"Pete, they're catching bluefish out there," I said.
"I heard that," responded Pete Jensen. "What size are they running?"
"Twelve to 18 pounds -- they're horses."
"It's a normal year, then?"
"I don't know, Pete. It has been so long since we've had a normal year, I don't know what one looks like."
What Jensen, director of fisheries for the Tidewater Administration, was referring to was the pattern of bluefish migration.
It used to be, when we had normal years, that the big, tackle-busting bluefish were the first to enter the bay. These ran from 11 to 20 pounds and would test an angler's mettle and his equipment.
The next group to migrate into the bay featured the 8- to 10-pounders that came near the end of May. Theywere followed by the4- to 7-pounders in June. The 2- to 4-pounders came in July and lasted into the fall while the bigger bluefish slipped back into the ocean and migrated up the coast.
The past two years have been terrible for the angler looking for big bluefish in the Chesapeake Bay. You could find them off Ocean City, but few ever passed into the bay.
We have started off as if 1991 is going to be a normal year. The big bluefish are here, and as the water warms, more will readily take lures.
A Solomons Island captain told me that one of his Virginia counterparts said there was a load of 5- to 8-pounders below Smith Point. This is unconfirmed, but if true we might expecta continued migration of progressively smaller bluefish throughout the year.
Normally, we do not see a great number of these big bluefish. An exceptionally good catch might be nine to 15. Of course, thatcan be 100 to 250 pounds of bluefish. That's a lot of bluefish.
The majority of the big bluefish hooked will escape. Most anglers are not experienced handling big fish, nor is their tackle.
I like 30-pound test line and 50- to 60-pound test leader for these big fish. Irecommend a medium to light drag. The drag on a reel is there for a purpose. We haven't seen much in the Chesapeake recently that would require a drag, but this year is different. I predict many fish will pop the lines of anglers who have drags too tight.
Big fish need big hooks to hold them. Get the big stuff out; 11/0 and 9/0 Crippled Alewives, No. 21 and 19 Tony Accetta Pets and No. 11/0 Cather spoons are good selections for these big bruisers.
Many of the fish are lost whiletrying to land them. If you are hand-leading a fish to the boat, suppress the urge to swing the big bluefish into the boat by the leader. This is fine for 2- to 10-pounders, but the big ones are a little different.
The leader might be frayed slightly or the fish might get hooked on a trailer hook that has worked loose. Either way, the fish might be lost when the added strain of being flipped into the boat causes something to give way.
Better you should handle the bluefish as if he were a big rockfish and net it. If you do much fishing you will note that the big bluefish will eat holes in a perfectly good net, but I think that is a fair price to pay.
If you don't have need for these big bluefish, put 'em back. These big blues aren't the best-tasting critters you've come across and you might want to catch him again tomorrow or next week. I don't think you'll have to worry, but the new 10 bluefish creel limit is now in effect.
There's plenty to keep you busy this weekend. The Rod 'N Reel Captain's Bluefish Tournament begins tomorrow. For more information call Capt. Shaker Black, 855-8351.
The first Annapolis Brokerage Boat Show opened yesterday at the Annapolis Yacht Basin and Harbor and will run through Sunday. If you're not fishing, go look at some pretty boats. For more information call 268-8828.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.