Bad news and more bad news. If you’re following the politics around striped bass management, you know it’s all bad news for the fish lately. Where are the rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay? It doesn’t take an expert to realize that almost every fishing boat from Solomons Island to Rock Hall is working one primary school of stripers. To quote conservation blogger John McMurray, “it’s not where the fish are, it’s where they aren’t,” and apparently they aren’t anywhere except near the mouth of Eastern Bay.
Despite the demise of our state fish, things are looking up for another native Chesapeake species, the red drum. You probably haven’t heard much about catching redfish in Maryland over the past decade, but that’s all changing. Last summer there were reports of redfish as far north as the Gunpowder River in the Upper Bay. I started targeting them around Kent Island last August, and I’m already catching them again this year.
Thanks to good management practices – especially by states to our south – and an overall warming trend along the Atlantic Coast, red drum are expanding their range. That’s good news for Chesapeake light tackle fishermen because redfish will readily attack a jig or a topwater plug. Even if you’ve never targeted redfish before, chances are you already know how to catch them. Almost all the artificial lure techniques we’re currently using for stripers will work for redfish. As stripers continue to decline, redfish are moving into their habitat and populating the underwater humps and ledges where stripers used to feed. Read More!
I awoke that rainy morning to the rumbles of thunder. From my upstairs bedroom on Kent Island, I could hear the long low blasts of foghorns as big ships passed beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. They sounded eerily closer than usual this morning at 4:00 AM. I listened to the ships until it was apparent that I wouldn’t go back to sleep. I hadn’t been fishing as much as I like to, going mostly early morning before work in less than optimum conditions. I have to fish when I can, so once again, despite the dreadful weather, I decided to make the best of the time I had available. I call my boat Thunder Road. The name is homage to the 1950′s song and movie by Robert Mitchum, but also because the locally-built Judge 27CC is well suited to difficult weather conditions just like this. I grabbed my phone, put on some rain gear, and backed her out of the driveway.
It was pitch black when I arrived at the Matapeake boat ramp. Oddly, the lights were out on the pier. It wasn’t windy, but a dense fog had set in. I launched Thunder Road and idled slowly toward the mouth of the dark inlet without my sonar or GPS so I wouldn’t destroy what little night vision I had. The fog was so thick I could barely see the front of my boat. I wiped my glasses and breathed a sigh of relief as I slipped between the end of the pilings and the rock jetty. I was surprised to see a lone figure standing at the end of the pier. Another hardcore fisherman I thought, but then I noticed he didn’t have a fishing rod. My wave wasn’t returned as I continued out into the dark open waters of the Chesapeake. There was a cold chill in the air, so I pulled up my hood and swung the bow north into a strong outgoing tide.
By all accounts, 2012 was an unusual year for fishing. For me, it was absolutely strange at times. I jigged up my biggest striper of the year on the first day of the year, a 49-incher that might have pushed 50-pounds. It was the only fish I caught. A few days later I got another 47-incher and another one about that size on the next day. Each time it was only one fish per day. Is one fish worth five hours or more of casting? When they’re that size, I think so! Those were some of my biggest fish of 2012, but I’ve been lucky enough to jig up a few more mid-40s class fish since then including this pretty 45-incher I caught in the snow this week. Warm water discharge (WWD) fishing was good last spring, but we really had to pick our days. Our most successful times were early-morning windy weekdays when it was raining or snowing. The WWD big fish bite is always very specific. I explain how to get the trophies in my book, Chesapeake Light Tackle, An Introduction to Light Tackle Fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. Read More!
Hurricane Sandy was easy on us here on Kent Island. Some of my neighbors to the east weren’t so lucky. I’ve seen several pictures of trees down and houses damaged this morning. Our biggest issue now is flooding due to rain and post storm surging. Most of the creeks are out of their banks and into the roads. There has been some coastal flooding farther down the Bay including in the Taylors Island area and the Choptank River. High tide at Matapeake was at 5:49 AM and water did over-top some of the local docks. There hasn’t been much outgoing so we’ll have to wait and see what we get when the tide peaks again at 6:38 PM. My guess is that it will be high, but not so much that we get major flooding. The storm moved through much more quickly than expected so we didn’t get a lot of south winds on the back side.
My early assessment of the impact on the Bay and fishing is that Sandy will have a punch, but not as serious as the storms we had last year. We’ll get a lot of bad water and debris down from the Susquehanna and other rivers, so the Upper Bay is probably done until late November. On the other hand, I think we’ll be back in action in Eastern Bay and the tributaries in less than a week. We’ll see how that prediction holds up. I’m off to wash the leaves off my boat. Good luck to those who are cleaning up today and let’s all send good thoughts and prayers to our friends and neighbors farther north and on the coast who really bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy has sped up and will make landfall sooner than expected. I suspect that’s good since she will hopefully move through more quickly. Unfortunately, the center of the storm has turned slightly southwest, and is now projected to track a few miles north of us. The Bay Bridge is closed after recording three gusts over 55 MPH within 10 minutes. I’m hearing a few limbs cracking in the woods behind our house and I noticed some trees down when I visited Matapeake a few minutes ago. We’ve seen 8 inches of rain so far and it’s coming down harder than ever now. There’s been a lot of damage due to storm surge on the ocean side of Delmarva including Ocean City, Maryland, but we still aren’t seeing a storm surge this far north on the Chesapeake side. There is a surge lower in the Bay on the east side and I just heard Crisfield, Maryland has been evacuated with 3-5 feet of Bay water in the streets. Power is still on over most of Kent Island. Here’s a video I just shot at the Matapeake pier.
Winds have remained steady at 30 knots overnight, but are beginning to pick up now. A gust of 50 MPH was just recorded at the Kent Narrows bridge. The Bay Bridge remains open, but I just saw a tweet that it will close at 1:00 PM. Storm tracks are narrowing some, but there is still some question as to whether the eye of the Hurricane will pass north or directly over us here on Kent Island. Considering the size of this storm, I’m not sure it really matters. Our biggest issue right now is standing water. The ground is saturated and it’s sure to keep raining for a couple of days. I haven’t heard of any power outages yet on the Island. Here’s some shots of Matapeake and Kent Narrows. Stay safe.