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Regulars (Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle)

Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.
     Watching the numbers increase as the bottom fell away, I tensed as it descended through 14 then 15 feet, the depth that had proved the sweet spot.      Then the screen’s bottom image showed a long bright blob marking a tight school of perch. Seconds later, as my baited rig passed through those marks, my rod tip surged down and I felt the heavy weight of a good fish. It arced deeper as another fish jumped on. Double-header!
     Years ago, during a particularly good panfish bite, I experimented with a number of variations of two-hook bottom-fishing setups, termed hi-lo or top-and-bottom rigs, to see which were the most effective. The best setup — quite a surprise — has remained the top producer for bottom fishing throughout the years, despite any troubling instincts to the contrary. 
     I knew that twisted wire or heavy mono two-hook (maximum permitted in Maryland) setups would scare off every fish with any sense. So I started from scratch designing my own barest fluorocarbon-rigged setups for stealth and effectiveness.
     My creations of light fluorocarbon leaders, fine wire hooks and minimum construction worked well and caught lots of fish, just as I anticipated. But for due diligence, I also tried more popular rigs and hook setups. 
     What I discovered was amazing. The outlandish and all-too-obvious twisted wire top and bottom (or hi-lo) constructions out-fished everything I had so laboriously created. Far from scaring the fish off, the clumsy contraptions seem to attract the attack of panfish of all sizes.
     This was also true of the snelled hooks that I bent on the wire top-and-bottom rigs. The simple small black hook snelled with light monofilament caught fish. But the more obvious bright red No. 4 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a silver or fluorescent spinner blade, caught more panfish of every type, including the bigger, older fish that should have known better.
     Over time, I have also developed a strong preference for baiting with bloodworms. Though soft crab, grass shrimp and razor clams can sometimes provoke more bites, the bloodworms remain on the hook longer, are far more difficult for a panfish to filch and, as a result, reduce the need to rebait empty hooks. More time for your rig in the panfish zone means more hook-ups.
     My day on the water this past week with that bait and those big, obvious setups once again proved the efficacy of the terminal tackle and bait system. Perch as big as 12 inches — with the smallest just under 10 inches — made up the dozen fat keepers that accompanied me home that day. There were of course many throwbacks, but the constant action kept the day exciting.
     If you’ve a yen for some productive fall fishing, this commonly available gear will maximize your chances of a good catch. 
 
Fish Finder
     The middle Bay is plagued with barely keeper sized rockfish. Trolling has been the top producer, simply because it is superior in covering a lot of water. Bigger fish are falling to vertical jigging, but in this endeavor relentlessness is key. Bluefish are roaming the Bay, providing some lively action but ruining the bite for live-liners using spot.
     White perch are schooling in the tributaries, particularly in 14 to 16 feet of water. They’ll be leaving soon for their main Bay wintering grounds, so if you intend on putting any in the ­freezer, now is the time. 
     Spanish mackerel have shown here and there. Clark Spoons, red hoses and Captain John’s spoons all trolled at about five knots are the key to hooking up with these swift migrators.
 
Hunting Seasons
  • Ducks: thru Nov. 21
  • Snow geese: thru Nov. 24
  • Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Bow season Oct. 22-Nov. 24; Muzzleloader thru Nov. 21
  • Black bear: Oct. 23-26
  • Squirrel: thru Feb. 28

