- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2009


Among the normally infallible truths that are passed around among waterfront residents of Virginia’s Northern Neck and those of the adjacent southern Maryland are these three:

Oysters don’t taste good and salty until the water is truly cold; merganser ducks aren’t fit to eat; and when the gannets arrive at the Potomac River/Chesapeake Bay junction, it’s time to fish for the biggest stripers because the graceful seabirds know precisely when whopping rockfish arrive on their annual journey from the Atlantic.

“The gannets know,” said Michael Henderson, who has owned and operated Buzz’s Marina on the fish-rich St. Jerome Creek for the past five years.

How can anyone argue with such saltwater-soaked Chesapeake logic?

On a late weekday afternoon, with a northeast wind kicking up a bit of a fuss, Henderson and I boarded his 24-footer and ran out of the creek, passing sumptuous shoreline homes that anyone could afford to buy - providing he first hits the Mega Millions lottery.

The moment we reached some of the deeper water between the creek mouth and the distant, but visible, Point No Point light, Henderson, 53, started looking at a console-mounted color depth sounder and also double-checked to see if a fine GPS unit was working properly. Within moments, the electronic fish alarm beeped a happy tune and, sure enough, the screen displayed telltale blips that represented some kind of fish in 25 feet of water.

“I doubt if those are ocean stripers, because if they were, the marks would be larger,” the mustachioed marina operator said. “Let’s drop some jigs down to them and see what happens.”

Whatever they were, these fish showed no interest.

But only 10 minutes later, as Henderson approached a spider-legged buoy, a brief distance southeast of the Point Lookout fishing pier, Henderson’s fish alarm went bonkers. In an area close to the five-legged structure where the water sharply fell from 20- to 40-foot depths, my host flicked a soft plastic Striper Kandy lure on a 1/2-ounce jig hook into the water, allowed it to fall along the edge of the drop-off and, just like that, set the hook to a striped bass in the 18- or 19-inch class.

I followed suit, only my weighted hook carried a white/yellow plastic Shadalicious body, the kind that sports a wildly flapping tail when retrieved or jigged up and down. A 2-pound bluefish found the lure’s lifelike action convincing enough to strike it. He bent the rod sharply, objecting to whatever it was he was fooled by, and with needlelike teeth ruined the plastic bait.

That was fine with me. The shredded lure body was quickly replaced.

Henderson, meanwhile, was busy either hooking rockfish, including fair keepers, or slowly running the boat back to the ledge marked by the buoy, then shutting down the twin Evinrudes and once again beginning a silent drift.

As darkness slowly approached, our arm muscles felt the strain of casting, hooking, sometimes losing and re-hooking other fish. Henderson thought it would be wise to head toward his home creek.

However, in less than 18 feet of water and within sight of the St. Jerome Creek mouth we spotted diving terns and gulls, easily giving away a school of feeding fish that had driven terrorized bay anchovies to the surface. Henderson allowed the boat to quietly drift close to the fray. His plastic bait again connected mostly on stripers while a 1/2-ounce chrome/blue RedEye rattle bait found rockfish and blues for me.

With the light slowly disappearing, we ended a most enjoyable outing and headed in with enough fish for several tasty suppers waiting in the box. Of course, Henderson’s wife, Christy, earlier had predicted that even a 2-year-old could catch fish this time of year, so there was no need for us to brag about our fishing skills.

And the gannets? They flew around high above us and obviously had no clue where the trophy stripers hung out.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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