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Features (Fishing)

Trophy-size fish arriving daily

Very large migratory stripers are arriving in the mid-Bay, setting the scene for the opening of Trophy Rockfish Season in just two weeks. Big-fish anglers — sports who are willing to spend 10 frigid hours or more at a stretch jigging for a single photo op with just one enormous cow — are posting pics of multiple big fish caught and released from The Rips at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant up to the warm water discharge at the mouth of the Patapsco.
    Despite grim news last year from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission of a 25 percent decline in overall striped bass stocks, the Chesapeake, especially the mid-Bay, experienced a striper-fishing bonanza last season. Devoted fishers are hoping for a repeat this year.
    Scuttlebutt overheard from commercial netters over the winter indicates an unusually big population of larger-than-average fish holding on wintering grounds in the mid-Bay. We are all hoping these fish will remain with us, especially at the beginning of the season.
    Two weeks from now, we’ll get on the water officially and settle all the conjecture. Finally, the cold we’ve complained about the last two months will be working in our favor. There’s a better than good chance that the low temps have delayed this season’s spawn, which will in turn keep more big fish in the area longer.
    Early on, big trolling lures such as parachutes with nine- to 12-inch soft shad in the traditional colors of white, yellow and chartreuse, will compete with the more trendy hues like John Deere green, sparkle purple and jet black. Whatever the color, the big rigs should be dragged to tempt the giants.
    Umbrellas, chandeliers and other multiple-lure setups that create lots of water noise and disturbance to attract big fish remain popular — and work well. Big fish? Big bait. The old mantra is as true today as ever.
    The best areas to troll this time of year are the deep-water channels that the migrating stripers tend to use (the tides are stronger) to come up the Bay (usually on the eastern side) and to leave (usually on the western side). Of course, choosing which side to fish is not so simple when you also have to take into account wind direction, forage fish location, time of year, time of day and boat traffic. The only rules that don’t change are to fish the warmer top 15 feet of the water column (unless there’s heavy boat traffic, then fish deep) and always plot a zigzag course to cover more water.
    Chumming with bait fishing was once uncommon during the trophy season but is gaining adherents every year. One reason is that it lets anglers tangle with really big fish using lighter tackle. Another reason is it has been surprisingly effective
    Most boat anglers fish the channel edges and set their baits (fresh menhaden is best) on the bottom. Others will fish some of their baits shallow, under floats, or at intermediate depths with little weight. There is a strong belief that stripers found up off of the bottom in springtime are traveling and not eating. But you can never tell.
    Quite a fishery has also evolved over the last few years off of the beaches of Sandy Point and the pier at Matapeake State Park, where anglers using bloodworms and fishing long surf rods to get their baits out away from the shoreline have been scoring great catches (for release) from mid-March through mid-April, especially before dawn and after dark. The opening of trophy season means they’ll finally be able to keep one fish if it’s over 28 inches.
    The most important aspect of both chumming and bait fishing from shore is using circle hooks. The odds of catching a throwback (under 28 inches) are very great this time of year. Half of all released deep-hooked fish of any size die within two hours, an extensive DNR study has found. Every angler should use circle hooks to keep from gut-hooking these fish.

I went 1,000 miles for this catch

By the time I got the 20-pound-class rod out of its holder, our mate was urging me to reel and reel fast. A fish had just taken a live herring bait, throwing lots of slack into the line. Winding madly, I eventually felt some tension. When the line came tight, I set the hook hard. That might have been a mistake.
    My rod jerked down, and the spool blurred as something strong tore out line against a firmly set drag. The centrifugal force created by the whirling spool threw out a wet mist dense enough to cloud my sunglasses. Some 150 yards away, an iridescent royal blue and silver missile launched out across the water’s surface. Voices behind me yelled sailfish, sailfish!
    I could do little but watch my line disappear. Large ocean swells generated by stiff overnight winds rocked our 42-foot sportfisherman, and I wedged my feet into the deck and leaned into the gunnels for stability. It was a sunny 80-degree morning and we were already having an awesome day.

