Rockfish expert finds reel excitement by catching flounder with 'magic' rig


September 20, 1992|By PETER BAKER

BOZMAN -- Keith Walters pulls a trap from beneath his dock on Broad Creek, separates out the white perch and crab baits, and transfers several dozen two-inch minnows to a holding tank at the stern of his boat.

"These should do the trick for flounder," he said as he slid his 22-footer away from the dock. "But first, once the tide gets moving a little, I want to run down to James Island and take a shot at some speckled trout.

"They were around the other day and the fishing was pretty good on the rising tide."

A week or so earlier, Walters had telephoned to say that the flounder fishing was hot off the mouth of the Choptank River. He and a friend had caught 34 one afternoon, and he had a new boat and a new twist on an old rig. And the invitation was too good to even think of passing it up.

So on Wednesday, shortly before 1 p.m., Walters had his new boat up and running smooth at 25 knots down Broad Creek. The tide was slack, the day was clear and warm -- and Walters was full of easy-going anticipation.

"It used to be that we would get up every morning to go fishing, no matter the tide, because that's the way everyone fished," Walters had said when we were setting up the trip. "Nowadays, TC like to wait for the tide. You can fish all day long down here, if you will just pick and choose."

It used to be that when Walters went fishing he was after rockfish in 12-foot boats, 17-foot boats, 20-foot boats -- almost anything that would keep him afloat winter, spring, summer and fall.

But that was before rockfish became scarce. The state imposed a moratorium in 1985 and then lifted it for a limited fishery three autumns ago. During those years of closed seasons, Walters wrote Chesapeake Stripers, the book on rockfish, and had a chance to re-evaluate his own fishing habits.

These days, he said, even though he agrees there are more stripers in the bay and its tributaries than there have been in years, the rockfish still are not as plentiful as they once were.

"Not like it was when you could come out here, look across the river mouth and the bay and see acre upon acre of breaking fish," Walters said as we slowed to see what a dozen or so boats clustered around the head boat Tom Hooker out of Chesapeake Beach were catching.

"They say that the stripers are back and plentiful in the Upper Bay and the Lower Potomac. But they don't seem to be plentiful here -- not even now -- and you have to wonder whether we should be fishing for them at all yet."

The fishermen aboard the cluster of boats seemed to be catching little except spot, and as the loudspeaker aboard the Tom Hooker ordered all lines up, we throttled up and headed south -- inshore past the Red Buoy, the Diamonds, False Channel and the Summer Gooses.

But the irony of Walters' assessment about the number of stripers in the Choptank was not lost -- an unusually high young-of-the-year count taken a short way upriver at Hambrook Bar played an important part in the lifting of the moratorium.

As we reached the upper cut through James Island, once a single tract but now three smaller islands being beaten down by storms and tide, Walters slowed the boat and we rigged lead heads and four-inch twister tails.

"This is the kind of fishing I like," he said, pointing to a tide rip around an eroding point. "See those heavy ripples? Tide is starting to move real good and where once there was an island edge, now there are stumps, logs, blow downs.

"Perfect stuff for casting for speckled trout."

On the first few casts, small blues were nipping the ends of the twisters, so Walters went to a shorter twister and I went to a thicker, pearl-colored, split-tailed trailer.

It was exciting fishing and not unlike fishing for largemouth bass -- cast the plastic to a cluster of submerged stumps, along the length of a pine tree that a few years ago had stood on solid ground, and retrieve just fast enough to keep the lure off the bottom and its tail wiggling.

Over the course of 90 minutes while working our way around the lower island and down the bayside of all three, we did not catch a speckled trout. But had it been an unlimited, open season on stripers, we could have had a boat full.

"I have to tell you that I miss it," Walters said as we moved northwest away from James Island. "You can't find a better fish than a striper. They hit hard and they fight hard. But let's go find something we can keep."

As we headed out toward the green bell where the Summer Gooses and False Channel overlap, the bay was virtually free of fishing boats, and Walters was toying with a flounder rig he and some friends had collaborated on.

"This is it, the magic flounder rig," Walters said, perhaps only half jokingly. "I think the secret is in the lazer point hooks, some of my friends think it is in the beads and spinner, others think it is just knowing where the fish are."

In comparison to the flounder rigs one can buy off the shelf at the local tackle store, with its small, round beads, Walters and friends made one that was stronger, noisier and flashier.

The faceted beads, of which there were three of assorted colors, and the one-inch silver willow leaf spinner were threaded on a 30-inch leader of 30-pound monofilament above a 2/0 hook and below a three-way swivel. The dropline for the weight was tied in a loop for easy changing of weights.

On the first drift past green #3, with bottom coming up very fast from 60 feet to 22 feet, one keeper flounder came aboard, taken from the edge.

On the next drift, two more came aboard. Another on the next, along with one under the 13-inch limit. Two more keepers. One more. Two more.

All taken from the edge.

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