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Never Leave Fish to Find Fish

That’s fishing’s Golden Rule

       As soon as I flipped the small Norfolk spot overboard with a thin 6/0 circle hook trailing from just in front of its dorsal fin, the rockfish tidbit twitched its way into the depths. The tidal current was barely starting to move along the bridge support as I fed out line from my baitcaster and tried to estimate how close to the bottom, 30 feet below, the frisky bait was approaching.
         There was lots of construction debris down along the bed in this location, and if that small baitfish got even a little slack it would thread its way into that jungle-gym of scrap rebar and concrete. Once there, it would be safe from marauding rockfish — and I could never hope to extract it.
        Glancing hastily at my finder screen, I was jolted by some big fish marks trailing only five feet under the skiff’s hull. I recovered yards of line as quickly as I could, lifting my spot to meet those marks. A rockfish will often rise up in the water column to chase bait, but rarely will they descend far.
       Because their eyes are positioned on the upper parts of their faces, objects that are profiled against the brightness of the sky are easy to discern. Looking down, however, is awkward for these fish. Seeing anything against the dimness and clutter of the bottom is almost hopeless.
        As my bait neared the surface, it was snatched up. The rockfish then swam off, distancing itself from the rest of the pod to enjoy its meal in solitude. Allowing time for the fish to quiet its capture and position it to swallow, I anticipated a pause in its travel. Of course, fish never do what you expect. Instead, it increased speed and made for distant parts. I threw the reel into gear and let the line come tight.
         The most difficult aspect of using circle hooks is conquering the J-hook instinct to strike to set the hook. With a circle hook, all that effort accomplishes is to bounce the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Allowing the rockfish to instinctively pull against the resistance of the line, however, will cause the circle hook to separate from the bait and find solid purchase in the corner of the predator’s jaws. Bingo, fish on!
      This was a big surprise. My buddy Ed and I hadn’t planned to fish here, as it had proven a bust the last few times. But it was en route to our primary target.
Ed took the nearest rod and sent down a live spot of his own. It took about 30 seconds for the striper to find his swimmer.
       As firm proponents of the angler’s Golden Rule, never leave fish to find fish, we canceled our original plan and swam two more spot down. Within another 10 minutes, we had four sparkling rockfish buried in ice.
       Surprised by our success less than half an hour since launch and with a full tank of gas and our rockfish limit, we set off to fish for perch.
       But that is another story.

Fish Finder
       Rockfishing has been good to excellent in the Bay proper. Trolling small bucktails and plastics catches rock while avoiding rays and catfish. Chumming, chunking and drifting live spot have been the most efficient and relaxing way to secure a rockfish limit. Jigging is also producing fish regularly.
       White perch have vacated the shallows, at least temporarily, because of the influx of filthy water from the Conowingo Dam, exacerbated by the recent spate of nasty winds. Some anglers, though, are finding thick clumps of whites on the lumps off the Bay shoreline, often as deep as 25 to 30 feet. Some are whoppers.
        Crabbing remains disappointing in a poor year for Maryland’s favorite seafood. Though it’s possible that spring and summer weather has been the primary fault, it’s more likely the winterkill. Let’s hope DNR’s expectation of a rebound next season becomes reality.