Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

 Vol. 10, No. 26

June 27 - July 3, 2002

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Ahab Suckered

“I think it’s probably a ray, but it could be a rockfish,” I told Chris Colbeck. When it ripped 100 yards of line from my reel, I knew it was a cownose ray, but I held out hope — that sometimes flimsy feeling known to permeate in desperate fishermen looking to salvage a slow evening.

In my mind’s eye, I saw the monster rockfish break the surface, its glimmering silver flanks offset by broken dark lines running the length of its body. After all, the hard strike that came from bouncing the seven-inch Bass Assassin jig in 20 feet of water was more akin to rockfish than ray. That’s what I told myself, anyway. The mirage continued as I saw Chris net it, reaffirming my feeling.

In reality, I was bored, so it was fun to chase down this estuarine kraken in the Voodoo Cat to the cheers and jeers from the local yokels chumming at the Bay Bridges.

“Why don’t you just cut the line?” Colbeck asked, echoing the sentiments of the crowd.

“Because I want to eat it. We can bring it to the party. The wing meat is good grilled. Besides, I want my lure back,” I said, aware how illogical this last notion sounded as I said it aloud. Even after a 10-minute stalemate, after I had crossed over into that zone where my obstinacy was no longer admirable, I pushed my luck.

I first saw the double-headed pectoral fins, dusky brown and more than two-feet across. Then the head briefly came into view, the indentation around its snout looking like two distinct head regions. This physical characteristic is why they are called double heads.

I begrudge cownose rays, which are related to sharks, for the manner in which they pursue their favorite food: soft shell clams. They use their powerful wings to displace sediments and root up underwater grasses to uncover clams. I realize it’s their nature to feed this way, but its also my nature to exhibit, from time to time, my role as predator in the ecosystem. This was one of them.

Fully aware of the ray’s dangerous barb at the base of its tail, I told Chris to ready the net.

“I think we oughta just let it go. In fact, I hope it breaks off,” he said. I ignored his subtle pleas for leniency, still bent on my Ahabesque pursuit. I’d have harpooned it, if I had brought my harpoon along.

Our chance came, and Chris’ attempt to net the winged beast failed. I’m still not convinced he didn’t intentionally miss, but it didn’t matter. In the next instance, a boisterous snap broke the tension. The beast won, smashing my beautiful rod like a twig, a third of it becoming habitat for bryozoans and other bethnic critters.

Speechless, I dropped the rod to the deck, only to suffer the indignity of raucous hoots from the nearby fishermen. I fired up the boat and waved my salutations to the peanut gallery. Chris handed me a cold one to dull the sting of losing a favored rod. Then we busted out, laughing at my debacle all the way to the Corsica River.

Fish Are Biting
Summer fishing patterns are pretty much on schedule. Myriad species, from flounder to bluefish to croaker, are abundant. According to Rob Jepson from Anglers, chumming for rockfish with alewife and razor clams remains hot at Love Point, Podickery Point and Dumping Grounds.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly