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Savoring Season’s End

Adrenaline warms up the last days of rockfishing

 

The chill was familiar for this time of year, damp and penetrating. A soft gloom had settled over the water with the arrival of some heavy cloud cover, and I noticed that the tidal current running against a fresh wind had just added an eager chop to the mix.

Fish Are Biting

The big winter rockfish are still a bit to our south, but they are showing up in ever-better numbers. Stripers in the 40-inch range and carrying sea lice fresh from the ocean have been encountered near Bloody Point and south on the Eastern Shore and south of Thomas Point on the Western. Meanwhile, medium-size rockfish have been schooling big time in the mid-Bay from Podickery to the Bridge and on down through Hacketts to Tolley Point as well as from Love Point down to Poplar Island. The schools, some of them enormous, have been providing anglers with some great action and quick limits when they can be found. Rockfish season closes December 15.

Big perch have been encountered in the same areas in good numbers taking smaller jigs and bloodworms. White perch season remains open year-round.

 

In Season 

Details at: www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide/pdfs/

Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf

Whitetail and sika deer, firearms, thru Dec. 11

Sea ducks thru Jan. 29

Light goose thru Jan. 29

Ruffed grouse thru Jan. 31

Squirrel thru Feb

 

Evening was falling fast, and though I felt little chance of getting fish at this shallow-water location, I had decided to attempt a quick trip anyway. Rockfish season was ending soon, and a small chance was better than no chance.

Anchoring up well off of the rocks and working the slight rip line, I settled into a relaxing rhythm of casting and retrieving. I was alternating three or four plugs that had been catching well for me before the water temperatures dropped into the low 50s and my skinny-water bite had fallen off. 

As the evening progressed I finally settled, just for simplicity, on one particular lure, a red-eye shad in black over gold. The plug had been my best producer over the last month or so. It cast particularly well over long distances and at this location swam at just the right depth if I held my rod tip high and didn’t let the plug settle too much.

Working the bait back with a long, hard sweep of the rod, I would follow with a pause to let it fall for just a second. Then I’d crank it back up, just off the bottom. The strikes, if there were any, usually came on the fall.

The vibrations of the plug transmitted clearly up my line as it shimmied through the water and lightly bounced the bottom or ricocheted off of the many scattered, submerged boulders. They were all that remained of stout erosion jetties conquered by years of storms and the Bay’s relentless tidal currents.

 

Strike

Almost an hour into the evening, I suddenly felt a tug as I churned my lure over a bit of sunken structure. I responded with a prompt hook set that fetched nothing. Suspicious, though, I threw to another area for a few casts to allow the fish (if there was one) to regret missing its chance at dinner.

Then I threw back to the area of my imagined hit and began to swim the lure back. I worked my bait as seductively as I could, letting it sink, speeding it up, bouncing it off the rocks, pausing, then accelerating in short erratic bursts. 

The lure stopped. I slammed my rod back and felt the lovely surge of a good fish bend the shaft down to the cork. My reel’s spool fed out line against the drag as a sudden warmth of adrenaline surged through my body.

I let the fish run, keeping my rod deeply bowed. Then, when it finally paused, I worked it back with smooth, short strokes of side pressure, taking great care to avoid any line slack. If this striper could get just one good headshake without line tension, I knew it could rid itself of my plug. That was just not going to happen, not this night. This would likely be the only fish I would find.

With the utmost caution, I allowed my quarry to surge and surge again. Backing off the drag, I relied on my thumb to apply the last bit of resistance so that I could instantly let the fish have its head if and when it decided to run again. 

I didn’t wish to chance a pulled hook, and I wanted this fish exhausted, with nothing left for a last-second battle at the net. Those episodes inevitably result in disaster, most often for the angler. 

As I drew the rascal nearer in the failing light, it showed itself at the surface. Thick bodied with black, striped, gleaming sides, it was in full winter trim. It also still had some fight left, as the instant my striper became aware of the boat, it ripped off about 10 yards of line. I bided my time.

Eventually, spent and on its side, it came quietly to the net and into my skiff. A thick, heavy, 23-inch fish, it had given a good account for itself and on a night when I didn’t expect to find any.

My fingers by now were shaking with the cold as well as the action. Stowing my gear, I started up my motor, pulled anchor and headed for the marina lights across the river. I was chilled but content. There was not much left of the season, but what there had been that evening tasted warm and sweet.