The crabs were fat, plentiful and willing to be caught

I had violated my sacred rule never to promise blue crabs before they were caught. To further increase the danger of a dinner failure when an ever-growing number of people was expecting to be fed, I had not run a trotline in more than a year. Now, at well past dawn, we were only laying out the baited line at the mouth of a neighborhood creek.
    Friends from New Jersey were staying with us, and, while I had been intending to celebrate my 75th birthday with them as quietly and inconspicuously as possible, other influences were at work. I foolishly had not factored in my children, some of their friends and, not the least, my long-neglected and forgotten Facebook account, which had automatically spewed a birthday announcement far and wide.
    My wife had asked the night before, as Vincent Ransom from New Jersey and I were baiting my 600-foot line with chicken necks and sipping adult beverages, “what happens if you don’t catch enough crabs?”
    I answered that pizza would just have to do. She gave me the old arched eyebrow and stalked off. I was beginning to get a little tense and could only hope that my premature promise of enough jimmies for dinner would not jinx the crabbing.
    Adding to my growing terror, I had no actual idea where in local waters the crabs were. Luckily my charter captain friend Frank Tuma had given me a good idea of a nearby site to lay our line.
    The results of our first run of the baited line dispelled a great deal of my trepidation. With Vince manning a trotline net for his first time ever, we managed an even dozen fat jimmies that didn’t even need to be measured. After that, crabs kept flying out of his net and into our basket.
    Within an hour and a half, we were over the three-quarter bushel mark and lauding each other for our skill and luck. Of course at that same point the tidal current died, as did the crab movement. It took more than two hours to finish, but we were back at the ramp by noon with a bulging bushel of the blue beauties.
    Back at the house, Vince and I accepted our spouses’ surprised congratulations, settled our gear and cleaned up. I took a birthday nap, leaving the interim preparations in the hands of my sainted wife, Deb, and Tarin, the other half of the couple from New Jersey.
    Eventually, growing crowd noise and a constantly ringing phone woke me from my decadent mid-day slumber, and I was forced to rejoin the world below who were slowly accumulating to remind me how ancient I had become.
    My youngest son, Robert, who had flown up from his place in Florida, had taken on the task of assembling the propane tank and gas burner, tongs, cardboard platters and adding in just the right mixture of beer, vinegar and water to the crab cooker to steam the tasty devils just the right amount. Just as the feast was almost ready, our middle boy, Harrison, and his partner, Jerica, arrived from Baltimore, having finally extricated themselves from the weekend traffic.
    The pile of hot, fat crabs, heavily dosed with that familiar, steaming spice mixture, was soon heaped on the newspaper-covered dining room table, a sight as beautiful and fragrant as anything ever beheld.
    Somehow we all got seated, a platter of steamed corn and salad miraculously appeared, cold beverages distributed, a bottle of birthday champagne popped and the meal commenced. As I glanced around the room at what had transpired in my home, I wished that living on Chesapeake Bay would forever be just like this for all my family and friends.

Though not Bay natives, channel catfish are worth an angler’s time

Despite a firm New Year’s resolution to rise earlier during the hot summer months to take advantage of the cooler dawn hours when the rockfish are on the hunt, I once again failed to get out of bed and on the water until 8am. The day by then was already heating up and the striper bite a memory.
    Unwilling to brave the heat and the daytime crowds chumming, I decided to focus on white perch with ultra-light tackle since the tides would remain favorable until at least noon. I was only a little sorry I wouldn’t be tussling with some heavier adversaries. But surprises were in store for me that morning.
    I was casting along a rocky shoreline to the remnants of an old lengthy bulkhead that had succumbed to storm erosion and age. Submerged rotting wood attracts grass shrimp and small minnows to feed on the decaying timbers, and that attracts and holds white perch.
    Having already put two or three bulky white perch on ice and released another half-dozen lesser-sized scrappers, I was settling into a relaxed rhythm of casting to clearly visible areas near the more substantial bulkhead remains and enjoying the action. Then my spinner bait stopped dead from a heavy strike.
    Lifting my rod smartly and expecting another spirited tussle, I was met with a strong and determined run against my firmly set drag. For the first few seconds I dreamed of a state-record white perch. When the run continued into the distance, I began thinking of a hefty rockfish. The power and determination of a striper’s run was there, but not the speed, so eventually I had to cross a keeper rock off my list of possibilities.
    When the fish finally paused, I recovered some line. Almost immediately, it took off again. Trying to slow its progress stretched my six-pound mono dangerously close to failure. Eventually the fish paused, only to continue resisting with intermittent rushes in random directions.
    I took my time. When the fish made a rush anywhere near my direction, I applied as much pressure as I could to lead it closer. Then the beast started crossing, again and again, under my hull, using my own boat against me.
    I could do little to stop that tactic. It was only chance that kept my line away from my outboard. I was on borrowed time. At last, stressing my light five-foot spin rod till its cork creaked, I netted a fat and healthy 25-inch channel catfish.
    It was the first of three I would put in my cooler that morning, losing a fourth to my outboard.
    The most numerous catfish in North America, the channel cat’s wide popularity as a sport and table fish has made it the official state fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee. Channel cats have whiskers, deeply forked tails and golden brown flanks with small dark spots. It’s a species introduced to Maryland via the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers but becoming an increasingly appreciated addition to the Chesapeake’s seafood cornucopia.
    The Maryland record of 29 pounds 10 ounces is held by Kevin Kern at Mattawoman Creek, but the whiskered rowdies can reach up to 60 pounds. Channel cats are generally caught in the three-to-five-pound size on the Chesapeake, but their average size is likely to increase as they become more numerous.
    The Chester is the most highly regarded river for chasing catfish in this area, but cats are found with increasing frequency in all of the Chesapeake’s tributaries, particularly around laydowns (fallen trees) and derelict docks and pilings. They also show up in mainstem chum slicks — much to the surprise of those targeting rockfish.
    Cleaning these catfish for the table requires a different technique than most of our sport-fish, as all catfish need to be skinned rather than scaled. These fish produce thick, succulent and boneless fillets with little effort.

