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Features (Fishing)

If you want to catch fish, you can’t wait for a perfect conditions

Even as we headed out, the day already looked challenging. Wind predicted at eight knots was easily twice that, and my small skiff was rocking and rolling under overcast skies. Donning foul weather coats, we soldiered on, ignoring a chill spray blowing down the port side onto both of us.
    The day before in perfect weather, my short morning scouting run met defeat. In my hour cruise over recently productive areas I had marked nothing, no bait and no rockfish. Running out of time (I had to ferry some house guests to catch their planes that day), gloom settled over me. Where had all the fish gone?
    Now we were trying a more northerly area, heading out just after sunup with a good supply of chum and bait. At our target location, we saw that if the weather got any worse, we would have to pull the plug. Instead, it stayed only miserable.
    I had seen widely distributed marks on my fish finder as we arrived, but the boat was heaving about so that the screen got little detail. Were those marks scattered baitfish, rockfish or both? Were they even fish? I couldn’t even guess.
    The alternatives were simple: Keep looking for better marks or hunker down in the snotty weather (did I mention it was beginning to rain?) in hope the stripers would come to us. We threw in our lot with staying put.
    We finally got the anchor set, the chum bag over the side and our four rods rigged and baited and trailing out nicely in the swift tidal current. As usual of late, the currents seemed to be running at least four to five hours later than the printed schedules indicated.
    It took a long and uneasy half-hour for the first striper to find our baits. My rod tip dipped, then plunged down, and line began pulling off my reel. With the clicker making merry sounds, I dropped the reel into gear. My rod bent nicely as I set the hook. Within a few minutes we had a fat, healthy, 22-inch rockfish in the net. Breathing a sigh of relief, we declared the looming skunk banished.
    It didn’t take long for the next fish, but it was too close to the minimum size, 20 inches, to trust in the cooler (they shrink some once iced, and measuring was difficult in the heaving boat), so it went back over the side. Another throwback, then another came on board. Were we going to be swamped by shorties?
    The next fish answered that question. It was another 22-incher, followed quickly by a 23, then another 23 and we were done, two quick limits.
    Now getting our gear cleared became the problem. We had three rigs still in the water after netting the last fish, and two were bent over from fish running with our baits.
    Struggling to boat the extras, we had to face a disquieting trend. The rockfish now coming over the side were bigger than the ones in the box.
    Exchanging a rockfish already in your possession for a larger one more recently caught is called culling and is outlawed by Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It is also a death sentence for the fish. A significant percentage of fish released in this practise, even if they appear vital, expire from the stress, especially with the warmer water of summer.
    Shrugging off temptation we released the interlopers and headed for the ramp in victory.
    That’s when the sun broke through the overcast, the rain stopped and the wind died to a gentle breeze. As we arrived at the ramp there ­wasn’t a trace of the miserable weather we had endured. It was now a balmy, bluebird day.

Here’s how to make it work for you

Chumming has always been an excellent way to catch rockfish in the Chesapeake. It’s not particularly demanding in technique or equipment, so just about anyone with a boat who is willing to invest some time can consistently score some really nice fish with this method. As a bonus, it can be easily done with medium-weight spin or bait-casting tackle.
    The basics are simple. Anchored up in a moving tide, the angler suspends over the side of the boat a mesh bag that contains a frozen block of ground menhaden. Also commonly called alewife and bunker in the mid-Bay, menhaden are the favorite food of rockfish.
    The ground menhaden thaws and disperses into the tidal current, attracting rockfish sometimes from great distances. Cut pieces of whole baitfish are then hooked and fished suspended on the bottom for the rockfish to discover and eat. It is a very simple yet effective technique.
    There are, however, strategies that can improve your chances. The first and most important is locating and securing a supply of really fresh baitfish. Top-quality is evidenced by a minimum amount of blood in the bag and the high sheen of silvery white fish that are firm and have a good odor.
    That’s not to say you can’t catch stripers with a bag of two- or three-day-old fish that are off-color and a bit soft. All of us have. But the fresher the bait, the better the bite. Plus your chances of scoring bigger fish increase.
    Keep that bait buried in ice. Menhaden degrade rapidly. If not kept well iced, they immediately begin to soften and spoil. Leaving bait exposed to the sun or warming on the boat is self-defeating. Keep your bait cold, always.
    Buy plenty of baitfish. This is not the place to save money. The first vertical cut of the menhaden, just behind the head, is the prime piece. It contains the internal organs in the body cavity. In the middle of that gut will be the heart. Put that gob on your hook first (with your hook through the heart), then add the piece of fish. You will be surprised how often this draws the first bite and the biggest rockfish.
    Rockfish are a school fish, and when one fish begins to eat, it sends a signal to all of them to eat as well. Change your baits every 20 minutes; by that time most of the scent will have been washed out. Rockfish will find your baits and eat them much quicker when their scent trails are clear.
    The chum bags available today are generally made with a mesh size too small. Cut a few extra holes (about an inch wide) in the bottom of the bag to let the bigger chunks of the chum wash out. You want to attract rockfish, not make the chum last as long as possible.
    The last tip is to use a large enough hook and leave the point and barb well exposed. Hook the menhaden, not too deeply, near the spine at the top of the piece of bait. A rockfish is used to feeling sharp things in its mouth. Just about everything it eats has spines or hard points so the incidental prick of a hook will not frighten or alert it.
    Early in the season (until mid-July at least) a size 5/0 to 7/0 bait hook is not too big if you’re seeking fish in the 30-inch class. After that, as the bigger fish leave for the ocean, gradually reduce your hook size to match the schoolies that remain.


Conservation News

    Natural Resources Police received a complaint on May 12 concerning a large number of dead fish floating near Town Creek, a tributary of the Patuxent. Searching the area, officers saw a commercial vessel, the McKenzie Leigh, unloading fish at a nearby pier. The vessel was holding about 14,000 pounds of croaker and other species. Officers from four counties were assigned to measure the entire catch in an effort that took 12 hours. Approximately 3,500 pounds (about 10,000 fish) were found to be undersized. Charges are pending.

With only one flounder in the cooler, it’s a good thing we could count on it for four fillets

Feeling the undulations of the sandy bottom telegraph up my graphite casting rod, I kept a cautious thumb on the reel spool. Our day drifting live bull minnows for summer flounder was starting slow. My son Harrison, his girlfriend Jerica and I had hoped to score enough fish for a family dinner. We hadn’t yet risen to the challenge.
    The fishing boats we had encountered had all given us the thumbs down when we inquired as to their luck, so we had redoubled our efforts. Jerica was particularly focused on hooking one. She had never caught a fish, nor even been fishing, and today she intended to rectify that void in her life.
    There is nothing on board luckier than a beginning angler, and a new woman angler is double lucky; it isn’t by accident luck is called a lady.
    I was ruminating on that thought when I saw Jerica’s rod dart down.
    She expertly lowered her rod (it’s always amazing when someone does something right the very first time) to allow the flounder to get the bait well back into its mouth. Then she raised the rod slowly and, when she felt resistance, pulled back hard. Fish on!

Floundering Again
    We have been going to a beach house in Bethany every summer for more than 30 years. In the earliest days I fished frequently, but that was during the time of the big trout, bluefish and flounder runs. Fishing slowed down after that, mostly from commercial overharvest, and so did my oceanside efforts. With my wife and me, three kids and many of their friends, the amount of gear got to be too much. It had been a long time since I fished the back bays of Ocean City.
    This year turned out to be different. The boys had grown and were coming down on their own, so my wife and I had to pack only for ourselves. Life had become simpler.
    I decided to fish again, particularly for flounder, for there are mighty few fish that can compare on the dinner plate. The flounder is also an interesting fish. A member of the flatfish family, it is born looking quite like every other fingerling with an eye on each side of its head and swimming upright. But soon it turns to swimming on its right side. That side of the fish becomes its bottom, and the right eye gradually migrates next to the left, now top, side of its head. Its new belly becomes stark white while the upper side takes on a mottled, dark green hue that the fish can modify at will to match the surrounding terrain.
    On our bait-fishing rods were flounder rigs composed of an in-line sinker, three feet of No. 20 fluorocarbon leader, a 4/0 Kahle flounder hook and brightly colored bucktail attractors. Then we lip-hooked a bull minnow on each rig, lowered it to the bottom and drifted on a smartly running tide.

Jerica’s Fish
    I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who lost Jerica’s first fish, so I took great care in netting that flounder, especially since they can also swim backwards. Once safely on the deck, it measured well over the 16-inch minimum and went quickly into our cooler.
    A few minutes later Harrison and I hooked up with skates that had us both fooled for big flounder right up until they were at the net. We threw them back, then caught a few shorts. Then the brief bite died.
    Lucky thing a flounder has four fillets.

So many variables are at play it can sometimes be baffling

We arrived at our fishing spot at 9am, two hours after the predicted low tide. Consultations with tide and current charts told us that at our location about a quarter-mile below the Bay Bridge, the incoming tide would just be starting. It ­wasn’t; the current was still going out.
    Anchoring and expecting the change at any moment, we set out our chum bag and flipped our baits over the side. After an hour with no tidal change and no action, we headed farther south, reasoning that the outgoing tide would be starting earlier there. Again we were wrong.
    We debated going down the Bay farther still but decided to stick it out. Our fish finder was showing a substantial population in the waters around us. Logically, we concluded that all that we needed was a tidal change and an increase in current to get the stripers feeding. After all, the tide sooner or later would have to change, right?
    Undoubtedly that was true. Yet four hours later it became clear that it was not going to change while we were there. With the tide still inching out and our baits going untouched, we headed home.
    Tides are the result of the gravitational pull of the moon as it orbits the earth. Ocean tides are regular and predictable. It seemed inconceivable that in the Bay an outgoing tide could continue for over 12 hours.
    I decided to renew my acquaintance with how the tidal functions in our great estuary can behave so erratically. The Chesapeake, I was reminded, has a unique and vastly more complex tidal operation than the ocean.
    The moon sets up the basic tidal rhythm of two high tides and two low tides during a typical 24-hour period. But those tidal surges have to travel the length of the Bay, 200 miles. Much can happen in that distance, and many variables can impact the flow of tidal water.
    One of the more important variables is caused by density differences between heavier saltwater coming up from the ocean colliding with lighter freshwater from the Bay’s tributaries. Because of the Coriolis Effect, generated by the turning of the earth on its axis, the incoming tide is always stronger (and saltier) on the eastern side. The fresher water exits the Bay on the western side’s stronger outgoing tides.
    This difference between salt and fresh creates a stratification of Bay waters and generates a secondary circulatory current with the heavier saltwater tending to sink to the bottom as it moves up the Bay and the lighter freshwater tending to float on top and moving south to exit the estuary.
    There are also secondary currents and eddies created as the water moves over different depths. More than 25 percent of the Bay is less than six feet deep, but the channels coursing down its length often average 50 to 60 feet deep.
    Wind is another factor. Sustained high winds can delay, accelerate or even cancel tidal phases. Northwest winds associated with high-pressure areas can push water away from the Atlantic Coast, resulting in very low tides. Northeast winds and high pressure can create exceptionally high tides.
    The interactions of these many variables can also generate seemingly impossible effects. Occasionally currents flow in one direction on the bottom of the Bay and the opposite direction on the top. An outgoing tide that seems to continue for 12 hours can be caused by conditions some distance away and invisible to those experiencing the phenomenon.
    Considering all these forces, the overall accuracy achieved by our tide and current charts is remarkable. It wouldn’t surprise me if the old saying Just go with the flow was coined on the Chesapeake.