Miami, Yes!
    Florida in March has some great angling. The weather can be wet and windy, but temperatures are in the 80s.
    My oldest son and I were on the first day of a week-long adventure exploring Miami waters. This was our first stop, blue-water action for billfish and dolphinfish.
    We and another father-son team, Allen and Chris Young, had chartered a day with Captain Jim Thomas and his brother Rick on their classic 42-foot sportfisherman, the Thomas Flyer out of Bayside Marina in the heart of Miami.
    The Gulf Stream — that incredibly fertile warm ocean current that runs north from the Gulf of Mexico up along the Atlantic coast all the way to Newfoundland and then to Europe — comes within two miles of the Miami coast. With it comes one of the greatest densities of pelagic (off-shore, surface-dwelling) game fish in the world.

Back to That Sailfish    
    It took more than 20 minutes to persuade my sailfish to the side of the boat. Wrapping the leader in his gloved hand, Rick leaned over the side and planted a tag in the fish alongside its large, graceful fin, then clipped the line close to the hook. With a sweep of its scimitar tail, the handsome fish vanished back into the deep blue.
    That was the third sailfish of the day, with more to come including one big fella of over 60 pounds that had Allen down to bare spool twice before we chased it down. The smallest that day was maybe 40 pounds.
    Interspersed with the sailfish were schools of hungry dolphinfish (mahi mahi) to 15 pounds.
    With a final tally of some five sails, all tagged and released, and almost two dozen delicious mahi marked for some serious dinner parties, we headed for the marina.
    Later that week my son and I would hook up with a Florida legend, guide and author Steve Kantner, who came out of semi-retirement to acquaint us with Florida’s springtime spinner shark run. Fishing 10- and 12-foot surf rods with our feet in the warm, sandy beach, we tangled with over a dozen of the 90- to 120-pounders in a long afternoon of excitement.
    The last day was spent stalking Miami’s freshwater canals for their famed peacock bass with longtime guide Alan Zaremba from his 17-foot Florida flats boat. The fish were in spawning mode and attacking anything that approached their nesting sites. Sight casting and pitching small jigs, we lost count of the numbers that we battled.
    Two days later, arriving back at home, mild 50-degree temperatures greeted us. But as we awaited our baggage, a weather broadcast warned of another snowstorm coming to Maryland.

Or two ... Or three.

