Quick question: What do Robert Steiner, Jerome Szymanski, William R. Peake, Arnold Tretton, Mike Kane, Joyce Loudenslager, Rudy Mandish, William Hollowak, William D. Ryland, Victor Struder, Pat Brophy, Barry Kushner and Fred W. Neighoff have in common?
If you said they sound like people who all caught bluefish weighing 15 pounds or more last May near Hackett's Point on the Chesapeake Bay, you'd win a free trip trolling for Egg McMuffins at the U.S. 50 McDonald's.
One of the great saltwater fishing discoveries of the last few years is the May invasion of the shallows around Hackett's by giant bluefish. Hackett's Point lies on the Bay's western shore, practically in the shadow of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. That's a 45-minute drive from Washington to a month of some of the sportiest fishest there is.
The one- to six-foot-deep shoal just south of the twin Bay spans is accessible to people in rubber rafts, windsurfers, water wings and anything else that floats. A 15-foot boat is ideal on a good day. The blues are cruising around in water that sometimes barely covers their backs. You can even wade after them.
The May bluefish are huge and they are red-hot hungry. Today being May 1, they are officially back for more of the same, 1981-style.
"We weighed several in here today," Mary Walls of Angler's Bait and Tackle on U.S. 50 said Tuesday. "I had one that was 16 1/2 pounds. They were catching them on Hackett's and across the bay off the Matapeake Pier.
"The ones on this side [at Hackett's] were in the areas they call the Moss Pond and the Goose Pond," he added, naming two very shallow areas quite close to shore and just south of the western end of the bridge.
The bluefishing season traditionally begins in the Chesapeake with the arrival of the largest fish that are likely to be here all year. These hungry giant are passing through, heading north to New England. They follow menhaden up the Bay, and oddly enough one of their earliest stop-to-feed points is way up here, just outside Annapolis.
Joe Reynolds applauds the phenomenal May fishing flats in the Mid-Bay in the May issue of Salt Water Sportsman. In that article he cites a new theory on why the blues come to these places.
Each spring there is a fish kill of menhaden, and these fish turn belly-up in the mid-Bay, Reynolds notes. The bluefish chow down while the menhaden are in the process of dying.
"Originally it was thought the menhaden kill was caused by pollution," Reynolds writes, "but recent work by Dr. Frank Hetrick and Ed Stephens of the University of Maryland and Marty Newman of the National Marine Fisheries Services shows that the fish are afflicted by a virus that causes disorientation and death.
"While the sick menhaden wander aimlessly about in the shallows, big blues come in for an easy banquet."
Indeed they do. Last year I learned about shallow-water plugging for blues almost too late to enjoy it. It was the first of June, and the fellows at Angler's said the run had passed. I called Jay, who has a small bass boat, and we decided to give it a last try anyway.
The blues were still there, though only up to about 10 pounds. They were swirling and breaking in the shallows off Hackett's, and we pitched big popping lures at them, chugging the lures back across the surface.
In the fading light of evening the big fish came rampaging after these noisy, spraying lures, charging clear out of the water to hit the plugs.
It was enough to take your breath away. We caught several, and a lot more got away.
We found that the biggest, noisiest lures worked best, and proper tackle was a nine-foot surf rod, for distance in hurling the big plug.Flycasters also score, using big popping flies.
As Reynolds points out in his article, this kind of fishing is so new that no one knows where else in the middle Bay the big blues might be. They are known to hit along the east side of the Bay in the shallows from Love Point to Bloody Point, and there may well be big surface-feeding monsters in the shoals of Thomas Point, Curtis Point and elsewhere on the west side.
Unfortunately, this year this all came about four days sooner than expected; I haven't had a chance to explore it yet myself. This weekend look for a white 17-footer with about eight guys in it -- I'm bringing the neighborhood.