Here’s what you need to have fun

Afish caught on the fly is easily twice as much fun as one caught any other way. Right now is an ideal time to fish the long rod for rockfish and white perch.

The first rule is to leave your conventional tackle at home. If you’ve decided to use the fly rod, it’s best to be fully committed.

A nine-foot, eight-weight rod is a good allaround stick. It can handle just about any sized striper you’re apt to encounter and will still allow a decentsized perch to show its stuff. Choose a floating line as it is relatively easy to cast and can handle such weighted flies as the Clouser minnow or surface poppers as the Blados Crease Fly.

You’ll be targeting areas no more than five feet deep to rocky  shorelines, jetties, bulkheads, piers and docks where stripers and perch hold. As you may lose a few flies to these structures (or else you’re not casting close enough), be sure you have an adequate supply.

The Clouser minnow in sizes No. 1 and larger, in chartreuse over white, is the most popular pattern and color on the Chesapeake for striped bass. However, any fly, both floating and sinking, can produce a strike, especially anything two to four inches long that resembles a minnow or a grass shrimp.

When fishing after dark or on overcast days, nothing beats a black weighted Lefty’s Deceiver crept across the bottom.

For rockfish, leaders can be on the heavy side. Rockfish aren’t typically leader shy, and you will be plying waters strewn with rocks, boulders, timbers or the remnants of steel or concrete structures. Heavier tippets can withstand lots of abrasion both from the fish and the environment. I recommend a short (four- to five-foot) monofilament leader plus 18 inches of at least 15-pound tippet.

You may also make your own leaders by blood-knotting together a threefoot butt section of 30-pound mono to two feet of 20-pound and ending this with a loop knot, which is then easily joined, loop to loop, with a 12- to 18-inch section of your 15- to 20-pound tippet.

If you are targeting white perch specifically, use a lighter leader, constructed similarly to the above but in a 25-15-8 pound mono combination. Flies for perch should also be on the smaller side, with those tied on a No. 2 hook the largest. Shorter fly rods from six feet up can also increase the sport with perch. But lines less than five-weight may cause casting difficulties with heavier, bulkier flies.

A chartreuse-over-white Clouser minnow in sizes No. 2 to No. 6 is an excellent choice for perch. Other great picks are a bead head, Crystal Wooly Bugger or a Crystal Shrimp in pearl, tan, rootbeer or chartreuse. A traditional fly rod lure such as the Hidebrandt Flicker Spin is especially deadly in shallow water. Don’t hesitate to add a small split shot in front of your fly or lure to get it close to the bottom.

If you can pick your days, overcast skies with a solid high tide in the morning and low wind predictions are just about perfect for both rockfish and perch. Both species like the upper phases of the tide when they visit the shallows. Using an electric engine, poling or — at the least — practicing extreme noise discipline will result in larger fish of both species as the older, smarter fish are very shy of noise when they are in the skinny water.

