As the Year Turns
Any day now, I’ll be rockin’
Just this time last year, I had my first good day on light tackle live-lining for stripers. It took me until almost 10 o’clock in the morning to get the supply of four- to five-inch white perch I needed for bait. After that, I headed out of the Magothy, pointed east toward Sandy Point Light, came up on plane and cranked open the throttle.
I didn’t quite get there. Just off of Podickery and with not another boat in sight, I noticed a group of big gulls sitting on flat water. I slowed down to investigate. As I approached, the birds flew off, but they refused to leave the area. That was a good sign.
Checking my sonar, I noted a 30-foot depth and water temperatures in the low 70s: Perfect. Then, as I idled deeper, the broad arches that mark suspended rockfish floated across my screen.
Bingo! There was a good tight school below me. I hit the kill switch and grabbed for my rod. Hooking a squirming perch through both lips with a 4/0 Owner hook, I eased it over the side and threw my casting reel into free spool.
Fish Are Biting
Rockfish are schooling and responding to chum lines, bait and live perch and spot. Hackett’s has had the best results to date, but all the usual locations should start to produce shortly. White perch are schooling in deeper water as well as showing up in chum slicks. Spot are spotty but beginning to accumulate. Croaker are scattered, probably because of the infusion of fresh water from all of the rains. But they are thick at Crisfield and Hoopers. Rumors of bluefish have started up and should be proven true shortly.
With just a half ounce of weight, the small fish slowly made its way out and toward the bottom. It never made it. As we drifted along, I felt it shoot ahead momentarily with a couple of quick spurts, then stop but only for a second. At that point, line peeled off of my reel, but it was obvious that it wasn’t my little perch now doing the pulling.
Guarding against spool over-run with gentle thumb pressure, I let the fish go for a long six count. Then I threw the reel in gear. When the line came taut, I leaned into the fish and stopped it. A series of head shakes surged through my rod all the way to the corks. Then the fish took off running. The drag groaned, giving up an alarming amount of line. I just grinned.
I didn’t horse this guy. I found out the hard way that if you haul on your rod you can sometimes dislodge the perch from the fish’s throat without hooking it. But if you’re reasonably firm, you will inevitably land it, often with just the resistance of the swallowed perch holding the fish.
This striper, I quickly found, was determined to go the distance. Running flat, it kept line peeling off of my reel spool. Then it sounded, and through my straining line I could feel the rough, shell bottom as the fish rubbed and ground my leader into the rocks and oyster beds deep below me. I was glad I was using a six-foot, 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. The hard finish of that nearly invisible material resists abrasion better than anything else I’ve used.
When that tactic failed and I managed to lift its head, the striper crossed my line over its heavy shoulder and took off again. I could now feel the leader grating across the big striper’s sharp gill plates as it twisted and turned, arcing its head and trying once again to cut me off. This guy was good.
But a fight with a rockfish is usually not an extended affair, and this one was no exception Though it had taxed my tackle to the limit, after one more run the husky striper gave up, exhausted.
It surfaced a good distance from the boat, slapped its tail once, flashing under the sun as it rolled on its side. I steadily worked it back to my skiff, never giving it a chance to revive itself, and finally eased it into my net.
It was a fat, healthy beauty at about seven pounds or so. I clipped the line at the fish’s mouth and quieted it with a head tap from the priest. Then I plunged the handsome fish deep into the ice in my cooler. I wanted to keep this one delicious.
Cutting off the abraded and worn end of my leader, I selected another razor-sharp Owner hook and carefully knotted it on. Using the electric motor, I repositioned myself back up-current of that sizeable school that was still holding on the channel edge. Double checking my connections and hooking up another lively perch, I once again eased the bait over the side and sent it on its way down.
Taking a deep breath, I scanned the deserted waters and relaxed as I drifted slowly with the tidal current. I hoped the next fish didn’t come too quickly. I wanted to make a lovely morning last.