BOD BAYLOR of New Carrollton went out on the Chesapeake Bay the other day and only caught a few small bluefish. But he wasn't complaining. In fact, he was downright pleased.
Baylor came back with 21 sea trout, weighing between 51/2 and 11 pounds, caught in about 30 minutes of frantic fishing. He adds that 10 more trout got away as they neared the boat. "That's some of the best trout fishing in the shortest amount of time," he says.
Baylor is one of many area anglers fortunate enough to have run into the sea trout's spring run in the Bay. While now is the best time to fish for them because of their feeding frenzies on the surface, they'll be around through the summer and on into the fall, until the water temperatures start to drop.
The Chesapeake is one of the major spawning areas for the sea trout or, more properly, cynoscion regalis, or weakfish. Why weak? "If you're talking about his fighting talents, the name suits him about like 'puny' fits a professional football tackle," wrote Bill Wisner in his book, "How to Catch Salt-water Fish."
The only thing weak about the weakfish is the mouth -- which should give you an idea of how tricky it can be to land one. "The membrane connecting the jawbones is thin and easily torn and many fish go free before they reach the net by the hook being torn out of their mouths," says Thomas Helm in his book, "Fishing Southern Salt Waters."
"On numerous occasions I have seen the hook actually drop out of their mouths the moment the line is allowed to go limp," Helm says. "The angler would do well to maintain a constant tension on the line from the instant of the strike until the fish is landed."
But at the same time "don't be too anxious to work on him with your reel crank," recommends Wisner. Let him run. "You'll be able to tell when he's tiring. Then, and only then, should you attempt to retrieve appreciable amounts of line. Don't make the error of trying to crank in a weakfish when he wants to go. You'll be asking for a ripped-out hook."
So how do you catch these fish?
Right now, trollers such as Baylor are having all the fun. Baylor reports that "these fish ate anything."
"In fact, if we hooked up the cooler, I believe we would have caught fish," he says.
If you're going to troll for them, you might try a yellow bucktail with a red or yellow pork rind attached. That's the lure that is having the most success right now, according to Baylor and Ken Lamb of The Tackle Box in Lexington Park, Md. "The early (trout) season usually calls for big bucktails from 5/0 up to 8/0," Lamb says. "Later, trollers will switch to smaller lures and use a lot of white bucktails."
Baylor recommends trolling deep, using anywhere from 10 to 20 ounces of lead. And if you see smaller bluefish feeding on the surface, he says, you'll probably find trout below them. Remember: the more lead you use, the deeper you go.
The trout schools are "definitely on the move," Lamb reports. Since they don't stay put, you'll have to continually hunt for them. Lamb recommends using "double rigs and lots of lines . . . even if it means chaos when eight or 10 fish are hooked at the same time."
There are plenty of other ways to catch trout besides trolling. They are coming up to chum lines, so you can top-fish for them. Depending on the current, you may want to use a cork float to keep the bait on the surface or some split-shot to sink it a little.
You can also bottom-fish for trout. Wisner recommends using a technique that he calls the "settling-lifting-settling process." What you do is drop your bottom rig and sinker to the bottom and then lift the rig a little so that the current will carry it a few feet. Keep repeating that "until 150 to 200 or more feet of line have paid out," Wisner says. "Sometimes a strike won't occur until the rig is out quite a distance." Then, he says, retrieve "slowly by again repeatedly lifting the rig slightly with your rod and allowing it to hit bottom.
"A retrieve is a good test of whether or not your sinker is heavy enough," Wisner says. "You should be able to feel it thump. If no hit occurs during a retrieve, go through the whole business again."
You can also catch sea trout in the surf, and a popular surf-casting spot on the Bay is the causeway at the Point Lookout National Park. But you're wasting your time if the water isn't clear. Trout don't like dirty water, according to Joel Arrington, writing in the magazine Wildlife in North Carolina.
And what's a good bait for top- bottom- crab is working well, but it's hard to keep it on your hook. Another good bait is the dome-shaped tab ofthe softshell female crab. Shrimp, live minnows and cut mullet also work well. "About the only requirement a trout insists upon is that what the angler offers him must be fresh," Helm says.
Another must for trout is a light, whippy rod, even for surf-casting. The light rods absorb some of the shock of a fighting fish so as not to tear the hook out. And the heavier your tackle, the less fun you'll have fighting this not-so-weak weakfish.
Remember that trout meat "loses firmness and flavor rather rapidly after catching," Wisner says. "To minimize these losses, place them on ice immediately after catching; then clean them as soon as possible and keep them iced until you get home." WHAT'S THE CATCH?
