A look above the water helps fishermen find the biggest catch

OUTDOORS

October 20, 1992|By PETER BAKER

An eye infection had curtailed my early rockfish season, causing regular hookups with bags of I.V. antibiotics rather than stripers, and on more than one occasion I stood on a bluff looking across the Chesapeake toward the Eastern Shore, envious as the boats sped out to the fishing grounds.

Several times in the previous 2 1/2 weeks I had cranked up the outboard and run out to the mouth of the Severn River, hoping to find and fish what charter-boat captan Ed Darwin has called the biggest school of rockfish he ever has seen.

But, in each case, there was so much water to cover and so little time.

Last Saturday, however, the outboard was fired up and we headed out a narrow cut into the Severn and a northwest wind steady at 15 knots and gusting to 25.

A small craft advisory was in effect, and our initial reaction was that perhaps this was not the best of days to go fishing. But a quick run downwind around Tolly Point put us in the lee of the high bluff at Bay Ridge.

Tolly Point Bar absorbed the shock of the whitecaps and rollers coming down river and broke them into thousands of wavelets. One can only imagine the turmoil on the bay bottom as wave action scoured the oyster and clam beds and a terrific current and a falling tide swept baitfish over the bar into an eddy made unusually vast and bountiful by the conditions.

There was no question, however, that the stripers knew.

At mid-afternoon, with the tide dead low, groups of gulls could be seen working over four schools of fish feeding in the shallows from Tolly Point to the mouth of Fishing Creek just northwest of Thomas Point -- and there was not another fishing boat in sight.

Talk about so much water and so little time! Which birds to choose?

The hasty choice would have been to take the closest birds and to cast in among them. But a few weeks earlier, while fishing for flounder, striper fanatic Keith Walters had explained such a choice in the simplest terms: Look for the biggest gulls, Walters had said, and probably you will find the biggest fish feeding beneath them.

"Those little, white gulls," Walters had said. "If they are there alone, I sometimes don't even bother. Most of the time it seems they are just feeding on baitfish at the surface.

"But when the big gulls are wheeling, screaming and diving, then you know for sure that predators -- blues or stripers -- are forcing the baitfish to the surface."

A look through the binoculars showed that the greatest number of birds was concentrated above the mouth to Fishing Creek. A closer inspection revealed that an enormous school of stripers had herded an even larger number of baitfish into a corner formed by the shoreline and a long bar on the northern side of the dredged channel.

The stripers were feeding mightily -- but a couple of dozen casts turned up only rockfish from 15 to 17 inches and we moved on rather than overtax the fish while hoping to take our limit of one between 18 and 36 inches.

In fact, we fished each school briefly, aiming our casts to small areas beneath concentrations of the largest gulls, and each provided the potential for incredible sport. But none provided a keeper.

Each did, however, provide a setting 10 or more years past, when one might have fished each school and kept virtually every fish brought to the boat.

And there is a giddy feeling in that potential -- knowing that one could grow arm-weary from catching so many fish.

But such a setting also should bring to mind an understanding of why the striper fishery presently is limited to 40 days in the fall -- when stripers are schooled up and feeding on the surface, they are very easy to catch.

Find the gulls, idle in to within the distance of a long cast and fish while keeping pace with the movements of the school.

To keep injuries to the fish at a minimum, either file off or crimp down the barbs on your hooks. If you are using spoons or plugs with treble hooks, go a step further and replace the trebles with singles. In the case of plugs such as those made by Atom, remove the belly hook altogether.

Once you have caught your keeper or fished enough to be reasonably certain that you are working fish under the 18-inch limit, move on.

*

At the public hearing on nontidal fishing regulations for 1993 last night in Annapolis, members of the Maryland Aquatic Resources Coalition went on record against the proposed changes in rockfish regulations for Liberty Reservoir.

MARC's concern is that rockfish populations are expanding and crowding out smallmouth bass.

New regulations would allow only two fish per day, one of which could be longer than 30 inches.

A proposal that would have set a total creel limit of 10 fish per day from Piney Run Reservoir, Stemmers Run Lake and Wheatly Lake has been dropped by DNR.

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