Late for Dinner
It was pitch dark when the last fish finally hit. Bill said, “Got him.” Then, even from my station in the stern, I could hear his drag sounding like a large, angry bumblebee. Line poured out of his reel as the rockfish swam hot and straight for the middle of the Bay.
We had been fishing for about three hours, night had just fallen and things had been dicey the whole time. Bill Lambrecht, founding partner and editorial advisor of Bay Weekly, as well as the Washington Bureau Chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a veteran big-boat angler, had joined me for an evening small-boat, skinny-water sortie.
I’d had several great outings fishing top-water plugs along the Bay’s shallow, rocky shoreline for striped bass in my light, 17-foot skiff and expected this late afternoon expedition to be equally good. As anyone who fishes the Bay can tell you, as soon as you think you have things figured out, they will change.
Fishing for rock remains good throughout the Bay. Trollers are finding nice fish regularly, dragging smaller bucktails, spoons and — when the blues are absent — soft baits such as Tsunami and Storm shads. Light-tackle jigging is also coming into its own as saltwater Bass Assassins and BKDs are connecting with good-sized fish deep around structure or over feeding schools. Breaking fish are still concentrated on the Eastern side. From Chesapeake Beach to Solomons Island, superior rockfish are being taken. The shallow-water/topwater striper action is still coming on. This week’s tides are off, but the next should lure the better stripers back in again.
Bill had picked up the first keeper rock on his top-water plug about an hour into our trip and a half-hour before sunset. But then a bunch of small, snapper blues moved into the area. The insanely aggressive fish pounced on our lures, getting soundly hooked and keeping us busy trying to unbutton and release them.
It also appeared that their presence had shied off the nicer-sized rockfish that had been showing up along this stretch of rocks the last few days. During the next hour, we did land a couple of schoolie stripers along with the little bluefish. But no sizeable rockfish showed after Bill’s first keeper.
Just before daylight failed, I hooked what felt like a really good striper only to feel it pull free after I foolishly tried to muscle it to the boat. After that, as darkness descended, nothing happened for either of us.
With only one fish in the box, we switched to subsurface rattling lures, using black-over-gold Red Eye Shads, my favorite nighttime plug.
Almost immediately I hooked up with another good striper that showed some real power and refused for the longest time to close with me. Finally, as it surfaced near the boat barely within reach, I did the unthinkable and tried to scoop it anyway.
Succeeding only in fouling the plug in its mouth on the edge of the net, I watched helplessly as the big fish did a headshake, freed itself from the lure’s hooks, then slid off the net rim into the blackness of the night water.
In the end it was up to Bill to save our trip, and he did. Relentlessly working the water with his rattling shad, he plied not only the near shoreline, where we expected to find fish, but also the deeper, backside of our setup. That’s where, as time was running out, he hit pay dirt.
Playing the fish gently right from the start, he let it have its head while I anguished nearby, holding the net. I began to offer advice on technique. Then, recalling my two failures that evening, I shut up.
Bill didn’t need any advice. After an extended tussle, he gently slid the fish toward me just under the water’s surface and close alongside. At last working the net properly, I lifted the thrashing, striped devil into the boat. It was the nicest rockfish of the evening.
As we headed for the lights of the Bay Bridge and home, both of us well late to dinner, we had a good laugh about our experience. Bill had got his limit, a first-hand look at shallow water fishing and proof positive that the stories I write for Bay Weekly about losing good fish are true.