|Struck and Lost
Its a feeling every angler has experienced more times than he or she cares to remember, but its an inevitable part of fishing and probably the single most compelling factor (other than catching fish, obviously) that keeps me going back. I am talking about that hollow emptiness that fills your head and heart after a thunderous strike, a brief struggle, followed by nothingness: a void that is unmistakably a big fish that has slipped the hook. It happened to me twice this week, but fortunately we landed a couple of nice, albeit smaller, rockfish that softened the blow.
I suffered through this deflated feeling as I fished for stripers with Chuck Foster in Eastern Bay. We started out fishing soft plastics, five-inch and seven-inch albino and/or shad colored Fin-S-Fish. When the tide started to run, Chuck suggested we switch to live bait. Good call on his part, because we soon boated two fatties. Toward the end of the brief, pre-work trip, we made another pass over the fertile ground.
Instead of paying attention to the drift of my bait, I was yapping about something nonsensical, perhaps. My rod bent double and nearly flew out of my hand. I felt the Titan at the other end only briefly, but by then it was too late. I choked, and the fish was long gone.
The trick to live-bait fishing is to keep in contact with your line and bait and not get over-anxious when you do get a strike. You want to avoid hook sets à la the Saturday morning television bass jockeys, who rip a gut setting the hook on a three-pound largemouth. Another key to live-bait fishing is to give the rockfish a good five-second count, or longer, after the fish takes the live offering. This gives your quarry time to orient the fish in its mouth. In my experience, rockfish will sometimes smack a baitfish with its tail to stun it (as they sometimes do with surface plugs) or mouth live bait to get it to go down head first.
Nothing is ever absolute in fishing, but patience is perhaps the exception. I violated that rule and it cost me, but luckily I am compelled by another fishing axiom: To try again.
Fish are Biting
Cool days and nights have kept water temperatures just below the 70-degree mark in most areas of the Bay, and that means continued excellent bottom fishing for hardheads (also known as croaker), spot and white perch. There are plenty of other options too day or night, bait or artificial lure to get into some excellent fish. The rockfishermen I have spoken with are doing quite well using a variety of tactics, and many of the stripers are from the vaunted 1996 year, running 16 to 19 inches. Combine that with 20- to 24-inch fish from the previous two years, 1994 and 1995, and that is much of our current striper fishery.
Fred Donovan from Rod n Reel in Chesapeake Beach (800/233-2080) said he issued a citation earlier this week for a 30-inch sea trout. He also said that Capt. Randy Dean and his party, fishing aboard the Yankee Dollar, caught their rockfish limit trolling at the Gooses. They then switched to bottom fishing using soft crab and razor calms to take nice croaker and sea trout in the 22- to 28-inch range. The False Channel is hot for rockfish, and Holland Point and Breezy Point are worth bottom fishing.
In the upper Bay, Jim from Anglers says shore fishermen still find Sandy Point and Matapeake to be faring well for croakers on soft crabs and bloodworms. Many nice-sized white perch can be taken on squid and grass shrimp on the shell bars from West River past the Bay Bridge. We did very well at Tolley Point for nice white perch, the bigger ones preferring squid to the grass shrimp (or maybe the little guys were quicker to the shrimp). The holes above Hacketts Point have nice croaker.