Gotta be Good to be Lucky
Bringing home the fish on a captain’s holiday
With winter approaching and their businesses winding down, Chesapeake fishing guides Frank Tuma and Tom Hughes finally had a few days off. Of course they decided to go fishing, and they invited me and my friend Maurice Klein to join them.
Cruising down from the Magothy in Frank’s 29-foot C Hawk Downtime, we reached the Bay Bridge at 11am. It was fantastic weather for early December, light winds, 60 degrees, bright and sunny with a nice running, outgoing tide.
The two captains, Frank and Tom, were armed with medium-weight jigging rods rigged with two- to three-ounce metal butterfly jigs as well as some heavy chartreuse bucktails with Bass Assassin trailers. Maurice and I had brought our own tackle for the trip, including vertical jigging baits such as two-ounce Stingsilvers and various sizes of Bass Assassins.
The rockfish bite is red-hot! Anglers chumming at Podickery, Hackett’s, Tolley and Thomas Points are pulling in lots of big ocean-run fish. On the Eastern Side, trollers are getting monsters from Love Point on down south to the Dumping Grounds, Gum Thickets and Bloody Point. Stripers to 47 inches are not rare.
I also picked up two dozen big minnows and a one-and-a-half-ounce bucktail jig for the trip. That rig turned out to be as effective as described, and within 15 minutes of our arrival I had caught two of the first three rockfish we landed. Then I lost the jig on the rocks below, and that was the end of my lucky streak.
Maurice and I struggled for over an hour fishing our other jigs, Stingsilvers, Trout Bombs, Bass Assassins and similar baits with and without minnows added. But we stayed fishless. The problem, we soon discovered, was that our baits weren’t heavy enough to stay down at the bottom. As we drifted, the tidal current would drag them up and off the bottom, moving them out of the zone where the fish were holding.
In the meantime, Frank and Tom, old hands at deep-water techniques, were hooking up with fish after fish to 26 inches. Dropping their heavier lures to the bottom, they would quickly lift the lures until their rods were almost vertical, then lower them back down in short, successive drops. Their technique and their lures were obviously deadly. Eventually they took pity on Moe and me and fitted us with some heavier jigs. Then we finally joined in the game.
The stripers were feeding on yearling gizzard, or mud shad, that had moved into the area to winter. Apparently, the area was well populated with the small baitfish because all of the rock we caught were fat to bursting.
We stayed with the bite until mid-afternoon when — our limits filled and many more fish released — the tide finally slacked off and the fish stopped feeding. As we headed home on a gentle plane, a tranquil sea and quite pleased with ourselves, our conversation turned to the following day’s activities. Moe and I had household chores that would keep us occupied. The two captains had other ideas. They were going fishing.
Capt. Frank’s Smoked Rockfish
3- to 5-pound whole rockfish, cleaned
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of sea salt or Kosher salt
2 to 3 cups of water
Add last four ingredients to a pot, stir and boil to make brine.
Score both sides of rockfish. Lay the fish in a glass or stainless-steel bowl, and pour brine over the fish. Add cold water until covered, and soak refrigerated at least six hours or overnight.
Smoke with wet wood chips for four hours at 200 degrees in a smoker or a covered grill. Hickory and apple chips are good, but any wood should work.
Rock will be a smoky-brown and ready to be served or wrapped and refrigerated for later. Equally good as a main course or an appetizer.