Usually things aren't as good as you fondly remember them. Then, again, sometimes they are.
For years Chuck Thompson, Joe Bruce, and I fished with captain Mike Murphy on the day after Thanksgiving. Then with family concerns and other things we got away from this tradition for a few years. This year Chuck suggested we go back and fish with Mike again. Chuck's son, Brian, a music teacher in the Carroll County schools, joined us.
Driving down to Hooper Island, Chuck, Joe and I reminisced about past trips. We had plenty of good days and some great days; I have pictures of the three of us and Mike Murphy holding 22- to 24-pound stripers on several trips. Then there was Joe's "hole in one day" when he and three companions boated 10 stripers between 30 and 40 pounds on fly tackle.
Mike Murphy is not only one of my favorite guides, he captains my favorite charter boat. His "Tide Runner" is a 25-foot Parker Sport Cabin powered by a 225-horsepower, 4-stroke Yamaha engine. The cabin offers lots of sophisticated electronics, a head and plenty of storage and protection from the elements. With a modified V-hull and a 9 ½-foot beam, Tide Runner is stable in the choppy waters of Chesapeake Bay yet draws only 14 inches of water providing access to the shallow flats of the Honga River and Tangier Sound. Its high gunnels are a safety feature I particularly appreciate.
Mike carries over 20 rigged fly rods and medium-weight casting and spin tackle rigs. The cabin area and 14 rod holders allow anglers to bring aboard any tackle of their own.
Four fishermen can fish comfortably in the open area behind the cabin and more agile types can venture to the front deck for plenty of room for flycasting.
Perhaps, best of all, Mike's base of operations at Fishing Creek at Hooper Island is a section of Chesapeake country with diverse fish populations including striped bass (stripers), bluefish, gray and speckled trout, hardheads, Spanish mackerel, flounder and redfish.
Fittingly, Mike Murphy has proven a versatile and innovative fisherman and has introduced to Bay country such southern techniques as the Stingsilver. I learned this "don't leave home without it" lure and jigging technique from Murphy in the early '90's; now it is a staple of mid-Atlantic fishing. Mike also introduced me to the Rebel "Jumpin' Minnow," a hopping, skipping, "walk the dog" surface lure.
We motored less than ½ mile from the dock before encountering a small pod of breaking stripers, and I quickly boated a fat, 24-inch specimen. This set the pattern for the next few hours. We'd find small pods of fish, either via the depth finder or see them breaking on the surface. We'd take a few, maybe one or two keeper-sized but the majority in the 12- to 18-inch range. Then we'd motor south, scanning the sky and depthfinder.
At precisely 1:50 p.m. the Chesapeake Bay dinner bell rang. Scattered clouds of birds — gulls, terns, pelicans, gannets, loons, cormorants — were diving on the schools of inch-long silversides the ravaging stripers were driving to the surface.
We caught probably two to three dozen stripers over the 20-inch legal limit size and quickly filled out our self-imposed limit of six fish for the boat. But for every one this size we caught at least three undersized stripers. Compounding the situation was the size of the bait.
It's not uncommon to see stripers lock in on a certain size baitfish, just like fresh water trout do with certain sized insects; but this was an extreme case. So we would bring lures untouched through the feeding melee or get multiple hits and bunts for every hookup.
We all tried different remedies. Proven techniques for taking larger fish from mixed schools are fishing a popper on top or dropping a Stingsilver to the bottom and jigging it up with a "stair step" retrieve.
I kept switching back and forth between my rod with a jighead and 5-inch Bass Kandy Delight and a Mike Murphy rod rigged with a Jumpin' Minnow. The surface lure produced far more hits and hookups. Then I tried a 2-inch Stingsilver. Dropping it to the bottom produced nothing. When I swam it just under the surface I caught an undersized striper on every other cast.
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Brian stuck with a conventional sized bucktail and plastic grub and took fewer fish but took a number of keeper-sized specimens. Chuck tried a variety of lures including Stingsilvers and largely got the same results as Brian.
Joe Bruce used a junior sized "Smack It" popper with the middle hook removed. He had multiple hits on nearly every cast and caught fish of all sizes including one of 28 1/2 inches (over 11 pounds), our top fish of the day.
So we had plenty of action, well over 100 fat and healthy stripers boated, with dozens in the three to five pound range plus Joe's big fish. We had beautiful weather, calm waters with wind "gusts" of 2-miles per hour and good companionship.
Still we didn't get any of the trophy fish we usually got on these trips. It seems we had our chances. At least four times Mike reported the arcs of big fish showing on the depth finder. But Chuck, Mike and I repeatedly tried proven Stingsilver jigging techniques without a single hit.
Fishermen still have time to get in on this action. Fall, two fish per day striper regulations are in effect though December 20; catch and release fishing is then allowed through February of next year. More big stripers typically come into this area at the end of the year and beyond. Gannets hanging around are often the signal of big fish. You can contact Mike Murphy at 410-397- FISH, firstname.lastname@example.org, or see his website www.CaptainMikeMurphy.com.