I got to fish with Dusty Baker. If the name doesn’t mean anything to you then you must be living with the sea bass underneath the reef balls off Tilghman Island. Dusty Baker is nothing short of baseball royalty. He’s the manager of the Washington Nationals, former manager of both the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, and All Star outfielder for the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. I couldn’t hope to list all his accomplishments but the most important statistic relative to Chesapeake Bay fishing is that he’s caught thousands of striped bass and other species. Dusty has fished all his life, on both U.S. coasts and all over the Caribbean as well as in other parts of the world. He’s a pro with a fly rod, a spinning outfit, and a baitcaster.
We caught a lot of fish while he was staying in St. Michael’s, Maryland over the All-Star break, but my most memorable few minutes came while we were sitting in the back of Chuck Castle’s Whaler and reminiscing about fishing with our fathers. Dusty and I found that we have a lot in common in that both of our dads were very active in fundamentalist Christian congregations (his father a Baptist deacon and mine a Church of Christ minister), and that they both loved to fish. As we swapped stories about our younger days, the conversation eventually came around to our fathers’ favorite fish. “Shellcrackers,” we said at the same time. If you know anything about southern fishing and those hard-fighting redear sunfish, that coincidence won’t surprise you at all. Read More!
A lot has been written about the art in fly fishing. There is grace and beauty in a perfect fly cast. What is more satisfying than watching a colorful trout rise from a crystal clear pool to take a hand-tied floating fly? I just returned from Colorado where I had ample time to fly fish in the cold streams of the Gunnison National Forest. I don’t get to fly fish for trout much, but when I do, I’m always struck by the similarities to light tackle casting for rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the most important aspects of fly fishing is the ability to read the water and cast to where the fish are. Another is presenting the lure naturally so that it moves at the exact same speed as the current. While we don’t hear about it as much, there is comparable art in light tackle casting, even when it’s done with a spinning outfit or a baitcaster.
In my years of fishing both fresh and saltwater, I’ve had opportunities to observe the skills and artistry of some of the finest anglers in the world. As a teenager, I guided some of the best-known bass pros in the country when they practiced for tournaments in my home lakes in Tennessee. I’ve been fortunate enough to wade the pristine streams of the Smoky Mountains with the most knowledgeable anglers in the business, and I’ve fished for bonefish and pompano with the legendary guide families of the Bahamas. Most recently, I was joined on my boat Thunder Road by one of the best-known anglers in the world: the legendary Lefty Kreh. Lefty has been fishing for almost a half century longer than I’ve been alive. He’s forgotten more in his 92 years than I can ever hope to learn.
We caught all the fish we wanted that day, and enjoyed several hours of inspiring conversation. Lefty’s fly casting skills are legendary, but his prowess with a spinning outfit is less well-known. Between hooksets, we talked about casting and jigging techniques as well as patterns and the best ways to approach fishing spots. At one point, the conversation turned to the art in fishing. I’m happy to say that after listening to Lefty’s jokes, advice, and aphorisms refined over his long life of fishing, I came away a better fisherman and, hopefully, a better person.
Here are some of the thoughts I’ve collected about the art in light tackle casting: Read More!
If fishing can be a feast or famine activity, anglers in the Chesapeake Bay region have been eating high on the hog lately. As is typical with April, all good things happen at once. In the past two weeks, I’ve caught shad, white perch, yellow perch, bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and stripers. Throw in the walleye and snakeheads my friends are catching, and we’re smack in the middle of a virtual smorgasbord of good fishing. The weather has been spotty, but that hasn’t kept too many anglers off the water. Here’s my report:
Yellow Perch: It’s all but over now, but we enjoyed one of the best March ring-perch runs in recent memory. Neds ran big this year and they were plentiful. They were also a little earlier than usual. That made it nice for those of us who were just about going crazy with cabin fever. Most of my fishing was in the Eastern Shore creeks and rivers. I fished Tuckahoe Creek and the Choptank River from Denton up to Red Bridges park. Some days it was one fish after another and on other days it was slow. Yellow perch can be finicky at times. When they are spawning they typically move up the streams in waves. If you aren’t catching, stick around because chances are another wave will move through and you’ll start getting bites again. See my earlier post for more information about the yellow perch run.
White Perch: I thought the white perch spawn might be over until I got a call from my friend Phil Kerchner last week. He was still lighting up the black backs in the creeks near his place at Wye Mills. I called him last Sunday and we met on the banks of Tuckahoe Creek. It was one pre-spawn white perch after another for a little while. Our best lures were Bust ‘Em Baits stingers and small twister tails rigged in tandem on one-sixteenth-ounce jig heads. As the tide changed, the bite slowed down, but it picked back up before sunset and we took home a very nice stringer. White perch are my favorite fish to eat. I even prefer them over crappie and I think they’re way better than yellow perch. All things in moderation of course, but don’t feel bad about keeping what you want to eat because white perch aren’t threatened and they reproduce prolifically. They will generally hang around the spawning grounds for a little while after they spawn, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we keep catching them in the creeks for a couple of more weeks. After that, they’ll spread out along the shorelines where they can be targeted all summer long.
