The Full Monty
Shad, perch and rockfish — why choose when you can fish them all?
It was opening day of trophy rockfish on the Chesapeake, but Moe and I were going shad fishing. Crossing the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore, we could see that our decision was sound: The surface of the Bay was churned milky white from the breaking waves driven by near 40-knot winds.
An hour later, however, casting over a rain-swollen and tannin-stained Choptank, we wondered if we had made the right choice after all. But within a few minutes a hickory shad, mimicking a silver rocket, launched itself out of the water with my orange dart firmly in the corner of its jaw.
New License Fees for Recreational Crabbers
Maryland Department of Natural Resources is proposing increased recreational crab license fees by eliminating the add-on crab license at $2 and requiring a full license of $5. It has also proposed eliminating the inclusion of a crabbing license with the purchase of a Bay sport boat fishing license, requiring a license for waterfront pots and increasing the cost of a license for non-residents to $35 for the season and $10 for a seven-day license. These increases are puzzling since the costs of DNR’s administration of recreational crabbing have always been more than covered by monies generated from sport fishing licenses. To DNR’s credit the new regulations greatly simplify the complex structure previously in place. This is the first big change in crabbing regulations since DNR eliminated the female crab harvest from the recreational sector and transferred it to the commercial side some five years ago. Public comments may be directed to email@example.com until May 24.
A young fellow from Goldsboro, Darren Whittington, had been quietly fishing the river as we arrived and had never seen one of these high jumpers before. We fixed him up with a tandem shad dart rig, and within a few minutes his first fish shot out of the water and somersaulted away, putting a big grin on his face.
Over the next two hours we caught and released more than a dozen nice hickories and lost probably half again that number.
The next day dawned with winds comparable to those of the day before, but by early afternoon the weather had calmed. A friend, Captain Frank Tuma, spoke of having to cancel a fishing charter that morning but was now regretting it. Within the hour, we were onboard Frank’s 30-foot C-Hawk, Downtime, heading out the mouth of the Magothy with a bag of chum and a dozen fresh menhaden. It took patience but just before dark we managed a nice keeper, over 30 inches, male and fat as could be.
Two afternoons later, I tried to repeat that success, chumming and fishing cut bait to outwit another trophy rock.
Despite some close calls in the form of two hefty 25-inch stripers and a couple of pulled hooks on fish we never saw, we didn’t manage to get the job done. We did have a fine time, however. It’s not necessary to have fish in the box for a good day on the Chesapeake.
The end of the week approached with a frantic phone call from another friend who had started fishing just a few years ago. In his short career of searching out shore-side honey holes (we have come to call him “The Scout”) he has managed to discover a list of small, out-of-the-way locations that produce excellent fishing.
He had happened on a late run of big white perch on the Patuxent the day before, releasing scores of fat whities among them at least three 12-inch fish. That got my attention, and I accepted his offer to go there.
After many turns through narrow, winding country roads, we arrived at a location on the Patuxent that I couldn’t get back to if my life depended on it.
Each of us immediately had white perch on our first cast. Using shad darts or darts and grass shrimp, we began winnowing through the throwbacks (we had agreed on nothing less than nine and half inches), gradually accumulating a respectable fish fry.
Hoping for one of Ed’s storied 12-inch perch, I began to experiment with other baits, going to bull minnows, blood worms, perch belly strips, twister tails, spinner baits, spoons, soft plastics and small, feathered jigs. The perch hit them all, yet while some were close to 11 inches, we never managed anything over that.
Four great trips in six days. The next day I slept in late, really late.
Trophy rockfish season has really kicked in when it’s not blowing a gale. With water temperatures reaching the mid-50s, the fish are starting to get more aggressive. Though the first week saw too many roe-laden fish landed, the majority of big ones are now mostly spawned out, a good sign for future seasons. Trollers are getting some nice stripers around the container ships in the mid-Bay. Love Point was on fire, and Thomas Point showed some really good fish boated. But the hot spots don’t stay hot for long this time of year.
Shad are still arriving and provide excellent sport in many headwaters. And while the white perch run has peaked, there are still big fish high in the rivers and creeks. Speckled trout have started to come on in the Southern Bay, and nice croaker have been caught in the mouth of the Severn. In freshwater, bluegill should be on their spawning beds and looking for trouble, as should the bucket mouths. Recreational crabbing hasn’t started yet — Look for water temps in the 60s before starting to drop your baits, but that is not too far off.
Wild Turkey Spring Season: thru May 23