CHESAPEAKE BEACH -- Beer flows freely for charter skippers and mates spending evenings swapping yarns on the benches outside the Rod 'n Reel Tackle Shop. But for some charter crews, a lot is not enough.
At Ocean City, tradition rules that captain, mate and angler who get a blue marlin go into the brine at the docks. Here, the captain who guides his party to a rock of 36 inches buys a six-pack of chilled foam.
And seeing that the Chesapeake Beach fleet seems to lead the bay in the number of legal rock taken as the 17-day season nears the halfway point, it's congratulatory party time highlighted by a lot of swapping of fish tales.
When I stopped by Wednesday, Capt. Steve Henderson of the Miss Teresa was buying thanks to the 38 1/2 -incher that struck an 11/0 Crippled Alewive spoon of silver. Capt. Bob Gingell also bought after his Crack of Dawn got a 36 3/4 -incher on an 11/0 Crippled Alewive of green. Then it was Capt. Bernie Hunter's turn for the 37-incher that took a No. 19 Crippled Alewive, followed by Capt. Phil Talbot of the DramBuoy whose white 11/0 Crippled Alewive scored.
Talbot was obliged to repeat because he also got a large blue, an unusual sight these days. Capt. Dick Bennett of the Wendy C also got a pair of big blues, but more exciting were his two small ones. They could mean another patch of blues are coming up the bay.
Alas, it was one of the few days that our skipper Capt. Ed O'Brien of the Semper Fidelis wasn't buying -- but we came close. And we also got a big blue off the Western Shore just below Chesapeake Beach.
The occasion was an on-the-bay Department of Natural Resources press briefing, and curiously the first four scribes to outrace everyone to grab a rod when fish struck were those who had griped loudly about a spring season. Bill Perry of Easton started with a 34-inch rock, Baltimorean Ray Anseaume followed with a 14-pound surprise blue, then Baltimorean Chris Hohenstein got a short rock as did Harford countian Gary Diamond.
Spring season supporter Lonnie Weaver got another short rock, and we wrapped things up with a rock of about 18 inches on the dummy line. Mate Jamie Danford had mixed the offerings on the 11 lines we fished and both spoons and bucktails scored equally -- so did trolling depth.
A couple days previously, Severna Park fisherman Fred Meers, who makes Crippled Alewives, took a 19.35-pound blue on a 9/0 CA of blue/blue combination near Bloody Point, but he has no rock in his freezer yet. Incidentally, Meers expects a mammoth 13/0 Crippled Alewive to come off the assembly line soon, though probably too late for rock.
The other day while fishing Bernie Ruck's Marlen near the bridge we got four rock all about a foot short, all on different offerings. Mike Ruck Jr. got his on a red and white bucktail, his father Mike Sr. scored on a spoon, Bernie got his on a bucktail and I got mine on a green spoon. Capt. Craig Mayer mixed the offerings -- and obviously that's the best route.
There really is no pattern for rockfish, other than working large -- and emphasize the large -- lures within 10 feet of the surface or down close to the bottom in deep waters along the edge of the ship channel. Often green seems to score better.
The 53 1/2 -incher of 53 5/8 ounces taken aboard Capt. Mark Middleton's Bay Runner out of Deale on opening day struck a large red surgical hose. Everyone knows rock aren't interested in hoses this time of year, but when cleaning the fish Middleton found it packed with red May worms.
As of Wednesday, about 100 legal rock had been taken; countless smaller ones. Bill Huppert, a sports fishermen representative on the Striped Bass Advisory Board, tells of a boat that has taken more than 400 rock thus far, but only four were keepers.
The hottest spots appear to be between Chesapeake Beach and Tilghman Island, also the Gas Buoy, Holland Point and Chinese Muds down Solomons way, the Bay Bridge, Parkers Creek, C&R Buoy, Gum Thicket, Brownies Hill, Matapeake, Calvert Cliffs, the Gooses and the mouth of the Potomac where nearly all are throwbacks.