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Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle

Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.

Follow the birds to find the action

     We were at warp speed approaching Man O’ War Shoals, a large oyster reef that stretches for over two miles some distance southeast of Baltimore’s Key Bridge. Col. Dennis Robinson’s 20-foot Sea Hunt center console was barely touching the water as we covered the distance to the wheeling and diving gulls that had located feeding rockfish there.

We’re not the only ones that bite at that delicacy

     Flipping my bait over the side, I spooled out line, letting my bait disappear into the shaded depths and off the down-current side of the Bay Bridge pier. The tide had been moving for under an hour; the gentle current was just slow enough to allow my hook to sink to where I hoped the rockfish were holding.

As daylight and temperatures drop, fish alter their feeding habits

     Fishing, especially for rockfish, is about to get better. Decreasing temperatures mean that baitfish of all types —peanut bunker, silversides, anchovies, spot, yearling white perch and baby croaker — are moving toward deeper water.      The days are also getting shorter, with the sun rising about a minute later every morning and setting about a minute earlier each evening. While not particularly noticeable to us over the short term, it definitely has an effect on the fish.

Don’t give up on that missed strike

      I sent the Rat-L-Trap sailing out over the water in the longest cast I could manage. Pausing for a slow four-count to allow the lure to sink near the bottom, five feet down, I began the retrieve with long upward sweeps of my rod, followed by brief pauses to allow the lure to descend back toward the bottom.

Turns out it’s complicated

     I was casting to a rip-rapped, Bay shoreline laden with the remnants of an aged dock. There were multiple piers, railings and decks, long fallen into total disrepair. Curiously, there were no nearby buildings of any kind that explained the structure’s presence. It was, however, a white perch playground.

Don’t set your watch by a fisherman

     We had timed our launch to take advantage of the tidal current change. As it usually takes about an hour after the scheduled low for the current to gradually stop, then another hour for the incoming current to become noticeable, we intended to exploit that two-hour period of slower water. That made our launch time about 8am for targeting the Bay Bridge.

I’ve found an anchor I can depend on

      Running out of options, I had one card left to play.      Over the last few hours, I had fished a different areas without success. My plan to chum up a pair of fat rockfish for a weekend dinner was coming undone. The wind had freshened and the tide was running stronger than I preferred. But I had still to try one spot that had saved me in the past.      As I neared, I noted with satisfaction another boat already anchored, set up and fighting a fish.

The crabs were fat, plentiful and willing to be caught

I had violated my sacred rule never to promise blue crabs before they were caught. To further increase the danger of a dinner failure when an ever-growing number of people was expecting to be fed, I had not run a trotline in more than a year. Now, at well past dawn, we were only laying out the baited line at the mouth of a neighborhood creek.

Though not Bay natives, channel catfish are worth an angler’s time

Despite a firm New Year’s resolution to rise earlier during the hot summer months to take advantage of the cooler dawn hours when the rockfish are on the hunt, I once again failed to get out of bed and on the water until 8am. The day by then was already heating up and the striper bite a memory.