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Articles by Dennis Doyle

Once upon a time, this fish meant food and sport in early spring

Mention the word gudgeon to any Bay angler, and you’ll usually get a quizzical look. It was not always so.
    The gudgeon (Gobio gobio) is a small (up to five inches) schooling fish of the carp family that lives in our brackish waters but spawns in fresh water. They will sometimes appear in good numbers in our tributaries in early springtime, sprint to more lonesome areas to procreate, then disappear to whence they came.
    Francis F. Beirne, a Maryland historian, documented the gudgeon runs in his 1951 tome, The Amiable Baltimorean (reprinted in 1984), as a long-ago springtime obsession. Describing schools of the little fish in the “tens of thousands pulsing up the Gunpowder watershed” in the early 1920s, he noted crowds of waiting anglers, armed with slender cane poles, sewing thread for line, a small bobber and a tiny hook baited with a pinch of worm.
    The catches were often in the hundreds. Cleaned, dusted with seasoned flour and fried a crispy brown, along with red-skinned potatoes, the gudgeon were a gourmand’s treat. Over intervening years the runs have fallen with the quality of our waters.
 

    The presence of gudgeon each springtime is not limited to the Gunpowder River; the fish can be found in most of our freshwater tributaries. Their timing is impossible to predict, but most schools appear coincidently with those of the herring and hickory shad. Dogwood blossoms predict the peak of the season.
    The fish are rarely caught accidentally because of their small size and smaller mouths, so an angler has to be fishing for them purposefully with hooks originally designed for trout flies (size 22 through 14), lightly weighted and fished off the bottom, usually with a tiny bobber. Rarely these days, the schools can be spotted nearer the surface circulating through the swifter waters, awaiting the proper conditions to continue upstream to spawn.
    Approaching the fish with a fly rod, a floating line and a tiny, bright-colored silver or gold fly can also be an effective method of catching them. Hildebrandt Lure Co. makes a small, Flicker Spinner fly rod lure in size 0 (1⁄32 oz.) that may be effective and can also be used with a light spin rod with a small bobber for casting weight.
    Maryland Department of Natural Resources does not regulate gudgeon specifically. It is considered in the same vein as our other common minnows and can be harvested similarly. For hook and line or dip net, there are neither limits nor closed seasons. Keep in mind, though, that their numbers are limited, so if you happen upon a good concentration of them, moderation is prudent.
    It may seem like an outsized labor to catch such a diminutive fish, but it connects us to an old Maryland angling and dining tradition.

Thick and blue is tried and true; thin and crispy is way too risky

Shivering, I resettled my stool, a plastic five-gallon pail, and reached for the skimming spoon. Easing over to the two holes we had spudded in the six-inch-thick ice an hour earlier, I scooped the already thickening slush threatening to close them. Meanwhile, I hoped that my mother hadn’t noticed her favorite slotted spoon missing from its peg in the kitchen.
    That long ago late January, temperatures were in the low teens as a friend and I perched, cold and uncomfortable, on the middle of the solidly frozen Presque Isle Bay. The sheltered piece of water is formed by a sandy 3,200-acre peninsula about halfway between Cleveland and Buffalo on Lake Erie.
    We were keeping a close eye on the tiny ice fishing poles perched at the edge of the two ice holes. Around us were scattered the trophies of our angling efforts: yellow perch, crappie and a few bluegills, frozen rigid within minutes on the ice.
    It takes at least four inches of the hard stuff before it is safe to venture forth. (Thick and blue is tried and true; thin and crispy is way too risky). When that happens, you are in a mesmerizing environment.
    The problem with Maryland winter, from my perspective, is that temperatures usually don’t remain low enough for long enough to support winter sports, like ice fishing.
    Except for one spot: Deep Creek Lake State Park. The largest lake in the state with 69 miles of shoreline and an average depth of 25 feet, Deep Creek is in Garrett County at the southern edge of Meadow Mountain in the Allegheny Highlands, where it frequently gets cold enough, long enough, to fish through the ice.
    Yellow perch are one of the more common catches there, fat and muscular in readiness for their impending spawn. Big crappie, too, often over 12 inches, plus large bluegills and occasionally some walleye, pickerel and northern pike.
    Garrett Hoffman is a recognized ice-fishing expert there, fishing the area since he was nine years old. A DNR-certified guide, Hoffman also has the specialized equipment to enjoy the sport to its fullest.
    Tip-ups are small ice fishing outfits designed to be placed right in your 10-inch diameter fishing hole. A small attached flag springs up smartly when you get a bite. The springing action also produces enough tension to set the hook, so all you have to do is reel in your catch.
    Small (24-inch) specialized spin rods are also available for jigging, one of the more productive methods of enticing the slow-moving fish, swimming in 33-degree water, to bite. Fathead minnows are the best bait, but wax worms and maggots work too.
    From a comfort standpoint, the most important gear for ice fishing is the fishing shanty, a pop-up shelter comfortably seating two or three anglers, keeping them warm if not toasty and protecting them from all but the wildest windstorms.
    Hoffman also has the proper ice auger to drill fish holes and strainer spoons to keep the holes ice-free. He is also the only ice guide in the area — if not the state: 301-616-6232.

