- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

HILLTOP, Md.

The first dawn of 2008 crept over the trees amid dour warnings from our town’s meteorologists. Strong winds, perhaps even some rain, would threaten our annual New Year’s Day outing, they said.

However, Andy Andrzejewski, the man who has done this without fail for more than 25 years, didn’t pick Spoils Cove on the Potomac or Virginia’s Lake Anna as we had done in years past. This time he chose the tidal Nanjemoy Creek in Charles County because the narrow waterway could give us protection from the wind. Plus, it had a slowly receding tide that likely could benefit our hunt for the first fish of 2008.

We were after anything that would look at our artificial lures — 2-inch curly tailed grubs on 1/8-ounce jig hooks, 3-inch Sting Rays on 1/4-ounce jig hooks or Berkley’s 3-inch Emerald Shiners on dropshot rigs.

After we sat awhile and admired several soaring eagles that took advantage of an upper layer of strong breezes, we ran the boat to a bend in the creek that showed water depths sharply change from two and three feet to 18 feet or more. It was this particular bend that in past spring, summer and fall outings delivered as many as seven different fish species: largemouth bass, yellow perch, catfish, white perch, rockfish, carp, crappies and sunfish.

But on New Year’s Day 2008, the bass apparently had gone on holiday. We couldn’t buy a strike from a largemouth even though we tried hard, fishing the sharpest dropoffs around blowdowns where a bass might lurk.

Finally, my dropshot shiner received a sharp jolt, and I set the hook. It was a fat female yellow perch. Had there been a prize for the first fish of the year, this newspaperman would have won it.

Meanwhile, Andrzejewski stood in the bow of his bass boat, staring at an electronic depth sounder, and with a sly grin covering his face he said, “I haven’t caught a fish all year.”

He had no need to worry. The Fishing Pole hooked a fat yellow perch only moments later, then followed it up with a sunfish and a white perch. Just like that.

Our dropshot rigs and Sting Ray grubs soon found more yellow perch that are not members of the spawning hordes we expect to see in late February — if commercial netters don’t trap them all. Those fish haven’t even thought about entering the tributaries yet. The perch we caught are year-round creek residents, and they weren’t bashful about looking at our rubbery offerings, although a large number of them were able to shake the hooks, which can be unnerving.

It’s a matter of having needle-like points on the hooks and the ability to set the lures into their hard mouths with lightning speed because even a perch — generally not considered among the smartest fish — doesn’t require much time before it realizes the “food” it just nibbled on is fake, even when dabbed with generous amounts of baitfish- or crawdad-flavored Smelly Jelly fish attractant.

By noon the earlier upper strata winds started to come closer to the water’s surface, and the fishing then became a real chore — never mind the possibility of seeing tree limbs fall along the creek shore.

It was time to pack it in.

We kept our word to fish on the first day of 2008, and the day’s events unfolded splendidly.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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