For good weather, good water and a variety of fish, it's hard to beat the merry, mixed-bag month of June.
by John Page Williams
On a bitter-cold day back in January I sat down with Keith Lockwood, a fisheries biologist at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, to talk about prospects for the upcoming season as part of my research for CBM's annual Fearless Fishing Forecast. As anglers often do, we got to talking about our personal favorite kinds of fishing. It turns out that there were multiple threads common to both of us, and to friends in other parts of the Bay.
First thread: we love fishing in June. The weather is usually pleasant, the scenery lovely, and the worst of summer's bad oxygen-starved water hasn't come yet. We fish out of 16- and 20-foot skiffs in shallow water, casting with fly, spin, or plug tackle to structure of some kind, preferably early or late in the day (often on weekdays before or after work). More often than not, you have a friend aboard. We appreciate catching a mixed bag that includes a few fish for the table. A side benefit is that this style of fishing tends to be inexpensive. Most important, it is a fine way for a Chesapeake angler to plug into the Bay ecosystem. A good day can produce a memory as great as catching a trophy fish.
Keith's territory is the lower Choptank. He especially likes to find shoreline that includes fish-attracting structure like submerged stumps, riprap, old bulkheads, fallen trees, underwater grass beds, and points where wind- or tide-driven currents create eddies in which predator fish can ambush prey like minnows, grass shrimp, and crabs. In a known good spot, like a stump field, he'll anchor his skiff and fan-cast the structure, throwing 1/4- to 3/8-ounce bucktail jigs with medium-light spinning gear spooled with 10- to 15-pound-test braided line and a 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. With those jigs, he's looking for schoolie rockfish, but at dawn and dusk he'll also cast a popping or walk-the-dog surface plug. Sometimes, he'll cast a fly like a No. 2 Clouser Minnow with a 6- to 7-weight rod and a floating line, or go to a light spinning rod to cast a Roostertail or a Beetle Spin for big white perch. He also sometimes fishes bait, like chunks of peeler crab or grass shrimp, on bottom rigs. A two-hour session of this sort of fishing is a great way to begin or end a day.
Down in Tangier Sound, captains Dan Harrison (www.crisfield.com/fly) and Kevin Josenhans (http://www.josenhansflyfishing.com) are fishing the same way out of their 20-foot skiffs--concentrating not only on points, grass beds and stump fields, but also on creeks where outgoing tides flush crabs and baitfish out of marsh ponds and into holes that the currents have gouged out in the banks. Both guides are expert fly-fishers, but they also use spinning gear, especially jig heads with soft plastic tails and swim baits like Storm Shads. Their June mixed bag contains rockfish, but it also includes speckled trout, flounder, and croakers, which offer both strong fights and great eating. Both are retired police officers--Dan, a native Smith Islander, from both military and civilian service, and Kevin from the Maryland Natural Resources Police. Both have fished these waters for many years, so they are acutely tuned in to their home waters.
Across the Bay and some miles to the south, Jon Lucy is prowling Mobjack Bay in his 16-foot skiff--or with captains Ed Lawrence (www.speckulatercharters.com) and Phil Hughes (www.captphilhughes.com). Lucy recently retired after a long career as a recreational fishing specialist in the Marine Advisory Services Division of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), and he continues to volunteer with the Virginia game fish tagging program operated by VIMS and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).
Fishing Mobjack Bay and the Piankatank River, as well as the Bay shore up to Gwynn's Island, is much like working Tangier Sound because of the restored oyster reefs there--built by VMRC and seeded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Set in 6 to 10 feet of water and resembling giant inverted egg cartons, those concrete reefs break the surface at low tide. Because they are hazards to navigation, they are clearly marked. Fish tend to forage pockets and current eddies around the reefs.
A bonus addition to the anglers' mixed bag in this area is puppy drum (young red drum). Indeed, a jig or fly bounced down the side of one of these reefs could be eaten by any one of nearly a dozen species of fish. Lucy cautions, though, that the cold winter may have suppressed the number of specks and puppy drum. He'll be holding his breath until the fish show up in their usual haunts. There will be fish in these rich waters, but he and his friends may have to work harder for them this year than usual.
As to lures, Lucy, Lawrence and Hughes favor 1/4-ounce red jig heads with super-sharp hooks--especially Matzuos, when they can find them. Tails are soft plastic, especially 5-inch Berkley Gulp Jerk Shads (www.berkley-fishing.com) and 4- to 5 1/2-inch DOA CAL Jerk Shads (www.doalures.com). Jon Lucy's new favorite color for the larger DOA Jerk Shad is Silver Rush, (color number 414), which offers good contrast during the day and reflects low light well at dawn and dusk. Lucy favors spinning tackle, while Lawrence and Hughes fish both spin and fly.
As for me, I'll be prowling the Severn River around Annapolis in First Light, my 17-foot Whaler Montauk, and also wade-fishing the river's grass beds. Again, early and late are the best times. My friends and I will work riprap (like the Naval Academy seawall), old bulkheads that combine timber and rock, restoration oyster reefs (typically 6 to 15 feet deep here), docks, grass beds and underwater structure like the remains of the old Baltimore-Annapolis railroad bridge. We'll use the range of flies and lures described above, but add several others.
For white perch on open water shorelines, I favor small spoons like chartreuse/yellow or gold 1/4-ounce Little Cleo spoons (www.acmetackle.com), No. 3 Blue Fox Vibrax spinners (www.bluefox.com), similar Mepps spinners and Roostertail spinners. In grass beds, the venerable gold 1/4-ounce Johnson Silver Minnow (www.johnsonfishing.com) with a twister-tail grub is a surprisingly effective lure for big perch. Another surprise is that virtually every predator fish in the Severn will strike a 1/4-ounce suspending jerk bait like the Rapala X-Rap. Although most colors catch fish, my favorite is Clown (red head/green body). For rockfish, like John Lucy, I also like to skip soft jerk baits into the shade under docks, but I prefer to rig them weedless on weighted 3/0 to 5/0 swim-bait hooks like Owner Twistlocks (www.ownerhooks.com).
Summertime and the fishing is easy? Well, yes and no. All of us who fish this way have studied our waterways. We enjoy the daily challenges inherent in figuring out what is happening in the water and adapting our fishing strategies to those conditions. That's the fun part, along with curiosity about what fish are going to turn up and the satisfaction of releasing some carefully while taking home a few for a great Chesapeake summer meal. Come join us!