For tro­phy rock­fish, pa­tience pays off

The Southern Berks News - - LOCAL NEWS - Tom Ta­tum Colum­nist

Set­ting out to build his own char­ter boat from scratch back in 1973, Tom Ire­land re­al­ized the epic task would re­quire plenty of pa­tience. But work­ing from just a stem pat­tern and rib pat­tern and re­ly­ing on Ju­niper Cedar from North Carolina to serve as plank­ing for the hull (later coated with fiber­glass) Ire­land ul­ti­mately launched his 42foot craft, a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Dead­rise de­sign boast­ing a 15½ foot beam, in 1975. The prod­uct of Ire­land’s two year la­bor of love, which he jus­ti­fi­ably chris­tened “Pa­tience,” has been a main­stay of the Solomons, Md., fish­ing scene ever since.

Ire­land, who be­came a li­censed cap­tain in 1973, served as a Mary­land State Po­lice­man for 25 years be­fore re­tir­ing in 1989. Tobacco farm­ing is also a ma­jor part of his pro­fes­sional re­sume and he still lives on his 66 acre spread in Hunt­ing­town, Md., just out­side of Solomons on the Ch­e­sa­peake’s West­ern Shore. The 74 year-old Ire­land, a life­long res­i­dent of Calvert County, Md., be­gan pi­lot­ing his first boat, a lit­tle skiff, when he was just 12, and his love of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay never fal­tered.

It is my plea­sure to meet Cap­tain Ire­land when I re­port to the docks at the Calvert Ma­rina at 5:30 a.m. last Wed­nes­day to test my luck on the Ch­e­sa­peake’s tro­phy rock­fish. Join­ing me are a cadre of other an­glers in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Ma­sonDixon Out­door Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion – Harry Guyer, Dana Trout­man, and Mike Klimkos. Also aboard is Heather Skyrm of the Calvert County De­part­ment of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment who ar­ranged this an­gling ad­ven­ture.

Truth be told, we had orig­i­nally boarded the Pa­tience early Tues­day morn­ing, but su­per snotty weather kept us tied to the Back Creek dock as the well-sea­soned cap­tain cau­tiously as­sessed our chances. A few other im­pa­tient boats swag­gered out to­ward the bay, but, de­spite their ini­tial bravado, just as quickly pulled back. Blus­tery winds would make fish­ing with planer boards vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble this day, so we would pa­tiently and pru­dently post­pone the trip un­til to­mor­row.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing a rainy driz­zle per­sists be­neath over­cast skies but the winds and seas have sig­nif­i­cantly calmed. At 5:30 Ire­land fires up the col­lec­tive 900 horse­power of the Pa­tience’s twin Cum­mins diesels and, ably as­sisted by vet­eran mate Bobby Thomas, shoves off to­ward the Patux­ent River. Fif­teen bumpy miles and forty min­utes later we ar­rive at our Ch­e­sa­peake Bay fish­ing grounds near the Gas Docks. There Thomas goes to work let­ting out two planer boards, each at­tached to 75 yards of ca­ble on ei­ther side of the boat. With the craft chug­ging along at trolling speed, Ire­land ap­points Trout­man to man the helm while the cap­tain helps the mate set out 23 fish­ing lines, most of them clipped to the plan­ner board ca­bles.

The 80-pound test lines are run out at var­i­ous dis­tances and depths with ter­mi­nal tackle con­sist­ing of green or white nine-inch shad baits along with a few um­brella rigs. By 7:00 a.m. the lines are set and, with Ire­land back at the helm, we are trolling at 2.5 to 3.3 miles per hour in 50 feet of wa­ter.

Two hours pass by as the rolling seas set­tle down and Guyer cheer­fully ser­e­nades us with too many cho­ruses of “The Wreck of the Ed­mund Fitzger­ald.” But de­spite one ex­cit­ing false alarm when a tan­gle of branches snags one of the rigs, we have zero fish­ing ac­tion. “The tide’s run­ning hard,” notes Thomas, who works for the Calvert County Wa­ter and Sewer Main­te­nance De­part­ment when he’s not on the wa­ter. “That’s not good, but we’ll wait it out.”

While Thomas blames the strong tides for our lack of rock­fish ac­tion, Ire­land cites poor man­age-

ment of the fish­ery. “Rock­fish num­bers are down thanks to com­mer­cial fish­er­men who are ham­mer­ing them up and down the coast year round,” he laments. “It’s been pretty slow so far this year. Some days we get close to our lim­its, other days we’ll get just one fish. Right now there are about twenty boats fish­ing out here and so far they’ve caught just one fish be­tween them.”

Al­though Mary­lan­ders call this species rock­fish, the an­gling fra­ter­nity out­side the state knows them as striped bass or stripers. Mary­land’s tro­phy sea­son on these fish al­ways opens the third Satur­day in April (this year that was April 15) and runs through May 15 on des­ig­nated bay wa­ters. Each an­gler is per­mit­ted to keep a limit of just one fish of at least 35 inches in length. From May 16 through May 31, an­glers may keep a limit of two fish, both 20 to 28 inches, or one that length and the other larger than 28 inches on des­ig­nated bay wa­ters. Those same reg­u­la­tions ap­ply to the en­tire Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its trib­u­taries from June 1 through De­cem­ber 20 this year.