The single best general-purpose fishing rod for Chesapeake perch is a six-foot-six-inch medium-power, medium-light-action spinning rod rated to cast one-eighth to one-half ounces of weight. Arm that with a light, good-quality spin reel that can carry approximately 100 to 125 yards of six-pound-test monofilament or an equal amount of eight- to 12-pound braid. That’s a great perch stick.
    This outfit can easily cast lip-hooked minnows or grass shrimp on a small shad dart suspended under a weighted bobber. This bobber and dart rig is right for the spring runs of both yellow and white perch. It’s also the traditional setup for most perch fishing in shallower Bay and tributary water the rest of the year.
    The tackle is likewise robust enough for deeper waters in the summer with a hi-lo rig with No. 2 or No. 4 hooks, a one-ounce sinker and blood worms, grass shrimp or — better yet — small pieces of peeler crab. Using the ultra-thin braided line to get deeper easier is the most productive technique in hot weather months when the fish are schooled in 15 to 30 feet of water throughout the Bay. In this deeper water, you’ll generally be fishing over shell bottom.
    That one setup will generally get the job done just about anywhere on the Chesapeake. Still, many dedicated perch anglers prefer very different tackle. One of my favorite outfits is designed for throwing small spinner baits around jetties and piers. It’s a short five-foot-four-inch extra-fast-action spin rod with an all-cork handle rather than a screw-type reel seat.
    The thick cork handle is especially comfortable to hold, even when wet, and the shorter rod allows me to shoot flat, underhand casts beneath docks and piers to reach the shaded areas that white perch love during the daytime.
    The setup is also ideal for working shoreline in the early morning when distinct shadows cast by overhanging trees tend to concentrate fish seeking shelter from the rising sun. In spring fishing on small creeks, the short rod also avoids overhead foliage and allows an angler to drop a bait precisely into very small openings.
    I fish strictly four-pound-test mono on this outfit for its stealth factor and the challenge of handling bigger fish. To tempt strikes, I rely on one-sixth- to one-quarter-ounce Super Rooster Tail spinner baits in Clown Coach Dog and Chartreuse Coach Dog colors. The short rod accentuates the stubborn fight perch give when the tackle is matched to their size. The extremely light setup makes an all-day casting marathon much easier on the arm.
    When I want to target citation-sized whities that hold on structure in the shallows starting in early June, I will often go to a seven-foot, light-action finesse casting rod with a Chronarch 50e reel spooled with 10-pound Super Slick Power Pro and a six-pound fluoro leader. With this rig, I can stand off at a distance to avoid spooking the older, smarter fish (a 12-inch perch is often 10 years old) and throw quarter-ounce Rat-L-Traps, Cordell Super Spots and No. 13 and even No. 14 Tony Accetta spoons.
    Larger perch like to key on bigger baitfish, such as young menhaden and yearling spot, so lipless crank baits like these and the Tony spoons are ideal imitations. The larger size of the lures also means you won’t waste a lot of time reeling in and releasing undersized perch because they can’t get the lure in their mouths.
    Coincidently, our Bay perch are a very under-rated fly-rod species. Try a four- to six-weight fly rod of from seven to nine feet, a floating line and throw a small Clouser Minnow in sizes 2 through 4 in just about any color, but especially chartreuse over white or olive over white. You can have a wonderful and productive day fishing the skinny water.
    Keeping a long-handled crab net on board during any of these sorties is a good idea. It’s perfect for scooping up any big perch that you hook. It also avoids the agony of losing a lunker trying to lift the fish into the boat with just the rod. It only takes the escape of one citation-sized fish to convince you of the value of this tip.
    White perch are the most numerous fish in the Bay, and Maryland anglers harvest more of them than any other species. They are superb on the table, and, if you use tackle matched to their size and strength, you can make each and every catch more memorable and a far richer sporting experience.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of fish

While it’s too cold and windy to fish, use your downtime to get ready to fish. Otherwise, you’re looking for trouble when you hit the water.
    Put fishing line first on your list. If you’re using monofilament, there is no question as to whether to replace the mono on your reel. Do it. Good monofilament can last two to three years, but even with the best of care it won’t retain 100 percent of its qualities.
    Sunlight, salt, friction and stress degrade mono beginning from the very first time you use it. Mono stretches before it breaks (often as much as 50 percent); after stretching, it does not return to the original length.

Fish-finder

Yellow perch have started up their run again after earlier efforts were halted by snow, ice and low temperatures. This time it should be for real. Try the upper Magothy, the Severn, the Choptank, Wye Mills and the mid-Patuxent. Small to medium bull minnows are the best bait, followed by grass shrimp and worms. Minimum size is nine inches; the limit is 10 fish.

