Strike of rock is thrill that hooks angler, if not the fish

Bill Burton

May 24, 1991|By Bill Burton

ANNAPOLIS -- Bink. I'd forgotten what it was like.

Imagine the determined, lightning-like snap of a famished spot on a bloodworm. Multiply it by 50. That's a rockfish.

Not just any old rock -- this is a hungry one taking a bucktail cast into a strong riptide around a rock pile. It might strike once, or more, but instinctively you know when to set the hook.

Welcome to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge -- and no, I won't reveal which rock pile. Charterboat skippers are entitled to a bit of secrecy.

In addition, the bridge is bound to be a busy place this holiday weekend as we near Monday's close of the trophy rock season. Twelve fish came aboard Capt. Ed Darwin's charterboat Becky D briefly this day. All promptly went back because they didn't meet the 36-inch minimum, though one bucktailed by Charlie Bryan came close.

Back to my first strike. I didn't hook the fish, but the encounter was memorable. It had been six years since I had cast bucktails to bridge pilings and rock piles, and over time one forgets how a rock takes one of these lures.

Instantly, the rod bends. The jolt works up the line, the rod and into the hands. Believe me, it's a thrill.

Bucktailing is different from any other kind of rockfishing. It appears dull, but it's a science, one in which Darwin earned a good part of his reputation as among the best to work the upper Chesapeake.

Don't confuse the technique with jigging -- remember the old Meushgaw Jig? Those colorful small bucktail-like baits with luminous feathers were literally jigged to catch fish, mostly small rock. That's not done with a bucktail.

Instead, the bait is cast practically against a piling or stone pile, allowed to sink, then reeled in slowly -- just fast enough to create a flutter in the pork rind added to the hook. Nothing fancy, just a plain offering, and a hope the fish takes the rind far enough into its mouth to hook it.

In this plastics age, not all bucktail additives are of pork. That's what my first strike came on, but being curious I like to experiment. Soon I was trying a long straight split-tail plastic strip of pearl that I was told was popular among the Solomons charter fleet to add to 'tails for trolling.

There's no curve in this inexpensive add-on, just a straight strip, but its motion makes it flutter just enough to give it a bit of life. It's nothing like the broad sweep of twister tails, or other activated soft plastics.

The others on board snickered, and in jest I promised a fish on the first cast around a rock pile. Many a truth has been spoken in jest, and I got a jolting strike. Then the fish took off, peeling 15-pound test line off my spinning reel.

It takes a bit of horsing to keep a big fish from getting back to rocks and pilings where it can cut the line on barnacles, but 10 minutes later it was approaching the boat. Then the line went slack.

That's not supposed to happen in open water. Almost always, a cast bucktail hook, once set, remains so. I reeled in, and found the hook almost straightened -- the first time that's happened to me when pursuing this sport.

A trophy fish? Who knows? I never saw it.

Funny how success can make anglers change their mind quickly. Bryan, a Baltimore County decoy carver of note, asked our mate David Cohen to add another plastic strip on his 'tail, and promptly scored. Later, when we tried trolling briefly at slack tide, the only non-dummy line to score was rigged with a plastic strip.

Sorry, I can't tell you its name because it has none. Charlie Ebersberger at the Angler stocked it on a hunch that is paying off. Now, he's trying to concoct a suitable name for it.

With the blues gone and the end of the rock season coming up, what's next for charter skippers of the upper bay? Darwin is watching the budding black drum run at the Stone Rock, as well as the white perch getting active around the Miller Island, Craig Hill Light and Magothy areas.

"And I'm impatient for those new blues to get up here," he said.

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