Master Angler at Work
A few hardy souls on the Chesapeake still fish to live.
Commercial fishing, one of our oldest and most demanding occupations, is fast disappearing in even the farthest reaches of this vast estuary. The causes are, on the one hand, the collective pressures of our times, so high they easily overwhelm a species, be it fish or humans who labor to catch them. On the other hand, it’s our slow recognition that many of our hard-pressed living natural resources are too precious to convert to food.
As our resource awareness evolves, another type of fisherman is coming to the fore: dedicated master Tidewater anglers who live to fish.
These fishers are committed to becoming ever more expert in their knowledge of the many species they pursue and in the use of the tackle they choose for that pursuit. They share their knowledge and skills and release most of the fish they catch. Often, their professions mirror their passion.
Chumming for rockfish in the mid-Bay is the most reliable action these days, with many good-sized fish mixed in with smaller schoolies. Use circle hooks to avoid killing the little guys. Menhaden, alewife and bunker (all the same fish) is the best bait, fresh if you can get it, frozen if you can’t. Podickery, Hackett’s, Tolley and Thomas points are good bets on the Western Shore, while Love Point, the Dumping Grounds, the Sewer Pipe then on down to Bloody Point and the Hill and the Diamonds are places to try on the Eastern Shore.
Joseph Capozzolli, 57, of Graysonville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is just such an angler. Joe Cap is an ardent fly- and light-tackle fisherman, fly-tying innovator, casting instructor, rod builder, author and font of knowledge on fishing the Tidewater and its many species.
Angling on the headwaters of the Hackensack River in his birth state of New Jersey with the guidance of a knowledgeable neighbor, Joe grew up fly-fishing for trout, bream and small and large-mouth bass. Moving to Maryland in 1979 to study nursing at Johns Hopkins University, he discovered the Chesapeake.
As he followed his profession and enjoyed the challenges of the Bay and Maryland’s many ponds and streams, Joe fell under the influence of two Maryland originals, early pioneers of light-tackle and fly fishing in both saltwater and freshwater, Lefty Kreh and Bob Clouser. Hearing them speak of their angling experiences, conversing with them and reading their books and articles, he began to chart his life on the examples they provided.
Joe soon became an ardent salt-water fly fisherman, adept in every stage of the art. “To build your own rod, create the fly, present the fly to the fish and fight and land it with this simple tackle is incredibly satisfying,” he says.
His love of fly fishing doesn’t keep him from pursuing other angling techniques, particularly plug casting and light-tackle jigging, which he rates up there almost with the long-rod for satisfying Chesapeake game-fishing. Light-tackle jigging, especially for rockfish, may be the most productive fishing technique of all, he allows.
Last year, Joe left his supervisory nursing career to join close friend Bill O’Brien at Bill’s shop, Shore Tackle and Custom Rods in Graysonville. Now Joe is totally invested in the angling world. He spends his days building rods, rigging tackle, instructing in fly casting and sharing his expertise with other anglers.
When Joe Cap is not at the shop, he’s on the water in his 17-foot Triumph center-console skiff, mostly fishing the Eastern Bay. There are better places to fish more southerly in the Chesapeake, he admits, but his home waters are closest and give him the most of what he loves best: time on the water, fishing.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources is investigating a commercial waterman on the Eastern Shore who was trying to tag 2,000 pounds of striped bass, caught (illegally) in a pound net, as (legally) harvested by hook and line. Stripers caught in pound nets are supposed to be released.
This is an ongoing and serious poaching problem. We will undoubtedly hear more about these instances in the future as the spotlight continues to fall on commercial fishing abuses that have been traditionally rampant throughout the Chesapeake.
And in Dorchester County on November 6 at 2am, Natural Resources Pollice charged Rene O. Pacheco, 29, and Edy N. Arias, 30, both of Riverdale; Luis A. Rivera, 32, of Brentwood; and Jose A. Hernandez, 41, of Manassas, Va., with possession of over-limit striped bass, possession of undersize striped bass and possession of striped bass between midnight and 5am. The fishermen had 64 stripers on board, and 55 of the fish were smaller than the legal limit of 18 inches.