Whenever you can

Everything conspired against my going fishing. When I had the time the weather went bad, high winds or rain, sometimes both. When weather was right, my schedule turned on me: guests from out of town, family gatherings and, of course, work.
    When finally I got a break, it wasn’t until the afternoon that I could get away. The worst part of the fishing day is the high-sun, high-heat of the day from noon until at least 4pm. Then again, everyone knows that the best time to go fishing is whenever you can, so I did.
    On the water by 2pm and supplied with some nice, fresh menhaden and a bucket of frozen foul-smelling chum of the same species, a cooler full of ice and a couple of cold bottles of water, I made my way to a spot just off of the mouth of the Severn in 25 feet of water.
    Anchoring and getting set up took about 20 minutes. I had to re-rig my four rods, as the leaders were kinked and scarred from use and the hooks were not particularly sharp. Cutting off about 10 feet of line, I retied it to the swivels, clipped in some new live-lining sleeves and knotted on a two-foot section of 25-pound fluorocarbon for the leader. I finished with fresh and very sharp 7/0 short-shanked bait hooks.
    Setting my chum bag out about halfway to the bottom, I baited up and set out my rods to begin the wait. Wrong time of day, but the tide was making up and in the same direction as the wind, so my lines streamed out nicely from the stern. All I needed was a little cooperation from the fish.
    Three boats were nearby, and the one I had queried earlier indicated that the bite had been dead, so I prepared for a slow afternoon. Then, almost immediately, one of my rod tips twitched. Retrieving the rod from the holder, I released the reel’s clicker so there would be no resistance on the line.
    The spool began to turn, slowly at first, then more rapidly as a fish swam off with my bait. I counted slowly to six. Then put the reel in gear. When the line came tight, I set the hook.
    As I fought this fish, one of my other outfits had a run, the clicker chattering away. I reached over and threw the reel in gear. The fish hooked itself. I threw the other two outfits in gear as well, still struggling with the first fish.
    It was a long battle. By the time I finally netted the muscular devil, all the remaining rods in the holders had bent over double. Laying the gleaming 31-inch striper, still in the net, on the deck, I attended to the three straining rigs.
    The next outfit had a plump 19-incher, which went immediately back over the side. The second rod proved a disappointment as the fish slipped the hook the moment I picked up the outfit. The last rod, though, after another lengthy fight, resulted in a husky 27-inch fish, almost as fat as the first.
    I considered continuing, given the suddenly red-hot bite. But the thought of deep-hooking a beauty that would only have to be released dampened that urge. Looking around at the other boats nearby, I also saw that my good fortune had apparently gone unshared.
    I gave thanks to the fish gods and put my remaining bait and chum back on ice for another day.

The modern rockfishing boat is a high-tech warship

My phone rang early. It was my friend Frank Tuma, calling to invite me on a last-minute trolling sortie in the Bay.
    Just east of the Baltimore Light, we set out the side-planer boards.
    Side planers are built of three one-inch-thick wooden or synthetic boards approximately two feet long and 10 inches wide. The leading edge of each board is cut at an angle to direct their path through the water. The boards are held about six inches apart by a series of stainless steel shafts. They are pulled along each side of the boat. Floating vertically like blades in the water, the boards are forced away and held fast by heavy 300-pound-test tether lines.
    We began trolling two umbrella rigs, some tandem parachutes rigged with soft shad bodies of both six- and nine-inch lengths, a couple of basic bucktails plus a Big Tony Accetta spoon, giving the fish a wide spectrum of baits to choose from. White, chartreuse, yellow and green were represented in the array.
    We finally began marking fish as we approached Love Point. A few minutes after making the first turn around the Love Point Buoy, a distinct pop announced that a line had been pulled free of its release clip, and one of the 10 rods bent over hard.
    The only downside to trolling multiple rigs on planer boards is that the boat cannot stop to fight a fish, which might cause a massive snarl of lines and lures.
    That means that an angler may be fighting a fish that can weigh upward of 50 pounds while moving through the water at four knots.
    Carl, the lucky man closest to the rod, was an old hand at reining in big fish and was soon inching the heavy fighter closer and closer to the boat.
    Everyone yelled at the first glimpse of the striper. It was a nice fish; perhaps too nice. Easing the big rockfish the last few feet, Frank finessed it into the landing net.
    The slot limit put in place this year by Department of Natural Resources dictate that only fish 28 inches to 36 inches or bigger than 40 inches can be harvested. This one was over 28 but uncomfortably close to 36.
    Quickly working the 12/0 hook out of its mouth, we ran a measuring tape along the big body. Then we squeezed the tail together and measured the overall length again to make sure that we were adhering to DNR’s exacting method for defining legal length.
    It’s not often that you wish a fish smaller, but at 37 inches, this spawned-out female went back over the side and disappeared into the depths of the Bay to swim another day.
    We hit four more stripers that day. Three were undersized, but one struck with massive force, fighting even harder than the first. There had been a good initial hook set and our angler was handling the fish expertly until it charged the boat. Getting the slack in the line it needed for just an instant, the fish shook itself free.
    We went fishless but had a beautiful day on the Chesapeake. All of us had pulled on at least one rockfish, and we still had many days left in the season to score.


Conservation News

    Warnings have been issued that the seaweed (or wormweed) used in Maine to pack bloodworms may be carrying invasive species. Anglers are advised to dispose of the weed in trash receptacles rather than dumping it into the Bay.
    Commercial menhaden processors (mainly Omega Protein) have been demanding more access to the remaining menhaden population (also called alewife, bunker and pogy). The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is apparently considering their requests. Drop the Commission a letter and tell them what you think: comments@asmfc.org; 1050 N. Highland Street, Arlington, VA 22201.

