Fishing for striped bass in the middle bay region has certainly taken a turn in another direction when it comes to live lining spot. There are plenty of spot to be found in the lower sections of the tidal rivers but many of them are more of the human eating size variety rather than live lining size. They certainly are tasty and it is easy especially for kids to get into swinging them over the rail and filling a cooler. Cleaning a mess of spot brings about the reality of a small return for a lot of effort. Most fishermen simply cut the heads off and fry or bake. Although it is a lot of work the small boneless fillets make for some fine and simple eating when dredged in flour, egg batter and panko bread crumbs. One small note, is to be sure to let them set in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so they batter sticks and they come out crispy also make sure the oil is between 350-400 degrees. This method of course works well with croakers, white perch, flounder or any other fish fillet you wish to fry.
Live lining spot in the middle bay region has taken on a new dimension with the arrival of the bluefish. These buggers are swarming up behind fleets of boats intent on dropping live spot down to waiting striped bass holding close to the bottom. Needless to say the spot donít seem to be able to get out of sight before they are attacked and reduced to nothing in several bites. Lucky fishermen will hook a greedy bluefish coming up for the last bite; which is usually the head section with the hook. Some fishermen are of course annoyed with this thwarting of their striped bass plans but others will add "when you are given lemons, make lemonade" or in this case fresh bluefish fillets or smoked bluefish. Most of the bluefish being caught are just under two pounds and make for some fine eating if handled properly. A cooler with salt water and ice will turn them hard and firm and they should stay that way until you fillet them or prepare them otherwise. Be forewarned though if you let them turn soft you find youíll be working with mush. Filleted, skinned and then broiled or grilled makes for some fine eating. Try sprinkling some Lawryís seasoned salt on them and cooking them just till they are done and not any farther and add a dab of butter before eating.
One of the most favored options is to have a cool fish smoker, brine with salt and brown sugar for 24-hours and smoke over hickory at a low temperature for 6-10-hours depending on thickness of the fish. Some like to add a bit of teriyaki sauce or other flavorings so feel empowered to experiment; spreads can also be made if you like. Youíll make a lot of friends fast passing these out and it makes good use of a resource so donít cry the blues; rejoice in their bounty.
Those fishermen who are toting plenty of live spot and are sticking it out with the bluefish are catching some nice striped bass along the western side of the shipping channel mostly around the Gas Docks to the Power Plant, the southwest edge of the Gooses, the Clay Banks, the Hill and other structured edges where fish can be seen on depth finders holding tight. Others are choosing to troll medium bucktails, surge tubes and spoons either with inline weights or planers. Most have been able to do well and once and a while are catching a few Spanish mackerel as well. So far the catches of Spanish have been spotty but everyone has been seeing them grey hounding through breaking fish throughout the region.
Jigging under and casting to breaking fish is a common option this week as the action seems to be erupting most anywhere. A large percentage of the action is bluefish but the striped bass are mixing it up and most often can be found deeper underneath the surface mayhem.
Those that can get up and on the water before dawn have been finding striped bass cooperating in the shallow edges of the bay shores and lower tidal rivers. Casting surface poppers offers some exciting fun especially now that the striped bass are sharing the shallows with roaming bluefish. The evenings can also provide the same action but usually things donít really pickup till almost sunset. It can pay big dividends to drift a peeler crab bait on a dead stick while drifting and casting to the shorelines with plugs. There are some really large croakers that are also moving into the shallows to feed at these times and they can be a real bonus. Farther up the tidal rivers fishermen are finding a mix of small bluefish, spot, and small to medium croakers and white perch.
Most fishermen intent on catching the largest croakers are setting up on hard-bottomed shoal edges toward dusk and fishing peeler crab, shrimp or squid on a bottom rig, small bucktails or grub jig heads. Some of the croakers being caught near the mouth of Eastern Bay, Sharps Island Flats and channel edges in the lower Choptank are truly impressive. During the day fishing deep in the channels or locations such as Eastern Bay and the Airplane Wreck one can usually find medium sized croakers and that occasional jumbo sized one. More and more flounder are being caught as an incidental catch by croaker fishermen and those that are actually targeting them on good hard bottom near the channels are finding some of the finest flounder fishing most have seen in a while. So far this has been a very good year for flounder fishermen in the middle bay region.
Recreational crabbers are enjoying good crabbing in most locations this week. Heavy rains in some creeks have pushed crabs deeper and down towards the mouths of the creeks. There is a full moon this week so there will be some heavy crabs getting ready to shed; crabbers are also reporting a lot of small crabs on their baits.