Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 36

September 5-11, 2002

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Come on Out:
The Fishing’s Good

There is no season such delight can bring,
As summer, autumn, winter and the spring.
“Variety” William Browne: 1591-1645

Ah, the four seasons of delight, all with their own unique weather patterns, their moods and their niches on the calendar. We welcome them all; they bring change. But we’re not sorry to see each go. Its passing brings yet another welcome change.

I think of this as the first of the yellow appears on a few of the drought-stressed maples on the lawn. The rains came too late, and some trees have already commenced to shut down for the season, which is their pattern when roots find too little moisture in hot weather.

September has arrived. Suddenly, we find ourselves in late summer. We slip toward autumn, the season of color in the woodlands and on the lawn. Meanwhile, within the waters of Maryland comes the time of year that most delights the seasoned Izaak Waltons.

A Fish in Fall …
It is in the autumn (a more interesting and imaginative though less-used word than “fall”) that for many species the fishing is the best. In freshwaters, the biggest of the bass go on a rampage, the pickerel and the northern pike become more aggressive and the perch are most hungry.

In tidal and salt waters, for many species the diminishing daylight hours and cooling waters bring schooling up in countless numbers as preparation for migration to warmer climes in the winter ahead.

Instinctively, fish realize this is the time to feed, to store energy for winter. For those that travel many, many miles south, much of that energy will be spent in the long swim ahead.

… Is Hungry as a Fish in Spring
Among people who don’t wet hooks regularly, there is the common, though erroneous, belief that spring (with its warming of the waters as winter loosens its grasp) is the prime time for angling. For most fishes, spring is time for spawning, a ritual that for many tidal and saltwater species involves migration.

Fish move to new areas, many to their traditional spawning grounds where they are impatiently awaited by fishermen who for months have been pretty much landlocked, perhaps attending to other pursuits such as hunting. In our part of the country, few ice-fish any more; rarely in recent years have waters gotten hard enough on the top to support those who fish through the ice.

So, after a long layover, spring brings fishing once again as it brings the migrant fishes, whether they be largemouth and smallmouth bass, whose travels take them no farther than the deeper holes of lakes, ponds and rivers to the shoreline shallows; perch, which move upstream to freshwaters to lay their ribbons of eggs; or rockfish, whose destination is less-saline headwaters to turn out fledglings that eventually contribute more than 80 percent of their populations from the Carolinas to Maine.

Summer with its heat — and of late, with so much dryness — oftentimes comes too soon. But summer is also associated with fishing. That’s when the weather is more predictable, the winds more hospitable, vacations offer more opportunity and the remainder of the migrant fish arrive by the hundreds of thousands or the millions.

By autumn, there are many anglers who concede they’re all fished out, which I thought of the past weekend when I journeyed to the Rod ’n’ Reel at Chesapeake Beach to fish the Bay. The winds were brisk, showers intermittent and all the boats — charter and private — but one were to remain at the docks.

Had it been spring, when weather is not infrequently like that, most of the boats would have sailed. In spring, the adventure and enthusiasm is rampant, so what’s a wet, bumpy ride if fish are to be had? As autumn approaches, the angler’s perspective changes: though fish are still hungry, catching has become old hat.

Fish Galore
But autumn is my favorite season for fishing. The best time to head out on the water is whenever you can, but for pure catching, autumn is when the blues form in massive schools preparing for their exodus. And they’re the biggest of the year.

Spanish mackerel are hungry as the time approaches to return to the ocean. Sea trout gather in bunches that can cover acres on the floor of the Chesapeake, where they feed on slashings that drop from near the surface where blues, rock and mackerel feed feverishly on silversides, bay anchovies, small menhaden and other baitfish.

The rockfish that sometimes have been so scarce in legal size for much of the summer suddenly reappear in numbers not available at any other time. And, to sweeten the pot, as the much larger rockfish that summer in the Atlantic from New Jersey to Maine begin to head for wintering waters off North Carolina, some make a turn west into the Chesapeake for a few weeks.

They’re fresh from the ocean, as we can tell by the sea lice on their gills. Many are of more than 36 inches, some are in the 40s, there are a few 50 inches or more. The catching is better even than during the heralded spring trophy season. Autumn and early winter is the time to go.

Come on Out
Interested? For two years now, scheduling has interfered with our Bay Weekly autumn Chesapeake fishing trip. But on Sunday, October 6, in response to many requests, we will have an informal rendezvous at our usual place, Harrison’s Chesapeake House at Tilghman Island. And you’re invited.

We will primarily be on the chase of blues, sea trout and rockfish, and much of the effort will be via chumming, an exciting light-tackle sport. The boats will sail at 7:30am sharp. Some of us will gather the evening before; others will come on the Sunday morning. It will be a reunion with much fishing talk.

No need to be an experienced angler. Skippers and mates will be available to assist. It will be a hands-on experience, fun and fish for all. Sidekick Alan Doelp and I will work out the boat assignments and everything else except cleaning the catch — but even that will be available at Chesapeake House.

By 3pm, we will head back to the docks where our traditional buffet featuring crabcakes will be served on the crab deck, promises Capt. Buddy Harrison. Fishing stories will again be swapped, friendships renewed. Then the trip home.

All of Sunday’s activities — buffet breakfast, box lunch and the afternoon dockside festivities and one complementary drink with, of course, the fishing — will be $110 a person. Overnight accommodations and dinner the previous night are additional, and can be arranged by those who make reservations early. Arrive early enough on Sunday to enjoy the breakfast spread that opens at 6am.

In the interest of keeping things uncomplicated, we ask that you sign up for our trip by calling Harrison’s directly to give your name and the number who will fish. Alan and I will be checking with Harrison’s to plan boat assignments.

Call 410/886-2123 to sign on. Be sure to make it clear that you are with the Burton/Bay Weekly fishing trip to qualify for the special price and arrangements. We will do the rest — and let the fish, so cooperative in early October, know we’re coming. I’m looking forward to seeing you, I promise it will be fun.

Call Harrison’s now.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly