- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

SOLOMONS, Md. - The charter vessel Miss Susie left her berth in the local Calvert Marina before the first light of dawn crept over the horizon. “I want to get to that ledge near Buoy 72 before the rest of the gang shows up,” captain John Montgomery said.

The remark concerning the “rest of the gang” was a friendly one and simply referred to any number of Montgomery’s fellow charter fishing captains who this time of year waste little time congregating over the undulating 30- to 40-foot-deep Chesapeake Bay bottom where rockfish gather to ambush bait schools.

Montgomery arrived in the nick of time. Only two other boats preceded his arrival and they, judging by their transom name plates, came from the lower Potomac area, much closer to the fruitful fishing spot that Montgomery had to hurry to. With twin diesels humming, it took a little more than an hour to reach the area from his Patuxent River home waters.

In October, perhaps even early November, chumming is the way to catch the striped bass that Marylanders and Virginians prefer to call rockfish. In this sector of the Chesapeake, chumming with a ground mash of oily menhaden baitfish is the way to go.

“We’ll be doing this until the water really chills down,” said Montgomery, who for several decades has worked these waters as a professional fishing captain. “When the water is too cold for effective chumming, we’ll switch to trolling, but we’ll be catching rockfish until December. Not only that, there’ll be bigger specimens coming in next month.”

As the Calvert County captain found a school of fish on his electronic color locator, he slowly moved ahead of it, then released the locking mechanism on a bow-mounted anchor, paying out plenty of line to steady the sturdy, comfortable vessel, then helped ready the gear that mate Greg Buckner already was busy spreading out atop the two engine cover boxes.

Buckner, a handsome twentysomething who also holds a charter captain’s license, busily ladled ground chum into the water, spreading a delectable (to fish) scent. Previously cut, thumb-sized pieces of menhaden back fillet would be pierced onto the hooks and floated out into the chum slick with no more than one or two pieces of splitshot lead to carry it below the surface.

Montgomery’s gear is among the best I’ve ever seen on a charter boat. For chumming, he uses new Penn spinning reels, fine graphite rods, and reels that are properly filled with quality monofilament line. Sadly, too many fishing captains hand their customers equipment that is little more than bargain basement junk because they fear a rod and reel might be lost overboard. Cheap outfits are no big loss, but what do you do when a trophy-sized fish is hooked? Montgomery insists that his people fish with the same good outfits that he uses.

Amid a cacophony of seagull cries above us, Buckner continued flipping ladles of chum over the side, and Montgomery provided a Chum Fishing 101 class for his charges.

“I release the line into the chum slick, peeling off a fair amount, then hold the line in one hand while the other holds the rod and reel,” he said. “If you feel a fish touch the bait, let him have it, then snap the bail shut and set the hook. If you try to set the hook the second you feel a pop at the other end of the line, chances are you’ll lose the fish.”

His fishermen this day, Calvert Countian Jim Herker, and St. Mary’s County angler Bob Rice, quickly joined me in following the captain’s advice. After a couple of missed strikes, we found success. One of the guys brought in a barely legal striper that was quickly released, another had a young bluefish on the hook (which was kept because juvenile blues are mighty fine eating) and a third had a rockfish that was judged to be worthy of the table.

In rocking and rolling waves, sharply pitching boats all around us, diving seagulls who wanted to steal as much bait chum as possible, even a couple of brown pelicans that were attracted by the melee, we hooked, lost and again hooked any number of stripers and more than a few very welcome snapper bluefish.

The entire exercise was wonderful. However, when everybody aboard had the legal limit of two 18-inch-and-over striped bass, Captain Montgomery said, “We can’t keep any more rockfish. We can head back in or continue fishing for blues. Tell me what you want to do.”

Considering that the wind speed had steadily increased, we opted for the quiet waters of the Calvert Marina, where we could clean our fish, fillet some and leave others whole. We also had the opportunity to have a late breakfast in a little eatery no more than 250 feet from the Miss Susie’s slip.

Not a bad deal any way you put it.

I recommend Captain Montgomery, without reservation. He can be reached at 301/873-1327.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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