake contains verified, critical information on all the brackish water locations for all the species available hereabouts. His thorough coverage of every fishable honey hole on the Bay and when it is most fruitful remains remarkable and reliable. It should be in every angler’s arsenal.
     Chesapeake Bay Foundation naturalist John Page Williams is a treasure trove of information. The Chesapeake Almanac: Following the Bay Through the Seasons continues to be the best work that thoroughly describes the workings of the watershed’s ecosystems throughout an entire year, knowledge useful for every dedicated angler.
      My third book recommendation, Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner, has been around for almost a quarter-century. That means there are now a lot of adults who were too young to appreciate the Pulitzer Prize-winning book when if first appeared in bookstores. Beautiful Swimmers remains the most readable, informative book ever published on Maryland’s favorite crustacean and the watermen who pursue them.
      Technical gadgets for the angling and sporting adventurer include The Personal Locator Beacon. It may be just the answer for outdoorpersons who insist on traveling to god-knows-where, in any kind of weather, at all hours, in fanatical pursuit of their passion. If catastrophe befalls them and other forms of communication have failed, these small devices can lead rescuers promptly to the exact location of our more foolish loved ones.
      New electronic flares are safer to use, have a signal far more visible and last far longer than the older, fire-breathing versions. A set will be appreciated by any boater.
     My final suggestion is an item essential to any outing yet often overlooked: a small, good-quality flashlight. The newer light-emitting diode (LED) models are more compact, brighter, and longer lasting. These small wonders are invaluable when accidents or breakdowns occur or whenever operating in the dark. They make excellent stocking stuffers as well as presents at gift exchanges. I’m partial to the Surefire G2X and the Nitecore EA41.
You’ve gotta have hope to wring the last fish out of the season
     The pictures Mike showed me were what I hadn’t seen for too long, two nice 35-plus-inch rockfish with heavy bellies and dark, shiny stripes. They’d been caught by friends earlier that day.
      Then he made an offer I ­couldn’t turn down.
      “Ryan’s picking up the menhaden, chum, snacks and water in the morning,” he said. “Meet us at the dock at 7am.” 
      The morning was cold, in the 30s, but no wind. I dressed in my usual: thick fleece unders, flannel-lined heavy canvas shirt topped with a foul-weather vest. 
      We headed out believing that sizeable fish could still be loitering in the neighborhood. Ryan set the anchor at the channel edge off Sandy Point while Mike and I cut bait, put the chum bag over and set out rigs.
       Chunking the remainder of the two baitfish we had used, we pitched the pieces off the sides and stern and settled down to await the action. So far this fall, big fish have been darn few and far between. But you’ve gotta have hope, and those photos had prompted a lot of it.
      The first bite, not long in coming, hit a rod next to Mike. He picked up the rig and thumbed the spool as the fish slowly took the bait out cross-current. After a long count, he put the reel in gear. The line came tight, and he set the hook. The rod arced over, and the fish started its first run. A glorious moment, it seemed.
      About 10 seconds later, the line went slack. Mike cranked madly, hoping the fish had turned toward the boat. Then he dropped the bait back in hopes the fish was still following. Finally there was nothing but despair. How could it have come off after running that long after the hook set?
      It was easily an hour before the next bite. This time Ryan was the fall guy. He picked up the rod to check if the fish was still mouthing the bait.
      It had not only tasted the bait but absconded with it. Ryan was in the hot seat trying to explain how a fish could unbutton a piece of menhaden from a needle-sharp hook 30 feet down.
     We had a number of other tense moments as rods quivered suspiciously and otherwise acted as if something were molesting our baits. But nothing developed. By noon we had exhausted our bait and chum and headed home before the onset of hypothermia.
      We decided on the way in that we would immediately make plans for doing it again, soon, before the season ends December 20. 

Fish Finder
      Anglers out on the rare good day with calm winds are finding nice rockfish and getting limits, sometimes promptly. The warm water discharge areas of the shoreline utility companies are concentrating nice fish and sometimes really big ones. 
      Farther south (mouth of the Potomac and down) and north (the Patapsco and above) fish 30 inches and above are coming in from the ocean. In-between areas (the Magothy to the Thomas Point Light, down to Chesapeake Beach and over to the mouth of the eastern Bay) are finally holding fish into the mid 20s.
      Fresh alewife and sizeable bull minnows are producing when fished deep over good marks. Trolling with mid-sized and smaller plastics, spoons and surgical hoses along the shallow shorelines near the mouths of tributaries and deep along channel edges are doing well. Trollers also have an advantage in searching out schools still on the move. Shore anglers are beginning to score in the evenings on fresh menhaden or jumbo bloodworms.
      White perch are gathering in deeper water (30 to 50 feet) over shell bottoms.
 
Hunting Seasons
Whitetail deer and Sika deer, firearms season: thru Dec. 9
Seaduck: thru Jan. 12
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
http://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Documents/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf