A Rockfish Fiesta
Bounty on the water and on the table
We had been trolling for just about two minutes when the first rod tip slammed down. The strike had an emphasis that announced a big fish. Drag on the big Penn reel screeched and howled an angler’s melody as line poured off from the power and weight of an angry striper.
A long minute passed before our first sport could manage the straining rod out of its holder to begin the demanding task of bringing an obviously sizeable fish to net.
It was going to get a lot better after that.
All of this had begun the night before with a phone call. Two friends and I were plotting to take advantage of a break in the weather to go rockfishing the next morning.
Though the wind was forecast to kick up midday and the sea conditions would be further complicated by the considerable big boat traffic accompanying the Blue Angels’ appearance on the Severn, we hoped to get out for a while in the early morning hours.
Our only problem was going to be locating fish. Constant rain and squally weather had scattered any schools of striped bass that had begun to form. Few anglers had ventured out to look for them. So picking a destination was up to us.
I call my neighbor, Frank Tuma (Downtimecharters.com), a talented local charter boat skipper who was having success staying on the fish. I hoped he would have a line on any striper whereabouts.
Not only did he have the skinny on the hot bite, he didn’t have a charter the next day and was taking two of his hunting buddies out for a couple of hours in the morning. Then he asked if the three of us would like to join him. Yahoo!
Fish Are Biting
The rockfish bite has started back up after that spate of foul weather. Podickery has a nice school of fish to 35 inches or so. Croakers are being taken in the evenings again at Sandy Point and Matapeake. White perch are schooling in the tributaries and headed for deeper water. Bass and bluegills are in the shallows cutting out their spawning beds and are aggressive toward anything invading their space. Summer is here; get some.
We met on his boat at the painless hour of 7:30am and were putting out lines at Sandy Point by 7:45. By 8:00, we had two fish in the box, both over 30 inches, and it had quickly turned into an incredible morning, sunny, windless and full of fish.
Birds were working all over the waters just northwest of the Bay Bridge. Speedy, graceful ospreys swooped down around us, plucking up five-inch perch that had been driven to the surface by packs of marauding stripers. Big gulls were flying about and sitting in loose bunches on the water gobbling up floating baitfish knocked senseless by the voracious rockfish.
We even saw a great blue heron, normally a wading shorebird, orbiting low over open water and occasionally diving down and scissoring a struggling perch off of the surface.
And the hits came one after another. By 10 o’clock, the six of us were heading home with our limits of big, fat, beautiful rockfish.
Then came the really good part.
I called Gonzalo Fernandez at Jalapenos Restaurant (Jalapenos.com) and asked if he could help us out with our season’s first dinner celebration. We wanted to have a rockfish fiesta. He was more than happy to do the cooking. At 7:30 that evening, 10 of us sat down at his elegant Annapolis restaurant to a meal that will keep all of us smiling the rest of the year.
It took only two of our better fish to more than feed the 10 hungry mouths. Both fish were served whole with the heads on and bones intact, as that imparts the very best flavor to the meat. The first fish, grilled to crispy perfection, was stuffed with a melange of herbs and the skin rubbed with spices. Together they gave off an aroma that had us salivating even before the first bite.
The second fish was filled with garlic cloves, butter, fresh rosemary, bay leaf and onions and baked in a thick shell of salt. When that hard shell was cracked open at our table, the delicious scent of the steaming hot fish wafted out, easily rivaling that of our grilled striper.
Hardly a word was spoken as we all dug into the treasures. The flavor of these wild striped bass, caught just that morning and cooked to perfection by our brilliant chef, was beyond description. I can only say that though we tried to fill a doggie bag or two for those unable to join us that evening, there was little left to console them.