Gifts of the Chesapeake
In a deep slumber, I feel a hard, calloused hand grab my
foot and vigorously shake it. This is Dad's traditional signal to communicate
to me that it is time to go. Neither of us utters a single word; just a simple
shake of the foot and I know exactly what to do. Like clockwork, I leap out of bed, throw on a few layers of
clothes and sprint to the 18' Carolina skiff tied up to our dock. I jump into
the boat where my Dad is impatiently waiting for me to untie the bow so we can
cast out on our usual Saturday morning adventure.
There he sits in his
captain's chair, with his arms folded tightly and perched atop his belly,
giving me the "you're-almost-late" look. In a crumpled up 7-Eleven bag, I spy
two cream-filled doughnuts atop the steering console: our usual Saturday
morning treats. I rush to release the bow lines as I anticipate biting into a
creamy, chocolate covered doughnut while watching the sun perch above the
Chesapeake. My seven-year-old spirit bubbles with excitement as I hear the roar
of the outboard motor gear up for another big day. Racing the rise of the
springtime sun, we chart out through the cool and misty open waters.
When the calendar falls on April 20th in Southern
Maryland, people drop their boats in to the frigid, brackish waters and set out
to stalk the king of the Chesapeake: the striped bass. The morone saxatilis, better
known as the rockfish, striper, and/or striped bass is a highly respected and
cared-for population. In 2007, President
George W. Bush issued an executive order that the coveted striped
bass be considered a protected game fish. The striper is one of Maryland's most
vital commercial and recreational fish; so important, in fact, it has been
declared the Maryland state fish. The
rockfish provides the people of the Chesapeake Bay watershed with delicious meals but also a challenge that fosters
intimate relationships amongst those who seek to catch this special species.
We finally reach the prime real estate for our hunt of
the coveted striper. Dad rushes around the boat, gathering the rods, fidgeting
with the lures, attempting to steer clear of neighboring vessels and keeping a
keen eye on the depth finder. At the tender age of ten-years-old, I stand in
awe as I watch him perfect the process.
Flawlessly, he executes the preparation and gracefully drops two lines into the
depths of the Chesapeake. With our bellies full of sugary sweets, we sit
side-by-side anxiously awaiting a bite from a striper. It is during these
idle times that the true pleasure of fishing is elicited.
I listen to Dad tell
me about how things were back in his day; he narrates stories of adventures and
triumph in an animated and fabricated manner that keeps me on the edge of my
cold, plastic seat. He talks about how he walked five miles to school, uphill
both ways and tells innumerable tall tales of his childhood. I reciprocate the
story swapping by rambling on about the boy in school that I like and how he
never waits for me after lunch and how he always pays more attention to my
friend Chelsea. He listens intently and advises me to move on; my ten-year-old
spirit is devastated but there is a sense of safety in his voice that compels
me to take his advice. We sit and talk until we see a sharp bend in one of our
rods; the secret sharing stops and the action begins.
Trolling is the most popular strategy used to capture stripers in the Chesapeake. It consists of
setting up fishing lines, dropping them over the sides of the boat and slowly
cruising through open water as the lures drag behind. The slow glide of the
boat gives the tacky, brightly colored lures a lively spin which makes them
look quite appealing to the hungry stripers who lurk within the dark waters of
the Chesapeake. The infamous striper is known as a "lazy feeder," meaning that
when it feeds, it travels with the current and simply eats what it comes across
rather than fighting the current and searching for prey; this fact is crucial
to ones success in capturing the coveted striper. Within the charter industry,
trolling is a very popular strategy because it is a relatively simple and
hands-off process. This allows the attendees on the boat an ample amount of
time to kick back, enjoy a few beers and simply revel in the beauty of the
Chesapeake. It should be noted that even though this is a relatively simple
process, when the striper finally bites the trolling lures, a dramatic bend in
the rod warrants grown adults to propel themselves into a mass hysteria of
excitement. These fish are true fighters and it can sometimes take upward of
half an hour to get one striper reeled in.
Other techniques used to capture the
striper also include jigging, bottom fishing, and surf fishing. One of the most
exhausting and exhilarating strategies used to capture the striper is the jig.
Jigging is a technique where a boat anchors near a submerged structure in the
water such as pilings or docks. From there, the striper-seekers take a rod with
multiple fish shaped lures on the end and bob it vigorously up and down in the
water at a considerable depth. This makes an illusion of a school of fish and
stripers go crazy at the sight of fast movements and bright colors of the
lures. This technique is used less on charter boats more so for the individuals
who consider themselves true anglers. Trolling seems to be the charter strategy
of choice in the Chesapeake because of the perfect dichotomy between action and
relaxation that it provides.
I am looking at a photograph framed in my room.
Twenty-years-old, there I stand on that same dock that I raced down each
Saturday morning as I anxiously awaited our fishing trips. My Dad and I stand
closely with excited eyes after one of these exhilarating mornings spent
fishing the depths of the Chesapeake. I am gripping the mouth of my thirty-inch
rockfish with both hands, trying to hold back laughter as my Dad cracks a joke
about how he can barely hold it up. My face indicates that I am struggling to keep
it in my hands; looking at the photo, I can feel my arms quivering and my grip
slipping from the slimy coating of the fish. I am reminded of how hard I
constantly tried to impress him with every detail of my life; if I drop this
fish, I will never hear the end of it. I am the strong daughter; the closest
thing to a son that Dad has and I can see myself in this photo filling those
Dad stands next to me with his entire forearm stuffed up into the gill of
a forty-eight-inch striper. Effortlessly, he holds up the humongous fish; he is
truly the last John Wayne. Never one to crack a smile in a photograph, I can
see the faintest look of excitement in my father's eye and I can see that the
times we have spent together on the Chesapeake have given us much more
than just a few big fish. Looking at this photo, I am reminded of the striking
dichotomy of both the closeness and distance between us; we stand together with
only our elbows gracing one another. Close enough to touch but far enough away
that it doesn’t appear too "soft."
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