KENT ISLAND -- Talk of suspense.
Sixteen eyes were riveted on the engine box of Joe Bernard's cabin cruiser as Michael Rossbach checked out the center of attraction. The hushed group watched him lay the rule alongside the object of attention.
A loud cheer erupted. The rockfish taken on a Rat-L-Trap measured exactly 18 inches. It was a keeper, and our only legal one in a sunrise to past sunset odyssey that took us completely around Kent Island.
In all we cast and trolled more than 65 miles in our junket down the Wye, Miles, Eastern Bay, up and down the Chesapeake and past Love Point, into the Chester, and homeward via Kent Narrows. The fish struck at sunset as we stopped to cast plugs and bucktails five miles from Bernard's home.
All that goes around comes around.
The other rock we caught were too small, but the blues weren't -- and all were also taken on bucktails and plugs except for one John Caha took on a trolled 'tail five miles after we left the dock.
We saw only a few boats and no other signs of catches in the Wye and Miles River and Eastern Bay, but when we made the turn from there southward into the Chesapeake our hopes skyrocketed as we saw fish being taken in the distance. But the excitement was short-lived.
The fish were blues, big ones, but we discovered the boats were bluefish chumming. We were hyped for rock.
We joined the fleet of trollers along the drop-off toward Poplar Island, then swung back north and for several hours worked the Kent Island bay shore with spoons and bucktails at varying depths. We didn't get a strike, and didn't see a rock caught.
We noticed some of the better known charter skippers were trolling live eels very slowly -- something to remember for later -- but we saved our eels for the Bay Bridge. We only had a dozen because Randy OdeLeon in the excitement of anticipation of trying for rock forgot to buy some. When he made a U-turn from Bernard's house to correct the oversight, he could only get 12.
We wasted none of the eels at the bridge despite a good tide rushing around the pilings. About 50 other boats shared our fate. There, the rock come and go around the pilings, and one must be at a piling being visited by rock that move from one to another to feed.
We paused at Love Point, which in rockfish season is not a locale of brotherly love as boats crowd one another to drift eels in pockets of the bay floor. We didn't see a fish caught, so we headed home via Kent Narrows where the tide was rushing through the old Route 50 Bridge, which was as busy with eel drifters as the Bay Bridge.
In anything that floated some fishermen get out to the platforms of pilings to stand and drift eels, others stay in their boats to drift eels through the cuts. One man took two rock of better than 10 pounds, but we were late, and couldn't get a good position.
Off Wye River Light we encountered another fleet, this one casting to fish working bait with gulls overhead. Some of the fish were rock -- including Rossbach's 18-incher -- others were blues, and all were hungry until the sun set.
Then we moved a bit farther into the Wye and in darkness Joe Mellett, Greg Coyle, Bob Belt and I started bringing fish aboard, mostly on Rat-L-Traps cast toward the sound of breaking fish.