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A Pox of Marauding Bluefish

You can’t tell a fish not to bite

Some people relish a tangle with bluefish, but I’m not one of them if there are rockfish to be had.

We had arrived on station at eight that morning with 10 live-lining-size Norfolk spot frisking about in our aerated bait tank. My longtime friend Mike Kelly was in the bow with a short light-casting rod, intent on getting a 5/0 hook just in front of his baitfish’s dorsal.
    The channel edge off of Podickery had been a rockfish magnet the last two weeks and couldn’t last much longer. Just the day before, sporting anglers and commercial watermen had been fishing hook and line there. As the watermen could take over a thousand pounds of rockfish per boat, I suspected the once-large school of fish was nearing the end of its residence and would soon move on to safer waters.


  The rockfish bite remains fairly satisfying these days, though the fish can be moody and inconsistent. Size is also beginning to ebb, but some big guys are still showing up in chum slicks and hanging around the Bridge supports and channel edges. A 41-incher recently was boated on the Eastern Shore side of the Bay Bridge. Love Point is running hot and cold and Podickery can still produce a few fish while the mouth of the Eastern Bay, especially the southern edge, is holding some good sized stripers. Thomas Point can be a good bet for nicer sized rock as well.
  Bluefish are roaming around both sides of the Bay these days, sometimes to 24 inches. Jumbo spot have been reported in the Eastern Bay as well as some respectable croaker but the bulk of the larger horse hardhead remain around Chesapeake Beach and farther south. Spanish mackerel have finally showed up in the mid-Bay, though they are not yet in any numbers. Crabbers are still not happy with the size of the jimmies hanging on their trotlines. They will need another slough or two to get to be number ones.

    Mike was in town from his home in London for only a short stay and I really wanted to get him into a rockfish. However, we had little time. He had to be off the water and gone by 11. Already, over two dozen boats were drifting about, and I didn’t see a bent rod. Ours might be a difficult task.
    Easing over to a 17-foot Sea Pro I recognized, I asked its skipper how the bite was progressing. He’d been there since six and had scored only one throwback. That was both good and bad news.
    Good news: The bite obviously hadn’t started yet. Bad news: The fish had finally pulled out. Slowly motoring back to an area I had marked on my GPS, I kept my eyes glued to the fish-finder screen.
    When the marks lit up red, I relaxed a bit. The bite had been intense but sporadic. The stripers could be ravenous for an hour, then shut down like a bad connection refusing to eat for four or five long hours. From the marks on my screen. the stripers were here, at least some of them. Now we were going to see if they were hungry.
    Mike dropped his spot over the side and thumbed out line as it swam down for the bottom. I was engrossed in rigging up my rod. Having respooled the day before with fresh 15-pound fluorocarbon, I had to put the line through the guides and apply a loop knot to a new hook.

Two Styles of Eating Baitfish
    I was just reaching for a baitfish when Mike announced he had a run. Line was flying off his bait caster. It had been running for some time, he told me, and threw the reel into gear.
    His rod bent over, and a smile spread on his face. It was a solid hook set and a spirited fight, especially at boatside. We netted the bright 22-incher and iced it down. One down, three to go. A short time later I bagged my own rockfish, a nice four-pound fish, fat and healthy.
    We exchanged high fives that this was going to be doable after all. That display of hubris probably brought on the pox. It’s never good to assume anything on the Chesapeake.
    Easing on back to where we had first marked fish, we began another drift. Within 15 minutes, Mike had another strong run. Oddly, it soon ended. He cranked his line back in to check on the health of his spot and beheld only a head. Bluefish had shown up.
    A few minutes later, the same thing happened to me.
    Live bait such as spot, perch or eels set up for rockfish rarely hook up a bluefish.
    Rockfish have small grasping teeth. When they attack a baitfish, they always go for the front half, and that’s where we put the hook. But bluefish, armed with razor-sharp dentures, always attack the rear half of the fish. That disables the baitfish, so the blues can return for seconds if they so choose.
    We moved into shallower water hoping to shake the piranhas. Some people relish a tangle with bluefish, but I’m not one of them if there are rockfish to be had.
    The new location proved no antidote. We moved again, then again but the blues were everywhere. All too soon, our supply of spot was exhausted. Without time on our side, we headed home, grateful for our half-limit.