When the days are too hot, try the hours before midnight

The temperature in the low 70s seemed cool after the scorching sun, just a few hours ago, had sent the mercury into the high 90s. The multitudes of motorized craft churning the waters had long ago headed for home. I had the spot to myself, a rather surreal feeling in the silence and darkness.
    I motored slowly into position and lowered my Power Pole anchor firmly into the bottom on the spot I had marked on my GPS. As my skiff swung stern to on the freshening tidal current, I relaxed, reached for my casting rod and fingered the swimming plug rigged earlier that evening. Carefully, I made my way to the bow.
    At 10pm, the waning quarter moon threw little light. But I had fished here often and knew exactly where I was located. I was anchored in four feet of water over the remnants of a jetty reduced by years of relentless storms and currents that swept by the prominent point.
    Surrounding depths reached five to six feet in most places, but I had chosen a shallow-running lure because I intended to target another inundated jetty well down current. It rose up to about three feet under the surface, creating a nice rip occasionally but barely visible in the meager light.
    I knew from experience that rockfish would stage just below that jetty to pick off baitfish swept along and disoriented by the swirling waters cresting the rocks below. The questions that night were two: Would they show up after the disruptions of the daytime boat traffic? If so, just what sections of the long jetty would they prefer?
    I had only an hour and a half to complete my quest, since possession of a striped bass on the water is illegal after midnight, and I needed at least a half-hour to get back to the ramp.
    Casting my plug out about 30 degrees crosscurrent, I let the lure swing, the tidal pull giving it all the action it needed. As my line straightened below me, I pulsed the lure one time, then cranked it back in a slow, steady retrieve.
    Working the rip methodically, I targeted first one area, then another. If the fish were there, would they show up in time? The clock was ticking. If I was to secure a dinner for the next evening, it would have to be soon.
    On the fourth or fifth cast, I can’t really remember, I felt my line stop, then surge out, pulling my rod tip down almost to the gunnel. Lifting smartly, I set the hook and felt a good fish begin its run. Lifting my rod high to keep the line clear of the sunken jetty’s rocks, I was alarmed to feel the grating vibrations of contact.
    Thankfully I was using braided line, which is much more forgiving than mono. Still, one sharp edge and I could kiss the fish and my expensive lure adios.
    The fish continued to take out line against my lightly set drag. I relaxed as its distance from the jetty increased and my line’s contact with the rocks ceased.
    It ran off well to one side as I applied extra pressure with my thumb, lifting, reeling and working the fish gradually to the side of the boat. In poor light I could glimpse a solid swirl from time to time as it neared me. I groped for the net.
    Eventually I led the fat rascal in and brought it over the side. I didn’t have to measure it to determine if it was a keeper. It was a heavy one. Pulling out my small flashlight rigged with a red lens so that my night vision wouldn’t be compromised, I removed the plug from its jaw.
    Burying the handsome fish in the ice, I double-checked my rig for any tangles or line fouling and prepared to cast again.
    A few casts later to the same spot brought a virtual twin of the first.
    As I judged that I had tempted the fates enough that evening, I headed back in with plenty of time to make curfew. At the ramp I was still totally alone. That’s a real rarity in the summer, unless you play in the dark.

10 tips to keep you catching

Chumming is one of the simplest ways to catch your limit of nice rockfish on light tackle. It involves a minimum of fuel, since you’re fishing anchored, and that helps cover the cost for the chum and bait. It is also an excellent way for anyone of any experience to tangle with the Bay’s premier gamefish.
    Hang the chum bag over the stern and cast out a few rods with chunks of menhaden on your hooks, weighted down by two-ounce sinkers. Then wait for the bite. It’s a simple formula and a recipe for some great action. That is ... until it isn’t.
    By mid-summer our rockfish will become somewhat accustomed to the presence of the chumming fleets, often as large as 30 to 40 vessels, all streaming ground-up menhaden into Bay waters and fishing with pieces of menhaden. Many of the smarter (and usually larger) fish will have become wise to the anglers on the other end of the line.
    Simple variations on customary chumming techniques can often give you an edge when the fish are getting finicky.
    1.    Use the very freshest bait. If you can get menhaden (alewife or bunker, same fish) netted the night before, you will out-catch anyone using older or frozen bait. Grinding your own fresh menhaden over the side will also attract more and better fish.
    2.    Chunking fresh menhaden (cutting whole fish into small pieces) and adding them into your chum slick can also increase your setup’s effectiveness. Stripers are school fish. If one fish starts to feed actively on the chunks drifting back, others will eat as well, eventually finding the pieces with your hooks in them.
    3.    Use lighter test, less visible lines and leaders. I like going to 15-pound mono with no more than a 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. Replace your leaders often, as worn leaders are far more noticeable to the fish. It’s one of the little things that can make a big difference.
    4.    Fish lines both close to and far from your boat. Some days the big guys will hang way back in the chum slick, while other days they may be right under you. That can change with the strength of the tidal current.
    5.    Change your sinker weights. The rule is to use as little weight as possible and keep your baits where you want on the bottom. But sometimes we get lazy. Switching out to one-ounce or less when the tides are slow, then gradually increasing the weight as the current increases, can make a real difference.
    6.    If you’re marking fish suspended off the bottom under the boat, they’re probably suspended out behind the boat as well. Though these fish are often not feeding, try dropping a lightly weighted bait a little ways back. Don’t try this with multiple rigs (unless it really starts working) because of the possibility of tangles. Just one rod can often let you know if this is the trick of the day — or not.
    7.    When cutting bait, don’t throw the menhaden heads over the side until the end of your trip. Sooner or later during the season some of the smarter (and bigger) fish will figure out that the heads are always hook free and concentrate on them. Fish a menhaden head as a bait from time to time down deep, and you’ll often be surprised at the size of the fish that eats it.
    8.    Vary your bait sizes and cuts. Try a saddle (the top fillet just behind the head), a side strip or a belly strip as well as the traditional steak or half-steak cut. The linesides can get just as particular (or difficult) as any diner on the Bay.
    9.    Don’t neglect the gut gob in the body cavity of the first cut just behind the head of the menhaden. In the middle of the gob you will find a tough piece of innards (the heart). Pierce the heart with your hook to hold the gob together. You can fish it alone (if it’s cast carefully) or add it onto a piece of menhaden. Either way it will often tempt the most reluctant rockfish to eat.
    10.    Change your baits every 20 minutes, and don’t throw the old whole pieces over the side. Cut them up into smaller portions, then gradually add them to your slick.
    Finally, it doesn’t hurt to flip a shiny penny or two over the stern as an offering to Lady Luck. That trick sometimes works for me.


