Burton on the Bay:

Rockfish Luck Returns

Shallow men believe in luck

		-"Worship," by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In the past, I've had more than my share of luck when it came to angling on Good Friday. All of it was bad.

This changed last Friday. Lady Luck smiled; hopefully the jinx of long standing has been broken for good.

At about 2pm this past Good Friday, I caught a fine rockfish. It had to be released - the season doesn't start until next Friday, April 24 - but I wasn't on the Bay for catch-and-keep. I wanted to determine if the Winter of El Niño had pushed the spawning effort ahead of schedule.

Apparently it has. The fish I caught and promptly returned to the Chesapeake was spawned out.

The big fish are usually females; our Bay male rock seldom get to super size. The ladies grow and grow, the bigger the better - the more eggs to broadcast in the tributaries of the Chesapeake. Some drop a million eggs or more, and the more eggs, the more their contribution to the comeback of this delightful species.


My Luck Changes

For much of the day, it appeared to be another in a long succession of bad luck Good Friday endeavors with hook and line. There wasn't so much as a nudge on rigs trolled near the surface.

It was getting close to time to pack it all in when the fish took an extra large Ruby Lip bucktail designed by Capt. Bernie Michael, an upper Bay charterboat skipper. I was using 12-pound test line trolled from a medium spinning rig, so it took some time to get it in.

As I played the fish, I thought the worse; after all, that's my Good Friday record. Would the knot to the 20-pound leader hold? I hadn't tied it, and I'm always suspicious of knots tied by others.

I double my line before tying knots to add extra strength. But the Washington Post's outdoor columnist Angus Phillips had tied this knot.

The pitfalls of previous Good Fridays were re-lived in my mind as I worked on what obviously was a nice though stubborn fish. Surely something had to happen. It had for at least 50 years. That knot Angus tied would have to part, or I'd make some foolish mistake.

Yet nothing went wrong. Once the fish started coming to the boat, I turned the rod over to Will Phillips, the 15-year-old son of Angus, so I could snap a few pictures.

Carlos Bentos, skipper of the Caribena, handled the leader and brought the fish over the side. A quick picture, and it was once again on its way down the Chesapeake. No time to measure it, but it was at least 38 inches.


My Long Losing Streak

You might say the streak began back in the late '40s when the boy wonder of politics, Harold Stassen, the former governor of Minnesota, was making his first of what was to become a long series of bids for the presidency of the U.S.

He was in Vermont campaigning against his foremost opponent on the GOP side, New York's Tom Dewey, who was later to be upset by Harry S Truman. In my pocket on the trout stream that day were my voluminous notes of an interview with Stassen at the Pavilion Hotel in Montpelier.

The story was due to be written that afternoon for the Plainfield News, a combination newspaper for the small Vermont town and Goddard College. I was the student editor, and for a small paper, the story was big: an exclusive interview with the man many considered the front-runner.

But somehow while I was fishing, the notes slipped from my pocket. There I was, something like a world class chef about to create a complicated entree without either the recipe or all the ingredients. Newsmen can't trust their memories, especially for quotes, so the story was mediocre at best.

Equally bad, I didn't catch a trout. Four years later to the Good Friday, I had an appointment with U.S. Sen. Bob Taft, then in a neck-to-neck race with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower for the Republican presidential nomination. The meeting was set for a noon lunch at the Hotel Putnam in Bennington, Vt., where I was a political columnist for the Bennington Banner.

Fishing has always come first with me, so that morning I headed to the Battenkill for some early trout fishing across the state line in New York. I lost two fish, caught none, then discovered I had a dead battery in my car - and this was on a back road before the days when other motorists had jumper cables in the trunk.


There I was 20 miles from the Hotel Putnam, driving a car that wouldn't start, with no telephones around and a presidential candidate waiting for me. You'd think I would have learned.

The next year, again on Good Friday, I headed to the Battenkill for early morning trout'n before going to my office at the Banner when the car door snipped several inches off an Orvis split-bamboo spinning rod, probably the most expensive sticks made at the time. No fish that time either.

I was reminded of this a year later by Agnes Rockwood, the society editor of the Banner, a stately and church-going woman who was lovely except when it came to fishing on Good Friday. She didn't think it should be done - and told me so.

Naturally I ignored her, headed to the Battenkill and parked my Oldsmobile stationwagon alongside the road next to a high rock cliff. There I was fishing the 'Kill at a pool and again landing no fish.

I heard a rumble, looked across the river and the road and saw a huge boulder had broken loose and was tumbling down the cliff toward my car. There was nothing to do but watch as it demolished the front right fender. Worse, back at the office would be Agnes with that "I told you so" look in her eye.

Another Good Friday at Loch Raven Reservoir, I lost a camera when Jerry Weiner and then Morning Sun outdoor writer Earl Shelsby forgot to put the plug in the transom of the boat. Soaked cameras don't function well and generally can't be repaired.

But maybe now the Good Friday jinx is gone for good. And, oh yes, the big bucktail I took that rockfish on was dressed up with a greenish Sassy Shad; it was fished just above Bloody Point in more than 60 feet of water along the channel edge. The bait was only about five feet down, my preferred trolling depth.


When You Can Catch 'Em

Department of Natural Resources has just announced the seasons for '98. The fish-off starts April 24, a different kind of Good Friday, and the limit will be one a day, minimum of 28 inches with fishing allowed only in the Bay proper - including Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds - from Brewerton Channel at the mouth of the Patapsco southward. No fishing with eels.

On June 1, fishing expands to the entire Bay complex, but the 28-inch minimum remains in effect until June 15 when it drops to 18 inches. The possession limit is two a day. Then, eels can also be used for bait. Fishing continues through July 12.

The fall season will be Baywide, opening Aug. 15 and continuing through Nov. 30, with two a day allowed of 18-inch minimum.

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VolumeVI Number 15
April 16-22, 1998
New Bay Times

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