    Consequently, 20-pound mono once stressed to its limits (by, say, breaking off on a snag) will no longer test full strength nor have the same shock-absorbing quality. Repeated episodes of extreme tension accumulate and can eventually cause significant degradation.
    Sunlight weakens mono, salt sucks the softening agents out and friction from the guides or dragging the line across underwater structure creates weak spots. Why risk the loss of a good fish or spoiling your first day on the water for such a minor investment? The average spin or casting reel can be respooled with fresh quality monofilament very inexpensively.
    More recently developed braided lines are much more resilient than mono and retain close to their full properties for a number of years. But they are not immune to wear. Strip off and discard the first 20 feet of braided line from each reel at the start of every year. Examine the spool closely. If you see any line fraying further down its length, consider replacing it.
    Braid is made from four to as many as eight strands of interwoven polyethylene. If any one of these strands has suffered abrasion in any particular place, your line test can be affected by as much as 25 percent, while two strands in different places reduces strength by 50 percent.
    Lines used for trolling suffer much more wear than lines on tackle used for casting, bait or bottom fishing. Dragging water-resistant bait setups such as parachutes, tandems, umbrella and chandelier rigs puts a lot of stress on the line over greater length. Add in the fact that the rods are continually flexing and the guides wearing back and forth in the same limited area over endless hours of fishing. Thus, annual replacement should be a minimum standard.
    The second show stopper for a new season is the condition of your hooks. Salt has a way of working its way into the most secure tackle box. Over the winter you may find that your hooks, especially (and perversely) those on your more expensive lures, have acquired a coating of rust.
    A rusted hook, even one lightly affected, requires exponentially more force to pierce a fish’s mouth because of its uneven surface. Removing the rust does not solve the problem; the corrosion has already pitted the steel. Unless you prefer near misses to hook-ups, replace any hook that has even a hint of rust.
    Finally, check your reel drags. Drags can freeze up if they’ve been exposed to saltwater or excessive dust and moisture, particularly if they’ve been put up without releasing the drag tension. Pull out a couple of handfuls of line against the drag to verify its functioning.
    If the drag is frozen or the line pulls out in uneven fits and starts, you need to disassemble the drag, clean out the components, grease, then reassemble them. It’s a relatively simple task and requires few tools. YouTube videos have tutorials on your brand or one similar to yours. If you don’t feel up to the task, seek a professional — promptly.
    We’re just about a month away from the start of rockfish season on April 19. There is no time to waste.

How to catch the first fish of the year

With the end of February news that the yellow perch bite had started, I imagined an immediate sortie. But the next three days brought deep snow and temperatures in the low 20s.
    That ruled out any perch action for now. But following the big chill, a couple of series of days promise to reach the high 40s. That’s the window I want. I plan to hit water the second day in each series.
    At this time of year, if you wait for a fishing report to trigger your outing you will always miss the bite. The day you are hoping for has to be anticipated. By the time you get a good report, that opportunity will have passed. You’ll rarely get more than one good day in any series in March; the weather is just too ­inconsistent.
    Water temperatures this month will often hover only a few degrees above freezing. But a 45-degree (or higher) sunny day can warm just about any shallow water up into the high 40s in a matter of very few hours, instigating spawning. The second day of a short warming spell is as good a time as any to try for the yellow neds.
    Find a place along tributary headwaters with relatively shallow water (two to four feet), good current and submerged structure such as brush, downed trees, rocks or even old collapsed docks. You’ll be in likely ­territory. These are the areas the females will choose for spawning.
    If you are fishing from a skiff, you can target the deeper holes where the fish will collect and hold while awaiting more comfortable temps to arrive.
    Yellow neds are unique in that the females exude their eggs in a gelatinous, milky, accordion-like sheath about two inches in diameter and as long as five or six feet. That egg ribbon is intended to entangle on the submerged structure, keeping it off the bottom until the eggs hatch in two to six days.
    The males come first to the spawning grounds and remain there as long as females continue to arrive and spawn. As individual females begin to exude their milky, egg ribbon, multiple males follow and fertilize the eggs. After the females have emptied themselves of their roe, they return down river.
    Tide is your third critical piece of information. The website www.tides.info gives tide predictions for many locations on almost all the rivers feeding Chesapeake Bay, including prime yellow perch waters like the Tuckahoe and the Choptank.
    Having a flexible plan is essential to harvesting a limit. Knowledge of the approximate tide stages for an area lets you try multiple sites. If you find no action at your first choice, dropping downstream or moving upstream you can anticipate the water levels until you manage to locate fish. Neds tend to move onto the shallows during high water and drop down to the deeper holes as the tide recedes.
    The published tide predictions may not be specific to your favorite (or targeted) spot. But if you can find one listed anywhere on the tributary itself, after a visit or two you should be able to calculate the differential and note it for future estimates.
    Yellow perch can be very selective about bait. My general rule is small to medium bull minnows and grass shrimp followed by bloodworms, then night crawlers. One of those is sure to do the trick. Adding the bait onto a bright lure such as a shad dart, jig head or small spoon can also increase your chances of success.
    The fish are also sensitive to your line size. Heavier mono or braid is, unfortunately, more obvious to them, especially the larger fish. Four-pound mono is my favorite option, though some friends score well using heavier test braid and fluorocarbon leaders.
    The first fish of the new season, yellow perch are delicious, some say more so than their white cousins. After a horrible winter like this one, chasing a yellow ned is far preferable to staying inside one day longer than you must.