We pa­tiently await our first rock­fish en­counter of the morn­ing and it fi­nally comes at 9:45. Since

Heather Skyrm has never caught a rock­fish, the gen­tle­men agree to a “ladies first” pol­icy. So Thomas hands Skyrm the rod and coaches her in the fine art of bat­tling a hefty rock­fish. After a bit of a strug­gle, Skyrm man­ages to crank the fish to the boat. As Thomas pre­pares to grab the leader, Ire­land is there to man the net and haul a nice 38-inch rock­fish over the rail. “That just made my day!” ex­claims a mildly ex­hausted but gen­uinely ex­cited Skyrm. Hoist­ing the fish, she poses for the req­ui­site photo shoot as our col­lec­tive cam­eras click away like pa­parazzi at a Kar­dashian sight­ing.

The rest of us are re­lieved that we won’t be skunked, but we needn’t have wor­ried. Some 45 min­utes later a sec­ond fish hits. I’m next up and I work the reel as Thomas and Ire­land team up to boat the fish, a nice le­gal rock that stretches to 41½ inches. Five min­utes later, an­other fish strikes and, fol­low­ing a lengthy tus­sle, Guyer is re­warded with a 37-inch fish. “The tide’s slack­ing and the fish are turn­ing on,” grins Thomas.

The fish­ing ac­tion slows a bit but a few ticks after 11:00 we hook up again and Klimkos pulls in a nice 40-incher on an um­brella rig. Based on their size, Ire­land judges the stripers we’ve boated are 2003 and 2005 class fish.

By noon much of the Ch­e­sa­peake fleet has joined us, fish­ing just north of Cove Point. The sun breaks through, the weather warms, the ac­tion slows, and Guyer treats us to a few more ver­sus of “The Wreck of the Ed­mund Fitzger­ald.” Trout­man re­mains the only an­gler aboard that hasn’t scored his rock­fish limit. After an­other two hours passes, he resigns him­self to a fish­less fate.

But Ire­land hasn’t named his boat Pa­tience for noth­ing. The de­ter­mined cap­tain keeps on trolling un­til, at long last, an­other rock­fish hits - and it’s a big one. Trout­man takes the rod from Thomas and cranks un­til his arms start cramp­ing. The bat­tle rages on as Trout­man even­tu­ally coaxes the fish to the tran­som where Ire­land scoops the fish into the boat. It’s a whop­per, around 42 inches long, about the same as my fish, but much fat­ter. “About 25 pounds!” es­ti­mates Thomas.

“Well worth the wait,” nods a rub­bery-armed Trout­man. It’s 1:30 in the af­ter­noon, time to break down the rigs, reel in the lines, pull in the planer boards, store the rods, and head home. Back at the docks, Thomas, a life- long res­i­dent of Calvert County who’s been fish­ing these wa­ters for 37 years, ex­pertly cleans our catch as we fill our cool­ers with de­li­cious rock­fish fil­lets. Thanks to Cap­tain Ire­land and Mate Thomas, we’ve en­joyed a fan­tas­tic day on the wa­ter and suc­cess­fully lim­ited out on tro­phy rock­fish. All it took was a vet­eran cap­tain, an ex­pe­ri­enced mate, and, of course, a lit­tle pa­tience.

IF YOUGO>> Boast­ing world­class hos­pi­tal­ity, Solomons is one of my fa­vorite fish­ing ports. In ad­di­tion to a thriv­ing wa­ter­front and count­less an­gling, crab­bing, and oys­ter­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, there’s plenty else to do. If you go, check out the Drum Point Light­house, Calvert Marine Mu­seum, the An­n­marie Sculp­ture Gar­den and Arts Cen­ter, Flag Ponds Na­ture Park, and the Calvert Cliffs where you can find fos­silized shark teeth. From our neck of Penn’s Woods it’s about a three hour drive. I’ve stayed overnight a num­ber of times at the Hol­i­day Inn Solomons which of­fers quite a few ameni­ties in­clud­ing a back­yard ma­rina. There are also plenty of great restau­rants to rec­om­mend. Among my fa­vorites are the Ruddy Duck where they brew their own craft beer, Stoney’s King­fish­ers Seafood Bar and Grill which fea­tures an awe­some dis­play of wild bird carv­ings and soft crab sand­wiches to die for, and the Charles Street Brasserie boast­ing an in­cred­i­ble se­lec­tion of seafood en­trees and ap­pe­tiz­ers. For more about Solomons, check out their web­site at http://www.solomon­s­mary­land.com/. For info about Pa­tience char­ters visit http://www.pa­tience­fish­ing.com/.

TOM TA­TUM - FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Suc­cess­ful an­glers aboard the char­ter boat Pa­tience show off their lim­its of tro­phy rock­fish caught last week in Solomons, Md.. Left to right is Dana Trout­man, Mike Klimkos, Harry Guyer, author Tom Ta­tum, and Heather Skyrm.

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