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
POTOMAC RIVER -- To give you an idea of what you might catch if you fish in the District's stretch of the Potomac, here are the winners of the Riverfest fishing tournament last weekend:
In the adult category, Charles Keenan won the trophy for the longest fish with a 34-inch channel catfish, weighing 13 pounds, four ounces; Lawrence Smith caught the heaviest fish, a 20-pound carp; trophy for the most unusual fish went to Jim Szewczyk for a one- pound eel.
In the teenage category, a bluegill caught by Donnie Rice was the longest fish; a sunfish caught by Frank Vaughn was the heaviest and a bluegill caught by Robin Szewczyk was the most unusual.
In the children's category, a channel cat caught by Marlyn Jamalin was the longest fish; Becky Szewczyk won for the heaviest fish by catching a yellow perch and a bluegill; and the most unusual fish was a one-eyed yellow perch, caught by Alex and Anna Goldstein. MARYLAND
MATTAWOMAN CREEK -- Good news for Mattawomanizers. Alewives (baitfish) have moved into this and other creeks of the Potomac, and largemouth bass have suddenly started licking their chops, Monty Embrey of the Rockville Trading Post says. A 61/2-pound largemouth was caught with a buzz bait. That's large for this creek, but five-pounders are not unusual here, he says. "When the bass turn on (in the Mattawoman), they really come on strong," Embrey says, "and it looks as though they're turning on now."
LOWER POTOMAC AND WICOMICO RIVER -- Bloodworms will fetch up some white perch in both the Wicomico and the Potomac, while the catfish are biting on fresh cut alewives and fresh chicken livers.
UPPER POTOMAC -- Unless you're a big fan of muddy water and catfish, the upper Potomac is "still bad," says Embrey.
TRIADELPHIA RESERVOIR -- Run a No. 9-size jointed Rapala through this reservoir and you have a good chance of coming up with a largemouth, Embrey says. Anglers coming into the Rockville Trading Post have reported catching a large number of largemouth in the one-ys. VIRGINIA
LAKE ANNA -- Largemouth bass are hitting plastic worms in eight to 20 feet of water, Greg Meek of Sturgeon Creek Marina says. The best colors are purple metal-flake or black-purple. The bass aren't easy to catch, he says: "It's pretty tough fishing right now." Catfish are being caught with cut bait, "or just about anything," he says, and the crappie fishing is still good. Use minnow jigs for crappie, Meek advises.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR -- Largemouth bass are on the move, and anglers are bringing in two-c worms, reports Andy Lynn of The Lynn Co. in Occoquan. The color of the worm, he says, isn't making any difference. Crappie also are hot, and you can catch "20 to 30 of them at a pop." Small shiners are working best on crappie, which are in the one-half to three- quarter-pound range, he says.
OCCOQUAN RIVER -- Two- stripers (16 to 18 inches long) are being caught in the river, Lynn reports. The rockfish are going after quarter-ounce bucktails with twister grubs, as well as bloodworms and large shiners. (Remember, there's a creel limit on stripers in Virginia waters -- five fish a day, only two of which may be under 14 inches or over 40 inches.) You also can expect to catch catfish between eight and 13 pounds at the mouth of the Occoquan (where it meets the Potomac), Lynn adds. Cut bait is having the most luck with the cats. Anglers are bringing in bluegill as well, he says.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER -- Smallmouth bass are going after live minnows, Metts spinners, beetlespins and Bagley Bangolures, reports Karl Gentry of Chesley's Tackle Shop in Fredericksburg. The best action is two to three miles upriver from Fredericksburg. Downriver, the largemouth bass are active in the tidal water and creeks. They're going after plastic worms (grape or purple colors are working best), Gentry says. Blue catfish also have moved into the river. Two cats weighing 18 and 21 pounds were brought in to Chesley's last weekend. Use cut bait for the cats. Striper action has slowed, he reports. ATLANTIC OCEAN
OCEAN CITY -- Mako sharks have just appeared, reports Capt. Warren Boerum of the "Serenity." You can find them about 26 miles offshore at a place called the "Fingers."
How do you catch them? Very carefully.
First, float a milk carton of frozen, ground-up alewives off the back of your boat for a chum slick. Then, attach a mackerel to your line, drop it down about eight feet and tie a balloon to the line. "And when the balloon goes down, your heart stops," Boerum says.
Boerum recommends going out with a charter captain. He not only has the wherewithal to catch the sharks, but also knows what to do with them after they're on board. "The problem is you just don't know when they're dead," Boerum says. Blue sharks, he says, are mixed in with the makos.
Also being caught off Ocean City are bluefish ("all that you can handle," Boerum says), sea bass and flounder.