An Unusual Suspect
You never know what unexpected treasures the mighty Chesapeake will reveal. After tossing spoons to small but rapacious bluefish and feisty rockfish, Joe Coble and I went in search of bigger quarry. We found a good ledge near the Bay Bridge where fish showed up as solid arches on the sounder. Whether that would translate into strikes, only time would tell.
Drifting over the spot jigging feather jigs and spoons, we hooked a decent three-pound weakfish, several small trout and a few undersized rockfish. When Joes rod bent hard, I figured he had another keeper weakfish - that is, until I saw a metallic flash. First guess was bluefish, but when it briefly broke the surface before spitting the hook, I saw that it was a shad, and a 25-incher at that.
Now there have been small tarpon caught farther down the Bay in pound nets, and I heard that a silver king was caught at the Narrows last month. Its conceivable, I suppose, that this was not a shad. Regardless, it was the most unusual catch in quite a while.
Wild shad are anadromous fish that spend two to five years in the Atlantic. Then, possibly spurred on by some primordial chemical marker imprinted in their genetic makeup, they travel hundreds of miles to spawn in the streams and rivers of their birth. Records show that before dams blocked their passage, some shad followed the Susquehanna River all the way to Cooperstown, N.Y., nearly 700 miles from the Bay.
After the female releases more than a 100,000 eggs into the water column, the male fertilizes them. The eggs drift in the current for less than a week, then hatch as larvae. Most adult female shad die after spawning because they lack the fat reserves that would provide them the strength to return to the ocean. Those adult fish that do make it out of the Chesapeake travel up the Atlantic coast, making it as far north as Canadas Bay of Fundy.
In the previous centuries, river men and native people fed on the succulent meat and roe from American shad, one of six species of shad and herring that swim our waters. These men, and a few women, made a lot of money harvesting shad from big rivers like the Susquehanna, Potomac, and James.
During halcyon years of shad fishing, about 17 million pounds of the oily fish were harvested. Today, the Bay fishery for white and hickory shad is strictly catch and release, except for some indigenous tribes in Virginia. Decades of overfishing, blocked river passages from dams and poor spawning habitat has forced the populations demise.
But through restoration and stocking programs, more fish ladders and severely curtailing the commercial ocean fishery, there is hope that shad stocks can bounce back to an appreciable level. Then, maybe in the future, jigging up a shad will be commonplace.
Fish Are Biting, Ducks Are Flying
This time of year is heaven for the hook-and-bullet crowd. Reports for the early teal season and resident goose season were decent.
On the fishing front, schools of breaking fish are busting the surface throughout the Bay. Chumming at Love Point, the Gooses, and Middle Grounds is producing. Bottom fishing for spot and white perch is solid, as is jigging for trout.
Duck lovers can support waterfowl conservation by attending the 28th annual fall banquet sponsored by the Annapolis Chapter of Ducks Unlimited to be held at St. Johns College on Thurs., Oct. 4 from 6 to 10pm. Steve Linhard: 410/269-1029.