Volume 16, Issue 30 - July 24 - July 30, 2008

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The Chesapeake Can Spoil You

A bad day on the Bay can still be a good one

The rockfish were not cooperating one iota. We could mark good-sized fish on the fish finder, but they refused to eat. Looking out over the Bay, we saw at a glance what the problem was. Schools of baitfish were scattered everywhere, finning slowly across the Chesapeake’s wide, calm surface. It was anyone’s guess how many schools were swimming deeper.

All a striper had to do anywhere in the Bay was inhale rather sharply and it couldn’t help but ingest enough for a meal, even by accident. They had no need to go looking for a snack, especially one with a hook in it.

Charlie Ebersberger and his son Mike were my hosts that day on Charlie’s 23-foot Barcone center console. Discouraged by the poor rockfish bite, we dropped back to the B plan. Earlier in the day, while getting our small, five-inch perch for live lining, some of our throwbacks happened to be good-sized fish. We headed in that direction again in hopes of finding some of the big ones.

Plan B

Fish Are Biting

The summer doldrums are upon us, and the rockfish have become finicky in the mid-Bay. The bite seems to be best very early and very late with not much in between. Perch, spot and some croaker are picking up the slack, but bluefish are still a no-show. Our oxygen-deprived waters are part of the problem, and the four-million-gallon sewage spill in the Patapsco River didn’t help. More southern waters are more fortunate. Try the Crisfield or Hooper’s Island areas for some lively action for croaker, bluefish and stripers.

They were still there. Casting Rooster Tails, small Tonys and Beetle Spins on ultra-light spin outfits, we quickly shook off our striper-induced disappointment. The white perch were big, fat and aggressive. The three of us were often in triple hookup mode, boating numbers of scrappy perch up to 11 inches.

While unhooking another thick keeper, I happened to glance up at Charlie, who was boating a husky black back himself. Grinning widely at my sometimes noisy enthusiasm, he confided “Do you know why I like to fish for white perch? Because they’re so easy. You can always count on them for a good time.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

Later that evening, as I put the finishing touches to a batch of perch ceviche made from my share of the take, as well as setting aside just enough fillets for an afternoon fish fry, it looked to me as though our fallback plan went pretty well after all.

Half Empty or Half Full?

Two days later, my middle son and I went for crabs. Setting out a trotline at six in the morning, we had high hopes for a big basket. Chasing stripers instead of crustaceans the past few weeks, I had sorely neglected my blue crab appetite and was definitely in the mood to remedy the situation.

The day started slow, however, and never got much better. We had to move the line, and then move it again and then again with most crabs too small, the keepers few and the day hot. We had hardly accumulated a third of a basket when the action stopped.

Later, at home while washing down my skiff, my wife overheard me lament the poor catch. She peeked in our basket and said, “I certainly wouldn’t complain. It looks as if you’ve got more than enough for us.” I reconsidered. She was right.

The Chesapeake can spoil you if you’re not careful because when the fishing is good, it’s very, very good. And when it’s bad, well, it’s still pretty darn good.

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