Spring Rockfishing on the Chesapeake

Our magnificent Chesapeake Bay has much to offer everyone. Recently I called my long-time friend Captain Billy Pipkin of Ingram Bay Marina and arranged a fishing charter for a special friend and patron, John Hager of Richmond, Virginia. John was a business executive, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia 1998-2002, then Homeland Security Director, Assistant Secretary of Education in Washington and most recently, Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. He loves fishing and the outdoors. Our target was Morone saxatilis also called Atlantic striped bass or locally “rockfish”. John drove down from Richmond with friends Jim Alexander, Robley Bates, Peter Brown and Randy Gibbs and I invited our son Joshua and family friend David Mathews for our day of rockfishing on the Bay.

When Joshua and I arrived at the marina in Virginia’s Northern Neck about 7:30 that morning Capt. Billy was tonging up a nice catch of oysters for our lunch right off his personal oyster bar! Shortly thereafter the remaining crew arrived and we boarded Liquid Assets II, Captain Billy’s 46’ custom built fishing vessel. Our group of eight made ourselves at home while all manner of wonderful fare was loaded aboard the boat. Soon after, with the Captain at the helm and mate Bobby Wheeler stowing and readying gear we made our way out of Towles Creek on the Bay’s western shore near Reedville and headed east for Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake. It was a “bluebird day” with barely a ripple of the Bay’s surface.

Tangier harbor passing through the main channel.

Tangier harbor passing through the main channel.

Tangier Island as seen from above.

Tangier Island as seen from above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day before our Captain found large rockfish in the Maryland waters of Tangier Sound just northeast of the island. For our trip to the fishing grounds we would take the channel through Tangier Island as a shortcut to the sound. The first known European explorer of the island was John Smith in 1608. It is now is inhabited by hearty men and women who make their living primarily by working the shallow Bay around the area in search of crabs, oysters and fish.

Mid morning found us putting lines overboard in Tangier Sound just west of Crisfield, Maryland. We would troll for fish with 18 lines, both beside and behind the boat. Planer boards run 150 feet to each side of the boat and are attached to the boat by a long line, allowing many more baits to be fished off of release clips. That is a popular technique during the winter and spring. Morone saxatilis are anadromous fish in that they normally live their adult lives in saltwater but return to freshwater to spawn. Virtually all the fish being caught at this time were female that had already spawned and were heading back south.

It was not long before we heard the sound of a line screaming from the reel and the shouts of “fish on, fish on!” As we had already determined, John Hager took the first rod and I fitted him with a fighting belt as the fish was of considerable size and weight. John pumped the rod and cranked down on the line again and again gaining line with each cycle. We all felt like she was a nice fish but Hager made it look like a walk in the park due to his strength! Eventually the fish was off our stern and Capt. Billy stretched across the transom of the boat with a huge dip net. In one sweeping motion the great fish was swung out of the water and onto the boat’s deck.

Captain Billy Pipkin with John and his 47" rockfish.

John, his 47″ rockfish and Capt. Billy.

John and son Joshua Barber, Dr. Peter Brown and John Hager with the fishing rod.

John and son Joshua Barber, Dr. Peter Brown and John Hager with the fishing rod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now with this 47” fish in the box, estimated to be at or near the 40# minimum weight for a Virginia Citation, we all waited anxiously for the next line to scream off the reel…and we waited…and we waited. Capt. Billy explained that the day was young and that the spawn was late this year due to a cold, long winter and that we should be patient and again we waited. During this lull we took the opportunity for a group shot on the boat.

Randy Gibbs, Jim Alexander, John Hager, David Mathews, Dr. Peter Brown, Dr. Robley Bates, John Barber and Joshua Barber.

Randy Gibbs, Jim Alexander, John Hager, David Mathews, Dr. Peter Brown, Dr. Robley Bates, John Barber and Joshua Barber.

 

Jim, ready for a hearty meal at sea.

Jim, ready for a hearty meal at sea.

Captain Billy and David serving up a seafood lunch.

Capt. Billy and David serving up a seafood lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly thereafter Captain Billy served up a first course of steamed shrimp with his famous cocktail sauce and homemade crab cakes just off the grill served on a toasted bun! We all enjoyed these delicious offerings from the galley and then it was back to focusing on the fishing. And again we waited and our Captain explained how he uses his electronic sonar equipment to locate schools of bait as well as rockfish. Anytime now we’d hear “fish on”… so we waited… then out of nowhere the crew served up Atlantic oysters on the half shell as well as roasted with wonderful sauces.

Capt. Billy shucking fresh oysters for us.

Capt. Billy shucking fresh oysters for us.

 

 

Randy and John enjoying crabcakes and conversation.

Randy and John enjoying crabcakes and conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter and Robley- what a day to be on the Chesapeake!

Peter and Robley- what a day to be on the Chesapeake!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captain Billy ex[laining to John how he had saved the prime cuts of the fish from the day before for us: the rockfish "Cheeks and Jowls" are heading for the grill!

Captain Billy explaining to John how he had saved the prime cuts of the fish from the day before for us: the rockfish “Cheeks and Jowls” are heading for the grill!

What a magnificent day, still barely a cloud in the sky and just a gentle, warm breeze from the south. We had Tangier Sound to ourselves and we could see the waterfront of Crisfield to the east. And then again Captain Billy appeared on deck with fresh rockfish from the day before and prepared them on his deck grill to everyone’s delight. In addition we enjoyed homemade baked beans, potato salad, Virginia peanuts accompanied by beer, wine, soda and bottled water. For dessert we had cinnamon buns and muffins.

 

Capt. Pipkin has been on the Bay for most of his life and he is a stong and well-informed proponent of its protection.

Capt. Pipkin has been on the Bay for most of his life and he is a stong and well-informed proponent of its protection.

The trip back across the Bay from the Eastern Shore of Maryland gave John and John a chance to discuss the day.

The trip back across the Bay from the Eastern Shore of Maryland gave John and John a chance to discuss the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch Captain Billy spoke eloquently about the Chesapeake’s ecology, economic value to the nation and our need to value and protect it’s delicate balance.

Back at the Captain's Ingram Bay Marina after a fantastic day aboard Liquid Assets II. Standing- John, Jim,Peter, Randy, David,Joshua and Robley. Foreground-Capt. Billy and John

Back at the Captain’s Ingram Bay Marina after a fantastic day aboard Liquid Assets II. Standing- John, Jim,Peter, Randy, David,Joshua and Robley. Foreground-Capt. Billy and John

That was a rare day that we’ll all remember. And yes, we would have liked to have caught another fish or two but with a beauty like the one John hauled in, none of us felt deprived. We all took fish home; left some for another time and enjoyed a great day on the Bay with old and new friends.

Captain Billy Pipkin performed magnificently again as he has done so many times before for my friends and me. He took us to the fish and provided an exciting day sprinkled with his insights of our great Chesapeake Bay. Please visit his website and charter Liquid Assets II in the Chesapeake or offshore Atlantic Ocean out of Virginia Beach. You’ll not be disappointed. www.captbillyscharters.com/

JMB