Black squirrels once were common in America before European migration

Peering out the front window with my first cup of coffee this morning, I was rewarded with the sight of at least a half dozen squirrels cavorting on my snow-covered lawn, running up and down the trees, chasing each other and creating a maelstrom of snow powder and furry activity.
    One of the frisking rascals, I noticed with surprise, was melanistic, a black phase of our common gray squirrel. Though fairly rare (one in 10,000) these days, the jet-black variety is a handsome mutation and jogged some interesting facts loose in my memory.
    Winter storm warnings of about two inches of snow had been choking the airwaves. Despite having been born and raised around the snow-bound Great Lakes and immunized to such hysterics, I did begin to feel concern for the neighborhood critters. Which is why I had piled an ample supply of corn and seeds under the sheltering hull of my trailered skiff for the squirrels and birds.
    This, of course, made my yard quite a gathering place for local wildlife, including the black squirrel (which, I later found, regularly lives about a block away). Black squirrels, I also discovered, were much more common in America and perhaps even dominant in many large areas before Europeans began migrating to North America.
    Heavily forested with mature hardwoods, the dense canopy of the pre-settlement forests was not readily penetrated by sunlight. Dim light provided an advantage to the darker coloration of the melanistic squirrel variety. They were not as visible as the grays were to the many owls and hawks that were their principle predators.
    Agricultural, however, soon changed that. Clearing the forests to provide for shelter, fuel, farming and livestock likely left the darker-colored squirrels more visible in the now semi-forested areas. Since black offspring are common only when both parent squirrels are black (the black gene being recessive), the black variant began to give way to the gray as the dominant squirrel variety.
    Today the gray is far more common throughout their ranges. But exceptions remain. When I arrived in this area to work for the Department of Agriculture, I lived in Washington, D.C., where I was surprised to note a large number of black squirrels in the parks surrounding DuPont Circle and the Executive Office Building grounds. I distinctly recall one female, quite friendly, that lived near my apartment and sported a tiny rhinestone collar.
    It turned out that the National Zoo had imported 18 black squirrels from Canada (where they remained relatively common) during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration (1901-1909). They were released on zoo grounds, quickly became acclimated, then spread throughout the city, which had previously lacked any appreciable squirrel population.
    Today, Maryland (at College Park and Joppatowne), Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, among other states, are noted as having populations or concentrations of black squirrels. Their exact source is undetermined or at least undocumented. More I don’t know, just as I don’t know how this one came to my yard.


Seen any black squirrels? Tell us where and when: editor@bayweekly.com.
 

A triumph of hope over experience

The 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson got it as right about New Year’s resolutions as about his original subject, marriage. That thought struck me as I attempted to set personal goals for the New Year, hoping these meet with more success than usual.
    I’m going to have to exercise to increase my energy and endurance throughout the winter if I am to mount the kind of fishing campaign I intend to begin in just four short months.
    Resolution Two is to simplify my tackle. Over the years I have accumulated an excess, to the point of hindering my activities. An angler does not need to choose from 100 lures when on the water. A dozen will do. I know many an angler who excels with less than half a dozen.
    Divesting myself of all of these lures is not without pain. I’ll have to find someone who wants them, for I can’t throw them away, and there is no practical market for used fishing lures. And I must do it well before the next season begins so there is no temptation to hold on to them.
    Resolution Three is to cull my outdoor clothes. My wife pointed that out just last week as she gathered used items for a Purple Heart collection. A lucky fishing shirt is difficult to resign to the rag bin, even if its elbows are holed. A significant portion of my many ball caps suggest they may also be well past their due date. I must send them all off without pity.
    Last comes the most painful resolution of all. I had some great angling successes last season but also some disappointments. I told myself that the brutal August heat dampened the bite for the following months as well. I was wrong.
    I have come to acknowledge my reluctance to rise early in the morning as the reason my later season fell off.
    Six o’clock may be early in the spring when the water temperatures are in the 50s and the bite will only get better as the sun brings more warmth to the depths. But from mid-August on, the fish will be on the move at the first blush of light when the water is at its coolest and most comfortable for them.
    That means rising at no later than 4am — and not just one or two mornings, when I feel conditions may be perfect, but every morning to give all of my sorties a better chance of success. The thought of that early hour brings tears to my eyes. But again, it must be done in 2017 or my freezer will be empty again next winter.

