Young siblings can count on the advantages of catch and release

OUTDOORS

June 21, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Last week, while headed south toward the mouth of the Choptank, the alarm on the fish finder sounded repeatedly while crossing Tolly Point Bar. With our minds set on catching black drum at the Stone Rock that day, the location was marked and a mental note made to return later to the mouth of the Severn River.

On Father's Day, with my two sons, a dozen jumbo bloodworms and a cooler filled with enough sandwiches and sodas to feed and water a youth league baseball team, the fish finder again was marking large numbers of fish close over the old shell bottom at the mouth of the Severn.

Once the boat was positioned, three double-bottom rigs weighted with 1-ounce sinkers and baited with 1-inch pieces of bloodworm were quickly over the side -- and almost immediately the first white perch of the day was brought on board, followed quickly by several others, followed by a double hook-up of spot and croaker, followed by several 10- to 13-inch croaker.

It was simple, fun fishing, the kind that keeps up the interest -- even for kids more attuned to home video games, baseball games and tubing.

The logistics are simple: Get the boat in position up tide so that wind and current will drift it and the baited rigs through the area holding fish, drift and catch until you are out of the catch zone, and then motor back up tide and repeat the process.

On Father's Day, charter boats, power cruisers and skiffs were ++ drifting across the bar and in the last couple of hours of the rising tide the fishing was very good.

Had we wanted, I suppose, we could have been selective in our catch. The 8- to 10-inch perch were in the shallowest water (15 to 20 feet), and the spot and croaker over a shelf from 20 to 25 feet. The concentrations of both seemed large enough that we could have anchored over either and fished until the tide went slack.

But as one might expect when 10- and 13-year-old siblings are doing something in close proximity, a competition soon was in place, each catch counted, each species cataloged, each fish length marked in generous proportion.

If you have fished with kids, you know the scene and the basic language.

"Got one!" says the one. "Me, too!" says the other. "Mine's bigger," says the one. "Is not," says the other.

Is too. Is not. Is too. Is not.

"That's my 12th croaker," says the one. "No, that's the 10th," says the other. "No, I had two doubles and that makes 12," says the one. "Does not," says the other. Does too. Does not. Does too. Does not.

And so on.

And so it was for us on Father's Day, with a curious exception. Of their own volition, at the beginning both kids were releasing their fish.

But then the one brought in a croaker that measured just under 14 inches, the kind of croaker he thought was worth taking home

to show Mom. And an interesting ses

sion took place in the span of a half-minute or so.

The one and the other were standing at the transom, the one captivated by the largest croaker he had ever caught, the other releasing a smallish spot and untangling his rig.

"I'm keeping this one, that's for sure," said the one.

"What for?" said the other. "Are you going to eat it? You don't even like fish. What're you going to do? Kill it, take it home to show Mom and then throw it away?"

"I could if I wanted," said the one, puffing up his chest and throwing out his jaw. "I caught it didn't I? I can do what I want."

"Look," said the other, reaching over and lowering the one's rod so that the croaker was again swimming at the end of the line. "You know you caught it. I know you caught it. Dad knows you caught it. Even if we let it go, Mom will know you caught it.

"And maybe someday you can catch it again."

Well, the prospect of having another shot at that monster from the deep seemed to do the trick. Together, the one helping the other, they unhooked the croaker and gently returned it to the water.

"That's 13," said the one, smiling broadly and again casting his rebaited rig.

"No, that's 11," said the other.

And so on, until the totals for the one and the other reached well into the 30s, the tide went slack and the bites fell off.

The cooler never did fill with fish, and Father's Day dinner turned out to be chicken, but together the one and the other had begun to learn that catch and release can be a lot of fun.

* Bottom fishing for croaker has been exceptional this year in Chesapeake Bay, with good numbers and many fish 14 inches and longer taken. Soft crab or bloodworm are excellent baits for croaker, and hooks in the No. 2 to 1/0 range will work well for larger fish.

Spot and white perch will take the same baits, although grass shrimp may be better for the perch.

There is no minimum size or creel limit for spot or white perch taken by hook and line, and the creel limit of 20 for croaker (9-inch minimum) is generous, given the number of fish out there this year.

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