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Six-year-old Logan Doyle grimaced in concentration as he gripped his slender rod. Arranging his hold on the cork grip was a bit of a challenge for his small hands. As he pulled back against the fish he had just hooked, his eyes grew large. The fish was pulling way harder than he was.
Live-lining spot at the Bay Bridge, we had rigged a perch rod up for my grandson’s use. He had announced his preference for one of the larger bait fishing outfits, but they had already proven too unwieldy for his slight physique.
The perch outfit was just right for his size and strength, and the rod handled the small spot swimming below in quite a delicate balance as the small fish tried but failed to enter the clutter of the bottom. Finally a hungry rockfish noticed its distress and gulped it down.
At that point, the wisdom of such a light outfit came into question. The rod bent over alarmingly with the tip arcing into the water as the boy barely kept hold. The small reel’s drag, however, was set lightly enough for the fish to take line without undue strain on his arms. After a few moments of tussle, Logan gained some back. For once I was grateful for the preponderance of barely legal-sized stripers.
This wasn’t my grandson’s first fish, for he had caught some bluegills and cichlids in his home state of Florida, plus white perch in previous visits to Maryland. But this was his first Chesapeake Bay rockfish. His surprised expression as he struggled for control suggested he would not forget this one.
There were also some anxious looks from his father and grandfather, and more than one hand was poised to rescue the rod. But all were for naught. Logan was determined to maintain his grip as well as his dignity.
The fight continued all the way to boatside, then intensified, as the fish plunged to the bottom at the sight of the hull. Logan doggedly raised the rod again and again. The end fight went on so long I was forced to raise the engine as a precaution. I wanted no possibility of his losing this fight. That might cause childhood trauma with me as the culprit.
At last we got it into the net and onto the deck. Logan beamed with pride as we buried the striper in the ice chest.
Even casual anglers can tell you that they distinctly remember years later their first fish and particularly their first big fish. Logan’s big one was the most celebrated species of the northeastern seaboard.
The bite had been challenging — as was the developing weather. Whitecaps were forming just as the fish hit. By the time we had iced it and cleared our gear, we pulled anchor and headed home.
The next day, at Logan’s insistence, the featured lunchtime entree was his fish done up with a nice butter and lemon sauce. He did not leave the smallest piece on his plate and asked if there was perchance more left in the skillet.
As paddleboarding and kayaking gain popularity, entire families are joining in on the excellent sport, a welcome trend in these days of sedentary electronics. Remember when you join the fun that personal flotation gear is mandatory on the small craft. Adults must have a life vest, and children under 13 must wear theirs at all times. No exceptions. The water can be dangerous, keep your loved ones safe.
Rockfish are biting. The honey spots are along traditional lines with Love Point, Podickery Point, the Bay Bridge, Hackett’s, Tolley’s and the mouth of the Eastern Bay all holding keepers. Chumming is the most productive method, though jigging and live-lining spot are producing more sizeable fish.
Fall is on the way, and cooler temperatures will accelerate the bite. As the water cools, the appetites of gamefish go up, way up.
In another season-shifting indicator, there are rumors of a top-water bite in the shallows early and late in the days. Spooks, Chug Norris poppers, Rapala X Raps jerk baits and Chug Bugs will attract the most attention.
Spanish mackerel are in the mid-Bay with schools cruising for baitfish and marked by wheeling birds overhead. Try throwing shinny metal such as Kastmaster, Baby Bunkers and their ilk, or plumb the depths to seduce larger fish feeding on the collateral casualties drifting down below.
Crabbing has at last improved with nice jimmies filling out their shells and crowding the shallows. Reports of nearly full bushels, once rare, are getting more and more common.