Radios blaring, airplanes buzzing, stereos thumping, outboards droning, helicopters whirring, sirens wailing – Wow!  I spent a lot of my time on the water this weekend just listening. Boat shows, trolling tournaments, and sailing regattas made the main stem of the Chesapeake very noisy.  The Bay is fully awake from her winter slumber and the crowds are back in force.  While we each enjoy the water in our preferred ways, to my thinking fishing should include elements of solitude and stealth.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pick up aluminum cans at rush hour along I-95 than try to pick off rockfish in the main channel on a busy weekend.  I prefer to look off the beaten path for places where I can tune-in to something a little more pleasing than the clamorous dissonance of the masses.  At this busy time of the year, I want to listen for the sounds of laughter. 

No, I don’t mean I’m auditing the snorts and snickers of my fishing partners, although there is usually plenty of that going on. I keep an ear tuned for the enthusiastic voices of some black-headed feathered friends. Since the gannets have flown north in search of cooler weather, and most of the herring gulls have migrated to their nesting grounds near the coast, light tackle anglers often turn to the high pitched cries of laughing gulls to help them locate feeding schools of post-spawn rockfish.

Most of the Chesapeake Bay has turned over now so the water is about the same temperature top to bottom.  That means a definite pattern change because fish are moving up to shallow-water comfort zones. While there is still some action around warm water discharges and plenty of solitary fish moving up and down the channel, actively feeding fish are more likely to school up in pycnoclines of 15- to 25-feet.  They will usually feed close to the bottom, but they will occasionally round up bait and blitz on the surface. Rockfish prefer water temperatures in the mid-60s.  As of today, the main stem of the Bay is about 61-degrees.  Since the water coming out of the rivers is frequently warmer, that’s a good place to listen for the birds.

This weekend I fished with my brother-in-law Mitch.  Going for the sure bet, I started Friday evening at a mid-Bay warm water discharge.  The fishing was a little slow but we easily could have picked up our one-fish-per-person-over-28-inch limit in about fifteen minutes.  I say could have because we released all the fish we caught this weekend.  Mitch hooked the biggest striper of the evening, a 40-incher that he released boatside before I got a chance to take a picture.  To change things up a little I brought along some ultralight outfits equipped with small flies and darts to cast along the fringes of the swift water for shad.  Both hickory and white shad were biting well.  I expected to see some blueback herring in the mix since they’ve been there previously, but they seem to be gone.

The outgoing tide picked up nicely before dark so we pulled off the discharge and looked around a little for some early top-water action.  Casting spooks toward shoreline structure produced a few fish, then we got lucky and noticed some birds working so we finished the evening casting to breakers.  It was great to see fish blowing up on surface plugs.  The top-water bite will be slow for a while, but should continue to pick up once water temperatures reach 65 degrees.

The rest of the weekend we fished closer to home.  I worked post-spawn hotspots on both sides of Kent Island.  It was frustrating at first but things got better late in the afternoons when we could just sit and listen for flocks of excited gulls.  Once we found the laughing birds, the fish were there.  Most of the fish were near the bottom, but an occasional surface swirl kept the gulls excited.  We caught stripers in the  20- to 28-inch range and got one 35-incher by bottom bouncing a hot-rodded white BKD attached to a three-quarter ounce orange & white jig head.  Since the squawking birds were so loud, I turned on the microphone of my video camera and recorded about 30 seconds of the commotion.  Click here or on the bird photo at the top of the page to listen to some of the most delightful sounds of spring – the excited cries of working birds over feeding rockfish.  If you’re like me, that soundtrack is sure to get your blood boiling. I’ll look forward to seeing you on the water!

Posted Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at 10:24 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Listening for Laughter”

  1. Chris says:

    I know what you mean about dissonance on the main stem. Saturday around 1400 there was a boat trolling and shooting hand thrown clays north of Bloody.

  2. uncle phill says:

    Finally, topwater! Thanks for the report and tips.

  3. Talledega says:

    Glad to hear you found fish off the beaten path. I got skunked south of the Bay Bridge this weekend.

  4. Jeremy Gussient says:

    I can’t wait to throw a top-water plug! This is very good news.

  5. Bill says:

    You must be beating me to the beer cans on Route 50 too. Thanks god this weekend is over.

  6. Doug M says:

    great read any tips for fishing around SparrowsPoint this time of year thanks. Doug

  7. Colin Crozier says:

    I love the shad picture. I finally got on the water this weekend. What a zoo!

  8. Paul says:

    Another info packed read, thanks Shawn.

  9. Mike Burrows says:

    Thanks for the info. I haven’t been out in over a month, now I know where to start. Your reports are very helpful for us who only get out once a month or so.


  10. RogerT says:

    Another excellent read.Hope to see you off the beaten path sometime.

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