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A Bite Relieves the Cold

You’ve gotta have hope to wring the last fish out of the season
Mike and Ryan empty-handed after a chilly day searching for rockfish.
     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