Easy to get hooked on slug speed


October 23, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Under a genoa furled down to the size of a storm jib, the 31-foot sloop made its way along the edge of the shipping channel in the Chesapeake a few miles below the Bay Bridge, moving at a snail's pace.

A dozen oyster boats were clustered at the end of the Tolly Point bar, patent tongs rising and falling, the clamor of machines and men carrying far across the water.

High over the shipping channel, four dozen Canada geese noisily made their way toward their wintering grounds somewhere beyond the horizon on the Eastern Shore. A silent flight of scoters came low and fast from the northeast, and flew on southwest toward Thomas Point, where soon afterward the shotguns of sea duck hunters echoed through the morning.

Ahead, a group of gulls milled lazily over the water, waiting for a school of fish to rise to the surface and feed.

As the sloop passed beyond the gulls, the portside rod bent deeply and the reel clicked noisily as a fish took the lure and ran. Rockfish. Sixteen inches. Released.

As the sloop was brought about, the starboard rig picked up another rockfish. This one, too, failed to measure 18 inches and was released. Beating, reaching and running around the edges of the school of fish marked by the birds turned up a half dozen or so rockfish, and the last measured up, a 28-incher that was slipped into the cooler.

A friend who runs an Annapolis boat shop jokingly calls it stealth fishing, this business of almost silently trolling along the channel edges, bait slicks, current edges and under and around the birds.

Others will -- and often have -- call it foolishness.

But it works -- just as it did around the world in the dozens of centuries before electronic fish finders, Loran, GPS units and the infernal internal combustion engine.

And without the rumbling of engines, the screech of fish alarms and a continual urge to fiddle with or look at the video display of some electronic gadget, the changing of the seasons on the bay comes more clearly into view.

Sea ducks, geese. oyster boats. Hunters, gulls, baitfish slicks and current lines. The warm moisture of the southwest breeze and the dry coolness when the air is from the northwest.

And, quite frankly, no boat slows down quite as effectively as a beamy cruising sloop reefed to the point of embarrassment.

A surprising number of sailors fish from sailboats, although it is safe to say that usually it is an afterthought, a single line trolled in the hope of catching something -- anything -- while cruising.

This past week, having had little success catching keepers from my 20-foot inboard, I switched to sail and on three successive days had pretty good success while trolling a pair of 7/0, chartreuse and white Crippled Alewives or bottom bouncing bucktails.

I also received more than a few curious glances from other people on sail and power boats as the sloop crawled along at something close to slug speed under the deeply furled genoa. One sailor slowed as he passed and asked if I was injured and could use assistance in setting sails or needed him to call a tow boat.

Quite the contrary. Slug speed has its advantages when the fish are holding deep and you want your lures running just off the bottom.

My powerboat, which will run all day (well, on most days) at 35 knots, will troll down to only three knots. The sailboat, which in 25 knots of wind might hit eight knots, will troll at a knot, just enough to make a spoon flutter or a bucktail bounce lazily.

The conversion from cruising sailboat to sail-powered sportfisherman is easily done.

Perko, for example, makes a reasonably good clamp-on rod holder that sells for between $25 and $30. Buy a pair and mount them on stanchions of the stern rail and cant them at about 60 degrees.

Because of the standing and running rigging on sailboats, rod holders should be mounted as far aft as possible so that when the rods are mounted and the lines are out so they don't interfere with the operation of the boat.

Rods should be short. A 5.5- or 6-foot medium boat rod with a Penn 209 reel spooled with 20-pound test will handle just about anything you will encounter on the bay at this time of year, and a short rod can be easily handled even in a cockpit crowded with wheel, tiller or people.

On the 31-footer, the spread between rigs worked out to about 14 feet, so a third line could easily have been added between.

Granted, a sailboat will limit your range because of its lack of speed. It will limit the number of lines that may be trolled and therefore you might catch fewer fish.

So what.

The best part of rockfish season is just being there.

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