A Fish Story
You never know what’s down there
by Sandra Olivetti Martin
The same urge that flings probes into the dotted vastness of space compels fishing people to cast their line into ponds, creeks, rivers, oceans and Chesapeake Bay. Outsiders might not get it, but devotees believe, with the zeal of saints, in another world beyond our ken. It’s not only there; it’s penetrable. Break the meniscus that separates here from there, and who knows what wonders you’ll encounter.
Faith rewarded Brenda Clark, of Fairhaven Cliffs, with a rockfish nearly as big as she is.
On the 22nd day of Chesapeake Bay’s trophy rockfish season, Clark, 46, hauled the mother of millions of stripped bass out of the water and into companion Mark Manders’ 1964 31-foot classic Bertram fishing boat.
They were trolling at Channel Marker 83 marking the Bay’s western deep channel beyond Herring Bay using multi-lured umbrella rigs in a color called Ruby Red Lips. When the deepest rigged rod bent with a fish, Clark took her turn and grabbed it.
In the fighting chair, Clark battled the fish as line screamed off the reel.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” said Manders. “I’d say 35 minutes.”
“It was like a consistent tug of rope,” said Clark. “I’d pull, and it would shake its head back and forth, and I’d feel that. I had a hard time cranking at times. But I don’t know how long, because I was doing it.”
The fish they finally hauled aboard weighed in at 531⁄2 pounds. A female, it had already laid its eggs. Full of roe, it might have weighed as much as nine pounds heavier, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Martin Gary.
More impressive still, the fish stretched 55 inches long. That’s just nine inches less than five-foot-four-inch Clark.
“It was her Mother’s Day present,” Manders said.
“If it really was measured properly, it’s an extraordinary fish,” said Gary, who sets his standard by DNR’s annual spawning stock survey. Every year since 1982, DNR biologists have fished six days a week during spawning season from early April to late May, catching, measuring and releasing thousands of fish.
“When a fish approaches 50 inches,” said Gary, “you’re in the 97th or 98th percentile of what we’ve seen over last 20 years.”
Begoggled by such a catch, Manders and Clark had the fish measured twice, so they could believe what they were seeing. Both JJ’s Tackle and Happy Harbor docks, on Rockhold Creek in Deale, confirmed the enormity.
A fish that big could be 18 to 26 years old, according to Gary.
A fishing fanatic, Manders has fished every day this season when weather would let him out, even in waves to six feet. The self-employed painter took a week off to work as a mate for Captain Rick Blackwell on the charter fishing boat Fowl Play. Nothing near this big had come his way. “Every day’s a little bit different,” he said. “We’ve been catching them in all sizes, including in the 40-inch range. We’ve caught keepers and throwbacks. But we’ve never caught anything like this.”
On May 16, trophy season ended. Legal size now begins at 18 inches, and two may be kept, of which only one can be over 28 inches.
All that remains of Clark’s Mother’s Day rockfish are the photos, memories and scales saved to be used in determining the fish’s age.
“We ate it,” Clark said. The big fish yielded “two big fillets about 20 pounds each.” It was enough for two party dinners, one smoked and one charcoal broiled.