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Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle

Yellow perch are here

Daylight hours have been getting longer, yet most days, temperatures keep us in winter. But the yellow perch know that their springtime is here.     Moving now into the deeper water of the tributaries, they are forming large schools and staging. Yellow perch are the earliest fish to spawn in the Tidewater, and their run is the first trumpet sounding the Bay’s piscatorial spring.

Eat, drink, see movies and strengthen your skills

Ye gads it’s been a difficult winter!         Today it’s bitter cold and windy, and the long-range forecast looks like a lot more of the same, except for the charming likelihood of a few days of freezing rain. With two of my offspring still in college, there is no fiscal possibility of escaping to the tropics.     I’ve got to face up to the inevitable, the imminent approach of the most agonizing month of the year, February.

Who can resist the water on a mild day?

January’s first Saturday afternoon was a beautiful time to be on the water. It was near 70 degrees, sunny, calm and the incoming tide was making up nicely. Drifting in my small skiff over a shell bottom at the mouth of the Magothy, I threaded a piece of worm on a size-two hook. The upper hook on my top and bottom rig already sported a small, wriggling bull minnow.

Out with the old, in with the new

Winter has been kind to us. I said farewell to the old year drifting under the Bay Bridge in calm and temperate conditions, catching (and releasing) a few fat five-pound rockfish.     Our weather was so unusually mild during the last of 2011 that the water temperatures in parts of the mid-Bay rose three degrees. Judging by the 10-day forecast, into January I can still hold off on winterizing my skiff.

It was a mostly great year

The rockfish season this year was, on the whole, great. It didn’t start until June because spring was a three-month mix of heavy rains, high winds, muddy water and low temperatures. While that early scenario was disappointing for anglers, it was fantastic for the fish, because just about every species that reproduces in the Chesapeake had a very successful spawn.

The season ended December 15. No more keepers until April.

Tic, tic, tic: I could feel my two-ounce bucktail jig bouncing lightly across the remnants of the centuries-old oyster bed some 70 feet below. On this windy, mid-December day, even with gloves my hands were aching cold and my fingers growing numb. Then, finally, something below felt different, and I slammed my rod back hard. The tip arced over, hesitated, and my whole rod was pulled down, almost to the gunnel. The drag started to hiss. Fish on!

Bringing home the fish on a captain’s holiday

With winter approaching and their businesses winding down, Chesapeake fishing guides Frank Tuma and Tom Hughes finally had a few days off. Of course they decided to go fishing, and they invited me and my friend Maurice Klein to join them.     Cruising down from the Magothy in Frank’s 29-foot C Hawk Downtime, we reached the Bay Bridge at 11am. It was fantastic weather for early December, light winds, 60 degrees, bright and sunny with a nice running, outgoing tide.

It’s time for the big guys

They started to arrive late last week. First you saw a few 38- and 40-inch rockfish in angler’s boat boxes. Then the really big guys appeared, up to 47 inches so far. The ocean-run migratory fish have reached the mid-Bay, and they are awesome.     Falling mainly to anglers trolling big lures deep, at 40 to 60 feet, the monsters are providing lots of thrills after we’ve been struggling the last several weeks to get fish over 18 inches. It’s a welcome change.

Even this time of year, you might find a rockfish. Or two.

The temperatures were actually mild the other day. Rain and wind were forecast as an all-day certainty, but I kept a close eye on the weather. Late that afternoon, sure enough, the stiff breeze lay down. With no looming sign of rain from the heavy cloud cover, I hooked up my trailered skiff and headed for the Bay. My heart was set on a fresh rockfish dinner.

Joseph Capozzolli is one of a new species of Chesapeake waterman

A few hardy souls on the Chesapeake still fish to live.