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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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The Lure of Fishing


The allure of sport fishing is a mysterious, primal pull that leads some people to a lifetime of pleasure as a profession or hobby. It is the tug on a thin line stretched out into the waves, signaling the start of a life and death struggle with an unseen adversary. It is a game of chance and skill with the winner earning either its continued existence or the glory of victory over a wily and worthy foe.

There is also the fisherman’s simple joy of being out on the water with friends. It’s the happiness of escaping the day to day monotony of life with sky, sea and the delicious possibility of coming home with a fat rockfish, flounder, mackerel or other scaly trophy

“I tell people that it is always the icing on the cake if you get a fish,” said charter boat Capt. Carlisle Bannister. “What I like the most about this business is meeting interesting people and seeing them have a good time. Every day is a different day. It is the whole experience.”

Capt. Bannister started fishing when he was a six-year-old boy. Now 62, he has run his boat, “Miss Linda,” out of Windmill Point Marina for the past 15 years. The “Miss Linda,” named for his wife, is a sturdy 35-foot fiberglass Donelle made in in New Brunswick.

Capt. Carlisle Bannister holds a fishing lure he uses with artificial bait called Gulp that is permeated with fish attracting scent. (photo by Starke Jett)
Capt. Bannister is vice president of the Virginia Charter Boat Association. He and several other regional charter boat captains consented to share some of their favorite fishing spots in nearby waters. Such information is a valuable commodity. Fish are constantly changing and their hard to decipher language needs an experienced and knowledgeable interpreter to translate.

“There are secret places that charter guys won’t share,” said Capt. Bannister with a grin. “Somebody on their death bed will tell you about something, but make you swear to keep it safe.”

“Certain species will be at certain places at certain times,” added master angler and charter boat Capt. Kenny Jarvis, who keeps his boat, “Reelentless,” a very fast 2007, 25-foot Contender, at his weekend home on Indian Creek near Kilmarnock. “The key is knowing when the big fish are there. That is how the game is played.”

Capt. Bannister, Capt. Jarvis and the other captains may not tell all their secrets, but they talked about 10 of the most productive and predictable fishing holes in the area. They are, in no particular order, the Cell, the Hole in the Wall, the Northern Neck Reef, the Triangle, the Asphalt Pile, the Target Ships, the “Leroy” Buoy, the City of Annapolis, the Rappahannock River Oyster Reef and all the nearby lights, including Smith Point, Windmill Point and Stingray Point.

A basic rule of thumb for fishing holes is that fish like structure. Structure is underwater rock, shipwreck or other craggy material in which smaller fish think they can hide. They attract larger fish, which in turn attract fishermen.

“Everybody wants to eat everybody else,” said Capt. Bannister in a sad, but true commentary on Darwinian survival.

The Cell is comprised of the sunken remnants of a building that was destroyed by the Navy after its life ended and is now an artificial reef. During its above water career, ships would circle the “degaussing” building to demagnetize them in an effort to make them less apparent to radar.

Located two miles southeast of the R-42 shipping channel buoy near the Eastern Shore tributary of Hungers Creek, the submerged building remains one of the “largest producers of citation flounder in the Bay,” according to Capt. Jarvis. He said it also can be home to sizable bluefish, rockfish and tautog. Almost all the charter captains mentioned the Cell, making it one of the most popular spots on the list.

Hole in the Wall
The Hole in the Wall is the back door into Gywnn’s Island, although it is actually on the Chesapeake Bay side of the island. Most boats enter the island’s harbor from the Piankatank River side because the channel through the Hole in the Wall is a narrow twisting affair that looks like, well, a hole in a wall of the Bay’s shore.

Capt. Jarvis said the grassy flats in the waters of the Bay off the Hole and in the Hole are a good place to find speckled trout. It seems that the fish get concentrated when they are funneled through the narrow channel and hide in the grasses. He specializes in finding citation fish, or in other words, very large fish.

Northern Neck Reef
The Northern Neck Reef is a man-made reef constructed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) out of cement slabs for sport fishing. It is about halfway to Tangier Island, six miles and 110 degrees southeast of the Great Wicomico light, just east of the R-62 shipping channel buoy. There is a yellow reef buoy that has no number or name marking the spot.

The reef is a popular spot as well and sometimes a whole fleet of sport fishing boats can be found floating above the well known area, especially at tournament times like the annual Reedville Fishing Derby held every mid-June. Not only is the reef good structure but it is also near the edge of the deep Bay shipping channel.

