Bait and Switch

Moe and I imagined a fantastic day for rockfish. We had done well the previous afternoon with limits of bright, healthy stripers 26 to 28 inches. Hoping the pods would remain close to those same Bay Bridge structures overnight, we were back on the water early the next morning.

    The tides were nearly identical, the last hour of the incoming. Our aerated bait bucket was full of Norfolk spot that were just right for the larger stripers we were after and, we hoped, too big for the smaller 20-inch schoolies that we weren’t. 

    Quietly easing up to the Bridge pier that was one of our sweet spots the previous day, we sent two spot swimming down. We could feel the baitfish panic as soon as they neared the bottom, 20 feet below. Then line began to peel from both our reels.

    Giving a five count, we came tight at the same time and our rods bent hard over. Then Moe’s straightened. “Dang, missed him,” he said.  My fish stayed hooked up but came in all too easily. When I got him to the surface I could see the oversized spot had wedged his mouth wide open.

    I kept the fish’s head up at the surface as I looked about for the net. Taking that opportunity, a fish of about four pounds thrashed with enough violence to dislodge both the hook and the bait and sent them sailing back toward me. “Going to release it anyway,” I said as I wound the loose line back on the reel.

    “Right, me too,” Mo replied.

    And that was the high point of the morning.

    By 11am, we had only a half dozen spot left. The rest had been released after becoming listless from numerous drifts around the Bridge structures where they drew no interest at all. The place seemed deserted of rockfish.

    Pulling out, we ran north to an area a friend had been bragging on the previous two days as holding a school of nice stripers, some allegedly over 30 inches. As we neared the coordinates, we had good marks on the finder, lots of them. Dropping a couple of spot over the side, we let them swim down. 

    There our baits finned among what appeared to be scores of large striped bass that apparently had no appetite. We moved around for over an hour.

    “This is not quite what I had in mind,” I told Moe.

    “Good thing we got up early,” was his reply.

    After many more moves we gave up.

    “Let’s give the Bridge one more shot on the way back. Maybe some fish have moved in,” I said.       “That’s really all we’ve got left.”

    Kicking the skiff up on plane I headed south. A few minutes later, we saw the birds.

    “Looks like small blues,” Moe said as I eased up to the edge of a shoal of fish that was churning the water chasing bait. Seabirds of all sizes were screaming and wheeling in the air.

    “Better than nothing,” I said and grabbed the light casting rod that I had set up for white perch.

    Bending on a 3/8-ounce surface plug, I sent it sailing out into the melee. Skipping it back, I soon had a couple of angry fish following along behind and cutting at it until one finally hooked up. It gave a surprisingly forceful battle. These blues were bigger than we thought.

    The next fish was even more savage. Line poured off the small Curado 50 reel I was using as the blue bulled its way through the school and out into open water. Suddenly we were having fun.

    We stayed on those fish for the better part of two hours and had them all to ourselves. The blues ran to about 18 inches with some nice rockfish joining in when we switched to rattle traps and worked below the breakers. By 3pm, Moe and I and that school of fish, had worn each other out.

    You just never know what’s going to happen out on the Chesapeake, but it’s usually something exciting.