Baitfishing by water and from shore

Mike Ebersberger has a strategy for big, early season stripers on the Chesapeake. Not a fan of trolling, he prefers baitfishing the rockfish trophy season.
    His method is simple: “Find a place away from other boats, anchor up on the edge of the main Bay channel in 25 feet of water with a muddy or sandy bottom,” says the manager of Angler’s Sport Center. “Drop a couple big chunks of menhaden, the fresher the better, on two- or three-ounce sinkers. Wait for a big rock to come along and inhale one of them.”
    His favorite areas include the Baltimore Light, Podickery Point, Sandy Point, just south of the Western Shore rock pile below the Bay Bridge, and Hackett’s Bar.
    Ebersberger acknowledges that not all of his friends have followed his recommendations, preferring to take their chances trolling. But those that have followed his lead, he says, have caught their fish on light tackle and with hardly any expenditure of fuel.
    Getting an early start is part of the strategy. This time of year, fishing boat traffic and the accompanying engine noise and wake can stifle an otherwise promising bite. Getting on the water and dropping lines at 5am, the legal opening, greatly improves your chance of getting a trophy-sized keeper before the trolling fleet arrives on site.
    If arising well before dawn or dedicating a morning to sport (instead of work) is a problem, fishing the waning light of evening and into the dark can be almost as productive. Rockfish are light-averse and often prefer to begin their dining in the wee hours of the evening rather than in the full blaze of the sun. And you’ll be more likely to have the Bay all to yourself.

Shore Fishing
    Shore-bound anglers have another tactic for the early season: fishing bloodworms from public access fishing areas around the Bay. Not just any bloodworms, nor pieces of bloodworms, but large, whole bloodworms presented on the bottom on 6/0 to 8/0 circle hooks.
    Using nine- to 12-foot surf rods and spin reels holding 250 to 350 yards of 20-pound mono or 30- to 65-pound braid, anglers are scoring trophies with no more investment than a bit of time and a bag or two of
specially select bloodworms.
    Bloodworms are not found naturally in the Chesapeake region. They are harvested by hand from the saltwater mud flats of Maine and shipped to area sporting good stores. The closest thing to a bloodworm in the Chesapeake is an oyster worm, which, while looking almost identical to a bloodworm, is only about two inches long and much too slender to thread on a hook.
    Our migratory striped bass, however, are fresh from the ocean, used to feeding on the bloodworms of the New England littoral and consider a fat six-incher a tasty treat indeed. Even bigger worms are often available directly from Maine and are even more tempting. Try Luke Delano at bloodwormdepot.com for eight- to 10-inchers as thick as a No. 2 pencil.
    Favorite spots for these live-bait anglers on the Western Shore are Fort Smallwood Park, Downs Memorial Park, the beach at Sandy Point State Park, Thomas Point Park, Mayo Beach Park and Point Lookout State Park. The Eastern Shore sweet spots are at Betteron Park and Rock Hall at the mouth of the Chester, the pier at Matapeake State Park and the Black Walnut Bulkhead on the southern tip of Tilghman Island.
    Find other locations at http://dnr2.maryland.gov/Boating/Pages/water-access/boatramps.aspx.

Fishing College

    Dennis Doyle teaches Chesapeake Bay light-tackle fishing at Anne Arundel ­Community College May 9 (filling fast) and June 5 (AHC 362): aacc.edu/noncredit;
410-777-2222.

Hungry trophy stripers will strike any number of lures

If you’re a Chesapeake Bay angler, the most important day of 2015 came on Saturday, April 18, the opening day of fishing for rockfish and the start of the trophy season.
    Rockfish, or striped bass to the world outside of the Bay, are a migratory fish. Most of the linesides that swim the Atlantic seaboard originate here in the Chesapeake, but the females and a fair portion of the males don’t reside in the Bay for long.
    At about age four these fish leave for a migratory life in the Atlantic, where they grow to much larger sizes. Once in the ocean they swim the coast, sometimes as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as South Carolina.
    They return to the Bay only once each year, in spring, to spawn. Catches of striped bass over 100 pounds have been recorded in the distant past by commercial netters; today a 60-pounder is big news — and a mighty big fish.
    Trolling big lures through Bay waters gives boat anglers the best chance of scoring on the giant fish. Since arriving in the Bay from the ocean and heading for their natal waters, they are constantly on the move, never staying in one place for long until they at last arrive at the headwaters of their birth. After spawning, the big females return to the ocean. The big males stick around until the females stop arriving. Then they too return to the ocean, the last of them departing by early May.

