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Winter-Adventure Advisory

Freak warm days may be too good to be true

      From the front window, I saw the trees about my house were finally still. The sun was shining at last, the forecast was for 60 degrees and one more day on the water suddenly looked possible. After all, rockfish season was still open.
      I had covered my skiff for the winter just days before, but that wasn’t a problem. One of the benefits of my super-simple winterization system is that it takes only minutes to pull the cover off and reconnect my electrics. My fuel and motor had been treated for the winter as well, but I knew from experience that the engine would purr like a kitten as soon as I hit the starter button.
     Opening the door to assess the scene more closely, I saw my breath in what I soon discovered was 30-degree air. Another faulty forecast: What a surprise. Retreating into the kitchen for more hot coffee, I pondered my habit of wishful thinking.
       A humorous image registered as I considered another event years before when we had a spate of wonderful days of 70-degree weather during an otherwise bitterly cold December. Calling my friend Mike on the third day of the heat wave, I suggested we take advantage. He agreed. From my house we traveled snow-edged streets, towing my now de-wintered skiff festooned with hastily readied fishing rods.
      At the nearby ramp expecting a bonus day on the water, we both broke out in laughter. The ramp, the creek and most of the river were still frozen solid. We had forgotten the effects of the previous weeks of near-zero weather. It is amazing what we can convince ourselves is possible from an overwhelming desire for it to be so.
      Since then, I have tried to stay safe by making a checklist of critical elements to verify before starting out, no matter how much I or my companions desired the adventure. Today’s technical achievements have made most of the elements easily determined from the comfort of home by referring to the many buoy monitoring websites on the Chesapeake. 
     The first website to reference, however, is always the marine forecast ( for current conditions on the water. Temperatures are not included, but wind speed, current and predicted direction, wave height and sea-warning directives are generally accurate. 
       For my open skiff, I do not entertain cold breezes above 10 knots and generally prefer them less, ideally much less. As to the state of ice, I’m afraid you’ll have to rely on your recollection of just how cold it’s been recently and remember that ice on the Bay is just as slow to melt as it is to form.
       Next, I check the Thomas Point Light Station (TPLM2), which gives wind direction, speed, water temp, air temp and some data history so you can discern if conditions are improving, consistent or worsening. If you’ve got air temps in the high 50s and water temps in the 30s, you can bet that when you’re on the water it’ll feel a lot colder than the top number suggests. 
       A number of other Chesapeake Bay buoys ( give more location-specific data. If you’ve identified a sheltered shore you want to visit, these sites could give you a real-time picture of just what to expect including wind speed, direction and the temperatures of both that local water and air. 
      Remember always that fish will be using smell to find their food and moving more slowly, sometimes much more slowly, than in warmer months.
      Finally, there are the usual cold-weather fishing dictates such as layering with expedition-class clothing, windproof and waterproof coat and pants, extreme-weather socks, footwear, hats and gloves.
     Get off of the water any time you begin to feel clumsy, chilled or even a touch confused. Those are the signs of incipient hypothermia that can be deadly.
Fish Finder
       The rockfish season is winding down toward its December 20 closing. But there are legal fish still holding on the bottom at the mouths of the tributaries and around the Bay Bridge and the channel edges. Drifting with minnow-tipped jigs and bouncing the bottom will catch ’em, as will trolling and bottom-bouncing with plastics and bucktails. Fresh bait on the bottom will work shoreside if you’ve patience and warm clothes. Darker hours will prove an advantage. Perch are still catchable when you can find them schooled up.
Hunting Seasons
Deer, antlered and antlerless, firearms, thru Dec. 8
Sika deer, firearms, thru Dec. 8
Deer, antlered, antlerless and Sika: archery, Dec. 10 thru Dec. 14
Snow geese, Dec. 10-Feb. 2
Ducks, Dec. 11-Jan. 26
Canada geese, Dec. 14-Feb. 2
Sea ducks, limit 5, thru Jan. 11 
Rabbit, limit 4, thru Feb. 28
Squirrel, limit 6, thru Feb. 28