The Year’s Last Rockfish Hoorah
As December opened, we’d dropped anchor off the Hackett’s can in 35 feet of water. I set up the chum bag off our stern and had cut some pieces of fresh alewife, when suddenly everything started going right — and wrong — at the same time.
My friend Mo had already baited and set out one rod and was casting his second when his first outfit got hit hard. He had neglected to set his bait running clicker. When the fish took off against the free spool, it created a wild bird’s nest of line on his casting reel. That froze the spool as the loose loops of line collected and jammed. It also set the hook in the striper’s jaw, and the rod arced over.
The rockfish bite has improved, but the difficult part is finding big fish. They are mixed in with the little guys, and you have to throw back lots of fish till the big ones decide to eat your baits. Best water depth seems to be 35 to 45 feet. Podickery, Hacketts, Tolley and Thomas Point are good places to start on the Western Shore. Love Point, Gum Thickets and south to Bloody Point are good to the east.
Whitetail and sika deer, firearms: thru Dec. 8
Whitetail and sika deer bow season: Dec. 10-14
Light geese: Dec. 11-Jan. 30
Ducks: Dec. 11-Jan. 26
Brant: Dec. 11-Jan. 26
Common snipe: Dec. 11-Jan. 26
Canada geese: Dec. 11-Jan. 26
Whitetail and sika deer muzzle loading season: Dec. 15-29
Bobwhite quail: thru Jan. 15
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Sea ducks: thru Jan. 31
Cottontail rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Mo slid the second rod into its holder — leaving its reel in gear — and picked up the first rod. Then the tip of his second rod dove down as another striper seized that bait and hooked itself.
I had my hands full assembling my tackle. I had to stifle my laughter as my friend struggled, looking first from one problem to the other while muttering a few choice expletives.
Finally he stopped trying to clear his reel and started pulling in the thin, slick line hand over hand. By then I had my gear together to a point I could lay it aside. The second fish was apparently satisfied to merely tug his rod in one direction, then another, so I got the net.
The rock he was hand-lining was not cooperating. It tried to wrap him on the motor, so Mo had to guide the line over our skiff’s superstructure as the fish circled. After a great deal of effort, he worked the striper to where I could scoop it up. It was a fine, winter-fat fish and an obvious keeper.
I kidded Mo to slow down a bit or he’d limit us out before I could get a line in the water. But he was too busy fighting his second fish to reply. The striper had given an outsized account of itself, and in the net it was thick and heavy. But it was just short of legal size by an eighth of an inch.
Once settled, we missed a number of fish. They would grab baits only to drop them, then come back and hit once more, and we would miss the hook set. At last I landed a fish, then another. Mo soon pulled in a couple more. All were, again, just a fraction short of legal.
Eventually, after over an hour of constant though sometimes frustrating activity, the bite slowed. In the pause, we reflected on our day with amazement. Unable to fish for weeks because of the early November onset of wild winter weather, we found ourselves suddenly back in the thick of things on a calm, sunny day.
I had been preparing to winterize my outboard, thinking that the endlessly foul weather was going to close our rockfish season early. Then a prediction for a short warming spell.
The weather arrived as promised for once, and we were on the water by noon. The fish — small though many were — were cooperating. Hoping for some improvement in size, we fished until dark. As the sun fell, temperatures plunged and the light failed. But I hooked one last fish. It proved a good one, a 24-incher that provided a great closing battle for our day.
With a half-limit in the box and the skies black, we pulled anchor, dumped the last of our bait and chum, fired up the Yamaha and headed for home. The latest long-range forecast had hinted of a few more days of warmth and low wind before rockfish season closes December 15. On the way back to the ramp we plotted to take full advantage of them.