Lures to Catch Big Fish
    Big lead-headed jigs are the most popular lure to troll in the Bay, especially when nine- to 12-inch soft-bodied plastic shad are added.
    Included in this category are variations like parachute jigs with flaring skirts of nylon hair, the original natural bucktail hair jigs and simple nylon hair-skirted jigs. Often rigged in tandem, they are included in just about all trolling setups.
    These ersatz baitfish are crafted to emulate in both size and color the menhaden, a favorite food of striped bass. Also called bunker, mossbunker, alewife and pogy, these baitfish reach sizes of up to three pounds. Generally found in schools, the swimming baitfish can appear silver, chartreuse, gold, yellow, purple, green and lavender.
    Big spoons are also popular. Available in more colors and sizes than you can imagine, they are also known for producing a significant portion of the really big stripers boated during this springtime season.
    Arrays intended to represent whole schools of baitfish also attract big stripers. These include umbrella rigs, displaying as many as 10 lures (without hooks, by law) on wire arms like an umbrella. One lure with hooks is tied in the center and a bit more distant. Chandeliers are similar but have additional rings of lures and resemble (of course) a chandelier. Daisy chains are in-line attractors that have any number of sequenced lures, usually soft-bodied shad, spinner blades, tufts of hair or shiny tinsel arrayed on one central line with the last lure in the series bearing the hook.
    All of these lures have but one objective: to trigger a strike from a giant ocean-running rockfish.
    This year the limit is one fish. It can be either from 28 to 36 inches or over 40 inches.
    This regulation was put in place to protect the population of big females of a particular age class. Females of this size can carry upward of a half-million eggs and are critical to the rebuilding of rockfish stocks oceanwide.


Conservation Note

    With the opening of rockfish season, Maryland Department of Natural Resources urges anglers to use a new website and smartphone app — www.chesapeakecatch.com —
to record their catch and share data about Chesapeake Bay sport fish needed to make informed management decisions.

It’s been a long roller coaster ride for conservation

We have experienced a wild conservation roller coaster ride during the 22 years since Bay Weekly newspaper first burst upon the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Our enormous watershed, once considered an inexhaustible source of seafood and wildlife, has discovered itself not so limitless after all.
    Maryland’s rockfish, rescued from the edge of collapse by a complete federal and state moratorium on their harvest in 1985, had been lifted for only two years when Bay Weekly began publication as New Bay Times. That extreme protection effort was an unqualified victory, with fish stocks rebounding to an abundance not seen on the Chesapeake for some time.
    Following that success, however, we soon fell into our old habits of harvesting as many fish as we felt sustainable. It turned out that over the last decade — in part because of commercial poaching — we found ourselves in trouble once again.
    Rockfish numbers have fallen by over 30 percent ocean-wide. Last year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission lowered catch limits and increased legal fish sizes for the foreseeable future. Once again, the hope is that our favorite fish to catch and to eat will bounce back.
    Bay oysters are another story. Close to extinction for more than two decades, oysters continue to struggle from commercial over-harvest, poaching, disease and pollution caused by agricultural and population expansion.
    It would take almost all of the 22 years from the birth of this newspaper to see the kind of effort and regulation from the state that could result in a chance for that keystone resource’s recovery. Today, with commercial excess possibly reigned in by new and more stringent regulations and the expenditure of funds increased to the levels necessary to provide a chance of success, the first signs of an oyster stock recovery are beginning to show. Lets hope the trend continues.
    The blue crab continues on a roller coaster ride. At times we have had good numbers for this species, celebrated on the table and in print as wildly as the rockfish. But we have also had almost regular population crises.
    The key, it seems, has been the number of females surviving winter and escaping relentless commercial harvest. Maryland Department of Natural Resources has put female crab harvest off limits for recreational crabbers but not for watermen.
    Commercial limits continue to be set optimistically high for female harvest, and the crab population is once again headed back toward the danger zone. Perhaps Maryland officials will wake up.
    The Canada goose, which fills our autumn skies with sound as skeins of these far-traveling waterfowl come our way, has also experienced its ups and downs. Pressured by hunting to the point of collapse by 1991, it too went through a long moratorium, finally lifted in 2001. With more sensible regulations, the species seems to be holding its numbers.
    Chesapeake Bay itself has had its own travails, principally from pollution, but here too is much hope for the future. The necessary laws and regulations to protect the Bay from two major sources of degradation, agricultural and stormwater runoff, are finally being put in place.
    Population growth continues, but that is not entirely bad. Many of the people coming here are drawn by the beauty and the recreation provided by the Bay and its tributaries. These are fresh eyes and fresh expectations that the care and nurturing of the environment and all of its wild creatures should have very high priorities in the coming years. I am all for that.

