If macks are so plentiful, why can't we find the tasty yet elusive fish?

Bill Burton

August 09, 1991|By Bill Burton

KENT ISLAND -- The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. Not infrequently such assumptions prompt one to run away from what he chases.

Or, as my grandmother often reminded me: "Many a country boy rips his britches climbing over the fence." Those words are brought to mind as I ponder my latest attempt to chase down the Spanish mackerel speeding up the bay in unprecedented numbers.

When Vince Thebaud, Ken Hartley and I boarded Capt. Calvert Bregel's Miss Demeanor our only target was mackerel. Nothing against bluefish, but we wanted the more tasty and scrappy mackerel though they average a pound less.

Macks are a new challenge, a fish we know little about from biological and migratory standpoints. And, anything new in life is exciting.

To heck with the blues of up to 6 pounds at Love Point, and scattered in the upper Chesapeake below the Bay Bridge. Sure things can become boring.

As we steamed out of Pier One a brainstorm struck. Why not cellular-phone Rod and Reel dockmaster Shaker Black to get a rundown on the location of the upper Chesapeake mackerel?

Black's home base is Chesapeake Beach, where the macks blitzed over the past weekend. Moreover, he is in constant radio touch with his fleet.

"Come on down," Black said, "and start trolling along the 17- to 30-foot edge on the Western Shore side when you reach West River -- and keep coming to the Radar Tower." So we did.

At West River we tossed our lines over; three rigged with small gold spoons, the fourth with a silver Clark spoon with big beaded red eye at the front. Clark doesn't make a gold spoon, but its

silver variety is the best non-gold offering available for macks.

The trolling lines were rigged so one would work smack on the bottom in 30 feet, another to work 7 feet off the bottom, the third to fish 15 feet from the bottom, and mine to work several feet from the surface. We had everything covered -- and mackerel are known to splash topside as do feeding blues.

Anglers who notice silvery fish leaping several feet from the water, nose high, are witnessing mackerel acrobatics. Compared them, a bluefish is a submarine, though it is at the bottom that mackerel usually strike lures.

Within a couple of minutes the only other boat in sight landed a mackerel, but we held course along the 30-foot edge toward Chesapeake Beach and the Radar Tower. An hour of no action reminded us of the endless big school of fish Bregel spotted on the depthsounder a bit above West River, but in fishing, one must never look back.

Thebaud reeled in a blue of several pounds north of Chesapeake Beach. Then all four rods bent at once.

But, all were blues like we left back near the docks when we embarked. We thought of the size of this school, fish biting at all levels at once, but why turn around and hit it again? We wanted mackerel. Two hours later, we called it a day without another strike. And other nearby boats weren't doing much either except for an occasional blue. Upon our return to Pier One, we learned that mackerel were taken as far up the bay as the northern end of the Mile Marker not far from where we had set out.

They arrived in mid-afternoon. Were they the fish Bregel spotted on the fish-finder? And we went right past them.

We know so little about the migratory whims of these fish, we can only speculate. But, something else unusual also happened. On a hunch, charterboat Capt. Bernie King worked his Jodi Lee into Herring Bay where he took 27 macks.

Who knows what they were doing there. They are also at the mouth of the Patuxent, the Targets to Hooper Island, between the Gas Plant and Cove Point, and off Point Lookout. We do know they are exceptionally plentiful off the mouth of the Potomac, where some boats get 100, and in the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, 26 of more than 5 pounds have been checked in, the largest of 7 1/4 pounds, a state record.

They should remain in the bay well into October offering a new aspect to bay trolling. Now, if we can only find them.

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