Friday, November 4, 2016

A Great Day on the Bay

No post yesterday (or much else for that matter), because Walleye Pete called on Wednesday night and asked, no begged me to come with him on a commercial hook and line fishing trip. It seems a scheduling screw up had left him no charter for Thursday, and it promised to be a good weather day, at least until the arrival of a cold front, forecast for the afternoon.
Pete, I and two other fishermen that I had not previously met (Nick and Josh) left Solomons at 6 AM in the dark for a 1 hour ride down to the Middle Grounds, an area of relatively shallow water on the side of the Bay, across from where the Potomac River joins the Bay. The secret to the middle grounds is a number of "lumps" reputed to be piles of old ballast stones from old sailing ships, who would dump the stones, and take on cargoes of tobacco. You can find the humps yourself with a depth finder, but fisherman jealously guard the coordinates of their favorites. Fish seem to congregate on or near these humps in good numbers at times.
We arrived just before sunrise, and shortly after sunrise, the bite began in earnest. We caught a good number of big Stripped Bass, including the 38 inch fish Nick is holding with the sunrise behind him. My largest was only 34 inches. Since commercial fish have to be within 18-36 inches, this one was released. To the left, a piece of "soft coral" retrieved from the bottom by a lure. Relatively rare in our end of Chesapeake Bay, the only place I've ever seen them is at these lumps.
After a couple of hours fishing the lumps, the bite seemed to die, and we headed off to the nearby "Target Ship", the American Mariner, WWII Liberty ship towed into shallow water and scuttled for the Navy to use as a target. Seen here in the pink sunrise from a distance, courtesy of the telephoto lens
We had not been fishing there long (and we weren't catching) when we were approached by the Navy's range boat, who told Pete that they Navy was going to be carrying out some activity nearby (no, they weren't going to shoot more holes in the Mariner), and we were told we would have to leave the vicinity by 11:30.
 We headed off to a deep wreck out near the channel, where we did pick up a few good sized stripers, but no more giants, along with a couple of undersized Black Sea Bass. Best known as an offshore, deeper water bottom fish, smaller ones are fairly common in the Bay on deep structures. I remember one year when they were so prevalent that I was catching good numbers of little one in shallow water.
After that, we started island hopping, hitting many of the same islands of the eastern shore, on our way back north. It wasn't the best fishing, but we did add to the haul at various places along the way.
Like a scene out of a horror movie, a tomb erodes out of the bank of Hoopers Island, while grave stones fall off the edge of the bank to join the pile of rip-rap at the foot of the small cliff, trying to slow the erosion. Erosion kills the small islands of Chesapeake Bay, not sea level rise. While a salt marsh cab grow up to keep up with sea level rise, nothing keeps the islands from progressively eroding at the edges.
A view of the upper and original, "Bridge to Nowhere", the upper bridge to Hooper's Island, through Barren Island gap. across Tar Bay. I've taken my old boat through this passage way, which is narrow, shallow, and not well marked. Nearby, Pete took us to what he called a honey hole, where indeed, we did catch a good number of pretty large fish. I've filed it's location away carefully in my memory, as it is with a long but doable boat ride from home.
The cold front approached as we came to Cedar Point. Only a single fish answered the call here, and by 4:30 we were docked back in Solomons and unloading fish for a round trip of 97 miles, and about 40 gallons of gas. A total of 62 stripers, and as Pete told me later, 244 pounds, sold for slightly less than $1,000. Probably more than he would have made on a charter. Not the best commercial trip I've been on, but certainly a good one.

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