Support Female Crab Protections

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources has announced the female blue crab season will likely close November 20. This is great news for firmly establishing crabs by ensuring enough females to keep the overall population healthy for the long term.
    However, that date can change. This year’s Winter Dredge Survey ranked the population of juvenile crabs down almost 50 percent from last year. As the number of mature crabs declines with the advancing season, commercial crabbers could lobby to open up the female harvest to protect their incomes.

For good sport and good eating, white perch deserve respect

The day was a success from the beginning. Son Harrison and I were on a perch outing, and the very first structure we targeted was rich with sizeable whities. Both of us were fishing six-foot light-action spin rods spooled with six-pound line and baited with one of the most productive lures in our box, spinner baits. Our tackle was constantly being strained to its limits.
    That’s not to say that a big white perch can pop six-pound test line. But fragile mouth structure makes it easy for the bigger fish to tear off if they’re reined in too tight. Plus after an hour or so of working the kind of rocky structures this bantam rooster of the bass family prefers, the thin mono usually accumulates nicks and stress fractures.
    We hadn’t fished together for some time as Harrison’s art career in Baltimore has taken much of his time for the last few years. Today, a Father’s Day promise was being made good — and making an occasion both of us will remember.
    Don’t dismiss white perch as a distant second-best after rockfish. When properly pursued, the species is both sporting and rewarding.
    The most numerous fish in the Bay, white perch are ample from the headwaters at the Susquehanna Flats almost to the ocean. The fish can reach 19 inches long, but in our waters 10 inches is usually tops, making an 11-incher a lunker, a 12 a-once-a-year occasion even for a devotee, and a fish 13 inches or over a Maryland citation and cause for extreme celebration.
    Despite its size, the white perch is also a sportfish in the best sense of the term. Its unguarded willingness to attack virtually any variation of lure and a wide variety of live baits makes it available to even the most inexperienced angler. When hooked, it gives an outsized performance in its bid for freedom. There is no minimum size or possession limit on white perch.
    The scarcity of fish over 10 inches makes the pursuit of the big guys a challenge, and the methods to target them are many. The primary strategy is a lot of throwbacks.
    Like-sized perch tend to school together, but concentrations most always include at least one big lurker. Employing larger-sized Super Rooster Tails or similar spinner baits in one-sixth, one-quarter and even the one-half-ounce sizes (or No. 12 Tony Accetta spoons) gives you a better chance at the bigger ones. Throwing Rat-L-Traps in the one-quarter-ounce sizes (with one of the treble hook shafts clipped off) can eliminate most midgets, giving your bait a better chance of finding a thick black back.
    Fishing areas that are out of the way or difficult to navigate is also a strategy for lunkers. Small creeks and tidal ponds with very shallow access and deeper backwaters discourage both commercial netters and sport anglers with lesser determination. So these can harbor some really big fish.
    In the deeper channels of more open waters, bouncing a small jighead trailing a three-inch or longer strip-bait cut from the belly of a perch or spot can be effective. Only the bigger fish can inhale the whole bait and get the hook, and the belly strips are tough and can withstand multiple strikes before they have to be replaced.
    At the end of the day, however, no matter what size fish you’ve caught, rolled in Panko flakes and fried in an inch or so of hot peanut oil, a crispy white perch fillet is the finest treat on the Bay.

