All’s Well that Ends Well
As we drifted away from the pilings, my son lifted his rod tip to feel if the spot he was live-lining was still down deep. His tip sagged, then his rod bent over and line started to feed out from his drag as we pulled away with the current. “I’m hung up again,” he said. It was all that needed to be said, for it was the third time in the last half-hour that he’d gotten snagged in that location.
As I moved our skiff closer to get a better angle to free his rig, his rod suddenly bent even deeper.
“Wait,” I said, “I think it’s a fish. It is. It’s going around behind the pilings.”
The bite around the Bay Bridge has cooled off some, and the rockfish have gotten smaller, but good limits are still coming to persistent anglers. While soft crabs are the bait of choice, the fish are also taking small spot. Chummers around the mouths of the major tributaries on both sides of the Bay are doing well on cut menhaden. On the Eastern Shore, jigging and live-lining is productive to the south on a large group of rockfish that has been hanging in the False Channel and off Poplar Island.
Line ripped off his drag as his rod arched over. The fish cornered behind a concrete bridge support and took off.
Luckily we were prepared for the around-the-piling tactic, and the 20-pound braid spooled on Rob’s reel could take the punishment. But it was going to be a tense seesaw battle. It seemed forever before the fish came out of the pilings. When we finally got a glimpse of the brute as it surfaced some 30 feet out, it took our breath away. It was a big, heavy fish, over 30 inches easy.
Now all Rob had to do was get it to the net.
The rockfish bite on soft crabs at the Bay Bridge had been red-hot for weeks. The drill had become almost automatic: Buy a half-dozen or so softies; motor out to either the Eastern or Western Shore pilings in at least 20 feet of water; put a half crab on a 5/0 hook; add an appropriate weight sinker; drop it down close to the structure and have a nice limit of 21- to 24-inch fish within the hour.
So when I convinced my youngest son to head out with me early one morning, we were both prepared for a quick trip and a sure dinner. But when we stopped on our way to Sandy Point to buy bait, everything suddenly changed. The store had sold out of crabs the night before, and though they expected a re-supply that morning, no one could say when.
Settling for a dozen bloodworms, we tried to adapt. We would try to catch some spot and use them to live-line for stripers. It would be a little difficult to get the right size spot because smaller fish were wicked scarce. Still, bigger baits could possibly entice bigger rockfish.
The other problem of course is that when you have to catch the bait, it seldom, if ever, cooperates.
It took us over two hours to get just nine spot. Almost half of them were on the large side for live-lining.
Arriving at the Bay Bridge pilings, we also realized that we had missed the optimum first-hour phase of the new incoming tide. The water now moved briskly.
We had been changing out the water from our aerated, live-bait bucket to keep it clean. Spot will regurgitate when held in a confined area, fouling the water and further exhausting themselves. We had also been adding ice frequently to keep the temperature down, which tends to calm the baitfish and reduce stress.
The results that morning when we arrived at the bridge were frisky spot in our bucket. And frisky fish will swim deep, even in a swift tidal current — and deep is where the larger rockfish lurk.
After Rob finessed his striper out of the pilings and into open water, it came quickly to the net. It measured over 33 inches, and we could barely get the cooler closed.
It took me another hour, but I also got my big guy, which measured out to a bit over 32 inches. The scenario was almost exactly the same. The fish took the bait deep among the tangle of pilings, and I had the devil’s time extricating it.
Once in open water, I quickly subdued the fish and netted it without incident.
Rob had to be at his life guarding job by 1pm, so we raced home before noon with two great fish in the box.