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The First Rule of Fishing

You’ve got to be on the water to get a bite

Feeding gulls led Frank Tuma to where he landed this 30-inch rockfish.
      We were running out of time. The sky was growing dim. Our baits and lures had long gone untouched. A few other boats floated listlessly, scattered widely, doing nothing, and our sonar screen had remained consistently empty of any promising marks below. Then Frank said the magic word: “Birds!”
      I swiveled about and focused my vision on four or five gulls swooping low to the water in the distance. Then a dozen more materialized, whirling, diving and swooping. Splashes exploded under them and blossomed with the glint of feeding rockfish. 
     We cleared our lines, and Frank fired up the engines, bounced us up on plane and accelerated toward the fray. A bite had started out of nothing, and we were not the first to notice. But we were the closest. With trembling fingers, I fetched my casting rod out of the holder as Frank did the same. No time for clumsiness now. The day could be rescued in mere seconds.
      Coasting to a stop a cautious distance in front of the advancing breakers, we tensed as they approached. Suddenly there was a splash not 50 feet to our starboard. Frank flipped a surface plug next to the boil. Then his rod bent hard over, and he said the other magic words, “Fish on!” I reached for the net.
     October has been an altogether difficult month. Somehow I forget how windy it becomes just as the rockfish bite accelerates. Temperature changes and the other associated and unpleasant meteorological phenomena make finding a calm, clear day difficult, especially with the domestic chores inflicted by the seasonal changes of autumn.
      That morning had been lost to high winds. When they finally died down it was early afternoon and not the best time to search out a bite. But my neighbor Frank had called with the offer to perhaps catch some small Norfolk spot and cruise for future opportunities. Jumping at the chance for company in a low-payoff activity, I grabbed a couple of rods and headed for his boat.
      It took us well over an hour to get four spot in the live-well plus a few small perch, including a couple of silver or sand perch, a close and more diminutive cousin to the whities and not commonly encountered. We took them as a good omen. 
      We than searched for jumbo white perch, a bounty that had eluded both of us for some time. Working without success in the Magothy, we headed out to try some lumps outside for either the perch or perhaps some rockfish that Frank had earlier marked on his GPS. No luck there either.
      Trolling small bucktail, we were slowly motoring north toward Belvedere Shoals when the birds blessed us by locating the feeding stripers. After we netted Frank’s 22-incher off the first group of breaking fish, they vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.
      We relocated them on a nearby oyster lump within a few minutes. Dropping a live spot on a 6/0 circle hook into the water, I soon had my own keeper on the deck. A few minutes later, Frank landed another. The very last spot in our live-well was the victim of theft as it was quickly picked off.
      Resorting to the small perch, a long shot when there are still spot in the Bay, we both, surprisingly, had immediate runs. Mine ended in defeat as the fish spit the hook. But Frank got a brute on his line. I ended up with net duty yet again.
      After a tenuous battle and a few long and satisfying runs against his drag, my friend brought the fat 30-incher to the net. We were limited out just as the sun set.
 
Fish Finder
      Rockfish are biting around most of the tributary mouths and the mouth of the Eastern Bay, up to the Baltimore Harbor and Man o’ War Shoals. Not all the fish are keepers, but there are some heavy rockfish intermingled. It may take a little work to locate them as they are not in great numbers, but they are there and they are eating in the early morning and late afternoon. Otherwise it’s by chance and not just a little help from the birds.
     Perch are still schooling and moving to deeper water. But finding fish over eight inches can be a chore. Rockfish, however, are beginning to take smaller live-lined perch. That’s a prime indicator that the spot are moving to the ocean. Spanish mackerel are getting scarce as well. Crabbing is all but done except for diehards running their lines in waters 12 feet and deeper.