But when half of all crabs are ­harvested each year, we’ve got to work to keep the population steady

After almost three decades of effort, Maryland’s treasured Chesapeake Bay crustacean, the blue crab, has achieved a major scientific benchmark. The number of spawning females has at last reached the minimum target level for optimum species viability: 215 million sooks.
    The 2017 Winter Dredge Survey put the female population at well over the minimum, 254 million, an impressive 31 percent increase from the prior year. This is an important moment, as just four years ago (and five years prior to that), the female crab population had been ­driven to dangerous, even population-collapse, levels.
    Only relatively recently has the female blue crab population been recognized as key to maintaining sustainable levels of our beautiful (and delicious) swimmers. Females were once assumed (by regulators and scientists) to spawn only once in their lives. Hence, when mature, they could be harvested without consequence. That assumption proved false.
    The one hiccup in this year’s accomplishment was the accompanying news that juvenile crabs had inexplicably nosedived by 54 percent. The blue crab is known for fluctuating numbers and varying spawning successes, so this is not a necessarily alarming happenstance. However, these early low numbers will have a definite impact on commercial crabbers later this year, and most certainly the next, when these crabs reach ­harvest size.
    To protect overall numbers, the Maryland, Virginia and Potomac River Fisheries Commission has proposed shortening the crabbing season and imposing stricter bushel limits on female crabs. No changes to male crab limits were proposed.
    Both Maryland and Virginia will have to decide this month on actions and restrictions to protect and stabilize the general crab population. The very real danger is the possibility that Maryland may once again expand the currently limited female harvest to cover the shortfall of males for commercial watermen. (Recreational harvest of females has been outlawed.)
    The legal season for harvesting blue crabs can run into December, but Maryland Department of Natural Resources has ended the season early upon reaching its targeted harvest levels. Last year’s season ended Nov. 30. The year before, Nov. 19. Each year almost 50 percent of all blue crabs in the Bay are harvested.
    This is the first year since record keeping began that we have reached the minimum female target level for species viability. As blue crabs spawn from May through October, this will also be the first of record with an adequate female population providing for growth.
    The commercial sector has been lobbying hard for changes that would increase their incomes, most notably keeping the legal size for jimmies at five inches instead of five and one-fourth inches. Will females be the next target?
    The excessive harvest of female crabs is the odds-on suspect in the many crab population crises that have occurred cyclically throughout the history of crab management.
    The blue crab deserves to be regulated for overall population health.

Our battle against heavy winds, stalled tide and slack current paid off

Small-craft advisories and a forecast of 15- to 20-knot winds made canceling our planned outing a no-brainer. For those who chose to disregard the warnings, however, that day proved to be a placid beauty with five-knot winds, a slight overcast and a red-hot rockfish bite almost all day long off Hackett’s Bar.
    Re-assembling the next day, this time for promises of a five-knot westerly breeze and a strong falling tide, we motored out of Sandy Point and headed south. I had shoo-shooed my buddy Moe into leaving his foul weather gear in his truck (“no rain possible,” said I), only to have him inform me, a bit after we came up on plane, that he was getting drenched from bow spray.
    That westerly breeze had turned into a wind. I had to stop and give him my stowed waterproof, perhaps about 10 minutes too late. Remaining in the lee of the nearby Western Shore for the journey south, we were going to be in for a rough day.
    Throttling down and cruising out past the green can at Hackett’s and into the chumming fleet anchored there, we marked no fish. Continuing on our southerly heading, within a half mile we encountered a few promising marks on the finder. They were scattered fish, probably stripers, though I was unsure of their size.
    Setting our anchor in 35 feet of water, we swung with the wind, pointing our stern at the Eastern Shore. The full-moon high tide was to have peaked at 6am that morning. Since we launched about two hours later, I was sure we would have a firm, outgoing current.
    Dropping the chum bag over the stern proved me wrong, as the chum sank straight down. We baited and cast our rigs only to watch as the lines listlessly drifted back to the boat.
    Rockfish are generally loath to bite on a slack tide. We were stalled at full flood with no discernible current, the wind sending an occasional wave slapping chop over our stern. The over-sized bilge pump, intended for just such a situation, kept us safe and dry. But the hull buck and the side-to-side rock made it hard to keep an eye on our rods.
    The situation was not good. It was too early to quit and go home, but the wind gave no sign of laying down. Our only hope was to wait for the tide to fall, which might get the fish feeding. An hour later, we were still waiting.
    Then I noticed a rod tip bouncing a bit more enthusiastically than the others. Picking up the rig, I felt some life at the other end. Since the conditions were so abominable, I glanced back at my finder screen to see what possibly could be down there. Holy moly!
    The screen was lit up like the Fourth of July. What that school of rockfish was doing there I have no idea. They might have wandered right under the boat and encountered the falling chum. Or we had somehow blundered upon their favorite lair. In any case, below us was a crowd with marks of all sizes. We were into one fish after ­another for the better part of an hour.
    A goodly number were schoolies that proceeded to delight in seizing a bait from under the boat and screaming off to filch it at a distance or to suddenly drop it out of perfidy. There were, however, a few in the 24- to 29-inch range that encountered the sharp, 5/0 hooks and were eventually wrestled on board.
    Then, mysteriously, that wretched wind died, the seas calmed and the crazy bite was over. With a lovely limit of fat stripers on ice we pulled the anchor and headed home over now-gentle waters.