Shad: The shad run is in full swing. I’ve fished the Potomac around Fletcher’s Cove and Chain Bridge twice now and found shad in good numbers both times. Joe Yack is reporting shad in the Susquehanna now as well. The good news is that hickory shad are running big this year. I’ve seen at least two reports of hicks approaching five pounds. Some anglers mistakenly identify bigger hickory shad as white (American) shad because, when they are fully mature, they lose the spots on their shoulders. The key to identifying shad is to look at the lower jaw. If the lower jaw projects beyond the upper one with the mouth closed, it’s a hickory. I typically cast one-quarter or one-eighth ounce shad darts. It pays to experiment when you’re shad fishing because the same colors and techniques that work one day might not work the next. Last week, my fishing buddy Jay Yesker out-fished me by snap-jigging two quarter-ounce darts on eight-pound-test monofilament. (That’s Jay’s boys in the picture.) The fish were taking on the fall. Since my usual spinning rig is eight-pound-test braid with a similar size fluorocarbon leader, I couldn’t duplicate what he was doing because the force of the snap using the stretchless braid would break my leader. You can bet I was rigged with mono the next time I went out, but wouldn’t you know it, on that day the fish wanted a steady fast retrieve! You just don’t know until you go. The shad run should last for several more weeks, so there’s still plenty of time to get in on the action. Read More!
“It’s the worst winter ever.” Those words might sound surprising coming from Jamie Clough, a fisherman who has caught more forty-inch-plus rockfish in the last three months than most people will catch in a lifetime, but he’s right. It’s been tough. I’m on record for predicting that 2016 will be the best year in recent history for light-tackle striper casting on the Chesapeake Bay. I’m not taking it back, but after the first three months, I feel like I have some explaining to do.
In past years, January, February, and March have been wide-open for fishing in the warm water discharges of the Patapsco and Potomac Rivers and around the power plants of the Mid-Bay. In February 2014, my fishing partners and I enjoyed the best day I’ve ever heard of, going forty over forty. Yes, that’s forty huge stripers over forty-inches long, all caught in one morning. The fishing was so good we were trying to glue two ten-inch Bass Kandy Delights together so we could pull out the biggest of the big fish. In years like that, you can make a lot of mistakes and still catch fish. While I’ve seen some good days since then, nothing like that happened this year. To catch big fish this winter, we had to pull out all the stops. Read More!
Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party!” That’s how the late Robin Williams described it. March may have roared in like a lion, but she’s now lying like a lamb with weeks of warmer weather in the forecast. While the calendar might still say winter, spring, glorious spring has made her eloquent arrival to the snow-weary Mid-Atlantic. The peepers are peeping, the red buds are budding, and yesterday, through the morning fog, I caught a glimpse of an osprey soaring high above Kent Island. There are a lot of reasons why fishermen look forward to the arrival of spring. A big one is the beginning of Daylight Saving Time on March 13 when clocks spring forward to give us one more treasured after-work fishing hour. Another reason is that there are lots of fish around that are relatively easy to catch. Fishing and spring go together like, well like fish and fries.
Have you noticed how all the fast food restaurants put their fish sandwiches on sale this time of year? I believe humans are hard-wired to crave fish in the spring. It’s been right there in our DNA since the first hunter-gatherers wandered away from their warm winter hearths to find springtime streams teeming with spawning fish. For many fishermen, the urge is so strong it’s nearly impossible to stay away from the water in March and April. This is the time of year when fish are easiest to catch, and the time when we most want to eat them.
I’m not one to turn down the bounty of fresh fish. While I release many of the fish I catch, I can’t resist bringing home an occasional stringer for the table. I’m a big fan of eating locally produced fruits, meats, and vegetables. We get our honey from local hives, our beef from a nearby herd, and many of our vegetables from our garden. Since we live on an island in the Chesapeake Bay, it just comes naturally to eat fish from the waters around us. Unfortunately, those waters are very polluted, so there are strict consumption advisories about fish caught in this area. In fact, officials in Washington DC recently advised no consumption of rockfish caught in the District. I will no longer serve my family striped bass over 30 inches long from anywhere in the Bay because of the build up of toxins. It’s a personal decision, but one that I’m serious about. My children and grandchildren aren’t old enough to make choices for themselves about what is healthy. They’re too young for me to take a chance on poisoning them. Read More!
Have you ever belly-crawled through the tall grass beside a mountain stream hoping to sneak up on your favorite fishing spot? Most freshwater anglers understand how important it is to be quiet and sneaky but I’ve noticed that some Chesapeake Bay fishermen don’t fully appreciate the concept of stealth. It won’t be long until the weather breaks and fishermen who are looking to overcome cabin-fever will pack into some of the better-known fishing spots like the warm water discharges, the Susquehanna Flats, and the mouths of Upper Bay rivers. When fish are thick and hungry, you can stomp beer cans in the bottom of your boat and still catch them, but when they’re finicky, stealth becomes a lot more important.
Spring on the Chesapeake Bay is the best time of year to catch the fish of a lifetime, but don’t forget that big fish get that way by being smart. While you might luck into a forty-inch-plus fish once in a while no matter what, your chances increase dramatically when you improve your noise discipline. Here are some tips and tactics that are guaranteed to increase your odds of catching trophy stripers on light tackle: Read More!