The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Stripers the Hard Way
A cool visit to angler’s heaven
Fishing the Chesapeake in summertime is a deep-water proposition. At sunup, the fish, particularly the striped bass, begin moving to deeper water if they ever were shallow. Being particularly light- and sound-sensitive, they find sanctuary and comfort in water depths of 25 to 40 feet. There the sound of boat motors and the exposing rays of the sun are muted to tolerable levels.
Deep jigging, live lining, deep trolling, chumming and bottom fishing are the deadliest methods for better sized rock in the Bay during this time. The smarter anglers embrace these methods and prosper.
I have tried over the years to be a rational adult, but I sometimes get bored with intelligent alternatives, and also with being comfortable and well rested. This questionable state of mind can lead me to an activity called salt-water fly-fishing. Which is what I was doing in the dark of the night not too long ago near a rocky point along the shoreline of the main stem of Chesapeake Bay.
An evening temperature in the low 60s and an unexpectedly brisk breeze out of the northeast had descended upon me simultaneously, and I had started to get uncomfortable. It was about 10:30pm, and I had been lurking in my skiff near a rocky point that had a particularly nice rip developing with the falling tide. I was hoping some of the fish I knew were holding in the nearby deeper water would get an uncontrollable urge for a shallow-water, late-night snack.
The rip was getting beautiful, but I kept getting colder, and the wind was not going away. In fact, it was blowing right in my face. Fortunately I was partially in the lee of the rocks, so the chop that was forming was not adversely affecting the boat.
Casting into the teeth of that wind was not too much of a problem, as long as I remembered to extend line only on my backcast and to keep the forward cast low to the water. A sliver of moon allowed me to sometimes catch a glimpse of my small black streamer reaching out over the water.
Though I was thoroughly working the sweet spot of the rip, nothing had happened for almost an hour. Doubt and recrimination settled heavily about my shoulders.
I knew that the next morning, not a half-mile from where I now huddled, quite a few anglers would be catching limits of good-sized stripers along the channel edge in about 35 feet of water. It was not comforting that all of this would occur in the warm sunshine, during the calm of a summer day as they held tasty adult beverages in their hands.
A jarring pull on my line interrupted that thought. A heave of water welled in the middle of the rip, and a broad tail swept a gout of water almost to the rocks. The fly line tore through my chilled fingers as a powerful rockfish discovered it had just made a serious mistake.
Elation banished all else from my consciousness. I was suddenly certain that I was the cleverest angler on the water that night; that I was most likely the only angler on the water as well didn‘t matter.
The line came tight to the reel, and the line vibrated with the pressure of the fish boring through the water as it ran against the drag, a sure sign of a good fish. The fight lasted quite a while as I nervously maneuvered the fish away from the nearby rocks.
When I finally eased it into the folds of my net, relief flooded my body. It was a good seven or eight pounds. Quieting the fish with a quick tap, I eased it into the bed of ice in my cooler, a dinner well earned.
Shivering from the night air and the chill of the ice on my hands, I checked the tippet for abrasions and, finding none, cast again. As the fly touched the water, it was greeted by the immediate strike of another good fish. The evening turned into a melee. For the next 45 minutes, I fought and released fish after fish, all virtual duplicates of the first. I was in angler’s heaven.
It was close to midnight when the school finally left. I was thoroughly chilled and completely spent. The wind was getting a bit stronger, and whitecaps were now spitting their tops over the rocks in front of me. Time to get out of Dodge.
I stowed my tackle and got the boat ready to move out into the increasing chop. Pulling the anchor, I ran my electric motor until I was sure of deeper water; then, priming the outboard, I fired it up. Its gentle rumble was a welcome sound. I carefully headed for home.
Fishing the point again on subsequent nights and similar tide conditions, I have failed to equal that trip, but hope springs eternal in an unbalanced mind. Of course there’s also a lot to be said for relaxing under the warm sun with a gentle summer breeze while I watch the tips of my bait rods for the sign of a bite. As long as I’m fishing, I’m a happy man.
Note to nighttime fishermen: Remember that striped bass cannot be in an angler’s possession while fishing on the Bay after midnight and before 5am.
Fish Are Biting
The bite in the mid-Bay has turned red-hot. Chummers and live liners are scoring exceedingly well along the channel edge between Sandy Point Light and the Baltimore Light. A few rockfish are trophy sized, the rest in the mid-20s. Some days are equally hot at Hacketts, Love Point and the Muds.
Big perch are still elusive. Small spot are arriving, but the croaker are not. Good numbers of rock are in the Eastern Bay, and rumors of bluefish are rampant. Summer is here. Enjoy.