Chesapeake Outdoors

Exploring Barrier Islands

by C.D. Dollar

I had already turned down an earlier offer to spend the weekend exploring Virginia's barrier islands with Paul and Erin, so when the second one came, fearing a third might not, I signed on. We met early outside Annapolis, their truck dragging their 17-foot skiff behind and the cab filled with dogs and gear. My rig was similar though the boat was smaller and I had only one dog.

A three-hour drive eastsouth took us from Bay's quiet creeks and rivers to the Atlantic seaside, where the tide range was at times five or six feet compared to one or two inshore. Maryland and Virginia's barrier islands, less renowned than those of North Carolina, have pockets of undeveloped back bays and islands that offer excellent proggin': exploration for no other reason than to see what we could see.

Starting in Assawoman Bay near Ocean City, moving south across the expansive Chincoteague Bay, then down through Hog Bay to Magothy Bay just above Cape Charles, there are scores of miles of pristine beaches and inlets to explore. Some - like Parramore Island owned by The Nature Conservancy - are restricted and others are private, so prudence is needed when exploring some of these islands. But no one owns the sea and the channels, and exploration by boat or kayak is perhaps the best way to see the coast.

Launching from Finnery Creek, we snaked our way through the channel out toward the sea, the salt air strong and invigorating. It was late in the season, and the great diversity of fauna and flora present in the warm months was gone. Though I saw a few pelicans and various types of gulls, pipers, plovers and terns were limited.

In summer, flounder move inshore to give anglers great delight while surf anglers fish for kingfish, bluefish and rockfish on the migratory runs in fall and spring. Porpoise run the inlets and play offshore, and whales sometimes surface within eyesight.

The flora along the beaches and marshes of our part of the Atlantic Coast includes beach grass, sea oats, seaside goldenrod, and saltmarsh cordgrass. Some of the more common woody plants are bay berry and wax myrtle, very similar in appearance and made even more difficult by hybridization. Wax myrtle is an evergreen whereas bay berry is deciduous, and where the wax myrtle thickets are heaviest, herons use them as rookeries.

Our dogs, of course, were oblivious to the flora and fauna around them. They had no interest in the fossilized sand dollars or ribbed scallops and less in whelk shells. They were content to chase each other around the beach and swim in the surf, particularly Erin and Paul's Lab, Cedar, who had a passion for retrieving logs from the pounding surf. My boy, Finn, true to his upland nature, preferred the heavy brush that lay over the dunes. The highlight of his day was treeing a raccoon, and to celebrate his achievement, he gulped up some seawater and was out of sorts for awhile. (Not surprisingly, he did it again. The boy loses points for behavior modification).

The diversity of hearty animals and plants, salt air and wildness of the ocean make exploring coastal bays another fascinating option for us in Bay country. In our hearts we know we aren't the first to see these white sandy shores or poke our boats into salt marshes, but sometimes it feels like that.


Fish Are Biting

As fall winds down, the situation with croaker is getting curiouser and curiouser. Have they lost their minds? Why are they still here? There are reports of good-sized hardheads being taken in the Choptank and Patuxent rivers as well as Point Lookout.

If you want big rockfish, the lower Bay is the place to fish. Rick from Rick's Marine near Point Lookout tells me that rockfish better than 30 inches are consistently being caught by trollers between Buoy 68 and 72, Smith Point and Point Lookout. The area also has plenty of smaller rockfish and sea trout.

In the mid-Bay area, Mike from Breezy Point Marina reports that there are sea trout and smallish rockfish in the Choptank. Trollers working slow have scored on larger stripers. Mike says Kevin Carlisle and partner, fishing aboard his vessel Osprey, took several rockfish better than 35 inches trolling umbrella rigs real slow with a lot of weight in deep water past Parkers Creek.

Rockfishing in the upper Bay sees smaller fish being caught, but there are a few keepers. Kent Narrows, which over the last several years has produced nicely this time of year, is erratic. Jigging breaking schools of rock have turned up some keepers and good-sized sea trout as well.

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VolumeVI Number 47
Nov. 26 - Dec. 2, 1998
New Bay Times

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