Brady Bounds opened up the Bay to fly fishermen

Brady Bounds says he is semi-retired. By that he means he no longer books 250-plus charter days on the water during a relentless 12-month season. For his own enjoyment of life plus some past health issues, he’s cut that down the last few years. Still, he probably fishes more than 90 percent more than the rest of us.
    Bounds was one of the first guides to embrace light-tackle fishing on the Chesapeake some 50 years ago. It happened almost by accident.
    Loosely defined, light-tackle Bay angling is pursued with medium-power spinning or casting rods about seven feet long, lines from eight- to 20-pound breaking strength and almost any fly rod setup. This is equipment designed for freshwater fishing and, before Bounds, not often seen on the Chesapeake, where stout, six-foot boat rods and 30-pound test line were the norm.
    Bounds was a young man living in Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County when he and a friend planned to buy a boat to get in on those years’ great middle-Bay fishing for rock, blues and other brackish water game fish. They decided on a used Chesapeake Bay deadrise. When the time came to sign the papers, the friend backed out and Bounds had to go it alone.
    Miffed, he dedicated himself to demonstrating to his buddy just what he had missed. Bounds became a skilled Bay fisherman, then got his commercial license and earned money chartering the deadrise. Trolling, chumming and bottom fishing, he acquired quite a reputation for delivering a good day on the water.
    He was working on his equipment at the dock one afternoon when, all of a sudden, a fellow who had been admiring his boat and setup offered to buy it. It was at a price Brady just couldn’t refuse, despite the fact that up to that moment he’d had no thought of selling.
    A local marina signed the boatless Bounds on to captain charter boats, and he liked the work. Meanwhile, friends had discovered freshwater bass fishing and the tournaments then new to Maryland.
    Bounds often spent the morning running a Bay charter and the afternoon fishing sweetwater with his buddies for bucket-mouths. Finally he invested the money from the sale of his deadrise and bought a used bass boat of the new, shallow-draft, flush-deck design that was sweeping the largemouth bass fishing world.
    To be competitive in tournament bass fishing, Bounds soon found, he had to perfect his structure-fishing game. Structure fishing is a freshwater technique that targets open water and the unseen bottom contours such as sunken creek beds, lumps, drop-offs, submerged trees, brush and other fish-holding features. Structure fishing in lakes and impoundments was far more productive in terms of numbers and size of fish than fishing shoreline edges.
    It was difficult fishing in those days as there was no GPS technology. Bounds mastered the skill of triangulating shoreline features and keeping close notes on bottom readings from his fish finder. His techniques are now called Conceptual-Pattern Fishing
    He shared his tournament knowledge and promoted bass and striped bass angling by writing for local fishing journals. A popular author, he also hosted a fishing program on local cable TV for five seasons.
    Next he tried advertising light-tackle charters for striped bass in a Bay journal. Over a few months, he had no inquiries. Disappointed, he told the journal editor he might as well cancel.
    The editor suggested tweaking the ad. The next edition carried the same small ad but with one modification, a narrow red border emblazoned with the words fly fishermen welcome.
    Bounds’ phone began ringing off the hook. He knew little about fly fishing but was certain he could get fly anglers on fish and in position to catch them.
    Soon he was swamped with charters.
    The fly fishermen brought non-fly fishing friends who used Brady’s freshwater bass fishing tackle. Those anglers came back with other friends wanting the light-tackle, big-fish experience.
    Word spread, and the number of anglers and guides using this new equipment and approach multiplied exponentially for years thereafter.
    Fly- and light-tackle fishing had arrived on the Bay.

