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Waiting for the Bay to Clear

Use the down-time to clean your gear

Images taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite show the effect to the Bay from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The top image was taken on August 23, the center image on August 30 after Irene. Taken on September 13, the bottom image shows the far greater effect that Lee had on the Bay.

Today I put on long pants for the first time since last June. Normally this is not entirely a bad thing because chilly fall weather means that bigger rockfish will be in the shallow water I love to fish. But not right now. Around our neck of the woods the fishing is pretty much on hold, and it may take some time before it returns to normal.
    The upper- to mid-Chesapeake has been a disaster zone for angling. Satellite maps of the Bay ( for the last few days show a dense plume of filthy water reaching from the Conowingo Dam almost to Chesapeake Beach.
    The initial debris fields that poured down from the Conowingo’s flood gates included immense trees and stumps, many of them almost entirely submerged, discarded propane tanks, refrigerators, washers, dryers and old tires plus the pilings and remnants of storm-destroyed piers and docks.1


   The good news is that the debris being carried down the Chesapeake has significantly decreased, and the muddy water is finally clearing. The bad news is that since few have been fishing the last couple of weeks, it is difficult to assess the impact on angling and the whereabouts of our rockfish, blues, perch and crabs. Better fish are scarce, but things will be better soon. With the absence of fishing pressure this month, some banner days should be ahead.

    The rainfall of Hurricane Irene, followed within a week by the deluge from Tropical Storm Lee, washed countless tons of topsoil into the Susquehanna drainage, which flows into the Chesapeake. Maryland Department of Natural Resources has reported that the Bay has been carrying the highest levels of dirt ever recorded — for the longest time.
    Despite this grim news, fishing opportunities are still available for the mobile angler. The upper reaches of the Eastern Bay and most of the major rivers appear to be fishable. On the Eastern Shore to the south, Hoopers Island to Crisfield remain relatively clear, as is the Solomons Island area down through Point Lookout on the Western Shore.
    While I am researching these options and checking my boat trailer bearings, I have also turned my attention to mid-season gear maintenance.

Might as Well Clean My Gear

    It’s been a busy year so far, and my tackle shows it. Scrubbing the rod guides on the dozen or so outfits that my family and I use, I am amazed at how dirty they have gotten and how long it takes to get them clean. Using an old toothbrush and toothpaste gets them shiny again, but it takes a fair amount of elbow grease. A light coating of silicone finishes the job and inhibits additional dirt from sticking.
    Some of my reels also need attention. Most fishing reels come from the factory with thoroughly greased bearings and gears. This is the right long-term lubrication for those who rarely perform maintenance, but it can impede performance, particularly with bait-casting and conventional revolving-spool reels.
    Many anglers using this type of gear find casting distances improved measurably if they clean the grease from the spool axis bearings by removing them and soaking in acetone or a similar solvent, then applying a light machine oil instead. Hot Sauce, Reel Butter and Rocket Fuel are among the lubricants designed for this purpose.
    Such tinkering is not without its price, however. While a healthy application of grease is usually good for a season, lighter lubricants make more frequent maintenance necessary. I find it prudent to service my frequently used casting reels at least once a month.
    I’m also checking all my reels’ drags. Pulling out line in long armfuls, I know it’s time for the drag to be taken apart, cleaned and repacked with grease when I find the least hesitation in start up or during the pull. With an acetone bath, the various drag washers can be stripped of lubricant, cleaned up and re-greased and reassembled. Write down their order in the reel or spool before you start moving them around, or you’ll never get them back right. Cal’s Drag Grease is the best that I’ve found, but many quality greases are sold at sport stores.
    Finally, I’m checking my lures and replacing any hooks that have become rusty, particularly around the hook point. A rusty hook is far harder to get into a fish than a clean, sharp hook. The old adage, a dull hook gets a bite but a sharp hook gets a fish, is never truer than when you’re dealing with rust.