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Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle

It’s the critical link to your fish

In my considerable exposure to big fish stories over the years, I’ve noticed that many failures and disasters focus on one recurring cause: tired fishing line. That is unfortunate, especially as the cost of replacing the line on most reels is less than a six-pack.     How do you know when it’s time to replace your line?     If you’re asking yourself that question, the answer is yes. When in doubt, replace.

The waterfowl hunter is a different sort of man — or woman

The sound of a half dozen rapid shots followed by a pause, then two or three more measured reports rolled in from the nearby Magothy River. I was drinking my first coffee that morning, still in my bathrobe and looking out the front window when I heard the gunfire. It was bitter cold, windy, overcast and an altogether miserable morning. The duck hunters must be in heaven, I thought.

Bird watching, fishing and hunting are all in season

Late January can be a great time for outdoor lovers, including bird watchers and waterfowl hunters. The arrival of colder weather has encouraged migrating waterfowl to finally head our way along the Atlantic Flyway. The Ches­apeake and its tributaries are ideal resting and feeding areas where these birds will linger, at least until additional foul weather convinces them to continue to warmer climes. Some will eventually travel as far as Mexico.

When you can’t fish, practice casting

Looking out my front window on a beautiful January morning, I could see that the sun was shining brightly and the wind calm. My eyes settled on the skiff in the driveway, covered with its blue winter-weather blanket. I mused that with a little effort I could pull the cover, hook up the trailer and be on the water inside of 20 minutes. Then I mentioned the thought to Deborah, my long-suffering wife.

The gods do not subtract from an allotted lifespan the hours spent fishing

There is hardly any human activity more restorative, calming, comforting and just plain relaxing than a day on the water attempting to convince a fish to bite your line.     Lots of popular recreational activities offer competition, strenuous exercise, adrenaline surges and challenge. Fishing promises quiet contemplation, fine scenery and communion with nature — with the outside chance of scoring a healthy meal.

I’ve got a couple more big rockfish to catch before December 20

The last of the rockfish season is a particularly difficult time for me.     As always, I’m hoping for one last good day on the water. I’ve caught a fair number of rockfish the last few trips, including a great 30-inch fish on a recent afternoon under the birds off of Poplar Island. Yet none has given me the feeling of that last hurrah. For that you need a couple of big fish.

How to find hot wintertime fishing

A big El Nino winter is expected, possibly moderating Maryland temperatures. That’s good news for anglers wanting to get in a few extra rockfishing trips, as the season remains open until December 15 on the Bay and year-round oceanside.     Despite El Nino’s predicted warming effect, however, planning any fishing trip this time of year means getting good information on weather conditions. A 10-day forecast is a good place to start.

Fine dog work, great company and challenging birds make for a ­memorable hunt

A double layer of warm technical clothing, heavy brush chaps and a stout hunting coat were barely holding the elements at bay.     Out front a wild pheasant had just broken from cover, speeding low over dense treetops and right at me. Backlit by the sun, I couldn’t tell if it was a rooster or a protected hen, so I held my fire, waiting for the bird to display its colors. Fingering the safety, I tried to warn my partner of its approach but doubted that he heard me over the roar of the wind across the thrashing prairie grasses.

Wellingtons, ties and ­double-barrel shotguns

We finally heard the sounds of the unseen men and dogs driving the game birds toward us, shouting and beating the thick brush off in the distance. In the midst of nine hunters strung out in a rough line some 200 yards right and left, I fingered the safety on my borrowed over-under 12-bore and tensed.     A few others working the hunt near the crest of the hill now began to wave large white flags to encourage the approaching game birds higher and faster.

The one that got away

Perhaps at birth I got an extra dose of the hunter-gatherer gene. Maybe it was early exposure to a rural life with family and friends who thought fishing a desirable skill. Whatever the reason, I have a strong affection (perhaps compulsion) for the sport.     As a result, I will be troubled, sometimes relentlessly, if I’ve experienced angling failure.