Now’s the time to pack the things you’re sure to need

A number of tools can make an angler’s life easier. The most important of these are often needed multiple times a day. Many are the frustrated anglers who have overlooked them.
    I’m frequently surprised by the number of experienced fishermen and women who have to rummage around in their pockets or tackle bags to find a tool to cut their line when changing terminal tackle. If you’re using braided line, you’ve found that not every line clipper will manage its thin diameter and tough composition.
    Your line cutting device should be designed to include braid and should always be carried in an easily available location on your person. Keep in mind that an angler’s hands are often fouled by fish slime or bait offal (or both) at the precise moment the device is needed. Having to plunge one’s dirty mits into pockets looking for a line cutter is always unpleasant.
    A clipper or proper cutting pliers on a belt holster is handy. It will inevitably save any angler time and trouble. Plus, if I’m fishing with you, you won’t have to bother me by asking to use mine.
    The second necessary item is a small folding utility knife. I’ve carried a scout-type knife for years, and there’s hardly a day on the water I don’t use it. Searching through tackle boxes and bags for a screwdriver or a hole punch, can opener, bottle opener or cutting tool is unnecessary if you keep one of these in your pocket.
    The curved beak can opener, by the way, also excels at picking out particularly nasty backlashes and knot tangles. A Swiss Army knife with its combination of tools also works well, particularly the Tinker model.
    The next most important everyday item is a long needle-nose pliers suitable for extracting a hook from deep within a fish’s mouth or throat. Even when using circle hooks, a busy day of fishing will inevitably result in hooking a throw-back fish (in a difficult-to-reach location. The proper tool, close at hand, makes the hook’s removal much less traumatic for the fish and allows you to return it to the water promptly.
    A stout wire cutter is also essential. Sooner or later, the odds are that you or someone in your party will get a fishing hook imbedded somewhere on their person. Prepared anglers can retrieve their wire cutters, snip the hook off with just an accessible part of the shaft protruding, dose the area with a disinfectant and then tape the protruding shaft firmly down and out of the way.
    The unfortunate victim can continue fishing and afterwards visit a medical center to have the remains of the hook removed with the aid of a local anesthetic and get the necessary shots and antibiotics.
    If you don’t have a wire cutter on hand, your day on the water is suddenly over. Hook-removal techniques are endlessly touted by instruction books and videos, but, I have never seen the large rockfish hooks used on the Bay removed on-site without the accompaniment of pain and often some ugly tissue damage.
    A good-quality fillet or fish knife is also an item that should be included with your tackle. A sharp knife is absolutely necessary for the precise cutting and preparing of baits. At the end of the day, if you’re fortunate enough to have access to marina fish cleaning facilities, it will save you much fuss and bother by helping you reduce your catch to fillets before heading home. I use a freshly honed, five-inch, Russell, curved-blade, boning knife.
    A small but powerful flashlight with fresh batteries is another particularly useful item that is somehow often overlooked. Though most fishing trips are planned for daylight hours, the launch often occurs before dawn and the return sometimes happens after dark. Finding boat keys or anything dropped is much more problematic if you have to search by feel.
    The final must-have item in your gear bag is not really a tool, but it can be critical. Always store at least one small tube of high SPF sunscreen somewhere among your gear. Staying out on the water means a nasty burn unless you have some on hand.
    Fish fully prepared. You’ll never regret it.

