- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md.

Even on a weekday, the long parking slots intended for tow vehicles and boat trailers in this town’s Tydings Memorial Park are filled to capacity. Don’t people go to work anymore?

You can hardly blame the boaters, though. Most of them are fishermen and the Mother River of the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna, is a powerful magnet. You’ll see truck and SUV tags with Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia tags. Even an Ohio tag was seen one recent day when I was here chasing after stripers, although many boaters no doubt were there to seek the plentiful largemouth bass that are found in the lower parts of river.

After a brief closure, a renewed hunt for the rockfish will take place starting Thursday in the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and the Susquehanna Flats. It primarily signals the river anglers, who will be able to chase after the stripers until Dec. 15. Unlike the trophy fishing season that ended last month, you’ll be able to keep two rockfish that measure from 18 to 28 inches, or have one of 18 to 28 inches long and one more than 28 inches.

Just before the catch-and-release season was shut down to protect spawning stripers because the water temperature climbed too high, there wasn’t a soul bobbing about on the 4- to 8-foot-deep Susquehanna Flats that didn’t hook a lot of rockfish.

So get ready this week when anglers are welcome once again to take their chances trying to find striped bass that might have remained in the northern sector of the bay instead of swimming south and returning to the Atlantic Ocean.

Whenever I come here I’ll be with a young charter fishing captain, Jeff Popp, who operates on the tidal Susquehanna and the famed Susquehanna Flats in a fiberglass center-console boat that is tailor-made for the kind of fishing that you’ll encounter over hundreds upon hundreds of acres of weed-infested, wonderfully productive water.

“The stripers won’t be the big females we caught in April,” he said, “but the way we fish from my boat every striper you hook will seem like a trophy.”

Popp is right. There’s a huge difference between trolling heavy lines and outlandishly sized lures for hours and casting slender plastic “baits” and retrieving them in jerky motions across a water-covered mass of milfoil vegetation with you hooking the fish, not a boat dragging a gang of bucktails or umbrella rigs.

Popp’s clients stand tall — fine spinning rods in their hands, zipping soft plastic lures or Rapala-style jerk baits over the green, waterlogged carpet — then hold their breath when they hear a loud slurping, almost flushing sound. A powerful rockfish will be on the business end of the line, checking to see how good the line was tied to a lure’s eyelet. If you’re not an accomplished knot tier, you might have to kiss a $6 jerkbait goodbye.

During the happy afternoon I spent with Popp, we caught so many rockfish that we quit counting. Besides, the way it was then we couldn’t keep any. But starting Thursday you’ll be able to stuff a couple into a cooler and have them for dinner.

Popp usually delivers the goods in grand fashion, helping with a suggestion here and netting a fish there. However, if he has found the Susquehanna fish to be in a finicky mood, he might suggest joining him at his other hangout, the St. Mary’s County portion of the Chesapeake, where he’ll be light-tackle chumming from a boat he keeps berthed in St. Jerome’s Creek.

Talk about a happy, supremely skilled angler whom you and one or two of your pals will enjoy being with. This guy is it. Call Popp at 410/790-2015.

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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