Volume XVII, Issue 24 # June 18 - June 24, 2009

Working Against the Clock

Fish Are Biting

Virtually everywhere on the Bay, nice-sized rockfish are schooling and eating well. Chumming, chunking and trolling are all working. Livelining hasn’t really started up yet but should any day now.

Croaker have been reported at Belvedere Shoals north of the Bay Bridge, spot are showing up everywhere, perch are finally making an appearance and crabbing is good.

We only had a few hours to fish. Would the fish cooperate?

By the time I could break free to fish, the sun was high in the sky and scorching hot. Regardless, rounding up my son Harrison, I hooked the boat and trailer to my pickup and headed for Sandy Point Park. We only had a few hours to fish, but it would be our last opportunity that week to get in on the hot bite.

Rockfish are schooled out in deeper water this time of year and not always easy to find, especially around noon. If you want a good chance at them, you need a reliable electronic fish finder.

My boat’s fish finder has never been particularly reliable, often giving false readings of fish. I’ve always suspected that the culprit was electrical interference from my outboard. So this trip I installed a separate battery just for operating the finder. The problem disappeared. Lucky guess.

With the finder operating, it didn’t take long to locate a likely area. Cruising slowly just south of the Bay Bridge and circling back when the finder marked fish, within a half an hour we identified a loose school of nice-sized stripers.

The Art of Chumming

Dropping anchor in 35 feet of water and a bit up current of the school, I prepared our setup. We were going to chum and use chunks of fresh menhaden for bait. I put a frozen block of chum (composed of ground-up menhaden) in a mesh bag over the stern of the boat.

The current would spread the thawing fish oil and baitfish bits in a long, broad trail down current and throughout the water column. This, we hoped, would lure hungry fish back to us and our baits. Our menhaden chunk baits were set with 6/0 Owner hooks on fish finder rigs, weighted with two-ounce sinkers and cast off to the side where they would trail out toward the stern of the boat.

Action was not long in coming. It was signaled by a sharp clicking sound. To compensate for my eternally wandering attention, I use bait-casting outfits with line-out alarms. If a fish picks up a bait, the reel will give up line freely but make a clicking sound to alert even the most distracted angler.

Harrison was quickest to the rod. After feeding out line to be certain the fish had the bait, he put the reel in gear and struck. A good rod bend indicated success, but after the hookup the fish didn’t put up much of a battle.

I began to fear it was a throwback as it came almost to the boat without much protest. Then, alongside, the fish saw us for the first time and went berserk. Water churned and flew skyward as about eight pounds of striper tore the surface apart and tried to make amends for what it now realized was a dreadful mistake.

This quickly became a problem as the fish, on a short line, darted around and under the boat seeking escape. With his hands too full to lighten the drag and allow the fish to run off a comfortable distance, Harrison did his best to keep the line away from the hull and out of the motor as the rockfish exploded first one way then another.

Eventually, despite my clumsy net work and with a fair amount of luck, we finally got the fish on board and buried safely in ice. It was Harrison’s best fish this season. I was happy we had scored so soon, because within 20 minutes the Bay did one of its whoop-de-doos. As the retreating tide continued running out on top, the advancing tide began to come in on the bottom.

The Turning Tide

Our chum was still drifting out off of our stern in the upper part of the water column. But now our baits trailed out off the bow down deep. The fish would never find them. We were running short of time anyway, so we called it quits. But a good striper in a little over two hours of effort was good enough for us.

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