We're now at the transition point from the indoor season of shows and preparations for the fishing year to the beginnings of several fishing seasons. So I'm reporting on both.
The Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland (CCAMD) sponsored Lefty Kreh's Tiefest and Light Tackle Fest in Stevensville on Feb. 20. Tiefest has grown from an informal get together of local fly tyers to a full fly and light tackle show. Yet it still retains the informal folksy feel of the beginning Tiefests.
This year's program featured a typical array of outstanding fly tyers, rod and lure makers and tackle shops from the mid-Atlantic and beyond, outstanding seminars on Chesapeake light tackle and fly fishing, kayak fishing, and the mandatory piece de resistance, a casting demonstration by Lefty Kreh.
The day culminated in an evening banquet and tribute to Lefty Kreh on his 90th birthday and Tony and Dee Tochterman on the 100th anniversary of their celebrated eponymous Baltimore tackle shop. Both Lefty and the Tochtermans will be the subjects of future columns.
The Chesapeake Bay Beach Club was so packed during the 6-hour day program it was nearly impossible to navigate the isles. It seemed like everywhere I turned "Hey, Bill" rang out, as I encountered guides and friends I'd fished with and/or people or groups I'd written about.
I attended seminars on Chesapeake Bay fishing by two guides I've fished with, Richie Gaines and Kevin Josenhans.
I was fascinated with the commonalities and differences of their approaches. Both focused on environmental factors and emphasized Bay waters are dynamic and ever changing.
In common they listed the key factors that affect fish behavior and location: 1. Water quality, including temperature, clarity and oxygen levels; 2. Bait or food; 3. Structure; and 4. Current. As Richie pointed out, stripers will feed on practically anything. They feed mainly on such large species as menhaden, shad, herring and white perch during the colder months from November through March. (They feast on spot when live-lined or on fish finder rigs, but usually not when these panfish are free roaming.) During warmer months the primary forage throughout the Bay are silversides and bay anchovies, minnows usually of 1 to 2-inch lengths.
Gaines has narrowed his lure selection for stripers to the following five: 5-inch Sassy Sally swim baits on jig heads,¿Lil Jimmy bucktails by Specialized Baits, 1-ounce Lil Bunker jigging spoons, 6-inch Bass Kandy Delights (BKDs) on a jig heads, Stillwater Lures Smack It, Jr. poppers in Smokey Joe color. Josenhans' selection is similar, but mostly on the smaller and lighter side, since nearly all of his fishing is in shallower waters and much of the time he targets sea trout.
Both recommended light spinning tackle with 15 to 20-pound braided line with matching mono or fluorocarbon leaders but with heavier leaders when bluefish are around. Kevin's clients use mostly fly tackle, and he recommends 7 to 8-weight rods, intermediate sinking lines with Lefty's Deceivers, Half-and-Half flies or Cactus Striper flies in predominately white or chartreuse.
Gaines fishes larger lures in shallower water in colder months but in warmer weather he's increasingly seeing stripers suspended over offshore hard bottom structure like oyster beds and rock piles with 12 to 26 feet seeming to be magic depths. He probes these with his smaller baits and works the entire water column.
Josenhans fishes the shallows in such places as Smith Island, South Marsh Island and Bloodsworth Island for stripers, sea trout and redfish. These species tend to prefer different structures with the redfish closer to shore, the stripers further off shore in stump fields and the trout further out over the grass beds. Like Gaines Josenhans mimics smaller baits in warmer months but opts for bigger lures and flies in fall when stripers feast on sand perch.
I spoke with both guides and with Gary Neitzey about prospects for spring fishing for big stripers on Susquehanna Flats. Fishing was poor there the last three years mostly because of extremely muddy water. They said they would consider booking trips this spring if clients contacted them and conditions were favorable but would not fish in unfavorable conditions.
The Fly Fishing Show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is being held this weekend with many of the same fly fishing luminaries that attended Tiefest plus many famous trout and salmon experts. This shows features loads of gear and classes and has been my favorite fly fishing only show for years.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been stocking trout in local streams for weeks. In my only attempt I nearly needed a Sherpa to climb the snow banks to get within casting distance of the Patapsco River but managed to take one rainbow and lose another near shore in a brief and frigid attempt with spinning tackle.