NANFA-- Bay trippin

bockj (
Sun, 10 Oct 1999 09:08:28 -0400

Two weekends ago, Maryland's Chris Scharpf, Stephanie Brough, Jimmy Thorne,
my sons Eric and Michael and I went on a collecting trip to Maryland's
Eastern Shore. As always, we met at the MacDonald's in Annappolis, visited
Angler's Sports Center next door, and then Caravanned across the Chesapeake
Bay Bridge. The first stop was northern Queen Anne's County, about 45
minutes or so away. We met at the parking lot to Unicorn Fish Hatchery,
the drove over to a small stream where we've had fantastic luck catching,
pirate perch, bluespotted sunfish, madtoms, and mud minnows on previous
trips. There, we also met Delaware's Dave Jones, who had braved race track
traffic to get there. I knew of a larger creek nearby where Chris and I
had seen ten pound carp on a previous trip, and Michael and I went off for
a half an hour or so to see if we could hook one. Before I left, I gave
Eric—sporting his first pair of waders—some fatherly advice. "Remember,
walk slowly, and poke the mud ahead of you with a stick or the poles of
your seine, to make sure the bottom's firm," I said. "And if a spot looks
a little risky or dangerous, just hang back and wait. You can always count
on Chris to go first." The stream where Michael and I went was still
swollen from the hurricane remnants that had recently blown through the
area. The bread we'd taken from our lunches failed to attract anything, so
we came back and joined the others. For the most part, they, too, struck
out, except for Chris. He ventured farther downstream than anyone else and
came up with a pirate perch or two, a mudminnow, and I think, a baby
bullhead. The hurricane had changed things in that creek, too, having
washed all the protective vegetation (and fish) downstream.

Next, we headed back to Horsehead Wetlands Center, where I had obtained
special permission to collect. In a small tidal pond next to the bay, we
caught tons of sheepshead topminnows, close to the ancestral form of all
pupfish. Eric gathered up a load of these to stock his first tank with.
In fact, there were more than enough pupfish to go around, so I think
everyone in the group took some. After seining in the bay proper, Chris
and Dave Jones hauled in a few pipefish, those eel like relatives of the
seahorse. Because these are as difficult to maintain in a home aquarium,
Chris and Dave soon threw them back. Seining also produced a big blue
crab, about 9 inches across, a couple of baby striped bass (soon
returned—our permit doesn't cover them, and they're too big and nasty to
keep anyway) and lots of striped killifish. Striped killies are one of the
larger killies—males will reach about four inches, and females will grow to
about eight inches. These large females are particularly attractive. The
bands on their sides branch off sideways in odd directs, and they look like
someone has written on them in some foreign script. (I like to call them
Arabic Killifish.) At another spot on the grounds, near an old, abandoned
house, we stopped at a pier. By this time, the rest of the group was a
little tired, so Chris and I seined a couple of more times. There, we
pulled in a couple of white perch—the largest about 10 inches—lots of
silversides (I don't know which species), some unidentified jellyfish, and
a couple of smallish blue crabs. The latter soon cut our trip short. The
ever-adventurous Chris Scharpf thought it might be "cool" to play with one,
and soon ended up bleeding profusely from the thumb. When we got them
home, the sheepsheads—a dozen or so—soon adapted to the 29 gallon brackish
water tank we set up for them. Anyone thinking about keeping this species,
however, should be forewarned that they do not have a pleasant disposition.
They're making life miserable for the mummichog we brought home with them.
And the name "pupfish" doesn't actually suit them—hyena fish would be more
appropriate. On a later trip, Eric and I brought home some grass shrimp we
bought for bait at Angler's Sport Center, thinking they might make nice
scavengers in the brackish water tank. The pupfish methodically picked
each one off, picking at them, and pulling in a hundred different
directions until their weren't any left.

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