The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
A bad day fishing is better than a good day otherwise spent
I caught the motion at the edge of my vision and instinctively froze. The flight of mallards was high, very high, but they had pulled their wings in close like they do when they want to come down but don’t want to scrub any speed. They plummeted, all eight of them, not losing or gaining an inch in the distance that separated them from each other.
As they leveled out not too far away, they were really cooking. I must have been in a favorite cove of theirs, but finally noticing me there, they weren’t having any of it. The cold weather seemed to have made them extra cautious.
Tucking in and lighting their ducky afterburners, they moved out even faster than they came in.
I mentally calculated what kind of lead it would take to catch up with one if the hunting opportunity ever presented itself. Under the best of circumstances, it would be a futile effort I decided.
Since I was only armed with a casting rod, the exercise was entirely theoretical, which was just as well. I was doing poorly enough that morning fishing without mixing in performance problems in another sport as well.
It was brisk, chilly and overcast, and the stiffening breeze was uncomfortable. Two hours of fruitless casting along a barren shoreline had done nothing to raise my spirits
I had been trapped indoors the last week or so by the relentless winds, driving rain and plunging temperatures. A brief lull in the otherwise hostile weather pattern had given me hope that I might recapture some of the fishing magic that had been so abundant in recent weeks. But it was obvious now that that wasn’t going to happen.
I pulled the anchor and headed home. A little later with a warm breakfast under my belt, I morosely considered the fact that winter was coming, good times on the water were numbered and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Then the phone rang. It was Mike, a friend with whom I had discussed the possibility of fishing that afternoon. No way. It was sure to be just as bad as the morning, and it was supposed to start raining.
But Mike had a plan and a bigger boat. There were reliable reports, he said in an excited tone, of 11-inch perch, stacked like cordwood, deep, all along a certain edge of a certain bridge support, and he had the exact location. It probably wouldn’t rain that hard anyway.
Now I knew that the fish were scarce in the shallows, but deep was an entirely different kettle of fish, so to speak. In 10 minutes I was pulling on a rain suit over foul weather boots.
A half-hour later Mike and I were heading out into a choppy Bay that was looking to get worse. But the rain was light, just a mist really. We congratulated ourselves on our fortitude. Hell, anyone can catch fish in good weather.
Arriving at our destination, we began pulling in perch immediately, but they were too small. Then Mike hooked a good fish that turned out to be a fat striper. That was a pleasant surprise, but it was 17 inches, just a little under the legal size of 18. He released it as a steady rain began to fall. The wind freshened audibly, and it got colder
Then I hooked a striper, a real scrapper. It was just one-half inch short. Mike got another one the same size.
Over the weather noise he yelled, “With all the 17s we’re catching, there has to be some 18s in there somewhere.”
I agreed. Birds had begun working the water, circling and screaming. We doubled our efforts as the rain increased.
We caught twice as many 17-inch rockfish. Water was flowing down the back of my hat onto my neck, and the wind was driving cold rivulets up my sleeves. There was even a streak or two of snow. The sky grew darker.
Kneeling on the pitching deck, throwing back yet another 17-incher, I glanced at Mike doing the same while bracing himself against the console. His sodden hat no longer gave him any protection, his face was red with wind and rain and the coat he was wearing was a sopping mess. He looked over and grinned big. “We’re catching some fish, we are,” he said.
Convulsing with laughter, I replied, “I’m ready anytime you are.” Wordlessly, but still grinning, we both stowed our tackle. Mike kicked the engine into gear and we headed for home. Ducking low under the windscreen to avoid the stinging rain and flying seas, we laughed again.
Well, we did catch fish, and we both knew that hard weather wasn’t about to stop our fishing season. Not yet. Not by a long shot.
Fish Are Biting
Cold weather and high winds halted the shallow-water bite last week. But deep jigging and trolling in the main stem are getting fish. The mouths of the tributaries are the hot spots in the cold spells. Big perch remain available, some trout are still hanging around and the ocean-run stripers are at Chesapeake Beach. They should be hitting the Mid-Bay any day now. You can break out the big stuff.