December fishing on the Karen Ray II – Crisfield, MD
Last weekend, we received a text invitation to go fishing in Crisfield on Sunday with Tracey Munson and Captain Curtis Johns.
Crisfield, the capital of deliciousness, is on the lower eastern shore of the Bay – and is a world unto itself. What a treat to be able to experience fishing with a top-notch charter boat captain out of Crisfield!
So we set the alarm for 3:30 am, and met at the small boat harbor in Crisfield, MD at exactly 6:30 am. It was dark.
Aboard, Kevin kept pointing to the size of the net, with a grin. He knew that we were going to get into some VERY big fish.
The fish we were going after were the big traveling striped bass – they’re chasing schools of smaller fish up into the Bay from the ocean. The presence of small “sea lice” on the backs of the fish indicated that they recently came out of the Atlantic. They’re largely females, and they’re maybe 12 – 15 years old.
These are very big fish and important spawners for the species. Because they’re critical fish, their catch is quite limited, with a limit of one fish per person per day. Catch and release is an option.
Captain Curtis headed out in the fog – it was thick, and he relied entirely on radar. We rode out into Pokomoke Sound, then up into Tangier Sound, and cruised along for a while, looking for rockfish.
It took a while to find the fish, swimming along in schools, feeding on mendhaden. These fish can move, and once Curtis finds them, he knows it’s just a matter of time before they can be caught.
Of course, he would never say that. He’s quick to say he never knows if he’ll be lucky enough to catch fish or not (but he does well and is known as a highly successful charter captain).
Tracey tells us that fishermen have a lot of superstitions. For instance, whatever you do, don’t bring a banana on board – it’ll get tossed off in the flash of an eye, and your captain will think less of you (people slip on banana skins, eh?) You’d never have a dark blue boat – that would be bad luck, calling the depths of the ocean to you. And boats are never made of walnut – that’s what they use to make coffins, etc.
Curtis looks for birds feeding on small fish on the surface, and relies of course, on technology. He was focused, looking for “bait balls” – here’s one, in yellow (with it’s shaggy shadow in orange, on the screen below.)
Once he found the bait ball, he slowed down the engine and started rigging up the lines. Look at that tackle!
It didn’t take more than ten minutes, once we found the spot, for the action to start.
Kevin was up first, and had a tremendous experience. His fish got caught up in a spin, and it was a big fight. This was the best day of the year for him. I can’t even think of any other words to describe it.
It was a monster.
I took the next turn, and realized halfway through that maybe this wasn’t the best idea to do given my recently healed lower back problem, but I stuck it out. (not smart.)
Feeling the pull, the sheer power and strength was quite thrilling, and I could understand why Kevin is hooked on this high. For me, this was a once in a lifetime fishing experience, and I’m awed and even more committed to preserving the Chesapeake Bay to protect these fantastic creatures.
I found their gills so fascinating – thick, red, fleshy and soft. I did feel conflicted about keeping the fish, even about catching and release….but we harvested, ate them and shared them with many friends.
Wonder what they were eating?
Menhaden – Curtis pulled an entire 8 inch fish out of the gullet of one rock – it was starting to disintegrate, but was mostly whole.
And just like that, one by one, fish would grab those big lures, the rod would bend DOWN – WHOA! – and it would be someone else’s turn. We all caught big fish. The largest was 42″, the smallest 39″. Their weights were around 40 – 45 lbs.
As Kevin pulled this one in, we heard cheers from the boat in the distance above. An audience!
Of course, there’s a lot of posing for the camera associated with this kind of fishing. Lots of “uh, god, quick, hurry, take the picture!” and if you’re not keeping the fish, you want to move quickly, try not to touch it too much, and toss it gently head first back into the water as soon as possible. We kept four, and tossed back a few more.
What a day! We got to know Curtis, we learned about Crisfield’s history and the seafood industry, charter fishing as a business and more. His boat was an outdoor classroom – it was illuminating and truly awe-inspiring to see and hold those giant fish.
A once in a lifetime experience.
Except…..Kevin is going BACK again on Wednesday! Hooked.
You can click on any image for a slide show below (thanks for the new feature, wordpress!)
If you’d like to go out with Captain Curtis Johns out of Crisfield, Maryland to catch rock or whatever else is in season – contact him here:
Captain Curtis Johns of the Karen Ray II – 410-623-2310 or visit his facebook page here.
Grateful, friends! What an experience!