A Southern Smorgasbord
Six species in a day
There was a brutal hit on my yellow-over-white clouser fly, and as I struck firmly and set the hook, the fly line was torn through my fingers. With little hope of getting the fish under control with just hand tension, I reluctantly surrendered line as the fish ran as it pleased.
Only when the fish had finally pulled the rest of my loose line out and came tight to the reel and its firm drag could I begin to wear it down. After another one or two determined runs, it finally came to the boat, though very reluctantly. My wrist was aching before its bulk appeared in the water near us and Kevin got the net under it, lifting the glistening, still-struggling fish onto the deck.
I was surprised yet again. The striped bass was scarcely 20 inches. I had been assuming a fish well over that size from the power it displayed against my rod. Then I smiled. I keep forgetting how much stronger the fish are down here in the Southern Bay.
The Southern Bay provides power and more. That striped bass was the third species of fish that we had already scored, and we weren’t halfway through the morning.
Smorgasbord is a word that we’ve inherited from the Swedish; it’s come to mean a collection of varied things. That was the word that came to mind yet a little later when my friend and host, Dick Franyo, hooked and landed our fourth species of fish, a gorgeous speckled sea trout.
We had launched out of Crisfield at 8am with the wind rising but the skies clear and temperatures mild. Our more than able guide Kevin Josenhans (Kjosenhans@aol.com) had assured us that with all of the islands at our disposal it would be no problem finding any number of lee shores where we could cast flies to our hearts content. Even with the 25-knot wind that eventually blew, he was telling the truth.
The Crisfield/Tangier Sound area is one of the richest fishing grounds of the entire Bay. In Fishing the Chesapeake, Boating magazine fishing editor Lenny Rudow describes the Southern Bay as “one of the greatest places on earth to go fishing.” The praise is not overstated.
Within 15 minutes of launching, we had our first fish on a fly, a chunky, spirited croaker. It surprised us for two reasons: One, we were fishing a very shallow flat and didn’t expect a fish usually found in deeper haunts. Second, the hardhead was a good, mid-sized critter, but both Dick and I had expected a much larger fish on the end of my heavily arcing rod.
Higher salinity, cleaner water, more abundant food species or who knows what make the fish in these southern waters far stronger and more reluctant to come to net than those in the higher reaches of the Chesapeake. I initially misjudged the size of every fish I hooked until that 20-inch striper, which had me so completely size-fooled that I finally adjusted my expectations.
That morning’s first croaker was followed not too much later by our first bluefish That one insisted on clearing the water once or twice in twisting, spirited leaps before coming aboard to be released. After the bluefish encounter, we found a school of mixed sized stripers; every one was a wrestling match. We were rarely without action throughout the morning.
As the day wore on and we explored more varied waters, I lucked into our fifth species on the fly. Its fight pattern had me confused as to what I had hooked until a flat, mottled, dark olive back broke through the water. Minutes later we added a flounder release to our reasons to celebrate
Five species of fish and more than 50 releases on a wild and windy day says a lot about a region’s fishery. As we finished up and headed for home, we managed a few more stops to finesse just one or two more fish on our already incredibly successful trip.
It was then I had a tentative hit, and another hesitating, fluttering fight commenced. Thinking perhaps that I had hooked a small flounder, I eased the line up as delicately as I could and we all burst into laughter.
It was a blue crab with one claw tightly clutching my lure and wielding its other claw fiercely and defiantly against all comers. We held it at boat-side, admiring its courage and ferocity until at last it relinquished the lure and swam off.
We counted that as our sixth species and decided to brag shamelessly. It was the perfect end to a perfect day on our Southern Bay, one of the greatest places on Earth to go fishing.