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07/01 - Destination File - Chesapeake Bay Croaker & Rockfish

By: C.C. McCotter

Let me tell you a story about a young man and his passion. There once was a fellow who liked to saltwater fish. He liked it so much he thought he could make a career out of it. First, though, he had some travelling and learning to do. So, the man went to college, got his degree, and tried working in the world of corporate America.

It didn't take long for him to realize that fishing was what he was meant to do. So the man came home, bought a seaworthy boat and started a charter service when he was in his early 20's. The rest of this story will go down in history.

This is a brief description of Captain Pete Ide, a hard-charging, 31-year-old charter captain known along the Chesapeake Bay as a master of his profession despite his youthful outward appearance. Look carefully at Ide, though, and you will see the glint of a veteran angler in his eyes, one who has seen rough water over the bow and thousands of fish come over his gunnels.

Ide was the guide of a recent early June trip to the middle/upper Bay I took with Garvey Winegar, outdoor columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, syndicated columnist Bob Gooch and Vance Hopkins, Vice President of Green Top Sporting Goods.

Like many anglers, we had heard of Ide, known as a master with the trolled umbrella rig. In fact, Ide is known for trolling 8-10 lines at once without tangling them. We would save the trolling for another day. This trip we would chum for rockfish, bottom fish for hopefully jumbo croakers and jig for big grey trout. Add the exciting caveat that we would fish from 3 p.m. until well after sundown and you have another great Destination File adventure.

Ide fishes from Drury's Marina near St. Mary's in Maryland. A great location that keeps him near good fishing just about year-round. For our trip, Pete first had us chumming the Middle Grounds region, about seven miles from his pier, within site of the American Mariner target ship. Most of our evening croaker fishing was done further north near Buoy 72 in water nearly 60 feet deep. The water was 72 degrees.

Ide runs a 40-foot fiberglass rig with a new diesel. Like many of the new, young captains, Ide likes a relatively light, fast boat that offers extended range and fuel economy. The college graduate has also embraced the new technology available to today's anglers. His cockpit looks like the helm of Navy super carrier with four VHS radios, a Garmin GPS/plotter/depth finder, a Loran and Furuno color depth finder.

Nothing beats a little seafaring intuition and days on the water, but Ide knows good electronics are assets not to be dismissed. At our first stop, Ide and his mate, Billy (Ide's brother) anchored the Lisa Ann and started to grind fresh bunker to start our chum line. Billy was put in charge of obtaining the gizzards of these baitfish as well as cutting bits of fish for bait.

As soon as a decent stockpile of bait was collected and the chum line out, Pete had us bait up and flip our lines out into the slick. The trick was to let the bait float naturally along with the chum at the same pace as the tide. The moment your line pulled on the rod, you had to open your bail and let more line out.

At this initial spot Bob, Garvey and Vance broke off eight fish before Winegar actually managed to land one. We were in a school of hungry bluefish and Ide wasn't happy.

"If I had wanted to do this I could have just bought a box of hooks and thrown them into the water back at the dock," he joked and told us to pull up the lines. Capt. Pete was moving on, further up the Bay, to where he knew rockfish would come to the chum line and our hooks.

After a 12-mile run to the Buoy 72 area, and some 15 minutes of scanning the bottom with his Furuno, Ide shut the Lisa Ann down, set his anchor and started the chum again. While we passed a couple of dozen boats in one area, Ide chose to set up north of the massed anglers, without a single boat around. It was a good decision.

Within moments, stripers were all over our chum line. They were swirling, splashing and gobbling up the chum and our baits as fast as we could get them out. The fish were all around 23 inches and lean. Our simple rigs consisted of light monofilament line and 1/0 hooks. While I didn't turn down the gizzards tipped with hunks of fresh fish, I did land all my fish on my trusty Fenwick fly rod. Ide kept us on the fish until we limited out, then said he wanted to move on to croaker.

Pete is one of the rare captains I've met that strictly enforces the catch-and-release ethic. Once you limit out, Ide switches species, so as not to accidently and inevitably "catch-and-kill" any rockfish with gut hooks. This is an angler clearly doing his part to ensure good fishing into the future.

We didn't move far to find the croaker. Ide saw them on the depth finder around the nearby Airplane Wreck and set the boat up so we could drift chunks of peeler crab along the bottom. These were very fresh peelers, Ide sectioned them and we used the "knuckle" portions of the legs on tandem bottom rigs Pete had tied himself.

They had spinners and beads and long-shanked hooks and worked like magic. He does not use the metal tandem rigs since they tend to twist up after a couple dozen nice fish.

Hopkins and I started fishing off the stern. I used Ide's rig on a Berkley Signature Series 6'4" Lightning Rod and ABU Garcia Center Drag reel. Vance had brought some 3/4-ounce chartreuse Mann's jigging spoons he wanted to try. Tipping both our rigs with the fresh blue crab, we dropped them to the bottom some 58 feet below.

Vance's spoon trick worked immediately as something with shoulders struck his offering and fought its way to the surface. A cheer went up as Hopkins decked what would be the first of many croakers caught that evening up to three pounds.

Around eight o'clock we were all pleased with the action and Ide's skill. We four fished without a spoken word, listening as the gentle gonging of a distant buoy bell bobbing from the wake of a cargo ship lulled us into relaxation. The sun was setting orange behind huge cumulus clouds, the water was calm and the air warm, but not stifling. Jobs, deadlines, orders, yardwork -- all were set aside, at least for that moment of transcending beauty on the water.

About the only thing you want to disturb a moment like that is the tug of a big fish on the line. With plenty of croakers on ice and a boat limit of rockfish, Ide once again wanted to shift species.

The big grey trout were hanging out around some nearby deep rockpiles Ide had located years ago. With the help of his GPS, we were soon drifting our bottom rigs over them. Vance was once again at it with his spoon and Ide was drift bouncing a 3/4-ounce RoadRunner jig with a green tail. All this was done with Ide's bright boat spotlights illuminating the surface water and hopefully attracting the nocturnal trout.

While Garvey and Bob kept at it with the croakers that must have followed us, Ide, Vance and I tried to land that first big trout. I never did have one on, however I watched as Hopkins hooked several and fought one that appeared to be over six pounds boatside only to have it flop off. Once again Ide had put us on the right species.

Around 10 p.m. we pulled up the lines and stowed our gear, satisfied we would have plenty of fish to clean the next day. Ide turned off the boat lights and turned southeastward, back to the pier and the drive home. I was a little sad to say farewell to the calm, warm, nighttime waters of the Bay, but knew there would be another time to fish with Capt. Pete and his fish.

Editor's Note: If you would like to fish with Captain Pete Ide aboard the Lisa Ann call him at 301/994-9219. Ide will be fishing for rockfish throughout the summer in Maryland waters, as well as Spanish mackerel, bluefish, croaker, trout and flounder.

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