Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 9
March 2-8, 2000
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Busted Fishing Trip Isn’t a Bust at All

I should have known that with two dogs aboard, fishing would be a challenge. But my fishin’ jones compelled me to chase pickerel and yellow perch in the Magothy River while the gorgeous spring-like weather lasted. My girlfriend Mimsy joined me, Huck (the Chesapeake retriever pup) and Finn (the pointer) for the first trip of the new millennium aboard VooDoo Cat, our 20-foot power catamaran.

We headed for Dobbins Island, located between the river and Sillery Bay. In summer, boaters pull right onto shore to swim and bask in the warm sun. We wanted to run the dogs tired so they might chill out once we went fishing. It was a good plan, except it didn’t work.

As we crossed the river, flocks of scaup, also called bluebills, the drakes’ vibrant iridescent black hoods contrasting with white capes accented by pale blue bill, dotted the waterscape. Scores of ruddy ducks lilted and shimmied just above the water, testing the laws of aerodynamics. High in the stratosphere flew a clear sign of the end of winter: a squadron of tundra swans heading north.

The water was liquid green crystal, free from summer’s algae and the residue of boat exhaust. The visibility was due in part to the underwater grasses that have taken root in this section of the Magothy in the last few seasons.

Most of these finer details were lost on the two dogs, who were simply enthralled by the boat ride. The young pup Huck was drawn to the birds, however, an encouraging sign for a dog that still has much to learn about waterfowling (as do I, for that matter).

I eased VooDoo Cat onto the beach, and we all ran ashore, excited at the prospect of what the crazy tides and currents from the winter storms might have washed up. In a small stand of reed grass (Phragmites australis), Finn discovered a wonderful treasure: a drake canvasback with a band on its leg. The bird was freshly dead, the cause unknown as there was no obvious wound.

On Monday, I called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bird-banding number (800/327-2263) and learned that the duck was banded in Maryland on January 11, 1984. That bird lived more than 16 years. Quite a feat considering the dangers associated with its long migration and threats from disease, predation and hunters. The Fish and Wildlife Service biologist told me that the life expectancy of canvasbacks was 14 years.

Much to Finn’s Sunday dismay, we left his prized beach in search of fish. By now, the sky had darkened and the clouds ganged together ominously. We ducked into a small inlet to cast a few spinners before the rain chased us off the water.

Via the Internet and friends, I had learned that yellow perch had started to run last week in Nanjemoy and Mattawoman Creeks on the Potomac. Traditionally, yellows are the first anadromous fish to spawn in Bay tributaries. With the recent influx of warmer weather (perch spawn in water temperatures ranging from 43 to 53 degrees), it’s likely that many regular hotspots — including the Wye, Chester and Choptank rivers, as well as your own favorites — are now productive.

In February, Maryland Department of Natural Resources received emergency regulations from the General Assembly “to ensure a sustained, healthy yellow perch population for both the recreational and commercial fisheries.” They took action to protect yellow perch from increasing fishing efforts and mortality rate.

These new standards establish uniform limits for yellow perch, which is nine inches in tidal waters open to recreational fishing. The old regulations were often confusing because different rivers had different size limits. Creel limits remain the same: Anglers are permitted five fish per day.

These changes may bode well for yellow perch and fishermen, but they didn’t help us. Any fish in that creek soon disappeared when Huck the pup, in full retrieve mode, launched himself over the gunwale after first cast. Before he could vault into the water again, I laid a heavy command on him, explaining that fishing lures weren’t to be retrieved like bumpers or ducks. He got the point, but after several casts without a hit, we packed it in and headed for the ramp just ahead of the rains.

Maybe next time, I’ll just give the dogs their own rods.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly