For a lesson on fishing, hope for a calm day and watch the bay

OUTDOORS

June 26, 1991|By PETER BAKER

Every so often, there is a day when the Chesapeake Bay lies still for hours, without enough of a breeze to leave cats' paws on the surface from Bloody Point to the Western Shore.

On those days, the bay reveals the secrets of its currents and gives a free seminar on the business of fishing its points, rock piles, flats and bars.

Monday, with the tide high in midafternoon, was such a time, and the water around Thomas Point Light could be read like a book.

Certainly the bay could be read as easily at the Bay Bridge, Love Point, Bodkin Point, Black Walnut or Stone Rock, wherever there was a point, rock pile, or bar to break the flow, although the reading became harder as the depth of the water increased.

Thomas Point Light, built to rest on two man-made rock piles, sits in 10 to 11 feet of water east of Thomas Point proper at the mouth of the South river and west of the edge of the shipping channel.

The lump on which the lighthouse sits is surrounded from the west through the south to the north by water that ranges from 20 to 50feet deep. From northwest to the north, a flat extends for a couple of hundred yards before the depth drops off to 20 feet.

In years past, on days such as this, Thomas Point Light would be ringed with boats fishing the rising bottom contour for rockfish and small blues.

These days, of course, fishing for stripers is closed except for a trophy season in the spring and a season in the fall.

On Monday, there were a handful of private boats trolling or drift fishing for blues and catching an occasional spot. None, it seemed, was paying much attention to the tide, which was three hours from being high and starting to break strong on the south rock pile of the lighthouse.

While the other boats stood a couple of hundred yards off, a small boat anchored in 15 feet of water -- less than 50 feet from the eastern side of the lighthouse -- let out enough scope to drift northward with the tide so that the lighthouse itself was abeam.

The rising tide was cleaved by the south rock pile, broke around it and washed back in on both sides. Insideeither tongue of tidal current, fish gathered, drawn to the rocks for food and shelter, and from his position, the fisherman would be able to cast to either rock pile as well as to the wood piles and steel posts.

Reason had it that at each rock pile, wood pile and steel post, there would be a bucketful of spot and perhaps a few smallish bluefish. Certainly there would be rockfish, too. There are, it seems, rockfish everywhere.

The first two casts of a quarter-ounce lead head jig baited with a half-inch piece of bloodwormbrought back two 8-inch spot. The fourth, sixth and seventh casts brought back 12- to 14-inch stripers, each trailed by a handful of other stripers right up to the boat.

The barbs on the hooks had been crimped off, so releasing the stripers was expedient, and presumably minimal damage was done to the fish.

But a little more experimentation alleviated the problem of catching the stripers -- for a while, at least.

The stripers seemed to be hanging out toward the strongest current, with the spot holding where the current was slower and the water a little more shallow.

On the surface, the read was easily made -- where there was more wave action, the current was faster.

But then one must read below the surface, which can be done by casting into the fast water with a very light jig or a split shot crimped to a bare line and watching the speed of the drift. Once the lighter weight began to sink quickly, the current was weakening fast, and that was the area where the fish seemed to separate.

Once the breaks were found, catches of spot began to outnumberthe stripers, although rockfish still were banging the bloodworms frequently. It was enough to say thatthe fishing was very good, and luckily, no striper took a hook farther back than the lip.

At Thomas Point Light, once the tide was at full flood, the current raced past the rock piles and washed the fish onto the flat that lay to the north and northwest, beyond the icebreaker, where the bottom was loosely cobbled with what once might have been a decent oyster bed.

Sorting out the fish here seemed much harder, but the tide was faster to the east and on Monday more spot seemed to be holding a little to the west of the ice breaker.

When the tide is ebbing, the reads will be basically reversed, as they will be at most points, rock piles, lumps or flats.

The east side of Thomas Point Light offers the better fishing. On the west side, the anchorage is restricted by underwater cables and the slower water there seems to attract more toadfish.

If you are going -- to Thomas Point or anywhere the bay shallows up and the current breaks over a good bottom -- hope for a calm day, read the water, and crimp the barbs on your hooks.

Patuxent piranha

A section of wall at Marty's Sporting Goods in Edgewater in Anne Arundel County is set aside to post photographs of memorable catches by fishermen.

Tacked to the wall are what one might expect: pictures of fishermen with big blues, trophy stripers, lunker largemouth -- and an 11-inch piranha caught in the Patuxent River.

Carl Ercoli of Edgewater caught the 1 1/4 -pound fish last week near Benedict in Charles County while fishing for perch and catfish. He was using soft crab and bloodworms as bait.

"At first I thought it was a big rockfish or something," Ercoli told The Annapolis Capital. "But after a while, I knew it was something different."

Indeed.

Wild piranha -- you know, the fish that schools in a feeding frenzy and can strip a pig to bone in minutes -- are found only in the tropical rivers of South America.

Department of Natural Resources officials speculate that the fish may have been released recently from a pet owner's aquarium.

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