Anglers in the hinderlands of America no doubt picture the Washington area as a wasteland for fishermen. Actually, the metropolitan area has within easy day-trip range more variety in this sport than most places.
Unfortunately, all too few anglers have the time or inclination to fully explore this richness. Freshwater anglers are perhaps the most insular of all in their fishing interests. Bass fanatics have more than enough large and smallmouth waters locally to fill all of their sparkling mountain streams to the west every free moment; panfishermen are happy with a cane pole, a bucket of minnows and a tiny farm pond close at hand.
But for those among this freshwater fraternity wishing to expand into the saltwaters, the perfect quarry is waiting in the wings, ready to bite with frenzy. In fact, he is almost guaranteed to chomp down on your baits so many times that you may never go back to matching the hatch for trout or wrrestling with "hog" bass. Be forewarned.
The fish, of course, is the blue, the Pomatomus saltatrix. Dedicated saltwater anglers likely have tussled with so many hundreds of these lean, mean, slate-gray battlers over recent years that they have grown weary of them. But for the sweetwater angler bent on expanding his repertoire, the blue is without question the fish to start with. For pure sport and power on the end of a light line, no freshwater fish can compare with these ubiquitous battlers.
The first blues arrived in the Chesapeake and off the beaches of the Atlantic in March. They'll be around in glut numbers until sometime in November.
While most freshwater fish seldom top five pounds, blues up to 10 and 15 pounds are not uncommon locally. True, the heftier specimens are more prevalent early and late in the year, but a few "choppers" usually are mingled in with every school of blues, even during summer months.
And for numbers, few sweetwater fish can match the catch of a typical bluefish charterboat outing. Captain David Rowe, who skipped the Ken-Ma-ray out of Lewisetta, Va. has caught more than 100 fish numerous times this spring plying the rich waters off the mouth of the Potomac. And, although he is a skilled bluefish captain, Rowe's catch figures are fairly typical of the hauls made by experienced skippers during these halcyon blue angling days.
While there are two common and effective ways of catching blues from boats, one of them, trolling, should be reserved for those who are more interested in boat riding than fishing. The only fishing involved in this approach is the cranking on a heavy reel handle on a line the mate has rigged and set out.
Chumming and, where possible, tossing plugs to breaking fish, are the real sporting methods for catching bay blues. Best of all, your freshwater bass tackle, even panfishing gear, is perfectly suited for the fun. Little or no weight is used and the offerings presented to the fish are not much bigger than a quarter-ounce spinnerbait.
Chumming exploits the blue's keen sense of smell and taste and plays on his seeminly unquenchable appetite. So much pleasure does this fish take from eating that it often gorges itself, then vomits up what it has just eaten so that it can tear into still more frantic baitfish and stuff itself again.
Biologists have found, in fact, that once a blue is filled to the gills, the best way to tempt him into eating still more is to offer yet bigger bait than what he's been feeding on. A tip worth keeping in mind when strikes are coming slow.
But that should be a rarity on the typical chumming trip. Often the first fish is on before the chum hits the water if the captain has located an area where blues like to hang out.
Typically, this will be on the edge of a shipping channel or near rockpiles, points or shoal edges in 20 to 40 feet of water.
Menhaden or spot are pulverized in electric or gas-powered meat grinders into a putrid pink gruel that is ladled out into the water every few minutes. The trick is use just enough chum to make a slick on the water from the oily bait fish. The ground menhaden should attract the blues and persuade them to feed on the small bits of chum floating with the tide, but not be enough to sate their appetites.
With the fish primed by the chum and eager for a bigger mouthful, your fillets, bunker backs or whole menhaden baits should then be drifted back in the tidal sweep to the hungry predators. Usually there is not much finesse needed, but sometimes it pays to stop the line for a moment as it is drifting, then let out a little more line. This seems to have a tantalizing effect on finicky feeders.
At other times, when the tide is swift, cast far out to get the bait in the chum and back to the fish, which often hang further back under such conditions. c
More often than not, simply tossing the bait a few feet out from the boat and allowing it to drift in the flow will result in a sharp tug and the line racing out as a blue charges off with the bait. Wait a few seconds, close the bail and tighten back hard on the fleeing quarry.
You should have the fight of your life on your hands. But be careful. Blues can be spoilers. You may never go back to your beloved base and trout. b
Bluefish chumming centers around the mouth of the Potomac, but the sport is practiced everywhere from the middle bay to the Atlantic. All you need is a willing captain and a source of bait. Here are a few places where bluefishing via the chumline is done regularly:
Sheibles Fishing Center, Wynne, Md.; Rod 'n' Reel, Chesapeake Beach, Md.; David Rowe, Lewisetta, Va.; Fletcher Potts, Smith Point, Va.