The Thrill is Worth the Chill
Live-lining eels for big rock at Cape Charles
The orange fishing floats bobbed like a row of ducks swimming to our starboard. They marked a half-dozen live eels that hovered at various depths, each with a sharp, 7/0 hook inserted lightly under the skin behind their heads.
It had been scarcely a half-hour since we had begun a long, deep-water drift on this bitter cold December morning, but the winds were comfortably low and we were hopeful that some good sized rockfish might find our baits tempting.
Six medium-action spinning rods stood in holders spaced evenly along the gunwale. Their light tips pulsed with the eels’ movements and the remnants of ocean swells that just reached us, nine miles inside the mouth of the Chesapeake off of Cape Charles.
Then without warning a rod slammed violently down toward the water. Of our anglers, Paul Skrickus was closest, and he quickly lifted the straining rod out of its holder, paused, then set the hook again for insurance. His reel spool spun into a blur as an obviously powerful striper realized it had just made a mistake.
Lightly playing the fish at first, Paul encouraged it away from the remaining eel floats and then gave it its head. Once clear, he leaned into the heavy striper as much as his light tackle would allow.
The fish responded by digging for the bottom, some 60 feet down. After several long and arduous moments of lifting and cranking, he finally got it back to the surface. Our jaws dropped as it broke water and showed itself.
It wasn’t just a good fish; it was a great fish. Everyone’s attention was riveted on Paul’s battle now, hoping nothing would go wrong. The fish made rush after rush away from the boat, sometimes heading back for the bottom, sometimes for the horizon, but the relentless pressure of the light rod eventually took its toll.
With a final tail-slap signaling defeat, it rolled onto its side next to the boat. Our skilled first mate, Sarah Fisher, trapped the beast in the folds of her big net and lifted. But it took a few more hands to manage the heavy fish over the side.
As the striper spilled clear of the net onto the deck, we saw that this was a trophy. Thick and healthy, with fresh sea lice skittering off of its bulk, it measured out at 42 inches.
Five minutes later, a second rod slammed down, and another of our party, Rip Deladrier, took a turn. This striper ran long and determined, and it was a good 10 minutes before we even got a glimpse of it. When it saw the boat, it stripped half the spool back off of the Shimano reel.
The battle was extended and tense, but eventually Rip’s steady hand wore the big fish down. Sarah’s net trapped it at boatside, thrashing and protesting. As it came aboard, even enfolded in the net, it was even larger than our first striper.
The fish taped out just under 45 inches, and our captain, Chuck Fisher, estimated its weight in the low 40s. It had an incredible girth.
We were stunned. In just 20 minutes, two rockfish had come over the side that bettered anything any of us had ever caught on light tackle. Phenomenal is not too strong a description for the results we had just experienced, and the day had just started.
Captain Fisher (410-288-5310; [email protected]) considers drifting live eels on light tackle by far the most exciting and effective way to target these trophy winter rockfish at Cape Charles. He and Sarah, his wife and first mate, have been a team, guiding, instructing and encouraging anglers for many years.
Their 26-foot, deep V cat boat, the Sarah J, proved a perfect platform for this type of angling. If you want the experience and knowledge of fishing for the monster rockfish lurking in the winter depths out of Cape Charles, especially on tackle that will test your skills, Chuck and Sarah are definitely the team.