Monsters on The Flats
Havre De Grace, MD
After the DNR opened the catch and release season for spawning stripers a few years back all I could do was read about the size of some fish that anglers were catching on the Susquehanna Flats. After a season of these tales and growing up near the river without seeing any firsthand evidence of the monsters I decided to explore this phenomenon more personally.
My experience with the Susquehanna up to this time was limited to wading and the occasional rowboat rental from a HavreDe Grace marina. Most of my knowledge was limited to downstream of Conowingo Dam to the mouth of Deer Creek and consisted of smallmouth bass, shad and the summer season for Rockfish so this new spring season was one I had to try.
After reading that most of the large females have been caught on The Flats I decided to go after them in the only craft I had, a 9ft inflatable dinghy. I bought an outboard for the dinghy and recruited my friend Brian Bartell for an early morning outing the second weekend of the season.
Two grown men wearing life jackets with a cooler, 4 fishing rods, a gas tank, landing net and tackle boxes quickly crowds a 9ft vessel with one bench seat. As ridiculous as we must have looked it allowed us to access new waters on the upper bay.
We departed from the town boat ramp, below the Amtrak train bridge, a few minutes after sunrise on a Saturday morning. With a 5 hp motor it took us about 30 minutes to reach a spot within eyesight of the VA hospital off Perry Point. We had heard that the large fish travel in small schools or pods in the area where it drops off from 2-3 ft depths to deeper water.
We were fishing 7in Bass Assassins and 5 in Shad jig heads for about an hour then it happened, my partner had a strike and the fight was on. We were drifting and this fish was actually pulling us in the dinghy along with it. Brian fought the fish for about 10 minutes before we could get a glimpse of the behemoth. I scrambled to my feet grabbing the landing net and watched as Brian guided the fish towards the dinghy. I finally was able to net the fish and then struggled to lift it from the water. My landing net is 36" deep and this fish was sticking out of it!
Brian reached in the net and removed his jig head from this huge Rockfish. When he hoisted it up you could truly see the size of this Monster. The fish was over 40 inches long and weighed in around 30lbs, a fat spawning female.
After we released this fish we noticed that our commotion had attracted some other boats. We were easily the smallest boat in the bay but we had just landed a fish almost half the length of out dinghy. We continued to fish in this area and dropped an anchor close to where we had hooked up with the fish. After another hour without a bite and noticing that no other boats in the area had any hits we decided to motor back closer to Havre De Grace. We dropped anchor in an area that was slightly deeper and watched as the fog began to settle in.
The weather the entire April season was less than desired and this day was no different, It was a rainy overcast day with thick fog. Being new to boating we were less than prepared for open water navigation in the fog. We did not have any electronics, radios or even a compass on board with us so when we lost sight of land we tried to remember the direction we came from. The visibility worsened to less than the distance we were casting our lures.
After a few minutes of jigging my Bass Assassin off the bottom I hooked a fish. Once I set the hook I could tell this was easily the largest Rockfish I had ever hooked. I fought the fish for a few minutes on my 6 ˝ ft. spinning combo spooled with 12-lb. test line. I could tell this fish was at least as large as the one Brian had caught an hour earlier. Brian manned the net and within a few minutes we had landed our second fish in excess of 30lbs! After a quick photo we released the fish healthy to swim off into the chilly water. By eleven o'clock we decided to head back in. We were both satisfied and amazed at he fish we had caught.
The following weekend had more rain in the forecast but we had made plans mid-week and stuck to them. Not messing with a good thing we proceeded back to the same location we had caught the first fish from the prior week. Using the same technique and baits that were successful before we found a school traveling under our lines. Things started to happen quickly and we soon had 2 fish on at one time. These fish weren't quite as large as the ones the prior week but the scales still tipped 24lbs for one and 22 lbs for another. We continued to catch and fight big fish for about 30 minutes. When the frenzy was over we had landed 6 fish over 18lbs each and had lost several others. Needless to say we attracted more attention this weekend and soon were the envy of The Flats. Knowing that we had caught many more fish and much larger fish than any other angler we saw somehow suddenly seemed to make our 9ft inflatable seem like the premiere fishing boat on the bay that week.
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