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Ten Minutes on the Chesapeake

A lot can happen in a short time, but you may have to be patient

Our day had started out with high expectations. The plan was to get on the water by 7am, catch a supply of spot for live-lining, cruise a couple of places that had been producing in the recent past, mark some good rockfish, get a quick limit and be home by noon. Conditions were right: little wind, mostly overcast with mild, short-sleeve temperatures.
    The supply of spot, surprisingly, came rather quickly. One of the problems I’ve encountered in catching live bait by hook and line is that it either takes way too long to find the right size fish or, conversely, it becomes so much fun that I get distracted and wastes a lot of time catching more baitfish than needed.


  The top-water bite is finally on. Reports from around the Bay tell of rock up to 30 inches that are invading the skinny zones with ravenous appetites. They’re biting at Poplar Island, Eastern Bay and virtually all its tributaries, Podickery, the mouth of the Magothy, the mouth of the Severn, Tolly, Thomas Point and just about everywhere there is shallow water structure.
    For this first-light/last-light bite, Stillwater Smack-Its is the hot top-water bait, with both the big and smaller models taking fish. The all-white and all-black models are about equal in popularity. Bomber Badonk-a-Donks, big Heddon spooks and Salt Water Chug Bugs in just about any color are running close seconds.
    Redfish are still being taken throughout the same areas with increasing numbers of keeper-sized fish, 18 to 27 inches. Big perch over 10 inches have also returned. Worked over shell bottom with jigs tipped with small Gulp Swimming Mullets and, of course, bloodworms or thin strips of spot. Bluefish to 10 pounds and big Spanish mackerel 20 inches plus are being bragged on just south of Poplar Island.

Hunting Season Dates

Mourning dove: thru Oct. 6, noon to sunset
Whitetail and sika deer bow season:
thru Oct. 17
Railbird: thru Nov. 9
Common snipe: thru Nov. 23
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28

    In this case, we quickly found a school of perfect-sized spot and, with a concentrated effort at self-control, got a dozen spunky Norfolks in our aerated bucket within 20 minutes. Then we were off to the Bay Bridge to look for some good rockfish.
    That’s where our problems began. A perfect slowly falling tide allowed our frisky baits to get right down on the bottom in the sweet spots just around the heavy concrete columns. But we could find no fish.
    Fishing a half dozen of our most reliable supports, we had no luck. The rockfish were elsewhere. We picked up and roared off to Podickery Point. Slowly cruising the area, we soon found some really good marks on our sonar: pay dirt!
    Dropping our baits over, we made drift after drift just inside the channel markers in 25 feet of water. Despite the very fishy marks that blanketed our finder screen and the slow-moving tide, nothing took our baits for more than two long hours. By then, the tide was slacking. Our hope for a quick limit was in real danger.
    Surprisingly, even with the ebbing tide, we suddenly got some hits. But they were bluefish. Taking just the back half of our baits, the toothy pests were everywhere. We moved again and again, searching for areas where the rockfish were holding and the bluefish weren’t. But the blues always showed up within minutes. Eventually the ravenous devils exhausted our bait supply.
    Past noon, with our goal a bitter memory, we had to replenish our live-bait supply. The spot were still cooperating, and within half an hour we had another dozen baits. But the tide was at full slack.
    Motoring slowly back to Podickery, we munched some sandwiches and waited out the return of tidal current, reasoning that the fish we were marking were awaiting just such an event to begin feeding. We had no better luck; in fact, worse.
    The bigger fish we had previously marked had left for some bluefish-free territory, leaving only the little snappers behind. Past 3pm, we’d run out of hope.
    Calling it a day and admitting defeat, we headed back to the ramp at Sandy Point. But at the final approach, parallel to the Bridge and only a hundred yards from the boat channel entrance, we made one last desperation effort.
    With weary arms and little hope, we dropped our baits over the side next to a nearby piling. Bang, bang, bang! Within 10 minutes, we had our fish in the box, nice bright stripers to seven pounds. Grinning like madmen, we headed in, finally victorious.
    Now full of energy, the long, hard day forgotten, we hauled the boat and congratulated ourselves for not giving up. It was then that the words of an old Eastern Shore goose-hunting guide popped into my head.
    I’d first heard them after one particularly long, lonely day of not seeing as much as a seagull come over our decoy spread. Despite the lack of action, he had insisted we wait in the water blind until the very end of shooting time. “A lot can happen in 10 minutes on the Chesapeake,” he had admonished us. We limited out that day, too.