Get help, for free, from techies smarter than you

As soon as I purchased my new skiff some three years ago, I had to have the latest and greatest fish-finder/GPS machine. I got it installed, but once I turned it on, problems followed. The software on my machine had some initial problems that were later corrected. Still, I needed to load a new version of the operating software.
    That simple operation involved downloading the updated system from the manufacturer’s Internet site onto a computer, transfering it to a storage device and plugging that into my finder/GPS unit for automatic update. I somehow botched the operation and had to send the unit back. The manufacturer reloaded everything and promptly returned it.
    Doing some Internet research on my new unit, I quickly set a few basic parameters and barely touched the settings again. It worked well, much better than the 15-year-old unit I’d had before, but I couldn’t help thinking I wasn’t using the machine’s full potential. This winter I decided to fix that.

Beneath the Iceberg
    The electronic fish-finder is the most revolutionary tool available to anglers. It’s a tool with a story that dates back to the sinking of the Titanic.
    The part of the iceberg hit by the cruise ship was underwater and unobservable to the navigating crew. After that disaster, work immediately began on how to detect below-surface objects. First developed was an echo-ranging apparatus based on the navigational methods of dolphins.
    Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian working for a U.S. company in Boston, patented the first workable sonar —Sound Navigation and Ranging — device in 1912. Submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II greatly accelerated its development, first by Britain, then the U.S.
    The fish-finders we use today are spinoffs of that defense technology. Over the years, they have become so accurate and complex that they are prohibited from export by U.S. law. They’re so sophisticated that many anglers — I being a poster boy — fail to get the most from their units. There are just too many options for a simple fisherman like me to comprehend, let alone remember how they interact.

Learning the Machine
    There is, however, a solution for us technologically inept. Almost all retailers of such units have at least one employee expert in their setup and use. In talking to a number of them over the last week, I have found them all eager to help, especially during the slow times of winter. Just disconnect your unit from the boat and take it to the store.
    The expert there can hook it up in-house and go over the settings, explain the options and suggest changes for your type of fishing.
    There also may be software upgrades available from the manufacturer. These are generally free and can be downloaded pretty easily.
    It is wise to call ahead to make sure that the right technician will be on hand and that they service your brand.
    If you have a GPS (the satellite-based Global Positioning System) unit combined with your fish-finder, you can review it as well. You can also discuss aftermarket products, such as navigational map overlays.
    Wintertime is slow for both marine stores and anglers. Availing yourself now of the expertise that the stores offer will pay off in fish in the box and fun on the water in 2014.

