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Regulars (Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle)

Some days, everything’s wrong but the fish

It was cold on the Bay, colder than we wanted to endure. But it had been a long time since either of us had caught a rockfish. So there we were in mid-morning in my 17-foot skiff off the mouth of the Severn in about 35 feet of water with temperatures barely above freezing.
    At least the winds were mild, as were the seas. But the skies were stalled in a dark overcast. I could feel the fingers of cold, damp air trying to creep under my expedition-weight fleece unders. Shivering, I tightened my foul-weather coat.
    As a bit of current is essential for the chumming expedition we had in mind, we had timed our arrival to coincide with the beginnings of a falling tide. Moving water would carry our chum bits out and establish a long, broad scent path for cruising stripers to follow right back to the tasty fresh menhaden baits at the end of our lines.
    The boat swung gently at anchor. I was pleased that the first part of our plan was unfolding as intended. But when I finally looked up from preparing my tackle, I saw that instead of facing south, our stern was pointed toward the distant Bay Bridge. The flood tide was not starting to fall. It was still coming in.
    We quickly baited up, casting out four lines as I dropped the chum bag over the stern to capitalize on the last few minutes of incoming current. We weren’t so lucky. In minutes, our lines sagged as water movement stopped. Off our transom, we watched the chum dropping straight to the bottom.
    It would be an hour or more before the outgoing current would make up. Until then, nothing would happen; rockfish are loath to feed in still water. The prospect of doing nothing but shivering was not inspiring.

Catching a Fluke or Three
    We’d marked a few pods of fish in the area where we’d anchored, and I noticed in the distance some big boats grouped up in deeper waters.
    “Maybe we should pull the anchor and do a little more reconnaissance while the tide is slack,” I said. “It looks like those guys over there may have found something.”
    “Okay,” my partner said, “but you’ll have to wait till I get this fish in.”
    I turned to confirm his jest only to see his rod bent in a hard arc, the drag humming as line poured out.
    “I can’t believe you hung a fish in this mess,” I said, looking for the net.
    When we finally got the rockfish on board it was winter fat, shiny and big enough that there was no need to measure it.
    “Nothing wrong with a keeper in the first five minutes on a slack tide,” I said.
    But I knew it was a fluke. That’s when one of my outfits bent over in its holder and line went peeling off the reel.
    That fish was even bigger than the first, about 26 inches and equally wintertime fat. Soon after, my friend hooked up another. It was a good looking keeper about the same size as his first fish, but we threw it back, deciding that the way things were looking we could afford to raise our standards. We agreed on nothing less than 24 inches.
    “I can’t believe we’re catching these fish in dead water,” I repeated. When I glanced at our electronic finder, the reason became clear. The screen was lit up. Crimson arcs and blobs steadily moved across the four-color LCD. We were sitting in the middle of a school.
    Our stern had barely swung south with the ebb by the time we had managed the last of our four brawny keepers into the ice chest.

Lessons in tackle, bait and reading the water

    Live-lining is one of the best light-tackle techniques for rockfish throughout the Bay this time of year. You’ll need a medium- to medium-heavy-action rod and the means to keep small baitfish alive while you are on the water.
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It’s never too cold to eat

I had been pushing through the brush, briars and a foot of snow for about an hour, short of breath and dumb from the cold. I couldn’t feel my face or most of my fingers in spite of the hand warmers clutched in each of my gloves. Then the baying hounds turned in my direction. Fingering my 20 gauge, I turned to face the dogs and froze. I mean that in every sense of the word.
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When you can’t fish, shop

Winter will probably continue to sweep its foulness down on us, at least for the next two months. That means we probably won’t be getting out for much leg stretching. One good thing about this time of year is that there are fishing tackle bargains, and many of them are on the Internet.
    I’ve found a number of sites with good deals on quality tackle. But be warned: Shopping on a foul-weather day can become addictive.
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Learn to tie flies or fly-cast with this open-to-all club

The morning temperature was well below freezing on my home’s weather gauge as I grabbed my coat and fly boxes. It was way too cold and windy to be on the water, so we were headed for the next best thing: tying some flies and talking about fishing.
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Stuff their stocking with a good book or video

The dedicated outdoorsman or woman is, by definition, equipped. The few things such a person might lack are likely so specialized as to be a mystery to outdoors outsiders.
    Books and movies, however, fall into a safe-gift zone. If you’re intent on pleasantly surprising an outdoors lover with your gift, the following suggestions might help.
    Kayak Fishing (Sportsman’s Best www.Florida
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From perch to rock to sea trout — this lure will get them when others won’t

Temperatures were in the mid-50s, the tide was close to slack and a light wind was out of the southwest at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Hoping for a good score on the white perch that had been gathering there the last two weeks, we were armed with medium-weight jigging rods and two-ounce Bernie’s Bomber Rigs.
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Trap is a great diversion when it’s too cold to fish

Rising early, I looked out the window to check the tree line. Stiff winds had kept us in for days, and I was eager to get back on the water and after the big ocean-run stripers arriving of late. I lit up as I saw that the skyline was not just still but dead-still.
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November’s fish have fattened in the ocean

I cast the wriggling spot close to the bridge piling, leaving the reel out of gear with my thumb lightly pressing on the spool. As the spot swam toward the bottom I could feel it taking line. It paused and meandered, unafraid, following the tidal current away from the concrete structure.
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Every rockfish is good; now and again, one is extraordinary

When I planted the skiff’s Power Pole anchor on the remains of an old submerged jetty wall that snaked well over a hundred yards out from the shoreline, my face was numb from the chilled air and the fast run. My electronic finder said the water was four feet deep under the keel. But just off the rocks, it would read closer to seven. Not too much farther away, the bottom fell to 20 feet.
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