Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C.D. Dollar

 Vol. 10, No. 6

February 7 - 13, 2002

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Better than Television

Catching rockfish in January in the Chesapeake is confined to a few select places, such as the warm water discharges at power plants, and is strictly catch and release. The congregation of fish holding at these spots is typically comprised of slackers that decide to deny their primordial urge to head for the big water. Pardon the anthropomorphizing of the species, but perhaps they have determined these climate-controlled waters are more suited to their delicate constitutions.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so condescending; after all, these locales can offer a much-needed fishing fix. In fact, even not catching fish is better than watching on television a bunch of yahoos test their mettle in a pseudo-survival skit where the reward is greater if you’re an unconscionable hard body rather than someone with an actual skill.

(Don’t ask me how I know about such televised pseudo-survival skits; let’s just say it was a weak moment and we’ll leave it at that.)

My fishing Jones finally overwhelmed me, and lacking the funds for an excursion to some intoxicating locale such as Belize or Costa Rica, I took Dean Bieri up on his offer to fish his home waters in southern Virginia.

Dean had made the offer in October when we met while I was working on an underwater grass restoration project with his wife Jill Bieri, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s underwater grass scientist, other staff and volunteers. Jill’s passion for restoring this vital resource equals Dean’s manic fishing drive; in fact she’s so driven that she has earned the affectionate nickname ‘czarina of underwater grasses.’

Dean meant for us to take advantage of the December bite around the Bay Bridge tunnels, but he’s too good a guy and humored me into January.

Dean and I had a yearning for fresh rockfish fillets, so we decided to fish the coastal waters from Virginia Beach down to the North Carolina line. Our plan was to head down the beach and intercept a school or two of migrating stripers swimming for their winter haunts off the Outer Banks. At that time of the year, the rockfish are following the menhaden to warmer waters, and Dean had heard reports that the unseasonable warm weather had kept the fish around.

He asked his cousin Brian along, which turned out to be a stroke of genius because Brian kept me in stitches with tales of his days as a commercial fisherman and other trials and tribulations. Brian’s other passion is surfing, and his offbeat perspective of the world jibes well with that image. When he cracked open a bottle of wine, I knew it was going to be a different trip. Not cheap stuff, mind you, but quality Shiraz from the fertile vineyards of Australia.

Since Dean had the helm … well, when in Rome. Plus it’s a crime, or at least a misdemeanor, against civilized society to turn down a taste of a fine red. It proved to be good mojo, for as soon as the he popped the cork a hard strike hit the starboard rod. A vibrantly healthy 21-pound rockfish had been fooled by a white Mojo lure (it’s kind of like a huge bucktail) and was quickly in the box.

By the end of the day, we had caught our limit and released many more. The fishing was hard to beat, but the real thrill was being surrounded by such wildness. Never in my life have I seen so many gannets, which dove and whirled in a scene of pure mayhem, like extras on the set of Hitchcock’s The Birds. And to top it off, we saw what we guessed was a pilot whale crashing bait no more than 100 yards offshore! You can’t buy that kind of excitement, even with a state-of-the-art home entertainment system.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly