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Carroll outdoors: Weather and winter rock

The Calvert Marine Museum is within walking distance of the marina and always worth visiting.
The Calvert Marine Museum is within walking distance of the marina and always worth visiting. (Bill May photo , Carroll County Times)

General Dwight D. Eisenhower agonized over the decision whether to launch the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 despite the poor weather conditions. He went ahead, and we're all glad he did - except maybe for some neo-Nazis.

It seems to me Ike had it easy: his decision only involved the fate of Western Civilization. My struggles with weather lately have been of more cosmic importance. They involved fishing.

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Weather has really limited fishing this winter. We had a short break in January. Joe Bruce and Alan Feiken took advantage of it to take 55 Pickerel from a Delaware pond. I fished three times the last week of February.

Joe and I fished the same pond and labored to take 10 pickerel. Then I heard about a section of the Patuxent stocked with cooperative trout. Unfortunately I couldn't get there until the day after a downburst. I took one small rainbow from the muddy soup, while my two previously successful friends caught none.

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So when Captain Walleye Pete Dahlberg offered a "walk on" trip to catch-and-release fish for stripers at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant (CCNPP) on the 28th, I jumped at the chance. Pete warned me fishing had been spotty, but he had been working the area for a couple of weeks prior, and his parties had taken some big stripers, with 10 of 40-to-45 inches.

Winter fishing at CBBT is done by light tackle deep jigging, and Pete's boat is ideally suited.

It's a Judge 27-foot Chesapeake with a full cabin closed with canvas and plastic sides and powered by a 250-horsepower Honda outboard. Its serious electronics including radar, GPS navigation and a sophisticated depth finder. A big plus in winter is the propane heater warming the cabin area.

The boat is docked at Beacon Light Marina in Solomons this time of year, so it's a short run to the CCNPP. Baitfish and stripers are attracted to the area of the outlet of the water pumped through CCNPP to cool the power plant. This powerful current, sometimes called "the Rip," measured 3 to 5 degrees warmer than the 38 to 40 degrees of the surrounding Bay waters the day we fished, a difference significant enough to attract and hold fish.

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At 6 a.m., I met fellow walk-ons Mike Wissel and Mike of Clifford of Westminster and Tom Jackson of Columbia for the 5-hour trip.

The fishing approach is simple: Slowly drift through the warmed currents while bouncing jigs with plastics along bottom. We used 6-foot, medium spinning rods, 14 to 20-pound braided lines with 6-foot leaders of 30-pound monofilament, 1 ½-ounce jigheads with 6 to 10-inch Bass Kandy Delights (BKDs) in chartreuse, white and other colors.

Pete would set up the drift by pulling the boat into the current after finding promising bottom structure or even seeing fish on the depth finder. At his command we would flip out our jigs and let out just enough line to tick them over the rocky bottom. The trick was to do this without snagging. After drifting through the prime area, we would reel up, motor back and repeat.

Ordinarily I am pretty good at deep jigging. However the weather gremlins were at it again.

The rainstorm that was supposed to depart early took 3 hours after we launched to blow through. The 10 to 15 mph winds that were supposed to come from the west to lay down Bay waters instead came from the northeast to make things bouncy. I had to hang onto a rod holder to maintain precarious balance on my neuropathic feet, so often when I knew I needed to reel up my jig I couldn't do it fast enough. I planted three jigs and was the only one aboard to catch no fish.

My Carroll County companions did better. Within the first few casts, Mike Wissel hung the 40-inch specimen shown, and his uncle, Mike Clifford, boated a 23-inch striper. Only one other boat joined us, a Boston Whaler Outrage powered by three 300-horsepower Mercurys. We saw them take a striper that appeared to be the twin of Mike Wissel's or possibly a bit larger.

Pete will offer these trips - weather permitting - through March. Fishing should improve significantly, since: First, the power plant will resume working at full capacity making outflow conditions more favorable and predictable, and, Second, more and more big, sea-run stripers will be chasing shad, herring and perch up the Bay toward the Susquehanna Flats spawning grounds. (Pete plans to move his operation to that area April 1.)

This March striper fishing is worth the try, and the walk-on price of $80 is a bargain.

Plus Solomons is always worth the visit. It's a 2-hour morning drive from Westminster. After fishing, you can stop for lunch at one of several good restaurants. When I'm in the area, I always visit the Calvert Marine Museum (within walking distance from the marina).

The museum has several buildings detailing the ecology of the Chesapeake and man's interactions with the Bay.

Walleye Pete Dahlberg aptly named his guide service Four Seasons. He fishes Bay waters year round from Susquehanna Flats to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT).

Like a lot of Bay guides and veteran fishermen, he sees a decline in stripers but hopes the resurgence of speckled sea trout and redfish can fill in the possible gaps. He can be contacted at 703-395-9955 and at his website WalleyePete.com. You can get on his email list for fishing reports and notification of upcoming walk-on trips.

I'm glad I did.

Maybe I'll finally get a break from the weather on the next trip.

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