|Running Against the River
With a long final pull on the cigarette, then a quick flick into the dirt executed in a single seamless motion, the burly figure rambled up the wooden stairs to start fishing. It was, to my mind, an irritating, paradoxical action. Here was a man - more than likely a hard-core fisherman, perhaps a supporter of a fish-conservation organization - trashing the very environs where he derived enjoyment. It just didn't make any sense, but once he crossed over the old railroad tracks, this litterbug was lost in a sea of neoprene waders and fishing vests, so my objections were muted.
Down the steep bank, multitudes of anglers were elbow to elbow casting shad darts, small spoons and chartreuse jigs into the break where the roaring current of the Chesapeake's mother river, the Susquehanna, conflicted with the relatively calming eddies running out of Deer Creek. In this coffee-colored mix were hickory shad, making their annual pilgrimage from the ocean to the Bay's tributaries to spawn.
A spate of hot action had numerous anglers hooked up with these excellent gamefish simultaneously, and when these silvery-green fish jumped out of the water, their aquatic gymnastics were encouraged by whoops and hollers. "Poor man's tarpon," came one shout, "Susquehanna tarpon," came another, and "Susquehanna bluefish" was a final suggestion. Any of these monikers does the 'hicks' justice.
A member of the herring family - which also includes alewife and American (or white) shad - hickory shad are anadromous fish, meaning they spend most of their lives in the marine waters, migrating to fresh or slightly brackish water to spawn. They enter the tributaries when the water temperatures reach the lower 50s, preceding the arrival of their cousins the white shad by a couple weeks.
Hickory shad populations in the Bay suffer from the same ills that have depleted many of our migratory species: poor water quality from polluted runoff; lack of suitable habitat as a result of changing land-use patterns; obstacles to migration routes in the form of dams. We are making inroads to correct these problems, though perhaps not as quickly as many would prefer.
Just maybe, if these wonderful fish excited the smoker as they did me that afternoon, he might think twice about tossing his butt so precariously and carelessly close to such a wonderful stretch of water.
Fish Are Biting
To the delight of many Bay Country anglers, the 2001 trophy rockfish season has arrived, to run from April 20 through May 31. Anglers looking for that monster rock can fish the Chesapeake's mainstem from the Brewerton Channel south to the Virginia line. It is illegal to fish in striped bass spawning areas or tributaries. Size limit is 28-inch minimum and one fish per person per day. No live eels or gaffs allowed.
Up on the Flats, conditions have been tough recently and, subsequently, so has the catching. A few anglers have caught and released nice rockfish, however.
Tributaries of the Susquehanna aren't the only waters holding shad. Tuckahoe Creek, Red Bridges, Hill's Bridge to Queen Anne's Bridge and Gunpowder Falls are all options. On the Potomac River, the Fletcher's boathouse area has a decent number of reported catches.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources' trout-stocking program is under way around the state, making the area's frershwater tributaries enticing to anglers looking to hook up with trout. Check regulations and restrictions before you head out.