At early evening the boat swung to anchor along the hard edge off Barren Island, where the Chesapeake Bay bottom drops away quickly from 10 to 50 feet and croaker, spot and sea trout often feed in the midst of summer.
The last of the spring-summer seasons for rockfish had ended Sunday, and a long run down the bay for bluefish had been disappointing, with only a handful of two-pounders to show for the effort.
But in the evening croaker usually bite hard and often, and the sharp edge off Barren Island seemed an excellent place to fish and snack as the last of the breeze went out of the day and the bay lay down flat for the run north to the Severn River.
For the third year in a row, croaker have been big and numerous in the bay, mostly from the mouth of the Choptank River south, with DNR catch reports indicating many catches exceeding 14 inches and ranging to 17.
But, as in many years since the rockfish moratorium was lifted at the start of this decade, croaker often have been overlooked by anglers intent on catching their piece of the rock. And probably that has been a good happenstance for croaker, which are now at levels that rival or surpass the plentitude of the 1940s and 1950s.
After a day hunting blues on the Middle Grounds, chumming when the tide was moving and trolling deep at the slack, it was good to swing slowly at anchor as the sun set -- cold drink close by, sandwich in one hand, spinning rod in the other and to set the hook with the snap of the wrist.
And somewhat awkward to keep from laughing as -- sandwich stuffed in mouth, one hand on the rod and the other on the reel -- croaker came to the baits one after another and sometimes two at a time, each making a short, spirited run before coming to hand.
And while the creel limit is 25 fish per day for croaker, over 90 minutes we released each croaker caught along with four rockfish, a half-dozen spot and two small sea trout.
It is fun fishing with minimal gear -- a 7-foot spinning rod, reel loaded with 10-pound test and a double bottom rig baited with 1-inch sections of bloodworm (pieces of soft crab are even better bait for croaker and sea trout).
Tangier Sound currently is the premier location for croaker, according to DNR reports, with Great Rock, Buoy 9 and the Puppy Hole the best locations. But on the main stem of the Bay, the edges along the Middle Grounds also are excellent locations.
In the middle bay, the mouth of the Choptank has been producing croaker for weeks, and croaker catches have been reported at the entrance to Eastern Bay, off Thomas Point and occasionally at Hacketts.
If the summer continues dry, the action will increase as croaker, spot and sea trout move farther up the bay with the increasing salinity.
In addition to croaker, bluefish to four pounds have been moving through the Middle Grounds and sea trout, spot and scattered catches of red drum have been mixed with the croaker.
In the middle bay, increasing numbers of spot are moving in to augment the croaker bite, which has been very good at James Island and the mouth of the Choptank, and a few black drum continue to be taken at the Stone Rock and Poplar Island. White perch and spot, however, seem to have left the hard-bottom areas from Clay Banks to Hacketts along the western shore.
Charter boats had been reporting good catches of perch and spot for more than two weeks. Recreational anglers have been reporting good white perch action in the tributaries, including the South, West and Severn rivers. Perch, spot, catfish and some croaker at the Choptank pier at Cambridge.
In the upper bay, the lumps off the western shore from the Magothy to the Patapsco also have slowed for white perch, while the Bay Bridge pilings also are slow for perch. Catfish are active in the Chester, Elk and North East rivers and on the Susquehanna Flats.
Walleye continue to be taken in the Susquehanna River as far down as Lapidum, catfish action continues to be excellent and smallmouth bass are steady around the islands.
On the upper tidal Potomac River, mainstream grass beds are good bets for largemouth bass on lizards and worms, and rocky bottom or shorelines adjacent to dropoffs are good bets in the tributaries.
At Ocean City, flounder fishing is picking up in the back bays, with the Thorofare, Convention Hall channel and the airport good locations. Flounder, sea trout and blues at the inlet piers, and kingfish, sea trout, rockfish and skates in the surf. The oceanside rockfish season remains open, with a 28-inch minimum.
Offshore, bluefin tuna from the 30-fathom line to the Jackspot, where there also are good numbers of blues to 12 pounds and some king mackerel. Yellowfin tuna at the 40-fathom line and some early billfish action at Washington and Baltimore canyons. The Ocean City Tuna Tournament runs through the weekend, with daily weigh-ins at the Ocean City Fishing Center from 4 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
On the reservoirs, bass action has been heating up at Liberty, Prettyboy, Loch Raven and Piney Run.
At Liberty, stripers have spread out, crappie are near the beaver huts and walleye are holding off the points.
At Loch Raven, bass and pickerel are in the grass beds and white perch are suspended near cove mouths.
Trollers at Prettyboy are doing well on white perch, and smallmouth bass have been hitting crayfish off the points.
On the upper Potomac River, conditions are excellent, but smallmouth action has been for mostly smaller fish around 10 inches.
At Deep Creek Lake, Todd Whittaker of Kitsmiller caught a pickerel just under 29 inches at the head of the lake. According to Johnny Marple of Johnny's Bait House, it is the largest pickerel to be caught at that impoundment. Bass and walleye action has been excellent.
Pub Date: 7/10/97