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Beating the Elements

When conditions are rough, the catch is all the sweeter

The 20-knot northerly wind was supposed to have laid down by dawn. Of course it didn’t. Mike and I nonetheless launched at first light and, despite the snotty weather, were soon anchored off one of the western-side Bay Bridge supports and tossing chunks of weighted soft crab back into the structure.
    My skiff was rocking and rolling, but we were determined. Our battle plan had morphed into simply getting four legal stripers as quickly as possible, then heading home.
    We were also soon damp with spray and becoming colder by the minute. The forecast for balmy temperatures was also wrong, and we hadn’t dressed for such a windchill.
    The initial bite was not encouraging. By an hour into the ordeal, we had managed just one 20-inch keeper. Then I felt the tap, tap, tap of a cautious fish fooling with my bait. I reared back to set the hook — only to find myself fouled deep down at the base of the bridge support.
    We were using medium wire hooks and 15-pound braid with No. 30 fluorocarbon leaders. If we snagged on structure, which was often, we could usually get our rigs back by simply pulling long and hard and either ripping them loose from fouling vegetation or, if we were snagged on firmer stuff, straightening out the hook. I leaned back on my rod to pull my gear free.


    Bay waters have finally cleared, and fishing has improved markedly. Trollers dragging small bucktails, short sassy shads, spoons and even Bass Assassins are taking good numbers of rockfish just about everywhere. Though many are throwbacks, there are still good-sized fish in the mix. The Eastern Shore, particularly around Poplar Island, remains the superior destination for boating anglers, but both shores are producing fish for anyone who sticks with the search.
    Light-tackle jigging is coming on strong, and fishing soft crabs around the Bay Bridge has regained popularity. The shallow-water/top-water bite has improved over the last week. Shore-based anglers at Sandy Point, Matapeake and Romancoke are sometimes scoring well in the evenings, particularly on higher tides.
    White perch are schooling well in deeper water but are moving around; anglers who find them are filling their boxes with good-sized fish. Bluefish are still roaming the Bay, and sea trout are as far north as the mouth of the Eastern Bay and Thomas Point Light. Bay crabbers are getting in the last licks of a generally great season.

    With my stick bent hard over, my rig was not coming loose. Instead, my line was pouring off the reel. There was a fish down there, a big fish.
    It was taking my line deep and around the bridge support. As the devil ran, I could feel the braid grinding harder and harder on the rough concrete. Fortunately, braid is up to that kind of abuse, and I could keep the pressure on until the striper tired and stopped. Then I began to pump it slowly back.
    There was a tense moment getting the fish around the column. When finally loose, the fish headed out, cornered the opposite column and stepped on the gas. The battle was on again.
    I worked on the fish seemingly forever until Mike saw it broach back under the support. He’s coming out. I just saw him surface. It’s a good one. Be careful. We’re definitely going to need the net, he said. I hadn’t seen the striper, but Mike’s caution made me remember our light wire hooks, so I eased up a bit. It wouldn’t do to straighten a hook now.
    The radical movements of our small boat in the wind-driven waves made getting the net no small task. By the time Mike retrieved it and worked back over to me, the fish was closing. We hadn’t gotten a clear view of the striper, so when it finally surfaced alongside, its bulk took us by surprise.
    Mike managed it into the boat, no mean feat considering the pitching craft, our rather meager net and the size of the fish.
    Congratulating ourselves, we went back to trying to fill our limit. But that was not to be. Undersized rockfish swarmed our baits and, though we got one more keeper, our supply of soft crabs was exhausted before we managed a fourth legal fish.
    Not at all disappointed — relieved was a better description — we stowed our tackle, pulled the anchor and negotiated the steep chop that abused us all the way back to the ramp.
    Within the hour, the wind dropped, the Bay calmed and temperatures soared. Neither of us, however, would have traded that chilling, wave-wracked morning and those hard-earned fish.