"The drum mostly moved out about a week ago, though a few are still scattered about," Captain Gordon Haegerich told my Wednesday morning fishing party as we awaited breakfast at Harrison's Country Inn on Tilghman Island.
"But, the spot and hardhead fishing has been excellent, so they'll be our targets today."
I had figured as much and had wisely brought along one of my favorite light-action rigs -- a 6-foot Falcon graphite spinning rod matted with a dainty Shimano GR-X1200 reel loaded with 6-pound test mono.
My fishing pals, Dick Becker, Kermit Henning and Dick Hiler, all down from Hershey, Pa., had elected to use the first-class tackle on board Haegerich's 42-foot Casey J.
Croaker, or as they are called locally, hardheads, have been making a great comeback over the past few years after declines brought on by commercial interests and over-harvest by sports anglers.
The fish is prized for its great taste. Being a smallish fish, like the equally tasty and feisty fighting spot, these bottom fish sometimes are shunned by folks who mistakenly believe that a fish has to be big and either toothy or striped to warrant attention.
Hardheads are light silvery-gray with pinkish tint above their lateral line. They sport dark spotted vertical bars, a white lower body and pectoral fins marked with dark streaks. If you get into a school of them, count your blessings.
As for spot, you simply cannot miss the giveaway large black spot behind the top of the gill cover. These tough fighting bluish-gray fish average 12 to 15 inches and get generally bigger as the summer progresses. The 14-inch and larger spot are referred to as jumbo spot.
Out of respect for a brisk wind and choppy water conditions, Captain Haegerich elected to stay in the Choptank River.
This was my first trip with Haegerich, who has been in the charter fishing business since 1968.
"I used to fish out of the Severn River, which was convenient to my Riviera Beach home. But, it got to be too much of a trial getting through the weekend sailboaters. That's when I decided to operate out of Chesapeake Beach," Haegerich said.
"About six years ago I realized that most of the middle bay's best fishing was over here, around Tilghman Island and that it would be simpler to just move my boat over to Harrison's."
Haegerich had been recommended to me numerous times by other outdoors writers and experienced anglers, and after spending Wednesday out with him, I can echo those opinions.
FTC We covered quite a bit of the Choptank for the first three hours of the trip with nothing to show for the effort.
"These is mightly embarrassing," Haegerich admitted. "The weather's moderating, so I think I'll go out into the bay and nose around the Stone Rock."
We made the short run out of the Choptank, between Black Walnut and Cook's points, to the famed Stone Rock and found a light wind and only mild chop. We also found spot and lots of
We used standard bottom rigs consisting of two hooks about a foot apart with a 12-inch dropper carrying just enough weight to hold bottom. At first we mixed our bait combinations using peeler crab, shrimp and bloodworms.
It soon became evident that these fish wanted only the worms. Also, they hit best when we let the bait hit bottom, gave the rod a gentle jig or two and then just let things rest. Hits came on the initial settling of the bait or after the first jig.
This superb bottom fishing will only improve as the summer wears on, and I urge you to go out and give it a try.
Local fishing conditions
In addition to the excellent spot fishing mentioned above, good numbers of medium to large croaker are being caught at the mouth of the Choptank River, Plum Point, Holland Point and in Eastern Bay. Bits of peeler crab should be the ticket for these hardheads, but stick to bloodworms for the spot.
The drum are about done for now, though an occasional 40- to 80-pounder is being hooked around Poplar Island and Sharps Island in 20 feet of water. The Choptank River Fishing Pier produced a surprise 51-inch sand shark on a bottom rig sporting a bloodworm.
Some of the best bottom fishing in memory is going on in the area from Bodkin Point to Thomas Point Light with many catfish going to 10 pounds.