Next to structure, fish seem to like edges best, according to Capt. Ryan Rogers. He runs his 2003 Jennings-boatyard-built 50-foot fiberglass boat, Midnight Sun, out of Smith Point Marina on the Little Wicomico River. Capt. Rogers started mating for charter boats on the Bay when he was 12 years old. He started his own business in 1998.

“Rockfish tend to like to hang on edges,” said Capt. Rogers.


The Triangle
He and fellow Reedville charter Capt. Roy Amburn frequent the Triangle, an area near the mouth of the Potomac River that is delineated by Smith Point Light, Point Lookout Light and the Southwest Middle Grounds. Capt. Rogers said there is a target ship there called the U.S. Mariner that is a good spot for trolling for “all kinds of fish.”

Capt. Amburn has created a family of charter captains. He has a lifetime of fishing under his belt and the walls of his living room are lined with pictures of him, his fishing buddies and lots of big fish. There are also shots of his son Preston and his daughter Robin, who along with her husband, Drew Payne, complete their family of captains.

They each have their own boats and work together in a competitive business. Capt. Roy Amburn owns a 1987, 46-foot George Butler-built deadrise, “Robin Sue.” Capt. Robin Payne owns a Canadian built 1998, 45-foot fiberglass boat, “Rockin’ Robin.” Capt. Drew Payne owns a 46-foot Chesapeake-Boatyard-Crisfield-built boat called “Worm.” Capt. Preston Amburn has an unnamed 21-foot runabout.

Asphalt Pile
Capt. Roy Amburn said the Asphalt Pile is one of his favorite spots for bluefish, striper (rockfish), or bottom fishing. Three miles southeast of the Great Wicomico light and marked by another yellow buoy, the pile is also a VMRC man-made reef, but made from asphalt slabs. It is close to his home on Cockrell’s Creek, where Robin Sue rode out Hurricane Isabel, floating high above his submerged dock.

Target Ships
The Target Ships are old Navy vessels that were used by nearby Patuxent Naval Air Station pilots for target practice. Now mostly submerged by their long torturous demise they lie just a few miles south of Tangier Island and provide sublime structure for myriad kinds of marine life.

“Leroy” Buoy
The “Leroy” Buoy is the red and white shipping channel buoy lying a few miles north of Fleet’s Bay, which is just north of the mouth of the Rappahannock River. Capt. Jarvis said it is called the Leroy Buoy because “it looks like Leroy painted it.”

Troy King of Fredericksburg holds a large flounder. (photo by Starke Jett)
He said the area between the Leroy Buoy, the Fleet’s Bay number 1 and 2 channel buoys to the southwest and the G-59A buoy off Windmill Point on the northern side of the river’s mouth is a great spot for finding rockfish in the early fall season.

“They just seem to congregate there,” said Capt. Jarvis. “You can bank on it.”

City of Annapolis
The City of Annapolis is a shipwreck found in 90 feet of water southeast of Smith Point Lighthouse, on the southern side of the mouth of the Potomac River. Capt. Bannister said the deep-water wreck is a good spot for black bass and rockfish in the fall.

Rappahannock River Oyster Reef
He also likes to fish in the Rappahannock River because it is close to his home port and is more comfortable during less than desirable weather conditions. One of his favorite spots in the river is a man-made oyster reef off Mosquito Point, which lies about halfway between Windmill Point and the Robert O. Norris Jr. Bridge on the north side of the river.

The concrete reef is marked with three steel poles and seeded with oysters which attract bait fish that again attract larger species. Capt. Bannister said it is a reliable area for finding croaker, bluefish, rockfish and spadefish.

Lights and Lighthouses
All the captains agreed the nearby lights and lighthouses are good spots for all kinds of fish. They have the two top fishing hole attributes, structure and edges. Smith Point is on the southern side of the mouth of the Potomac River. Windmill Point is on the northern side of the Rappahannock River’s mouth while Stingray Point is on the southern side.

Finding good fishing spots is probably the biggest piece of the fishing puzzle, but there are many more pieces to fit together. You can bottom fish or jig, while drifting or power trolling. You can chum or not chum. You can use live bait or artificial lures. There is time of day, time of month and time of year to consider. Tides are another big variable.

Capt. Jarvis said learning the tricks of the trade from more experienced fishermen friends is essential. Fish don’t make it easy to catch them. They don’t find it in their best interest to cooperate or answer any questions about their habits.

“I’ve asked them and they won’t talk to me,” he said. 

posted 07.01.2010

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