That’s the closest you can get to fishing when winter howls

The 10-day weather forecast calls for wind and consistently low temperatures, occasionally a bit of rain and clouds. Not the kind of outlook that lifts your spirits, unless you’re a waterfowler. I hadn’t joined a hunt club this season, so that didn’t include me.
    Worse yet, I had chores on my conscience. I had cleaned most of my fishing tackle late in November — only to need it again for early December’s last-minute rockfish bite. So half of my tackle was fouled, awaiting another cleaning. I had also neglected to put on my reel covers for the winter, so my collection of rigs has been accumulating light dust flavored with errant dog and cat hair.
    Still, the next best thing to fishing is fooling with fishing tackle. So this week I took a deep breath and got to business. The dust and hair I conquered with a medium-width, soft-bristle nylon paintbrush that I keep handy for the PC keyboard.
    Next I clipped off leftover terminal rigs, cleaning the outfits over a large towel I could shake outside. The tackle with fish slime and salt residue took longer to rectify. Then I hit everything with a light coat of silicone, sat back and took stock of the situation.
    It had been a long time since I had done any internal maintenance: drag washer cleaning and regreasing; bearing lubrication; level wind and casting brake attention. All these ensure that the next season starts out trouble-free. Early fishing is no time for a long series of problem-solving interruptions.
    I had a bit of work ahead of me. That’s because of my fondness for multiple rigs: bait-casting setups for chumming; others, slightly different, for live-lining; yet others for light-plug casting; stiffer sticks for heavier plugs and jigging; and light spin outfits for perch.
    I had done little plug casting the past season, so I decided those outfits could wait. But all of the bait rigs and perch rods had seen extensive use.
    My preferred bait-casting reels, Abu Garcia Ambassaduer 5600s, have to be taken apart before anything can be done to them. My outfits are modified with Abu Soft Grip Power Handles and Carbontex drag washers. Everything else is stock. A YouTube video details disassembly and service: www.youtube.com/
watch?v=7k9Hb75gXJg.
    Another video that covers a Shimano spin reel is analogous to just about all fixed spool reels: www.youtube.com/
watch?v=kflr4kraG50.
    Shimano, Okuma, Penn and other manufacturers all have similar website support for specific reel models.
    It looks like classic winter is descending upon us. Don’t squander your cabin-bound hours with TV or video games. Maintain your tackle and dream of next season.

Crappie are at the head of the class, followed by yellow perch

The winter solstice, officially the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year, is already two weeks behind us. This annual planetary event is in another way the beginning of the end of winter. From here on out, daylight hours are growing longer and springtime ever closer.
    That also means the blooming of the new fishing season since the fish, their instincts triggered by this change in the amount of sunlight, begin moving out of their deep water holes to migrate toward shallow water to spawn.
    The first species to react to the sunlight change is crappie, also called specs or calico bass. Crappie are schooling and moving up the tribs into fresher water to reproduce. It’s a bank fishing expedition you’ll need to mount to catch them, with Eastern Shore tributaries being the destination for most everyone chasing these tasty critters.
    However, Patuxent River anglers favoring freshwater impoundments (with their insider info of springtime honey holes) should also begin harvesting slab crappie within days if they haven’t already.
    In the very near future, yellow perch spawning will begin.
    The young males of all fish species are first to show up in the shallows, where they remain the whole of the spawn. The slab crappie and lunker perch generally come later and in surges. There is no way of predicting when. You just have to keep trying.
    Recently, Ed Robinson (a.k.a. The Scout), tortured me with an account of a 100-plus fish day on Dorchester County’s Transquaking River. Though there weren’t a lot of keepers in that crappie bonanza, it is a strong indicator that the new season is exploding.
    Joining in on this first of season fishing is not a difficult task. Arm yourself with a light to medium spin outfit, a few bobbers and some small shad darts in various colors plus a few bottom rigs setup with No. 4 hooks and one-ounce sinkers. Baits can be as exotic as wax worms or as mundane as red wrigglers, minnows and grass shrimp. Rubber boots and warm clothing are an absolute necessity.
    Anglers of all experience levels can choose their destination from the DNR website: www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/ypercheast.html for the Eastern Shore; or www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/yperchwest.html for the Western side.
    Early season fisheries are not limited to these two fish. Soon after the yellows, white perch will begin to stir and move up into these same areas. Then the hickory shad and the herring. The latter two species are protected from harvest, but as they suffer little mortality from being hooked this time of year, they are available for catch and release.
    One other aspect of the sport of early season fishing is also critical to continued success. When the commercial fyke nets and fish traps are set by watermen each spring, they will shut down an upper tributary’s recreational fishery faster than an acid spill. If a promising start suddenly dies, head downstream to get below the nets.
    Over all of these first few months, chain pickerel will continue to prowl the same waters. An excellent game fish, they follow the schools of spawning crappie and perch and feed off them, gaining fat and preparing, eventually, for their own reproductive run in March and April. Chain pickerel are a firm, white-fleshed fish and, though they are filled with fine bones, if they are filleted correctly they produce an excellent meal.