Ed Robinson had cranked his three-quarter-ounce gold Kastmaster metal spoon to about 10 feet from our boat when the water exploded in spray and foam. His drag started screaming, and he could barely hold his rod above the horizontal. When he managed to lift the tip to leverage some line back, it was again jerked down, and the howl emanating from his reel resumed.
We had been chasing flocks of seabirds on Man O’ War Shoals just southeast of Baltimore Harbor for almost an hour with our host Dennis Robinson (a retired colonel with the Baltimore County Police Department and no relation to Ed) in his 23-foot center console. Pods of schoolie rockfish were savaging silversides, Bay anchovies and peanut bunker over a large area, and we were cashing in on the action. Flocks of seabirds were everywhere, feeding on live and injured baits. Each group had a small fleet of fishing boats pursuing them and casting lures to the breaking fish.
At first we were sure Ed had a big rockfish on his line. However, the speed of its runs and the sheer violence of the fish’s fight soon sowed doubt among us. “Big bluefish?” someone queried. “No big blues in the Bay,” someone else countered.
As Ed finally brought the fish closer, we saw a broad, solid silver flash deep in the water. Definitely no stripes on this beast. “It’s a Spanish,” I yelled.
“What’s a Spanish?” was the reply.
Then all comment was suspended as Vince Miceli manned the net. The fish went berserk at its sight and everyone began yelling instructions to Ed, who ignored them while trying to snare the exhausted fish.
Once it was safely aboard, its sickle-shaped tail drumming the deck, we all admired the catch.
“That devil is a citation for sure,” was the next thing out of my mouth. I was familiar with Spanish mackerel and how large they usually run. This was indeed a big one.
Getting the tape out, we marked him at 25 inches, definitely exceeding the citation minimum of 22. It was Ed’s first ever Spanish mackerel but not his last of the day by any means. He scored three more.
The Spanish were usually mixed in with rockfish of all sizes, so the day continued in a kind of species-induced tension as each strike potentially could have been a rockfish or a Spanish or a bluefish.
The best lures we had thrown initially were soft plastic jigs of the Bass Assassin type, usually five inches to eight inches. The rock were eating them up. However once the Spanish and bluefish made themselves known, most of us switched to silver or gold metal lures as the large cutting teeth of those two species spelled the end of any plastic lure.
A gold Kastmaster in three-quarters to one ounce proved the overall better choice and was as aerodynamic as its name implies. You could easily throw it almost out of sight, a real advantage with the fast moving schools we were targeting. Ed’s Spanish mackerel retrieval tactic (which he attributes to local fishing author, Lenny Rudow) was to throw long, let it sink deep, add a five count, then burn it all the way back to the boat.
Surprisingly, the high-speed retrieves with the metal lures proved no handicap to the roaming rockfish that we continued to catch along with the blues and Spanish. It was almost dark when we finally arrived back at the ramp, damp and exhausted.
The severe cutback necessitated by another drop (50 percent) in the levels of our Chesapeake Bay oyster populations are being strongly protested by commercial watermen, who insist on their right to harvest from the last one-half of one percent of their historic numbers.
Subsequent generations will be judging decisions made now.
In similar fashion, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met Wednesday, Sept. 25 (6-8pm, Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis) to determine just how the harvest reductions for the yet-once-again depleted Atlantic rockfish population will be apportioned out to both commercial and recreational anglers. Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources is allegedly leaning toward maintaining the commercial sector’s share of the allocations, while our 300,000 recreational anglers seem to favor making the reductions equal across the board.
Also, the Commission’s seeming acquiescence in allowing Omega Protein, a Canadian-held company, to increase its already outrageous harvest of menhaden bound for the Chesapeake is likewise troubling.
Public comment is requested by both government agencies. Tell them what you think about all of this. It matters. Hand-written or mailed hard copy opinions seem to count more than e-messages.