By Ken Schultz
After we’d landed the second or third large striper casting with light tackle, Joe Valentine asked, “Do you do this every time?”
“I think it’s you, Joe,” I answered. “You’re the good luck charm.”
Joe hadn’t fished on my boat in a while, but he joined me and George Phillips yesterday in Virginia waters of Chesapeake Bay.
The sun was just clearing the horizon when we reached our first destination near Tangier Island, after a frigid 30-minute run over calm water. The air temperature was 29 degrees when we left the dock, and we were bundled like moon-walking astronauts.
A few minutes later I was posing for photos with a 32-inch striper, noticing later that I still had my skull cap and ski goggles on top of my head in the photos. The fish took a big swimming plug about 15 minutes after we arrived. I revived the bass and put it back in the water, and a few moments later George hollered out. Off to the northeast some 25 miles, a large rocket was lifting off the launchpad at Wallops Island, Virginia, carrying a cargo mission to the Space Station. I should have held the fish a little longer and gotten the rocket in the background.
Over the next few hours we moved to several places, casting jigs and large plugs around
structure. We landed eighteen stripers, including two 32-inchers, one 33-incher, and two 34-inchers. The 34s came as a doubleheader that George and I landed in a circus-like round-the-boat carnival act.
Both George and Joe lost big fish that were running with the same pack evidently, George’s because the hook pulled out and Joe’s because the fish out-muscled him, getting around some object and cutting his leader. That fish was the only one of the big ones hooked on a jig instead of a plug. All of the large fish were released, as we kept a few 24-inchers to eat.
In the afternoon, I took the boat to the ocean side of the Eastern Shore peninsula, and met up with Brooks Howell and George Reiger for what we thought was a last-of the season shot at speckled trout and juvenile red drum, called redfish or, locally, puppy drum.
Recent cold weather had knocked water temperatures down and probably sent specks and reds packing. But we’d all agreed that calm wind conditions and a late afternoon high tide (the top of the outgoing tide has been especially productive) made it a worthwhile gambit.
The oceanside water temperature, however, was 48, and the shallows were crystal clear. At a marsh island we cast along grass and oyster bed edges for two and a half hours with no specks or reds, but a dozen small striped bass to our credit. There was no bait activity and no signs of fish movement, and we wondered if the crabs that the reds like were probably dug into the mud.
When the outgoing tide started we fished attentively around drains, but to no avail. At 4:45, with darkness about to set in and a 20-minute boat ride ahead of us, George packed his rods up and announced that we’d given it a good try. I started putting my rods away, too, but when I picked up the one with the spinnerbait, I thought it was worth another cast or two, since we were by a grass-and shellfish clump that had sometimes been productive.
I hooked a fish immediately, fought it for a few thrashing seconds, then lost it as the hooked pulled out. It felt like a red. Brooks cast a jig out at the same and was also into a fish; his hook also pulled out. I cast back and hooked up instantly. So did Brooks. George’s rods were away and he had to man the net, or he’d have probably hooked one also, since we’d evidently stumbled onto a pod.
I finally got mine into the boat. At 26 inches, it was just at the top end of the 18- to 26-inch slot limit. Brooks landed his, which was 25 ¾ inches. We spent a few more minutes casting the area, but the pod was gone, the sun had set, the water was dropping, and we were out of time.
I can’t lay that good fortune on Joe, but no matter the reason, it was the kind of day that doesn’t come along too often and makes you glad you didn’t stay inside, warm and watching football. It was also the kind of fishing action that doesn’t occur in many other places like Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Happy day and hallelujah.
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