For a few days last week, tidewater fishermen were, quite literally, in a fog, which is unusual for the Chesapeake Bay.
With the first phase of the rockfish season coming to a close, the fog that lasted through the mornings in late week made navigation interesting.
Visibility at times was less than 50 yards, limited enough that channel markers and buoys were useless and compass and bottom contours became the tools for piloting -- unless one was equipped with Loran or GPS.
If there was a bright spot in the gloom, it was that in three days of fishing in the fog we began to find fish where we might not normally have looked -- closer to shore in less than 15 feet of water.
Not that that should be so surprising because anyone who has sped off to the 30 or 40 foot drop-offs to troll has passed an older fellow or two in a tin boat prowling the shorelines.
We found that the shorelines were a great place to be -- and fishing was a heck of a lot more fun than bottom bouncing bucktails in deeper water.
Hearing is crucial in the fog. One of the best ways to fish a shoreline is to cut the engine and let tide and wind drift the boat while you cast a popper, spoon or small bucktail to rock piles, grass beds or piers and pilings.
It is not unlike bass fishing, with plenty of physical activity, and when a fish strikes, the gratification is instantaneous.
And if you are lucky, as we were Friday, the wind and tide will be right and the fishing will be almost perfect.
We had been drifting off the shoreline from Thomas Point toward Tolly Point, catching occasional blues and stripers in depths from three to 10 feet and occasionally restarting the outboard to DTC move into deeper water.
The wind was light, the fog was thick and small waves could be heard breaking on the shore but not seen. In the anchorage below the bay bridge, ships' horns were being sounded and the foghorn at Thomas Point lighthouse blasted through the murk.
Toward the end of our drift, where the shoal off Tolly Point drops fast into 15 feet of water, there was a hole in the fog filled with gulls wheeling and diving over a mixed school of blues and stripers.
Wind and tide carried us quietly into casting range of the breaking fish and for 20 minutes or so, virtually every cast brought back a 2-pound blue or a striper.
What worked well for us along the shoreline were 1-ounce Kastmaster spoons, the Hopkins Shorty (1 1/2 ounces) and half-ounce bucktails with twister-style tails.
Try using the Kastmaster for breaking schools of blues and rock. On a steady retrieve it will carry a few inches below the surface and twitches of the rod tip will give it a little more action. In that situation, it is almost guaranteed to bring a fish to the boat.
The Hopkins Shorty can be used the same way but is perhaps better used a little deeper, say when the blues are feeding on the top and the stripers are hanging beneath them. Again an almost sure-fire lure.
Bucktails seemed to work best when the fish were down and not feeding as aggressively. Cast it, let it settle and then begin a retrieve slow enough to keep it bouncing on the bottom but fast enough to give some wiggle to the tail.
If the rockfish season is extended -- a decision is expected this week -- cut the engine and explore a stretch of shoreline.