‘Bay of Death’ maybe not so dead

The author caught his first dog fish during a recent fishing trip on the St. Mary’s River.

Depending on who you believe, the dog days of summer can be either good or bad for fishing. Some say the warm water makes it tougher to find fish that prefer cooler water temperatures; others say warm water makes fish more aggressive.

I’m not sure who I believe, but I do know that if I have a chance to go fishing, I won’t stay home just because the water is too warm.

Recently, a buddy and I fished a St. Mary’s River bay close to home. It’s quick and easy to get to and provides a variety of conditions, from shallow, weedy flats to drop-offs that go from 10 feet to 35 feet in a hurry. It’s feast or famine in this place, to the point where my brother-in-law refers to it as the Bay of Death. He hasn’t had much luck there.

We started drifting in a 10- to 12-foot hole that has produced fish for us in the past. You never know what you’re going to catch in this spot, including northern pike, channel catfish, walleye, sheepshead, smallmouth bass or perch. After 10 or 12 casts, my buddy hooked an 18-inch walleye on his crankbait. We threw a marker and anchored nearby. He continued with his crankbaits and I used jigs with half of a nightcrawler, my go-to bait for just about anything.

After an hour of moving around the area with no results, we tried a couple other spots along the drop-off. Still, no luck. Since the walleye that my buddy had caught had a huge tumor over one of its eyes, we thought maybe my brother-in-law’s Bay of Death moniker for this part of the river might be ringing true.

We headed into the shallow, weedy part of the bay, where we saw a few boats anchored, a couple of them fishing bait and another casting lures. We anchored.

After getting bites on my walleye-sized jig from what I figured were small perch, I switched to a fairly large ice-fishing teardrop with a tiny chunk of nightcrawler. Within seconds, I had a 10-inch perch in the cooler with the diseased walleye.

My partner switched to a smaller bait and the perch kept coming. They were hiding in the weeds, and most of them were dinks that we had to throw back, but every now and then we pulled a good one out and threw it in the cooler.

I had just asked my buddy why we couldn’t hook a walleye or pike doing this same thing when my rod doubled over and a big fish took my little teardrop for a run. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a walleye or pike, but a dogfish, the first I’ve ever caught.

I’ve been fishing the Bay of Death for nearly 30 years, and it’s only been recently that we’ve caught channel cats and sheepshead, both of which are common in waters south of this neighborhood. I imagine maybe a few have always been in there, along with the occasional dogfish, but usually it’s been a place for perch, pike and smallmouth.

We went home with several perch and the three-eyed walleye, and we proclaimed that rumors of the death of the bay had been greatly exaggerated.

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