Despite strong winds and rough water the first few days of this fall's striped bass (rockfish) season, middle bay-area anglers have been reeling with joy. From one end of the Chesapeake to the other, an empty-handed rockfish angler is a rare find.
Ray Bowman of Laurel managed to pull a 31 1/2 -inch rockfish from the popular Choptank Fishing Pier.
"I was over that way Saturday, but didn't fish because the pier and the river below were too crowded," he said. "Then, Sunday afternoon while watching the football game, it occurred to me that if I drove back over there late in the day it would probably be empty.
"I'll bet there weren't a dozen of us on the east-end pier by 5 o'clock. I dropped an eel over the side and just let it swim around the pilings when, wham, this big baby hit my bait. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw it come to the surface."
A couple of friendly anglers helped him net the 10-pounder.
I went out with Captain Alan Faulkner and local rockfish enthusiasts Mark Manes, Gil Webber, Frank Baker and Jerry Ness on Monday. Manes claimed big-fish honors with a 29-incher that hit a chunk of cut spot that drifted in our chum line about midway between Poplar Island and Eastern Bay. We caught a total of eight and called it quits at 11 a.m. because of strong winds and rough water.
I've fished the first day of the fall rockfish season every year with Bob and Mary Carter of Stevensville and Dave and Yvonne Gardner, who drive from Hampstead in Carroll County, aboard Faulkner's Chelsie Lynn operating out of Tilghman Island.
I had to break our run this year for my daughter's wedding, but the Carters and Gardners kept up the tradition when they limited out in near-record time.
Russell Smith of Westminster went out with his brother-in-law, Tim Harford, and a couple of friends last Sunday and caught the biggest fish of his life in the Patapsco, within sight of Sparrows Point.
"It measured 28 inches and hit a trolled bucktail. We had been tossing around in a little 14-foot boat since 6 in the morning and when I caught it on one of our trolled bucktails, we figured we'd been tossed enough and quit at 1," he said.
I guess drifted eels are the favored bait right now, but I know of a lot of fish being caught on drifted, live spot as well as surgical hose, bucktails and various spoons. Chumming also can be quite productive.
As good as the fishing has been to date, the winds notwithstanding, we soon will be remembering this first week or two as the slow time. These rock are still scattered and in relatively small schools. Plus, the bay is still loaded with baitfish.
Wait a week or two when the water cools and the baitfish vanish. That's when we will be fishing schools so big that they will test your imagination.
Keith Walters, nationally recognized as a top rockfish angler, said: "I've got a hunch that November is going to be out of sight this year. I hope this doesn't cause a big problem, but you know, the so-called recreational season will close Nov. 7, which is just about when I think we may see the rockfishing peak. Then, to really stir things up, the charter season will continue through the 21st of November."
Walters' new book should be sitting in your favorite tackle shop or newsstand right now and it's just what a lot of novice striped bass anglers have been asking for. "Catching Striped Bass" is a pocket-sized, 48-page treasure of rockfishing how-to and priced at $3.95.
The book covers tackle selection for trollers, surf casters, light-action spinners and fly casters, basic striped bass rigs and knots, trolling basics, live and cut bait instruction and a thousand other useful bits of information Walters has picked up spending nearly a lifetime chasing striped bass.
Carroll County bowhunters have bagged 67 deer since the Sept. 15 opening of the hunting season. The bow season will continue through Nov. 26, then resume Dec. 13-17 and Jan. 3-31.
Squirrel season kicked off Tuesday and will continue through Jan. 31 with a daily limit of six. Bushytails are abundant this year throughout Carroll County.