Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

 Vol. 10, No. 29

July 18-24, 2002

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Release the Hounds!

The only thing missing was Elvis, belting out “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog.” Cast after cast, Dean Bieri and I howled with laughter when a pack of houndfish, lurking among the dense stands of eelgrass and widgeon grass on Poquoson Flats, rushed after our shiny spoons. Lightning-quick, they’d attack the lures with their narrow beaks and, when hooked, launch their elongated bodies skyward, tail-walking like miniature billfish. Dean’s cousin calls them Poquoson Marlin, and for good reason.

Over the July 4 weekend, Dean and I targeted these voracious fighters, the first time we’d fished together since a mid-January trip for migrating rockfish off Virginia Beach. One of the most accommodating fish I’ve ever caught, needlefish weren’t particular about the lure we presented on that windy summer day. I am sure that they’d readily take a fly, but with winds cranking up to a steady 20 miles an hour, we stuck with spinning gear. Here, my St. Croix Tidemaster rod earned its keep, easily punching the metal spoon through the stiff breeze.

Once we determined the drift pattern and caught a dozen or so on Hopkins spoons dressed with bucktail, we began experimenting. A four-inch, chartreuse and white top water Chug Bug brought a ferocious strike. A quick fight — most were — ended at boatside, showing that the attacker was a lanky four-foot houndfish. Dean also had success when he attached to his spoon via split ring an epoxy minnow fly. A pull tab from a beer can probably would have done the trick.

I was surprised to learn that not many people go after houndfish, which look like gars. Hounds or needlefish are part of the family Belonidaed and belong to the order of fishes that includes halfbeaks, sauries and flying fishes. In fact, a new book published by Smithsonian Institution Press called Fishes of the Chesapeake — written by fisheries experts Edward Murdy, Ray Birdsong and John Musick — assigns no fishing interest to houndfish. In the opinion of this writer, this handsome and useful reference book, chock full of good information, misses the mark on houndfish.

So I went to one of my personal favorite sportfish resources, A.J. McClane’s Field Guide to Saltwater Fishes. He writes that there are seven species of needlefish known in the western North Atlantic, of which the houndfish is the largest and most robust, obtaining a length of five feet. Needlefish, he notes, have been known to jump in the general direction of light, though not in an attempt to seek truth on The Other Side. That they are potentially dangerous to people is evident by their razor-sharp teeth, but that some people have been seriously injured, died even, after being impaled by these living javelins is incredible. Several species of needlefish are visitors to the Chesapeake Bay.

After a raucous good time, I’ll take my chances again.

Fish Are Biting
Where are the flounder? When I asked around last week, I didn’t hear that they were in yet in any great numbers. Or perhaps because the rockfish bite has been so good, they haven’t been targeted.

Lots of good spot and croaker, especially at night, on hard bottom and oyster shell bars. Reports of puppy drum as far north as Thomas Point are also worth checking out.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly