Last week I heeded the warning of the weathermen and brought in my potted plants on Friday evening, expecting a hard frost to finish off any left outside overnight. I needn’t have worried, for the next day was cold, but not freezing.
While I was carrying those pots into the garage the night before, I noticed the sky was a most beautiful shade of deep pink at sunset, and I couldn’t help but recite the old sailor’s adage to my kids who were helping me: “Red sky at morn, sailors take warn; red sky at night, sailors’ delight.”
It brought a smile to my face because it was a good indication that the next day would be a success. We’d be getting up early and boarding the Shea-D-Lady for a fall rockfish fishing adventure.
Well, that red sky was right because Saturday was the perfect day for spending on the water. It happened to be quite chilly, but the cold normally wouldn’t daunt anyone in our family. However, as I’ve mentioned before, we will be moving soon and most of our belongings are packed in boxes that are stacked floor-to-ceiling in storage. Hats and gloves were thankfully easy to find; winter coats were nowhere to be found.
The kids were quite a motley crew that day, with everyone in layers and clothes that were borrowed or shared amongst sisters. It was no bother, since fishing isn’t a fashion show. Besides, if the layers didn’t work, we had packed tomato soup, a Yeti thermos of piping hot apple cider and a copious amount of Hot Hands that could save the day if all else failed.
As you may be aware, the rockfish population has taken a nosedive over the last few years, and, in a column earlier this year, I took a personal oath not to harvest any rockfish in 2019.
I ended up being able to keep that promise since the change in temperature brought along a nasty cold for our youngest daughter. My husband ended up solo parenting this fishing trip with the other four kids and I stayed home. To round out the nearly all-female crew, a neighbor brought along his two daughters. That made the final tally of the fishing party two dads and six daughters.
Capt. Bernie Shea runs a tight ship, but fortunately he has a soft spot for kids.
Charter captains cater to a diverse pool of clients, from team-building office parties that include people who have never fished before to three-generation families that take a special trip as a yearly tradition.
Capt. Shea’s boat, the Shea-D-Lady, comes equipped with all the amenities that make a couple hours out on the water far from roughing it. The heated cabin has a spacious booth where the kids like to chow down in between reeling in fish. And when it’s truly frigid outside, Capt. Shea keeps a kerosene heater to take the edge off for his guests.
The kids and their dads departed Solomons on Saturday morning and cruised up the Patuxent River to troll for rockfish. On the way upriver, the girls got a lesson in rigging the boat, deploying the planer boards and setting the rods. The mate, Brady, set the umbrella rigs with white and chartreuse shads. They spent the next four hours trolling the Patuxent, mostly meandering north of Broomes Island and south of the Golden Beach area.
Four of the girls onboard spend their weekday nights together at Gracie’s Guys and Gals Dance Studio for dance practice. We all know how dainty and demure a group of dancers can be. Wrong!
These girls started the trip out by wolfing down their packed lunches, finishing off their sandwiches before trolling even began. Envisioning nacho-flavored Doritos being consumed by living buzzsaws will give you a feel for that feeding frenzy. Capt. Shea and his mate will be sweeping Dorito crumbs out of nooks and crannies for weeks to come.
While they had a total of 12 lines out the whole time, every hit came from the boat rods. And nearly all of those came from the three rods directly on the stern.
It was a slow pick, so the girls would spend 30 to 45 minutes in anticipation, and then have four or five rods active at once. Between noon and 4 p.m., they landed 15 rockfish between 19 and 25 inches, which is perfect for us, as that size makes for the best eating. There were only three undersized fish that were thrown back. Everyone got to enjoy the experience of landing a rockfish. Even the two 4-year-olds enjoyed it. While their dads held the rod, they took turns turning the crank to get their fish in the boat. When the prize was flopping in the bucket, you could see the excitement and pride in the eyes of the little ones.
When everyone got home, it had been dark for quite some time and I had a large pot of corned beef and cabbage ready to warm their bones. At dinner, the girls were already asking us when we could go out again. One of my daughters borrowed a brand-new Boston Whaler pullover I’d just gotten and hadn’t had a chance to wear yet. I was hoping to christen it this fall myself, but she beat me to it with some fish slime on the sleeve.
We ended up freezing half the fillets and cooking up the rest for dinner the next night, making a taste test out of it. A third were grilled, a third were fried and a third were blackened in a frying pan. The outcome was a near tie, but the blackened rockfish won by a slight margin.
There’s still about a month left of fall rockfish season. If you’d like to catch some stripers, give Capt. Shea a call at 301-672-3282.
He’s got more than 30 years’ experience and can get you on the fish. His boat can accommodate parties up to 20 folks and has the amenities to fit everyone’s idea of a great time on the Chesapeake Bay or Patuxent River.