Fishing guru Lenny Rudow has written six books about catching fish on the Chesapeake Bay. Newly minted Bay fisherman Eric Grey has read most of them. Twice.
So, when a chance presented itself to treat Eric, my son-in-law, to a day on the water with FishTalk editor Lenny, I jumped on it. I made a donation to Lenny’s Fish For a Cure team. Then, I gave the trip to Eric for a Christmas present. Eric was “over the moon” with excitement to learn from the best of the best. And, it was one present I knew he wouldn’t take back.
His wife Katie, my daughter, was excited as well… with the prospect of fish in the freezer instead of a raft of excuses that seemed to follow Eric into the house after yet another non-productive day on the water.
After a slew of emails to confirm a mid-summer date, we rendezvoused at Oak Grove Marina to board Eric’s almost-new 22-foot Sea Hunt for our piscatorial adventure. Eric wanted to fish from his boat, with his gear, to make the most of the learning experience with Lenny. Eric was efficiently confident as he brought the new center console up on plane for the 10-minute ride down the South River.
We had opted to fish late in the day in hopes that “most of the crazies” who tend to congregate off the point and under the bridge would be off the water enjoying a beer at their favorite dock bar.
Eric had grown up fishing Loch Raven Reservoir with his Dad. “My father was pretty cheap,” he said. “We always fished with lures. Bought bait was a luxury. We usually caught fish, but fishing on the Bay is big time.”
Like many Bay area fishermen, Eric was having a rough year. “Catfish, catfish, catfish. That’s all I caught for the longest time,” bemoaned the 39-year old millennial fisherman. “I was beginning to think my boat was jinxed.”
Lenny, who’s been fishing and writing about fishing on the Bay for more than 40 years, took it all in stride. He reckoned he’s been out fishing about 65 days thus far this year and has given about two dozen seminars about fishing to date as well. He spends the rest of his days writing about fishing for a number of national fishing magazines, not to mention writing for and editing for his successful FishTalk Magazine. To say Lenny is all about fishing is an understatement.
Lenny echoed Eric’s frustration. “Fishing is all about opportunities,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to go with the flow. Fried catfish can make a nice sandwich. Better to catch something than to come home empty handed.”
We were determined not to be skunked this late July afternoon. It took us about an hour to catch two-dozen nice sized spot (Little Number 6 hooks, per Lenny’s instructions), and we were off to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to see what the fishing gods had in store. But first, we did a couple of “pop and goes,” throwing jigs at the bows of several of the tankers moored between the Thomas Point Lighthouse and the bridge.
“Sometimes, you’ll hit something just messing around. Never hurts to check these boats out,” said Lenny.
After our last unsuccessful cast, Eric pushed the throttle all the way in and we blasted off for the Bridge.
“Whoa,” yelled Lenny as he scanned the horizon. His keen vision had detected a flock of terns surface feeding about 100 yards off our starboard side. We ran over and drifted behind the commotion. Lots of bait fish were jumping. Something bigger was showing up on the fishfinder. We quickly deployed some jigs and threw into the melee.
Bam. I got a hit straight away: a nice 18-incher. Back he went into the Bay. We jigged for a little while longer, then decided to head out.
“One thing to keep in mind,” Lenny counseled, “is not to waste your time chasing something that’s not there. We hit a nice little run there for a minute or two. Then, the fish stopped biting. We don’t want to spend all day here when we know there are fish waiting for us up ahead.”
Finally, the promised land: one of Lenny’s go-to-spots along the pilings of the north span about two thirds of the way towards Kent Island. The tide was running out at a pretty good pace, forcing us to anchor below the bridge abutments and throw back into the structure and the wind.
“Just because conditions aren’t ideal, that’s no reason to scrap your plan,” said Lenny. “I’d have preferred to anchor higher and throw down into the pilings, but the tide and the wind scuttled that plan once we got here. Be flexible.” Another of Lenny’s words to the wise.
I was the first to throw into the pilings.
“When you feel that spot take off, just reel, reel, reel slowly in. The rockfish will take the circle hook. Just don’t set it or he’ll spit it out. Let him hook himself.”
Bam. This time, my rod bent over. No 17-incher for me. A little fight and Lenny helped me boat a nice keeper, the first fish in the boat. Eric was congratulatory. But a little green with envy.
I threw into the same spot again. Bam. Same result. I stowed my gear and decided to take pictures instead. I didn’t want to show up Eric or Lenny with my newfound fishing prowess.
Lenny was fishing with an eel, Eric with the spot. The tide and the wind kept us on our toes as the boat swung in a big arc in front of the pilings. Then, things got going for both Eric and Lenny. Three more keepers on ice. Fish dinner, here we come.
We kept it for a little while longer than Lenny says we should have. But the sun was painting the Bay a beautiful color of crimson, the wind was freshening, there were no flies pestering us, and we’d just broken out a bucket of Royal Farms Chicken for snacks. No rush to get home.
As we were packing up, Lenny offered a couple of parting thoughts:
How do you consistently put people where the fish are? “Honestly, I dunno. It really seems some people just have a knack for it. You always have to remember fishing is an art as much as a science. Fish are strange creatures—they do stuff we have no legitimate explanation for all the dang time.”
What do you do when you’ve “hit a wall?” “Don’t give up, period. I remember one spring trophy season some years back when the bite was off. I made something like six trips in a row without landing a fish. On the seventh, I caught a 49.5-incher, the biggest I’ve caught in the Chesapeake. Persistence is key, be it by the day or over the long haul.”
Common mistakes rookie fishermen make. “OMG. I’m not sure there’s any one answer. Some very common ones I see are failing to give a lure the right action/speed; failing to position their boat properly for drifts on structure (often the result of being zoomed out on the chartplotter and never realizing they’re hundreds of feet off-target); insisting they stick with a lure/bait/method because they heard it was working great (when often it’s old intel—they should have checked the FishTalk fishing reports!)”
Eric’s take on the day with Lenny was enthusiastic. “The biggest thing I learned from Lenny is that there is no silver bullet advice to guarantee success on the Chesapeake Bay. With so many variables the Bay hits you with (current, salinity, water temperature, sunny, cloudy, bait selection), you have to adapt to the day you go out. Some days, live lining is the way to go. Other days, jigging. Then, it’s a question of white vs. chartreuse, yellow vs. red. And so it goes. It’s a waterway that forces you to adapt each time.”
How was it fishing with the guy who wrote the book (six books) about fishing on the Chesapeake Bay? Eric puts it this way: “Considering he is a legend, it was a little overwhelming at first. I didn’t know what to ask him because I almost had too many questions running through my head. Honestly though, after a while it was like fishing with a buddy, one who really knows what he is doing.”
We parted company at Oak Grove Marina just as dusk settled over the river. We’d been out for four hours, caught some nice fish, told some good yarns, made some new friends, and learned a thing or two. All in all, a great day to be a fisherman.
P.S. Not long after our outing, Eric took his father back to the Bridge. Success. “We did everything Lenny told us to do. We have fish in the freezer.”
Story and Photos by Craig Ligibel