Rockfish breakers

Rockfish are breaking in the Chesapeake Bay. There are plenty of small fish nearly everywhere. Notice birds circling surface feeders in the background and for fishermen who find them, they’ll find fish beneath and there will be some big ones beneath that.

Long-time readers of this column know that I often remark on the beauty and bounty of Southern Maryland. The forests, fields and shorelines and all they have to offer for hikers, hunters, fishermen and nature enthusiasts.

However, in these modern times it’s easy to forget the value of what nature offers us. If you desire food or drink of any kind, just hop in your car and drive to the nearest shopping center to fill up a cart. No need to catch, grow or brew your own.

Not that long ago, the Southern Maryland community was more rural and less modernized. A larger percentage of the population earned their keep working the water. And the success of those watermen was very important. If the watermen had a good year harvesting the bounty of our waters, everyone in the community benefitted.

The annual Blessing of the Fleet takes place this weekend in Coltons Point. For more than 50 years, local clergy have asked the blessing of the divine to protect our watermen (or is “water persons” more appropriate nowadays?) and ensure a fruitful harvest. This event is an opportunity for folks to get more in touch with the culture and history of our region.

While the two-day festival offers a lot of enjoyable activities such as lighthouse tours and parades, the true focus of the event is on the life of the waterman, the humble beginnings of Maryland and the founding principle of our state, religious freedom.

Father Andrew White celebrated the very first recorded Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies on St. Clements Island in the Potomac River in 1634. To honor that first mass, a special mass will be held on the island at 3 p.m. Sunday, weather permitting.

Now, if you’ve ever been to St. Clements Island Museum, you know the parking there is sparse. This weekend, visitors will park nearby and take a shuttle to the event.

The Blessing of the Fleet is a fundraiser for the 7th District Optimist Club, which reaches out and helps the youth and community in and around St. Mary’s County’s 7th District.

The cost is $10 for visitors 13 and older, while children 12 and under are free. Hours are noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

There’s so much rich history surrounding us here in Southern Maryland. This weekend, the Blessing of the Fleet is your opportunity to take a little of it in.

Southern Maryland lakes and ponds — Anthony Hancock, manager of Gilbert Run Park in Dentsville, reports bass and bluegill are still following their summer schedule. With summer-like temperatures this week, conditions aren’t likely to change yet. Bass are biting longer into the morning hours and earlier in the evening with the lower sun angle.

Reader Stan Stepura fished a private farm pond and large private lake last week on the Eastern Shore with Capt. Bruce Wooten (410-632-1431).

Stepura caught over 30 largemouth bass weighing up to 3 1/2 pounds on a wacky-rigged worm and two bonus “slab”-sized crappie on a safety-pin spinner.

Crappie are beginning to school up near structure in deep water. Minnows under a slip bobber are an enticing bait for crappie.

Patuxent River — Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park (301-863-8151) said there’s still spot and perch in the rivers for bottom fishermen.

Shallow-water trollers using white bucktails are catching stripers at daybreak. Crabs are big and plentiful. This past Saturday, a trotliner running near Seabreeze caught his limit of females by 9 a.m. and had bushels of No. 1 males coming out his ears.

Potomac River — Reel Bass Adventures guide Andy Andrzejewski (301-932-1509) said topwater action for bass has been strong with the bite lasting late into the day.

Poppers fished over and around grasses in the creeks and main river will collect both quality and numbers. Andrzejewski recommends following up in the same areas with a small white spinnerbait buzzed just across the top of grasses.

Snakeheads continue to be active and will strike topwater baits or a wacky-rigged stick worm. Catfish are a given wherever you fish.

Life Outdoors Unlimited guide Capt. Kenny Penrod III (240-478-9055) has been fishing Mattawoman Creek this past week and recommends trying for stripers on incoming tides. Crappie fishing should start taking off now, too. There are many young bass in the creek, but the bigger ones are concentrated between March Island and Stump Neck cliffs.

Lamb said perch are in the creeks along with lots of speckled trout in the 9- to 12-inch range. The St. Mary’s River has had a huge run of tiny trout mixed with big perch.

Juniata and Susquehanna rivers (Pa.) — LOU guide Capt. Ken Penrod (240-447-2206) reports that it’ll soon be too cool to safely wade, so drifting, ’yaking and responsibly jet boating are your most viable options. Johnny Cunningham of Riverfront Campground (717-877-2704) is your man for rentals and shuttle service.

Evening is the best time for bass fishing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch some during daylight hours. Just avoid the high-sun periods or fish on an overcast day.

Lake Anna (Va.) — Guide C.C. McCotter from McCotter’s Lake Anna Guide Service (540-894-3540) reports vertically jigging from the Route 208 bridge to The Splits is resulting in some nice striper catches. Trolling has been productive, especially with Deep Walleye Bandit crankbaits.

McCotter predicts the fish mid-lake will be moving into the lower up-lake region soon.

Chesapeake Bay — It sure was hot when it was hot, but cobia season is now over.

Recreational angler Eric Packard left Solomons on the Reely Hooked this past Monday, hoping to catch a few cobia on the last day of the season. Packard and his buddy struck out on cobia, but the rockfish and bluefish were willing to play ball. They caught 29 rockfish (average size 15 inches) and 14 bluefish that were “nice and fat.”

The fish were chasing bay anchovies, an entire stretch of them from the Target Ship to the gas docks, with fish and birds feeding everywhere.

Lamb said you can still catch rockfish and bluefish that are schooled up chasing bait up and down the ship’s channel. Hungry gulls are chasing the bait making it easy to find the fish.

Trollers using spoons or bucktails are catching breakers on the edges of the schools. Troll deep underneath the surface frenzy to find the bigger rockfish. Lamb said tandem rigs with 20-ounce weights on a drop are the key to catching big stripers.

Atlantic Ocean — Monty Hawkins on the Morning Star (410-520-2076) headed out to Sue Foster’s Reef this past Sunday. Volunteers did a little fishing while dropping 226 chimney blocks, broken reef unit pieces and the very first prototype pyramid overboard, catching triggers up to 17 inches and sea bass up to 18 1/2.

Tip of the week

Ken Penrod said even though pools are closed for the season, you’ll want to skip swimming in the rivers while drought conditions persist. Dangerous bacteria can thrive during these dry spells.

“Line-biters” beware and folks eating lunch onboard should thoroughly clean their hands with disinfectant wipes.