Know your spoons, hook up with blues

OUTDOORS

September 05, 1993|By PETER BAKER

A couple of hundred yards to the northeast, a quartet of small gulls could be seen working the bay surface, scouting the movements of fish below, waiting for the tracks of the predators to cross those of the prey.

In this case, the prey were bluefish and Spanish mackerel mixed in a small school traveling less than 10 feet from the surface.

While the birds tracked the movements from above, the charter boat tracked from behind, working west to east toward False Channel, below the mouth of the Choptank River.

It was a patient stalk, seven lines trolling three-inch silver or gold spoons at seven knots, and the captain working into position to run along the edge of a ledge that dropped from 10 feet to 40.

His maneuvers were well-practiced, the electronics that surrounded the helm used mostly as an afterthought because a line of crab pot markers on the surface led him clearly along the ledge.

In the first pass, the party of insurance company employees caught a half-dozen blues and mackerel from 2 to 4 pounds each. In the second pass, a few more came aboard, and so it went until the birds disbanded, the fish sounded and we went to look elsewhere.

Blues and Spanish mackerel of similar size are now numerous in the bay from the Virginia line north to and sometimes above Bloody Point at the mouth of Eastern Bay.

And catching them is good and simple sport for casters and trollers, although trolling seems to be the most effective method.

The keys to the Spanish mackerel trolling rig are the size and color of the spoons -- preferably four inches or smaller and gold. A feather tail is not necessary, but if one is used, red or white seems to work best.

The rest of the rig should include an in-line sinker of 2 to 6 ounces connected to a snap swivel at each end, and up to a 36-foot leader of 50-pound monofilament split by a barrel swivel. A lighter leader may be used, but should end with a wire trace to protect against the teeth of blues and mackerel.

On a small boat with, say, three lines out, step the lines with heavier weights outboard and the least heaviest mounted from the center of the boat. With a reel similar to a Penn 309, eight to 10 traverses of the level-wind bar should get your lures to the proper depths.

Without a level-wind reel, you will do well to mark your lines at 80 to 100 feet and let them out accordingly. Then, by adjusting boat speed, you can increase (slower) or decrease (faster) the depth of your lures.

Catching blues or mackerel by casting into breaking schools is a simpler affair so long as you can find the fish while they are breaking. The first key is to look for birds that are diving into the xTC water rather than circling or flying crisscross patterns.

Where the birds are diving, the fish already will be feeding.

For spinning gear or baitcasters, medium-weight tackle will do nicely, and smaller versions of gold Tonys or Crippled Alewives can be very effective.

My preference is toward small hammered spoons such as the Hopkins or other spoons such as the Kastmaster. These spoons simply seem to cast for better distance, and the farther you can stand off from a breaking school and still catch fish the better.

Whichever spoons you prefer, be certain to tie on a heavy mono or light wire leader.

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