"They're on their way, captain," shouted Bruce Scheible over what sounded like a cordless phone. "They were off the Rappahannock this past weekend, and there is a big school of them coming past the bridge tunnel, even as we speak."
If you hadn't guessed, "they" are bluefish.
Bruce added that the fish caught in the lower bay were between 8 and 15 pounds.
Bruce runs Scheible's Fishing Center near Ridge, Md., and specializes in chumming bluefish for his patrons. His fleet offishing boats includes both charter and head boats. For more information, call 301-872-5185.
You can never have too much information, especially in the spring, when conditions change rapidly, so I calledthe Tacklebox, Ken Lamb's fishing center in Lexington Park.
Ken gives away a rod and reel to the angler catching the first bluefish from shore each year. The rod is still hanging above the counter. A Tacklebox clerk echoed Bruce's bluefish information, and anticipates the first bluefish will be caught from shore in the Solomons/Point Lookout area around April 17.
It is no secret that the last two years have been terrible for bluefish fishermen in the Chesapeake Bay. Not because there is any shortage in bluefish, but because they did not come into the bay. Anglers along the coast had good bluefish action.
Since the economics of Maryland's recreational fishing industry have been balanced on the back of the bluefish, many of us saw new lows in our operations. I've just finished my taxes and charter trips wereoff 40 percent. Many of us switched from bluefish to bottom fishing charters to offer the customers plenty of action and good eating, butwe lost the charters of those who like to catch big, battling bluefish.
Several theories are being batted around as to why the bluefish passed us by. One is there are too many rockfish for the amount of food in the bay. Although I like that one, especially when I am talking to someone trying to close down the rockfish fishery, I don't think it holds enough water.
Another theory that's gaining more credibility is that for the past two years there has been a wall of cold water at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay during the period the menhaden(bait fish) and bluefish normally migrate into the bay. Since the ocean water has been warmer than the water at the mouth of the bay, thefish stayed in the Atlantic.
The state Department of Natural Resources receives satellite information on bay and ocean water temperatures several times a month. The most recent was from 8 a.m. Tuesday and indicated that water at the mouth of the Chesapeake was 54 to 57 degrees while water off Ocean City was around 52 degrees.
DNR biologist John Foster said the satellite photograph looked like a large funnel, directing bluefish migrating up the coast into the Chesapeake Bay. John would not go so far as to predict a good bluefish season, but he did say "the water temperatures look good for stocks of bluefishto enter the bay."
If we can assume large numbers of bluefish areheading up the coast, conditions appear favorable for us to get our fair share. We're seeing more menhaden -- one of the bluefish's favorite bait -- now than in recent years. While crossing the bay last weekend, I saw more schools of bait than normal for this time of year. So far, so good.
DNR and University of Maryland biologists have been placing orange or yellow tags on shad as part of a study. Should you accidentally catch a tagged shad, take information from the tag andcall the DNR to report where and when you caught the fish. Since shad are protected, please release the shad unharmed.
Tog fishing along the coast is good to pretty good. One friend caught 40 last weekend; the next day two of his associates could only manage six from the same wreck.
The Mid-Atlantic Council will be meeting in Annapolis next week to do something about the flounder situation along the coast. Drastic changes in flounder regulations are expected.
Bob Sporeis a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena.