It was cold on the Bay, colder than we wanted to endure. But it had been a long time since either of us had caught a rockfish. So there we were in mid-morning in my 17-foot skiff off the mouth of the Severn in about 35 feet of water with temperatures barely above freezing.
At least the winds were mild, as were the seas. But the skies were stalled in a dark overcast. I could feel the fingers of cold, damp air trying to creep under my expedition-weight fleece unders. Shivering, I tightened my foul-weather coat.
As a bit of current is essential for the chumming expedition we had in mind, we had timed our arrival to coincide with the beginnings of a falling tide. Moving water would carry our chum bits out and establish a long, broad scent path for cruising stripers to follow right back to the tasty fresh menhaden baits at the end of our lines.
The boat swung gently at anchor. I was pleased that the first part of our plan was unfolding as intended. But when I finally looked up from preparing my tackle, I saw that instead of facing south, our stern was pointed toward the distant Bay Bridge. The flood tide was not starting to fall. It was still coming in.
We quickly baited up, casting out four lines as I dropped the chum bag over the stern to capitalize on the last few minutes of incoming current. We weren’t so lucky. In minutes, our lines sagged as water movement stopped. Off our transom, we watched the chum dropping straight to the bottom.
It would be an hour or more before the outgoing current would make up. Until then, nothing would happen; rockfish are loath to feed in still water. The prospect of doing nothing but shivering was not inspiring.
Catching a Fluke or Three
We’d marked a few pods of fish in the area where we’d anchored, and I noticed in the distance some big boats grouped up in deeper waters.
“Maybe we should pull the anchor and do a little more reconnaissance while the tide is slack,” I said. “It looks like those guys over there may have found something.”
“Okay,” my partner said, “but you’ll have to wait till I get this fish in.”
I turned to confirm his jest only to see his rod bent in a hard arc, the drag humming as line poured out.
“I can’t believe you hung a fish in this mess,” I said, looking for the net.
When we finally got the rockfish on board it was winter fat, shiny and big enough that there was no need to measure it.
“Nothing wrong with a keeper in the first five minutes on a slack tide,” I said.
But I knew it was a fluke. That’s when one of my outfits bent over in its holder and line went peeling off the reel.
That fish was even bigger than the first, about 26 inches and equally wintertime fat. Soon after, my friend hooked up another. It was a good looking keeper about the same size as his first fish, but we threw it back, deciding that the way things were looking we could afford to raise our standards. We agreed on nothing less than 24 inches.
“I can’t believe we’re catching these fish in dead water,” I repeated. When I glanced at our electronic finder, the reason became clear. The screen was lit up. Crimson arcs and blobs steadily moved across the four-color LCD. We were sitting in the middle of a school.
Our stern had barely swung south with the ebb by the time we had managed the last of our four brawny keepers into the ice chest.