Friday, June 8, 2012

Croakers at PLO

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The MKF monthly Meet & Greet was last Saturday.  I was looking forward to going to it, because it was going to be at Point Lookout State Park (PLO), and we were going to target croakers.  I have fond memories of catching tons of croakers in college, and enjoying them the next morning for breakfast.  It has been a long time since I've targeted them or even caught them.  However, I found out the week before last that I wasn't going to be able to make the Meet & Greet, and was real bummed out about it.  My wife tried to cheer me up by buying some croakers from the local asian market for dinner last week.  It just wasn't the same.  The fish she brought home must not have been fresh, because it had a real strong fishy smell and it tasted just like it smelled. That couldn't be the croaker that I loved to eat back in the day.  I had to catch some croakers to find out.

Since I was now busy on the day of the Meet & Greet, the only time I had available to fish was the evening before.  Last Friday I went in to work extra early so that I could make it out in time to get to PLO with some sunlight before it got dark.  This would be my first time fishing from my kayak at night so I was a little nervous.  However, it's been a while since I had gotten some pullage, and the thought of a cooler full of fish knocked any second thoughts out of my mind.

I got to the park around 7PM, and started unloading my kayak at the first "Pet Beach" that I saw.  I had heard from some of the members of the forum that they were launching from a pet beach and fishing the bay side.  During my rigging, an extra friendly park ranger stopped by and suggested some other places to launch.  "....potomac side...sandy beach....." I didn't pay too much attention, because I was eager to get out on the water.  That was a big mistake, because as I wheeled my kayak over to the pet beach, I saw that there was no way I could get my kayak to the water - there were a bunch of boulders lining the shore!  Darnit!  It must have been the other pet beach that the others were launching from!  I quickly tore down my kayak, put it on my car and drove to the end of the causeway to the south side.  I looked over at the pet beach and saw the sandy shore.  Dang...wasted time.

Very calm bay side water.
I quickly re-rigged my kayak and wheeled over to the beach.  I had read the wind forecast, and the wind was supposed to be blowing from the west.  I hoped that the bay side would be calm, since it would be protected by land.  Luckily, the water didn't look too bad from the beach.  I also could see another kayaker fishing out in the water.  I quickly paddled over to find out who it was.  He was Dsmero from the MKF forums.  He had been fishing for a few hours, and was paddling in to put some fish on ice and to stretch his legs.  I asked what he caught, and he said he was doing real well catching 12-16 inch croakers in 18-20 feet of water.  Great! Croakers!  He was using squid for bait, and kindly offered one of his to me since I didn't have any squid.  I had only brought cooked salad shrimp from Costco and some nasty old bloodworms (note: don't ever buy bloodworms from the "rod & reel" gas station on the way to PLO).  We parted ways and I headed for the target water depth.

The first of many fish.

It didn't take long to get to water 18-20 feet deep, but it was still well out of range of the shore fishermen.  I'm glad to be able to get out this far from shore and be able to just drop my lines.  I baited some squid and shrimp on my two rods and put them out.  Within a couple minutes, I had a hit on one of the rods.  Fish on!  Then shortly after I had another one...then another...then another!  The croakers were hitting pretty fast.  I often had a fish on both rods at once, and often didn't have time to unhook a fish before reeling in the other line.  I hadn't had this much fish action in a long time, and these weren't all small fish either.  They were all good keeper sized fish that all went into my cooler.

Dsmero eventually came back out, and we drifted and fished together.  We were both getting some good fish with the squid, and some on the shrimp.  Then as night time set, the bite suddenly stopped.  I must be too used to my shore fishing technique of setting up camp in one place and sticking to it.  I kept putting out my lines in 18 - 20 feet of water waiting for the fish to start biting again.  Dsmero decided to head closer to shore instead and to fish in some shallower water.  He said he'd let me know if he found them, so I just stuck around.

Some small baitfish.

Since things slowed down a bit, I had time to fool around a bit.  All evening some small baitfish were splashing the water, and I could finally see them now.  They were 3-4 inches long, and weren't very shy.  I'd shine my head lamp at the water next to me, and the fish would come and bump my boat or swim next to it.  I wanted to get a closer look at one, so I swiped at it in the water to try to splash it into my kayak.  It actually worked, and I got to take a picture of it.  It turned out that I didn't even have to go through all that work.  Later I had 2 of these jump into my kayak on their own.  I had live baitfish in my boat now, so of course I put them on one of my rigs and cast them out to see if any bluefish or something would hit them.  I didn't get anything after about 15 minutes so I replaced them with shrimp.

Small crab.  He was released after his photo shoot.

The baitfish weren't the only ones floating by on the water.  I could see a lot of crabs - 2" to 6" swimming by.  I sure wished I had a crab net at this time.  I thought it might be fun to get a close look at one of the crabs too, so I found a small one swimming by and swiped at that one to get it in the boat.  Worked great just like the fish! haha.  He bit me during his photo shoot, but luckily he was only 1.5" long.  I am glad I didn't think to swipe at one of the bigger ones.  I just thought it was neat seeing these crabs swimming in the water from so close up.

I need a bigger cooler!  Or throw out some ice.

At around 10 or so, I heard Dsmero calling saying that he had found some fish.  I paddled over, and he was in about 12-13 feet of water.  He said he was catching fish pretty consistently there with bloodworms.  I put out some bloodworms and shrimp, and the fishing was hot again!  I was getting hits more frequently on my cooked salad shrimp.  In fact, I had 4 fish get deep-hooked with the salad shrimp.  I didn't have that problem with any of the other baits.  I anchored up this time because I was getting tired of paddling, and eventually the fishing slowed down again.  I could see Dsmero drifting further and further away.  At close to midnight I decided to call it a night and paddled over to Dsmero to say bye and to thank him for the tips.  I also asked how the fishing had been, and he said the fish were biting pretty consistently for him.  Again, I probably should have moved around looking for fish when things slowed.  I need to get rid of my habit of sticking to one spot.

By that time Dsmero was done for the night too.  He was planning on taking a short nap at a nearby hotel to return for the Meet & Greet by 4 or 5AM.  Crazy....  Anyway, we paddled in together and helped each other drag our kayaks to our cars and load them.  I opened up my cooler to gauge how many fish I had.  I looked in, and it didn't look like I met the 25 fish limit, so I thought "I'm good, I can take them home."  Dsmero and I packed our cars and went our separate ways.  The drive home was 2.5 hours, but it wasn't that bad...I was happy that my dream of a cooler full of fish had come true.

24 fish. Scaled.

Well, the happy feelings went away real quick the next morning when I had to scale and gut all the fish.  There were 24 fish in all, and I cleaned all of them.  I gave 19 of them away, and kept 5 to eat with my family. We had some fried fish Sunday evening, and my son Caleb loved it!  He kept asking for more.  The croaker this time tasted much better than the fish we had last week.  This is the great-tasting fish that I remember.