"It's going to be rough out here today," Captain Steve Davis told me and Frederick's Dr. Jim Gilford, as we made our way down the pre-dawn darkness of Smith Creek aboard Davis' Miss Valerie II charter boat.
This was the first time this year that I had fished with Davis at the controls, though a couple of times during the summer this capable young waterman had helped his dad, Captain Eddie Davis, by serving as mate on some of the bigger charter parties.
Fishing from one end of the bay to the other has been hampered throughout the fall striped bass (rockfish) season by strong winds and high seas, and that's exactly what we hit as the Miss Valerie cleared the protection of the sheltered creek near Ridge in St. Mary's County last Monday.
As the Chesapeake's waters slammed into the boat, Wayne Albaugh and Jim Gronaw, both down from Westminster, Jim Kundreskas of Charlotte Hall and Crofton's Chris Sharp joined us in the cabin.
"The fish are around here, but we're really having to work to find them. This wind isn't helping a bit, but I understand that everybody on the bay is having the same problem. We'll get onto a nice school, but they won't stay put for long," Davis said.
"We're going to try out around Hooper Island Light first. I had a party out there yesterday and we got our limit by 9 o'clock. Dad was down around the Middle Grounds with his party, but it took him most of the day to get a limit."
By the time we reached Hooper Island Light, the sun was up and the sky was brilliantly blue, but that wind tossed the 38-foot boat around as if it were a rowboat. Davis set out a trolling rod for each of us.
Davis' trolling rig consisted of a standard wire line attached to a three-way swivel. Attached to one of the swivels was an 18-inch leader and attached to this was a dropper bucktail and a standard bell sinker. Attached to the third swivel was a much longer leader tied to a second bucktail. Both bucktails were tipped with 6-inch purple plastic worms.
"OK, we're all set, now all we need is to find some birds," Davis said.
Within a few minutes we spotted a large flock of birds feeding on a school of baitfish and Davis hit the boat's throttle. Surface feeding and rolling rockfish were everywhere and as soon as our lines crossed through the school, five of six rods bent under the pressure of strikes.
I grabbed my rod and reeled in a too-small 15-incher, released it and got the line back in the water. That pass yielded two nice keepers, both 20-inchers.
By the time Davis got the boat positioned for a second pass, the school had vanished. That's the way the first couple of hours went, with only one more keeper bass -- a 28-incher that hit Kundreskas' rod.
In the meantime, we picked up a dozen or more nice bluefish. These blues often were mixed in with rockfish and most weighed between 3 and 5 pounds. I even had a little sea bass hit one of the bucktails.
Fishing slowed around 10 and we moved to the Cornfield, within sight of Point Lookout and enjoyed good rockfishing. Here, I finally got two keepers. Both measured 24 inches.
When we closed shop around 2 in the afternoon, we had nine legal rock, the biggest being a 31-incher that was caught by Sharp. Gronaw, who never had caught a rockfish before, hit the jackpot with his first -- a 24-incher, the same size as Albaugh's bass.
Davis specializes in the lower Bay and the Potomac. The Potomac season closed this past Tuesday, but the Virginia rockfish season kicks off Thursday and will continue through Dec. 19. The Potomac will reopen for rockfish on Nov. 5 and continue through Nov. 14.
These are the best times and bets for anyone wanting a shot at a really big, trophy-sized rockfish. The Maryland charter boat portion of the bay's rockfish season will continue through Nov. 21.
Hunter safety course
A hunter safety course is set to begin Thursday at the Westminster VFW.
L Call Hap Baker at (410) 374-4360 for details or to register.
M.A.R.C. seeks members
The Maryland Aquatic Resource Coalition that represents more 1,000 individual sportsmen plus most related clubs and organizations is conducting a membership drive.
M.A.R.C. is the organization that almost single-handedly persuaded Baltimore City officials to reopen their reservoirs to sport fishing following the zebra mussel crisis.
Call (410) 327-6942 for details.
A two-day muzzleloader shoot is set for Fort Frederick State Park Nov. 6-7. All money collected will go to the State Park Foundation for future programs within the state park system. Call Ranger Scott Forrest at (301) 842-2155 for details.