Peter Brookes: Sling some string today in the bay
You know when you have some sort of awesome attraction right at your feet and you never take advantage of it because it’ll always be there and, hey, you’re really busy, right?
We all know the feeling — and the guilt.
Well, I’d been feeling that way about fishing the Chesapeake Bay. It’s darn close to my Washington, D.C., work, my Virginia home — and, for goodness’ sake, I’d gone to college right on its shores at “Canoe U” (the Naval Academy).
In a carpe diem angling moment, I decided to do something about it late this summer; I put aside the “I’m really swamped” or “I have a lot of emails to answer” or “I have to rearrange my sock drawer” excuses.
I did some reading and discovered that the angling is incredibly varied on the bay, which, by the way, is the largest estuary in the United States and the third largest in the world at over 200 miles in length.
Getting my nose out of the books, off the internet and my fanny out of the chair, it was time to wet a line — with a knowledgeable guide, of course.
I first contacted Captain Richie Gaines of Angler’s Connection Guide Service (anglers-connection.com) who operates a charter out of Kent Island across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis, Maryland.
Capt. Gaines said that in September we’d normally have a good shot at catching striped bass (aka stripers/rockfish/schoolies), Spanish mackerel and or bluefish.
We hit the water on a Monday of an unseasonably cool Labor Day weekend – and when I say “cool,” I mean the water temperature had dropped about 10 degrees in about a week’s time.
This temperature change could leave the fish confused, affecting the “bite” in this middle portion of the bay where we were fishing.
Normally, this time of year, Capt. Gaines would scout the horizon for “breaking fish,” the result of balls of baitfish (e.g., bay anchovies) being pushed to the surface to escape piscatorial predators below.
But that wasn’t the game early that morning.
Instead, I threw a full sinking line into deeper water as we searched for targets of opportunity on the fish finder. Stripping back a chartreuse and white Clouser minnow fly, a good number of stripers slammed my hook — along with one frisky flounder.
But as the morning wore on, the sun began to warm Kent Island’s Eastern Bay waters, causing the surface to “boil” in spots — easily detectable by frenzied seabirds dive-bombing bubbling baitfish.
Racing to these spots, I’d cast a floating gurgler fly into these circles of simmering sea. The top water action was intense, including stripers slashing upward at the fly from below, leading to gymnast-like cartwheels above the waves.
Nearly 40 stripers — and one hapless seagull that flew through my cast — were landed that morning of great fishing.
That’s not how Capt. Chris Newsome of Chesapeake Bay Fly Fishing (bayflyfishing.com) does it down the bay off the Middle Peninsula on the Piankatank and Rappahannock rivers.
After heading out of the marina, Capt. Newsome netted some “peanut bunker” (aka Atlantic menhaden) and silversides from a nearby creek for some live chumming; the late summer/early fall is a little early down there for breaking fish.
We spent the morning dashing amongst underwater structure (e.g., rockpiles) and docks along the Middle Peninsula and the Northern Neck throwing bunker and a half and half baitfish fly at fishy spots.
Indeed, at our first stop at a nearby pier, within a just few casts, I had a so-called “Chesapeake slam,” landing a striper, a “puppy drum” (a young red drum/redfish) and a “speck” (a speckled/spotted sea trout).
All in all, in a few hours, I brought nearly 60 of these three species to hand: 50 of them were stripers — some well over 20 inches.
From the north to the south, the Chesapeake Bay is a fantastic fishery. And, with years of experience on the water, both Captains Gaines and Newsome know how to put and keep you on the fish, as evidenced by me landing nearly 100 fish on two half-day trips.
If I can do that, think what you could do.
So, don’t be that guy/gal and put off till tomorrow what you can do today — and that’s slinging some string for the incredible catch available in the beautiful and bountiful Chesapeake Bay.
Dr. Peter Brookes is a Washington, D.C., foreign policy wonk who escapes to his Fort Valley cabin and the great outdoors as often as possible. Email: Brookesoutdoors@gmail.com.