While not a beautiful swimmer, the channel catfish provides the sweetest flesh a seafood fanatic can hope for

Pulling on my weather gear, I headed out in the morning gloom to hook up the skiff. The forecast was poor, but I had cabin fever and had to get out on the water.
    The white perch were up the trib shallows, I felt sure, and there is no better cure for poor weather than the promise of a good perch fry that evening. Now all I needed was the fish.
    Taking my lightest rods and an ample supply of Rooster Tails and Captain Bert’s spinner baits, I splashed my boat at the local ramp, double-checked my gear and headed out. I was the lone boat to launch that morning. Either I knew something that no one else did, or vice versa. It kinda turned out versa vice, but in the end it worked out.
    It took almost an hour to get the first fish. They weren’t hanging on the shoreline, as I had assumed, but were almost 25 yards out, scattered across the flats. A nine-incher started the game off, and I slipped it back over the side as too small. I soon regretted that move.
    The next fish was about five inches, the next six, and for about a half hour they stayed in that range. Then I lost a good one, at least it had felt like a good one. By then the sky was hanging heavy and the forecast for a day in the 70s looked like so much meteorological wishful thinking. I was getting uncomfortable, and the wind was freshening.
    Perch anywhere near frying size insisted on not showing up. But I persisted. With no Plan B, I did not have much choice. Throwing in the towel and heading in for a hot shower and a hotter cup of tea was crowding my options more than I cared to admit.
    Then my luck changed. At the end of a long cast, I got a firm take, a very firm take. The sound of a singing drag and a rod bent over to the corks, even on a light rod, can give a guy an instant lift, which is exactly what happened.
    You can’t really have a slam-bang battle with six-pound mono and a five-foot spin rod. But the fight can be as tense as any struggle with a trophy rockfish when dinner and the success of the day are at stake. As the fish surged one way then another, a notion took hold.
    If it was a big perch, then it was a really big one. The fish had not come closer in over five minutes of give and take. Plus, I doubted that a giant whitey would be lurking with all those throwbacks. If it was a striper it could mean trouble. It felt substantial, but I feared it would not be over the 20-inch minimum.
    On the other hand, even though it consistently took drag, it did not make a rockfish’s traditional long run in the three-foot depths of the flat. There was a lot of head shaking going on, and the fish stayed deep and fought in short, brutal rushes.
    Eventually the scrapper neared the boat, and I reached for the net. Through the dim, rain-stained waters I caught the first glimpse of my antagonist, a long golden flank flashed through the murk. I was overjoyed.
    The channel catfish is not a beautiful swimmer. It is, however, substantially constructed of firm flesh of the sweetest tooth a seafood fanatic can aspire to. Its tough, rubbery mouth, once punctured by a hook’s barb, does not often slip free. I was pretty sure this one was coming in the boat.
    As I deposited the fat, struggling 21-inch beauty in my fish box, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had my fish fry.
    To affirm that, within another 15 minutes the Chesapeake gave me a twin of the first fish, another fat golden channel cat. There would be enough for company.