by C.D. Dollar
Homage to Small Fishes
I want to pay a little homage to the small bait fishes of the Chesapeake Bay. They live their lives in frantic anonymity, at the mercy of the tides and appetites of their tormentors.
Nature, while unpredictable, has uniquely ordered the relationships of predator to prey. It's all about survival, and it's an exciting aspect of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
Because of the sheer numbers both in species variety and population of the Bay's small fishes, I'll choose only a few fish: Bay anchovies, Atlantic silversides and baby "giant" white perch, which you won't find in a field guide because it is a colloquial term invented by my friend Chuck to describe a certain sized perch. All three directly relate to the methods of angling I like best: flyfishing, livelining and casting lures on light tackle. These three fish are an integral part of my fishing habits, but more importantly vital strands in the Bay's web of life.
Recently, my friend Chris and I were casting small chartreuse and white flies to a breaking school of ravenous rockfish and snapper blues. Each fly was dressed with a thin ribbon of Mylar down the side to mimic a silverside. When we prepared the bluefish for the smoker, we found a massive quantity of silversides in their stomachs. (In A.J. McClane's Field Guide to Saltwater Fishes, silversides are rated as excellent table fare when deep fried. I might have to try that recipe.)
On this occasion, you could have tossed a Pez dispenser into the fray and got a strike. But in many other situations, the right fly means the difference between a fun day catching fish or wearing out your casting arm. Like all fly casters, I have a decent selection of patterns that attempt to duplicate the bait that gamefish chase. Both anchovies and silversides can be found throughout the Bay, with silversides preferring shallower water. They slightly resemble each other, but the anchovies' sloped snout and large mouth is in stark contrast to the small-mouthed silverside. Another easy distinction is that silversides sport two dorsal fins versus the single dorsal of the anchovy.
Equally prodigious are white perch, a true Bay fish that never leaves the charms of the Chesapeake. Despite their hard, sharp dorsal spine and firm body, when livelined they are an offer too tempting for stripers to resist. Drift them in spots like the Bay Bridge pilings and around solid structure for a strike that can be as gentle as a puppy's kiss or as jolting as a thunder clap. Either way, it's an exciting way to fish because, as in flyfishing, it demands your concentration.
Fish Are Biting
White perch remain plentiful in many areas in the upper Bay, like the Bay Bridge pilings, Kent Narrows, inside the Severn River, and on the shell lumps off the Magothy River. Croaker, white perch and spot have been off Love Point and on the oyster bars in the Chester River. Decent catfish have been reported on Hacketts Bar, near the edge off the Spider Buoy outside Annapolis, and on Belvedere Shoals. South River, Eastern Bay, West River, Tolley and Thomas points have an variety of such bottom fish.
Scattered schools of snapper bluefish have been busting the surface in these areas, generally in the evenings. Sea trout have moved into the area around Wades Point, and the state fishing reef just inside of Kent Point. Crab Alley Bay has nice spot.
The middle Chesapeake seems to offer the most diversity and abundance of fish. Consistent catches of blues have been made as far north as Poplar Island, with weakfish schooled up underneath. Holland Point Bar is holding large to jumbo spot, white perch, medium croaker, some weakfish and a few flounder.
If history repeats itself, weakfishing in the mid-Bay should be getting hot. Weakfish, croaker and some flounder can be found along the 23- to 27-foot contour from the Radar Towers to the Power Plant. Bloodworms, squid and soft crab are the bait.
Blues have been breaking in shallow water north of the Power Plant. Flounder, croaker and weakfish have all been found all around James Island and Stone Rock as well. The evening bite for croaker is the best bite by far. As for flounder, experts pick minnows over squid as preferred bait fished over hard bottom in 18 to 22 feet of water. The mouth of the Patuxent is producing some nice spot mixed with medium to large croaker and the occasional bluefish.
In the southern Bay, DNR and charter captains say the eastern edge of the main shipping channel continues to be red hot. Big schools of bluefish to five pounds, fat croaker to 18 inches and weakies to 20 inches have been abundant from Buoy #72 south to the Mud Leads. Tangier Sound continues to produce excellent catches of croaker mixed with weakfish and a few flounder. Try Puppy Hole, Loon Hill and the Kedges Straits area. Flounder fishing has been good at Buoy # 74 and in the Cornfield Harbor area.
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VolumeVI Number 31
August 6-12, 1998
New Bay Times
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