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Twilight Zone on the Bay

Where else can you be when ­nothing goes wrong?

There is nothing like an early June morning on the Chesapeake.
    A bit of smoky haze was still rising off of the Eastern Shore in the far distance as we cleared the ramp and eased out of the channel onto  glassy Bay surface.
    The quiet burble of our outboard was the only sound, and for a long while neither of us cared to hear anything else. At last, looking around at the rocky piers we were approaching, I took an already rigged light spin outfit and prepared a cast.
    “This looks as good a place as anywhere to start,” I said.
    My buddy Moe took one of his outfits and stepped forward into the bow. “They could be anywhere, might as well.”
    Firing small Rooster Tails toward open water, we began a casual search.
    It was such a placid scene I didn’t care if anything happened right away. We had hours to go and nowhere to be. With that, both of us hooked up on the second cast. Our drags, unset from winter storage, buzzed wildly as a couple of sturdy white perch set us scrambling to tighten the reel adjustments and regain control.
    “Well look at that,” I said, as I lifted a plump almost 10-inch fish over the side. My friend was still struggling with his fish as it dove at the side and went under the hull. “Looks like you got a smart one,” I said.
    Used to my less-than-helpful comments, Moe plunged his rod tip deep and waited for the fish to clear itself.
    Filling the portable aerated live well just behind my seat, I dropped the keeper into the water and cleared my line for another cast.
    “We’ll accumulate them until we’re sure we have enough to clean, OK?”
    “Fine with me,” he replied.
    I’d had a rocky start to the second rockfish season. Problems with my sonar/GPS soured a trip or two, then some stiff winds and rain vexed the schedule. Today, the electronics still hadn’t been cleared up so we decided to concentrate on shallow water and white perch. No need for a fish finder there; can’t see them on the screen anyway.
    Amazingly, there seemed to be decent fish scattered about everywhere. We weren’t getting them on every cast, but we were more or less constantly hooking up no matter where we threw our baits. It was a little unnerving to have such luck right at the start. I wondered what was going to go wrong.
    The answer that day, probably for the first time ever, was going to be nothing. When the bite slowed, we moseyed on down the shoreline and picked up a couple more nice fish.
    I admit that the throwback rate was five or six for every keeper. As the live well became more occupied, we became even more discriminating, releasing anything less than 10 inches.
    Then we had one merry dance, chasing a big channel cat down along the shoreline for a good hundred yards before realizing it was actually an early cow-nosed ray making mischief.
    As Moe had the hookup and made the identification, I heckled him until, mere minutes later, the same thing happened to me.
    Then things got even better. A pair of thick, sturdy black backs, well over 11 inches. Marveling at the ease at which we were collecting fish virtually everywhere we threw a bait, we tempted our fortunes by pushing out to areas where we had rarely found fish in the past.
    We kept getting hits. Our success had become so unusual that it began to feel like the Twilight Zone had descended upon us. Were we still in sight of the Annapolis shoreline?
    Then the tide slacked, the sun bore down hot, the fish finally shut off and it was time to head in for the cleaning table, a boat wash and a fish fry that was beyond delicious.