If You Can’t Be Smart, Be Patient
The plan was made in haste late in the evening. Get up early enough to catch a good moving tide, launch the skiff, bag a quick limit and be home by 10am. All seemed possible, as we had limited out in 20 minutes the afternoon before. We had a good idea the fish would still be on hand in a spot where we had been the only boat on the water.
When we splashed my boat a little after 9am, we had already secured an ample supply of fresh menhaden for bait. Since the previous day’s slack water had come in early afternoon, a good tidal current this morning seemed a lock.
We made a 10-minute run south of the Bay Bridge and my partner got ready with the anchor, but the water looked dead.
Big schools of male rockfish are finally abandoning the spawn in the many headwaters to move down the Bay. All of the fish we’ve been catching for the last week or so have been males. They are hungry and strong and ranging from 25 to 34 inches. Best places have all been at the mouths of tributaries, where they are pausing to gather and feed. The Chester, the Magothy, the Severn, the mouth of the Eastern Bay, Thomas Point and Tolley have all been hot. Moving water is the key; if you don’t score in one place, move. Even bigger fish are being encountered trolling down at Breezy Point and jigging the Power Plant. Get in on this bite; it won’t last long.
Then it dawned on me. Slack tides are six hours apart. In our haste, we had foolishly reckoned ourselves right into the morning’s slack. Doh! Major brain blunder.
We drifted aimlessly at anchor waiting for the incoming current. In the interim my buddy Moe managed to score one fat 25-inch keeper, a feat in dead water. When our planned departure time came, our quick limit was nowhere in sight.
Finally at 11:30am, the boat began to swing to the tide. We got another fish, this time a 30-incher. But now a freshening northerly breeze was holding the skiff at a right angle to the developing tidal flow. Our baits were being pulled straight out to our port side.
From my portside stern seat, I merely turned my rod holders to accommodate the new direction. But it was not so simple for my partner. He had to move the Y-shaped dual rod holder holding his two rods from the stern position all the way forward to allow him to fish from port.
That’s when trouble emerged.
A lively 27-inch fish ate my bait, ran back under the boat, paused, tore off for the horizon, stopped and returned to tear up the water alongside us. Moe stood poised with our net first on one side of me then on the other as the fish ran around the skiff, pounding water the whole time.
Finally, I got the devil under control and Moe scooped. As he lifted the sizeable fish onto the deck, it began to thrash again. As Moe did his best to keep the net under control, both his rods bent horizontal. A powerful striper had eaten one of his baits and was tearing out the console rod rack, which wasn’t designed for such stress. The big guy was very close to taking both Moe’s rods overboard.
I yelled a warning, and Moe dropped the net, just managing to get a rod in each hand before they cleared the gunnel.
The determined striper continued to tear out line.
It took almost 10 minutes to work the big guy back. With the net clear at last, I scooped up Moe’s 33-incher as it came alongside. With him we’d reached our limit, and only two hours later than we’d planned.