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Why Doesn’t a Fish Bite?

In May, it could be full of worms

The second rockfish season opened just days ago to mock my expectations of another great fishing year.
    Day one saw me headed to just below the Bay Bridge Western Shore rockpile, where the fishing had been gangbusters on the opener the last two years. Finding a dozen or so boats scattered there did not bother me. That early bite had been no secret, and I saw good marks on my finder throughout the area.
    Anchoring up, dropping my chum bag over the side and baiting up with some fresh menhaden chunks, I awaited certain action … and waited and waited. All around me for over two hours others were doing the same before leaving one by one.
    Finally, I too pulled anchor and searched south until arriving at Hackett’s green can, where another fleet of boats was holding steady. Despite good fish marking all around me, I found another slack bite there, too. My best effort was a 19-inch throwback. I saw no other fish caught.
    Day two, partnering with my regular sidekick, Moe, we tried again at Hackett’s. Moe’s uncanny luck held out as he landed a nice 25-inch fish within the first hour. I managed to score only a fat blue catfish, my first from the Bay. Then the action died. We held out until slack water but it did not resume.
    Day three I partnered with another long-time fishing buddy, Mike, who suggested a better spot, south of Hackett’s.
    This time we pulled out all of the stops. Anchoring in 35 feet of water, we put a chum bag at the surface behind the boat and another weighted bag about 20 feet down. Starting out with big chunks of menhaden on 5/0 hooks with two-ounce sinkers, we also presented medium-sized chunks, small chunks and gut balls, all down deep. Within the first half-hour, I had a good fish hooked up.
    The 27-incher was game the whole way to the boat, and I let the scrapper do its stuff. Patiently waiting for it to tire, I drew the reluctant fish toward the side until Mike finally slipped the net under it.
    After a picture to verify my official entry into the second season, I then iced it down in the skiff’s cooler, all the while imagining its filets, browned in butter with just a sprinkle of lemon juice and dill. Within the next half-hour Mike broke his season in with a fat 22-incher that gave a distinct impression of a much larger fish all the way to the net.
    Our intense effort included frequently changing baits and cutting the changed-out baits into smaller pieces to add the chum slick. Its third victim was a twin of my first. As Mike netted it and it lay thrashing on the deck, the solution to the recent days’ slow bite was revealed. The fish started spitting up May worms.
    May worm hatches are the curse of the rockfish bite this time of year. Resembling miniature bloodworms, the worms live in the oyster lumps and the shell-strewn bottom of the Chesapeake until they rise up en masse during May, and often into June, in their mating dance. All a rockfish has to do is open its mouth wide and swim through the thick underwater clouds of worms to easily swallow hundreds of the protein-rich little critters.
    With their appetites satisfied, most rockfish then continue to hold in loose schools and casually loiter, awaiting the next worm feast. Meanwhile, boatloads of eager anglers float about on the surface trying to get their attention.
    Mike hit our limit an hour before noon with the biggest of the day, a fat fish just a hair under 28 inches.