Following the birds, not the fleet, for a spirited afternoon's fishing


"Naw, I think the dove season around here is a total bust," my future son-in-law, Richard Gonsman, replied when I half-heartedly suggested an afternoon of scattergunning.

His assessment of the early season matched mine, so I countered with, "How about some striped bass fishing?" and got the young man's immediate attention.

And that's how I happened to find myself on a boat with three anglers named Richard, which initially presented a bit of a problem. Like seeing three men dive for the same rod when I unthinkingly set up the alarm, "Richard! Grab that rod!" or having the same trio try to pass me a soda from the cooler, as in, "Richard, would you toss me a grape soda?"

The other two Richards were my pal, Richard Broden, and his father, Richard Broden Sr. We overcame the name problem simply -- Richard (Gonsman), Dick (Broden) and Mr. Broden.

We helped Dick put his 25-foot boat in the water at the Sandy Point launching facility. The latest fishing reports had indicated that our best bets for keeper-sized rockfish were trolling just off the Eastern Shore side of the main shipping channel and chumming at the mouth of Eastern Bay.

A half-mile south of the bridges, we set out our trolling rods rigged with a parachute, spoon and bucktail, a surgical hose and, lastly, a new jumbo-sized big lip-rattling lure from Mann's that I wanted to try.

"Would you look at the mass of fish we're going over?" Mr. Broden said as he steered Dick's boat just off the main shipping channel. Sure enough, we were almost constantly over great schools of what were undoubtedly striped bass.

Most of these fish were in about 35 feet of water, and the highest concentrations were opposite Kent Island's Matapeake and Brickhouse Bar. Incredibly, we had only a few light hits and a handful of 12- to 15-inch throwbacks, despite good numbers of larger fish being revealed to us on the fish finder's screen.

We were stunned by the fact that no more than a dozen other Saturday trollers were within sight from our starting point and down to the southern tip of Kent Island, at Bloody Point.

That's probably because what appeared to be every registered fishing boat in Maryland was anchored at the mouth of Eastern Bay.

The three of us pulled the trolling lines while Mr. Broden captained the boat, trying to slip through what was essentially a naval blockade of the Eastern Bay.

"Have you noticed that the only action in this entire area is being enjoyed by the gulls diving into the chumlines for a free meal?" Richard asked.

The young man from Hampstead was right. There must have been close to 150 boats within sight and not a single fish was being caught.

"Say, are those diving birds about 2 miles out, between here and the shipping channel? Let's go over there and investigate, Dad," Dick said.

And that's how we got into nearly an hour of nonstop action casting to mixed schools of breaking striped bass and bluefish. Alone. Within sight of 150 fishing boats catching zip!

While Mr. Broden captained the boat, the three of us cast into the boiling water surface and had the time of our lives.

I had tied on a couple of white bucktails for Richard and me while Dick began the adventure by tossing a proven winner -- a chrome Rattle Trap. My bucktail sported a 6-inch white twistertail, while the other one was tipped with a yellow twistertail.

Almost immediately my lure began connecting. The first rock was 3 inches short of the 18-inch minimum, so I began letting the lure sink a little lower before beginning a steady retrieve. That's what the larger fish wanted.

A nice bluefish nailed my offering, and I thought at first that it was a much larger rockfish.

By the way, if you don't have access to the bay and can't afford a charter, try Liberty Reservoir. A shore angler took a 24-pound striper out of there on a live shiner last week and lots of other folks are pulling out plenty of 4- to 5-pounders.

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