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Follow the fish - they like power plant's warm water


Capt. Peter Dressler backed the 23-footer into position, taking the slack out of the anchor line and settling the stern on the edge of a current rip in the shadow of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

"You can tell how he's handling the boat that he knows what he's doing, where he wants to be," Bob Bachman, director of DNR's Fisheries Service, said as Dressler positioned the boat just so. "Betcha. It won't be 90 seconds after he has a line in the water that he has a fish.

"You can tell. He knows they are there, and he knows how to catch them."


It was less than a minute before Dressler set the hook on the first of many rockfish and chortled the first of many chortles heard Thursday morning and afternoon.

Here, where the southerly wind fetches for dozens of miles up Chesapeake Bay, building short, steep seas and adding bite to even an unusually warm February day, is Dressler's favorite winter fishing hole.

"What we are doing is fishing the discharge from the power plant," said Dressler, who retired in his mid-40s in the mid-1970s and has been fishing the tidewater several days a week since. "The water here is warmer, it aggregates fish because of it, and, if you know what you're doing -- like we do -- you really can have a day of it."

Dressler and his friend of 30 years, Capt. Bill Williams, had launched Williams' 23-foot Albemarle at Breezy Point Marina in Calvert County and made the 30-minute run south to the power plant.

Along the way, Dressler had regaled Bachman and Marty Gary, chief of Fisheries User Group Program, with stories and photographs of speckled and gray trout, flounder, blues and rock.

Words come easily and often from Dressler, but they issue as fact rather than brag.

Dressler, you see, does things his way.

"At the age of 44, I decided to change my life," Dressler said, as Williams drove the Albemarle through a light chop. "I was a corporate executive building a fortune, and I realized there was no sense to that. I have no children, so who was I going to leave a fortune to, anyway?

"I took what I had earned, invested wisely and now I fish and enjoy life the way I want."

He trolls for flounder while most people drift.

He regularly catches speckled trout on Sharp's Island Flats while most people work the deeper edges for rock, blues, gray trout, croaker and spot.

Pick a location in the middle bay area, and the Edgewater fisherman probably has tried it and caught fish there.

"But I like to keep it simple here," Dressler said once the Albemarle was settled and he had handed out light bait-casting tackle. "This, once you get the touch of it, is foolproof fishing."

Dressler had filled the reels with limited-stretch Fireline, rigged 6- or 8-ounce drop sinkers and snapped lead-head jigs on 3-foot leaders.

"But what really makes it work is these," Dressler said, as he slid 7-inch Albino Shad Assassins onto the jig heads. "There isn't a rockfish out here that won't hit these."

The technique was basic: drop the rig into the warm-water current created by the power plant discharge, leave the reel in free spool and incrementally release line to walk the lure down current while making occasional contact with the bottom.

"Oh, my, it took it on the drop and I almost missed it," Bachman said, as he reeled in his first fish of the day. "There's definitely a touch to this, but I think I have figured it out."

Over the next several hours, more than 70 rockfish were caught and released, all between 17 and 22 inches and all full and healthy.

"This will give you a look at what this fishery is really made of," Bachman said, as Dressler, Gary and Williams had a triple hook-up. "This is a glimpse of the future, too, and it can only get better."

Pub Date: 2/14/99

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