Sisters in the Universal Religion Called Fishing
by C.D. Dollar
If you looked close enough, tightening your focus even more intensely, the vast stands of saltmarsh cordgrass, turning from a lush green to gold as fall tightens its grip, looked like fields of wheat. Under a stiff northwesterly wind, the illusion was heightened, and you could imagine that Kansas grain fields instead of Smith Island marshland lay out before you. The buildings off into the distance could be mistaken for a farm complex instead of the towns of Tylerton and Rhodes Point.
When the image faded, I was thankful it was the latter and not the former, as Midwestern farms, to my knowledge, don't hold hungry rockfish and sea trout like the marsh cuts of Smith Island. Quickly becoming converts to that universal religion known as fishing, my co-workers Sue Brown and Heather Hetzeck were busily perfecting their casts during my mental migration.
I poled the skiff along the gut, known in the chart book as The Gully, but soon to be renamed, if only temporarily, "Estrogen Gut." My vision and attention were split between them, the bank and the mystery of the Bay's saltmarsh. They were tossing bucktails dressed with bass assassins (soft plastic fish imitations; thanks JP) to the points where the soft land met the water, working an area for a rockfish strike. The ebbing tide, with considerable help from the wind, furiously swept out a good portion of the water, exposing matted eelgrass. On the fringes of the grasses, in very skinny water (less than a foot), grass shrimp shot up like popped corn. The telltale boils left by the foraging rockfish told of its presence, and Sue and Heather followed the sparse advice I offered and tossed their lures to the roiled water.
Speaking words to the effect of "I think I have a fish," Heather calmly asked for a bit of advice as line peeled off her reel. Thus taken, she played the fish masterfully, and after a nice fight she had her first rockfish. When I asked her if she wanted to keep it, she eyed me incredulously, and in the same manner said "yeah!" as if that were the only option. I let out a laugh, one without a hint of sarcasm, just an acknowledgment that a simple pleasure like fishing can be just that, and no more.
A bit later, it was Sue's turn, and her proficiency at landing the rockfish was equal to Heather's. With patience and attention to form, she let the fish run itself out, then brought it to my hand as I hoisted it over the gunwale. Offered the same options, she thought carefully a moment, showing compassion for the fish's fate before deciding she'd like to take it back home to eat. A random thought raced through my brain: sometimes it is good to be directly involved in harvesting your own meal.
Over the next couple days (we were at a work retreat), different combinations of us fished evenings and early mornings. Later, another co-worker, Christina Kotlar, would join the ranks of the newly indoctrinated fishing fanatics, landing her first legal rockfish. We worked flies and lures with varied levels of success. Truth be told, the women outfished the men, and Hetzeck took top honors with five legal rockfish.
Heading back to the dock, the skiff skimmed over the rippled water, and as the light was fading, the cerulean and indigo sky was strafed by lavender and magenta swirls. I can't quite recall which fisherwoman said it, but the words spoke the truth. "I didn't think I'd like fishing. But it was great. I can't wait to go tomorrow!"
Welcome to the flock, sister.
Fish Are Biting
It seems that rockfish, though certainly still the headliners, have had sea trout steal a bit of the show. It could be inconsistent catches of legal rockfish, but probably it's more that trout are abundant. In the upper Bay, Jamie from Anglers says trout can be caught with feather jigs or bait like crab (hard to get) or squid. The Bay Bridge pilings, Love Point and Baltimore Light are a few choices. Rockfish at the usual places, chumming the Hill, Hacketts and Thomas' points. Bigger rockfish should be moving out of the rivers now.
Fred Donovan tells me that Stone Rock, the Diamonds and the Gooses are producing (at times) limits of rockfish. Flood tide seems better recently. There's still a scattering of blues throughout the Bay, and white perch catches have increased. There are even some croaker still around. Trollers working the Gas Docks with hoses and bucktails can score.
The guts of Smith, Fox and many other Tangier Sound islands are loaded with rockfish. In the Bay, Point Lookout, Middle Grounds and the Targets have rockfish and blues. There are seemingly acres of breaking blues and rock throughout the area, with bigger fish, including sea trout, beneath.
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VolumeVI Number 43
October 29 - November 4, 1998
New Bay Times
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