Had a good day at the CBBT last weekend, LTJing BAs and BKDs with a bunch of guys from TF.
To understand any of that you'd have to be one of the acronym-crazed regulars at tidalfish.com, the saltwater anglers' Web site that is rapidly putting people like me out of business.
Okay, to translate: CBBT is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel near Norfolk, and I had a fine time there light-tackle jigging (LTJing) Bass Assassins and Bass Candy Delights (BAs and BKDs) around the pilings for rockfish with the fellows from tidalfish (TF). Got it? Well, brace yourself, because there's much more.
To get right with TF, you must for starters know the difference between CR (the CR Buoy at the mouth of the Choptank River) and C&R, the practice of catch-and-release fishing; you'd better know your BB (Chesapeake Bay Bridge) from your CBBT 150 miles south or you're in for some long, pointless drives, and you'll have to distinguish the ESRP (Eastern Shore Rock Pile at the BB) from its counterpart to the west, the WSRP.
Once you get acclimated, you'll enjoy following the antics of a character called Graybeard, who battles over fishing time with his wife, SWMBO (she who must be obeyed), and you'll appreciate reports of TFers' unfortunate encounters on the water with SMIBs (Southern Maryland inbreds).
But let's get BTT (back to the top). The fishing and the weather were excellent last weekend at the 14-mile bridge-tunnel, which runs across the mouth of the Chesapeake from the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula to Norfolk. Big rockfish pass there this time of year on the way from the ocean to deep holes in the Chesapeake, where they wait for the water to warm in early spring, then head up the rivers to spawn.
This timely concentration of hungry migrants has been known to locals for years. The word has spread rapidly now that the Internet connects everyone. And nowhere is news of unfolding events at the CBBT more thoroughly explored and analyzed than on tidalfish.com, where dozens of weekly posts get hundreds of responses from thousands of viewers.
My host last weekend was Capt. Skip Slomski, a tidalfish.com stalwart from the Baltimore area who fishes the upper Chesapeake most of the year, then tows his 23-footer south to catch the last of the good times as winter draws the angling curtain down. Slomski regularly posts on TF, and his report of catching 80 rockfish on light tackle at CBBT a couple of weeks ago caught everyone's eye.
And I do mean everyone. The launch ramp at Kiptopeke State Park, a good four-hour drive from Washington and Baltimore, was aswarm with people when we launched at 6 a.m. and Slomski seemed to know many of them. "There goes Pete," he said as Capt. Pete "Walleye" Dahlberg sped by in the predawn gloaming. "Isn't that C.D. [Capt. Chris Dollar] over there?"
All were bound for the same place, the 14-mile stretch of concrete and rock rubble that Slomski calls "the biggest man-made fishing reef in the world." Indeed, the bridge-tunnel has a lot going for it -- miles and miles of underwater structure for fish to congregate and feed around, plus enhanced tidal flow from putting a huge obstruction where the current already runs hard.
We were four, Slomski, Mike Crum of Pasadena, Md., Larry Freed of Annapolis and me. Crum and Freed, tidalfish regulars, seemed to know many of the anglers around us, as well. We tied on Bass Assassins and Bass Candy Delights and began tossing them at the pilings. Almost instantly, Slomski hooked a good rockfish on a half-ounce jig with a seven-inch, white Bass Assassin tail; awhile later he hooked an even better rock that measured 37 inches from nose to tail, a whopper by any standard.
He stood there grinning. "I normally don't get to fish, I'm too busy guiding and running the boat." Since this was a makeup trip with some old fishing buddies, he took the opportunity to pick up a rod and in the early going was our top producer.
You'd think 14 miles of bridge would give everyone plenty of room but as the day wore on things got crowded. TFers are a gregarious and communicative bunch. They love to call each other on the cell phone when they hit a good spot, so everybody eventually winds up in the same place. It reminded me of largemouth bass fishing 20 years ago, when the hotspots were jammed weekend after weekend by many of the same people.
But as long as the tide kept running the bridge kept producing. In eight hours, we jigged up 25 rockfish or so, including Slomski's 37-incher and another 36-incher. Virginia rules allow anglers to keep two rockfish a day apiece, but keepers must be either 18 to 28 inches or over 34 inches, with those in the 28- to 34-inch "slot" protected. Reasoning that fish under 28 inches were better eating than those over 34, we kept only the smaller ones.
Slomski reckons the best fishing at CBBT is yet to come. With water temperatures in the mid-50s last weekend, the big push of rock into the bay probably hasn't occurred yet, he said. Virginia rockfish season runs till Dec. 31, and guides and outfitters will operate there till the season's bitter end.
This outing marked my first serious encounter with the TF crowd since last spring, when a column I wrote criticizing early-season fishing tournaments for large spawning rockfish drew outrage from its members. My feeling then (and now) was that offering big cash prizes for dead spawning fish was a sick concept and ought to be banned. The TFers, who love a good tournament, reamed me out on their Web site and several referred to me as an AH.
I still haven't figured out what AH stands for. Angling hack, maybe?
A number of Washington-Baltimore area fishing guides work the bridge tunnel this time of year.
Capt. Skip Slomski, 410-746-6907; Capt. Pete Dahlberg, 703-395-9955; Capt. C.D. Dollar, 410-991-8468; Capt. Mike Critzer, 301-253-5605; Capt. Mark Galasso, 410-827-5635; Capt. Richie Gaines, 410-827-7210.