My New First Mate

      Taking a dog out onto the Chesapeake does not seem like a complicated task. I didn’t expect many difficulties from my new pup, Hobbes, as Labradors were bred long ago to accompany fishermen on their voyages. We had complications.

      As we would eventually be some distance from land, it was not only prudent but essential that the young, inexperienced pup have some extra flotation.

      Fortunately, today there are any number of inexpensive doggy-style life preservers available. Hobbes was growing quickly, and what fit him today would be too small in just a couple of weeks. I selected a brightly colored unit to ensure his visibility. He was tasked with wearing it around the house for a few hours each day to be sure of its size and his comfort.

     Next came acquainting him with the boat in our driveway. My 17-foot skiff has low gunwales, and Hobbes was well acquainted with the front yard. On our first attempt, he vaulted out to return to his favorite activity — eating my wife’s flowers.

     After more lessons and exposure to the craft, he recognized that he was not to leave the skiff without authorization.

     On the target day, I put extra water for him on board, plus a sun umbrella, and I launched the skiff at the neighborhood ramp. 

    A bit nervous with the unexpected addition of water, Hobbes tried to exit back to the pier. Holding him back with the leash, I quickly undid the mooring line and pushed off.

    Hobbes looked longingly at the departing shoreline as I lowered the engine. Right then I had a chilling thought. I had never before left the dock without first firing up the motor. The Yamaha had never failed to fire up since I got it new over six years ago, but anyone who has been on the water long will tell you that never means a thing.

     With more than a little trepidation — especially since things had been going so smoothly up until now — I reached for the key and initiated the starter. A low grinding noise affirmed my fears. The battery had somehow been depleted. The dock was by now out of reach. The breeze, which had been cooling, comfortable and welcome a few minutes ago, was now pushing me down the creek and toward the open-river mouth. Worse, my compact paddle for such situations was not where it should have been. 

    Just then, with my mood low, a cheerful voice behind me asked, “Would you like to borrow my paddle?”

     The speaker was a young lady standing nearby on a paddle board.

     “I would be eternally grateful,” I answered.

     Thus saved by the kindness of youth and back in operation in record time, and with a backup battery on board, we resumed the voyage. Hobbes made a brief inspection of the boat, then gazed across the water at various sights. Next, he took the action I most hoped for: Only a half-hour into our trip, he picked out the shady side of the console, sprawled out and went to sleep.

     Waking periodically to be sure I was still on hand and checking on any interesting sounds such as shrieking gulls, dogs barking in the distance and boats that ran nearby, we cruised a couple of islands, explored some small inlets. On our first trip, Hobbes proved an ideal choice for first mate.

Fish Finder

     Alleluia! Rockfish in good numbers have finally been found, and they’re also good sized. Chumming and jigging near the Bay Bridge this past weekend, anglers scored some good catches weighing into the mid 30s. Though the fish probably won’t be there long, judging by the number of boats drawn to the area, it’s a good indicator that rockfish haven’t completely disappeared.

    Shorebound anglers should soon also see a similar return to action. Best baits are big bloodworms, fresh alewife (menhaden), soft crabs and Assassin-type jerk baits in white and chartreuse or any combo thereof. Trollers are currently dragging downsized bucktails dressed with small Sassy Shads in white or chartreuse as well and cruising toward Poplar Island and down both sides of the Bay.

    White perch are taking bloodworms around Hacketts just inside the green can in 15 feet of water.

    Crabs are still on the slow side. But with water temperatures rising (currently just below 75 degrees), it shouldn’t be long before they’re fully active.