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Fishing College

    Learn to fish with light tackle on May 9 (filling fast) or June 5, when I teach Chesapeake Bay fishing (AHC 362) at Anne Arundel Community College: www.aacc.edu/noncredit; 410-777-2222.

With white and yellow perch running, you want a rig that works

Casting my rig up underneath the big tree leaning out from the opposite bank of the river, I paused to give my lures time to settle near the bottom. I then began a slow retrieve, starting with a small twitch. Detecting a sudden resistance, I set the hook, and my rod tip surged down. Fish on!
    Actually there were two fish on. The occasion marked my discovery of a new springtime yellow perch hangout, one that would deliver big fish reliably over the next several seasons.
    We were using a two-lure, tandem rig with a yellow-feathered gold Tony Accetta spoon in size 12 on the long leg and a one-eighth-ounce shad dart in chartreuse on the short one. A small three-way swivel joined everything together. Adding a lip-hooked minnow to the spoon and a grass shrimp to the shad dart gave the lures the added scent that pretty much ensured their success, assuming fish were present.
    This rig is the one we use when exploring new water or starting the day from our skiff. Navigating quietly along a shoreline, one of us casts while the other steers to likely looking laydowns and brushy edges. When a fish strikes, we anchor and work the area thoroughly, since perch are a schooling fish.
    The setup also fished well from shore, especially with the addition of a small bobber to keep the lures from fouling the bottom. The only downside  was that the rig is tedious to replace if lost in a snag. But it is so productive that we usually spend the time to retie it.
    The Tony with the minnow moved through the water with a pronounced flashing, undulating action that really drew the strikes. It was the lure the big fish usually hit. The shad dart with the grass shrimp on the shorter section had multiple aspects. If the water was deeper than we anticipated or the current stiffer, we could substitute a heavier dart to get the rig nearer the bottom where the perch always were. Besides being activated by the action of the spoon, the brightly colored lure proved irresistible to any fish drawn to the struggle of a perch hooked on the spoon, resulting in a double hookup. It also worked for those days when the perch (white or yellow) would eat nothing but grass shrimp.
    White perch tend to cruise the shallow river or stream edges during high tide and when they are spawning. Yellow perch seek out flooded shoreline brush or downed tree limbs to hang their accordion-like tubes of roe.
    During low tide, perch tend to hold in the deeper holes or travel the channels. Then, too, the setup works. We simply anchor up in the center of the cuts or up-current of large pools. The current alone induces the spoon’s serpentine action, so we can often set our rods down and wait for strikes.
    The next most productive setup for fishing shallows less than five feet of water is simply one-eighth ounce shad dart under a small weighted bobber rigged so the dart is suspended just off of the bottom. The rig can be retrieved or still-fished. This is one of the most commonly used perch rigs along the Chesapeake and for good reason: It works.
    When a lot of fish are present and competing for food, the setup can be used with just the shad dart. But when prospecting or if the perch are reticent to bite, adding a grass shrimp, a piece of worm or a small minnow can make it instantly more attractive.
    When searching for fish, work your casts out in a fan pattern to explore all around your position. After throwing the rig, let it sit until the water calms. Then twitch it back methodically. Vary the count that you let the lure sit between movements until you find the rhythm that draws the most bites.

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Conservation Alert: Blue Crab Management Strategy

    The blue crab population has been in a nosedive the last few years with numbers indicating another crisis may be at hand. Add your voice to Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Blue Crab Management Strategy Plan: http://tinyurl.com/ntebjb3.
    DNR has set female crab harvest limits for the commercial sector this season at about the same as last year except there will be no season closures. Harvesting female crabs remains illegal for recreational fishermen. Read more at dnr2.maryland.gov/Fisheries/Pages/notices.aspx.