A Silver Lining
The next best thing to a fish is a fish story
Technically the day wasn’t a total skunk.
The beginning had been so promising. Mike and I arrived promptly on schedule at Leo James’ Marina on Mill Creek, where Mike’s boat was berthed.
Leo, a longtime friend and particularly skilled waterman, had returned a couple of hours earlier from netting alewives. The fresh bait he set aside for us couldn’t have been prettier. Firm, cold and shining a silvery, purple iridescence, the 10- to 14-inch baitfish we iced down in our cooler looked delicious enough to eat even if we knew better. We also bought a two-gallon frozen block of Leo’s freshly made (the day before) ground chum.
We felt as well prepared as you could be for trophy rockfish. The posted tides indicated a falling flood by noon, and the winds were predicted calm. The sky was overcast. We couldn’t ask for better conditions.
The trophy striper season was only four days old, and though fish were scattered throughout the mid-Bay we knew that our chances were as good as anyone’s perhaps even better with this incredibly fresh bait and chum. There was a good feeling in the air.
We had half a dozen rods rigged with brand new line, fluorocarbon leaders and large, needle-sharp Owner and Gamakatsu hooks, the best. Failure was not a consideration at this point.
Anchoring and setting up in 36 feet of water about a mile or so south of the bridge and well off the mouth of the Severn, we began to fish. Mike promptly hooked an undersized but frisky 21-inch rockfish that was immediately released. An excellent start.
Then the fickle gods of fortune frowned. We waited through three hours of frustration as a reluctant and meandering tidal current took forever to gather itself and move out.
In the meantime, our delectable chum slicked out first in one direction, then in another. This meant that the scent trails to our baited hooks were widely dispersed Any striped bass encountering the odorous morsels drifting erratically away from our boat would end up following a scent trail that led nowhere.
Fish Are Biting
Trophy rockfish continue to be erratic but attainable. Trolling has produced the most consistent results. White perch are reappearing and pleasing many anglers who have stuck with them. The hot story in mid-Bay is big croaker up to 22 inches. A large school has been reported on the Eastern Shore side just south of the Bay Bridge. That is great news this early in the year. Get in on this one.
We soldiered on through the afternoon, but still no fish, even after the current stiffened. Mike patiently shepherded the baited rods as if he expected a hit at any moment, checking them, then freshening and resetting the baits.
My friend is a dedicated and consummate bait fisherman, and he has endless patience with this deadly method. I could only admire his tenacity. I’m afraid I fell into despair sooner than I should have.
I can cast for hours to likely water and prowl around bridges, structures and piers at all hours, endlessly looking for fish that may or may not be there. But I find it difficult to sit and wait. Under those conditions, I have the attention span of a gnat.
That’s not a good thing. I felt guilty that day, almost guilty enough to forego the frequent naps I stole throughout a good deal of our fishless afternoon
Finally, as evening approached, I abandoned my horizontal perch. The uncooperative tide was slackening once again; even Mike agreed that the end was nigh. We had better get on home. Cleaning up the boat, we pulled anchor.
Back at the marina, we returned our unused alewives to Leo. Well iced, they were still so fresh and firm we could not bring ourselves to discard them. Throwing them to the fish was out of the question. Even if they were around, they clearly didn’t deserve such a reward.
Turning the Tide
As we solemnly loaded the last of our gear in my truck for the ride home, I remembered a fortuitous geographical coincidence. Leo’s boatyard is right next to Cantler’s Riverside Inn, one of the better waterfront taverns on the Chesapeake.
Agreeing that perhaps an adult beverage might boost our flagging spirits, we detoured.
Inside was serendipity. A legion of equally unsuccessful fishermen populated the bar. We knew a few, and the rest we quickly came to know. Our mood changed from despondence to camaraderie.
How could we despair of our luck when it was shared by so many stout-hearted sportsmen of unquestionably good taste and great skill? The conversations became a contest not of who did better but of which of us did heroically worse.
Laughter from outrageous stories filled the establishment, and the fatigue from our day’s disappointments fell away. Rockfish season was here, the Bay was in bloom and the whole summer lay before us.