A Full Day on the Bay
I had just cast my rooster tail spinner bait close to a distant bulkhead, put my reel into gear and started the retrieve when the water boiled heavily behind it. We were after white perch but a pod of cownose rays had just moved through the area and I certainly didn’t want to tangle with them with my light, six-foot rod. I hastened the retrieve then paused for a moment to let the area settle down.
Throwing back to the bulkhead I hadn’t made a half dozen turns on the reel handle when my rod tip slammed down and line began screaming off the reel against the drag. Heading out toward the middle of the river, the unseen critter was very shortly threatening my reel spool’s line reserve.
I jammed the motor into gear, backed my skiff out and chased after it. Reeling and elbow steering, I finally closed and got a comfortable amount of line back on the reel, then tried turning the unseen Leviathan. No luck with that at all, the bully just took more line.
Over the next ten minutes or so I could only angle against the unseen brute, keep the boat reasonably close and concentrate on wearing it down. I increased the drag to the max the six-pound mono would endure and kept the rod bent to the corks.
That eventually began to take effect, though on several occasions I was tempted to just break the devil off. I assumed from its strength and endurance that it was one of the rays that were in the area.
However, the memory of losing a giant striper because I had foolishly assumed it was a cownose was still a tender memory, so I patiently continued the battle, concentrating on lifting the mystery toward the surface to at least get a glimpse.
Eventually my patience was rewarded and I saw the flash of a long white belly and a substantial tail as the lunker rolled on the surface. It wasn’t a cownose ray but it also wasn’t a rockfish. I resumed the battle: one of us was going to lose. I had to find out what I had hooked.
My buddy, Ed Robinson, and I already had an interesting day. Initially, we were intending to chum for rockfish but a brief pause at some interesting electronic finder marks not far from where we launched and a couple of drifted chunks of soft crab limited us out on the stripers to 26 inches within minutes.
Fortunately, we had also brought ultralight spin outfits for white perch and had continued down the Bay for some rock jetties and a try at a perch dinner. With over a half dozen keeper-sized perch in the bucket over the next two hours, we then encountered the determined and quite entertaining catfish.
It measured out at 24 inches when it was finally landed, not nearly as large as I imagined. It had, however, given me the longest running fight I’d yet encountered on light panfish tackle from anything with whiskers. That fish went into the cooler along with the two rockfish. Catfish fry up almost as delicious as perch.
It took another half hour to secure two more keeper-sized white perch, enough for a perch fry for my wife and I since Ed already had enough in his freezer. My share of the rockfish would go into a delicious ceviche recipe for the following days and the catfish fillets reserved for next week. A good day indeed.
The Bay is blooming with nice rockfish, not many of bragging size to be sure, but some comfortable numbers. The white perch are numerous, though generally eight inches and under. It takes quite a while to get many fish over nine, a direct result of uncontrolled commercial netting. It would be nice if DNR had at least a few programs aimed at improving the quality of the recreational experience. Spot are also numerous and often larger than the perch. Croaker are beginning to show but also are challenged lengthwise. Catfish are present but the blue variety, my favorite, have become curiously absent. It may take a while to figure out their patterns. Casting soft plastic assassin type jigs is becoming popular now and taking a fair share in the rockfish effort. Chumming is again the most effective method of getting keeper-sized stripers, Love Point, Podickery, Hacketts, Tolley Point, Thomas Point, Poplar Island and the Eastern Bay are all holding fish in the 19- to 24-inch range. Trollers are still doing well dragging smaller sized bucktails tipped with small Sassy Shads. The one-fish limit is having a noticeable effect on the number of anglers on the water, the days are not nearly as crowded as in past seasons. Hopefully this will result in the rapid rebuilding of our sportfish population. Crabbing has achieved launch velocities and devotees are bragging of full baskets of jimmies at last. Try in six to ten-foot depths over mud bottoms. Throw back any clean, brightly colored males no matter the size. They’ve recently shed their shells and have virtually no meat. Give them a chance to fill in. Females remain illegal to harvest unless you’re a commercial. The seasons look good so far.