Fly south for angling adventure and comfort

Icicles hang off my skiff, parked on its trailer in the side yard, as leafless tree limbs thrash the skyline and an icy rain falls, mostly sideways. It’s a grim picture, unless you adopt a southern perspective.
    With crude oil under $50 a barrel, airlines are reviving some sweet deals for an angler with a yen for warmer climes and gamer fish. Florida has some fares under $70 (Fort Lauderdale, each way). Even San Jose, Costa Rica, can now be economically reached, often for under $300 round trip.
    Both locations offer awesome fishing in the next few months. Boynton Beach and Deerfield Beach, just north of Miami, are hot for king mackerel, snook, seatrout and redfish from both the piers and beaches, as well as offering an excellent chance to tangle with 20- to 30-pound Jack Crevalle, one of the hardest-fighting gamefish that swims the Atlantic.
    Vinny Keitt (www.pier-masters), who introduced me and two of my sons to some excellent fishing around Boynton Beach, has an enthusiastic outlook for January and February. Vinny teaches how to catch the fish in his neighborhood as well as guiding (on foot) at the many public access beaches and piers for whatever is biting best at that moment. It’s 85 degrees and sunny down there right now.
    January and February will also bring great sailfish action to both Florida and Costa Rica. You’ll find affordable packages online for multiple locations around the Miami area (I recommend Rick and Jimbo on the Thomas Flyer, thomasflyerfishing@gmail.com. The Costa Rican Pacific Coast, particularly the Quepos/Jaco areas, features vast numbers of the glamorous billfish.
    If you don’t mind shopping on foot a bit at the marina, local Costa Rican skippers with open 23- to 25-foot outboard-powered panga boats can put you onto the sails, only minutes offshore, for about $200 a day.
    Fly anglers dreaming of encounters with the legendary light-tackle skinny-water bonefish also have opportunities. Baltimore to Cancun, Mexico, air connection is direct and about $300 round trip if you can select your days. There are bonefish just north of the Cancun resort area for fishers who’ll rent a car and wade-fish the shoreline flats.
    For a guided experience for the grey ghosts, make arrangements on-line for fishing from Cancun south all the way to the Ascension Bay (Punta Allen) area.
    For do-it-yourselfers, driving down the coast from Cancun to Punta Allen, stopping at local motels and wade-fishing the shoreline flats, can also result in some very inexpensive and rewarding fishing adventures.
    All of these areas are among the safest in Mexico, but you do have to use common sense when deciding where and when to explore.
    Anglers hoping to tangle with heavier-weight offshore fish also have some economical options. Direct flights from Baltimore to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on the southern Pacific Coast are available for under $400. January, February and March are the peak of the striped marlin season (100 to 250 pounds). Again, local fishermen operating 23- to 25-foot open pangas are available for hire quite reasonably, as are the larger, sleeker sport fishing boats at higher prices.
    Multiple billfish days are the norm there this time of year. Your only limitation is how much excitement and fish-fighting exertion you can handle. Accommodations range from expensive waterfront luxury to simple fish-camp-quality motels at much more affordable rates.  If you’ve a yen to travel a bit during Maryland’s winter, an adventurous angler has a great many options.

Sure-to-please choices

You’ve tried to choose a gift for the sport in your life, the dedicated angler, canoeist, hiker, shooter or sailor. And you’ve failed.
    The look in an aficionado’s eye on opening a present naively intended to enhance the enjoyment of a particular sport is a dead giveaway. Just what am I going to do with this? Next — but too late to mask the eye movement and expression of astonishment — come effusive explanations of just how special the gift is and how much it is appreciated.
    Here’s how to do better this year. If you are not dead certain that the gift is indeed unique and desirable within the context of that sport —almost impossible if you don’t share the passion — give a gift certificate.
    A certificate for a favorite restaurant is an excellent choice, as is one from a good sporting goods store. If the person in question is keen, sartorial-wise, a certificate from one of the better area clothing stores will may be the ticket. For those impossible to anticipate, I note that liquor stores are beginning to sell holiday gift cards.
    But if you must choose a sporting gift, try something like this. For boaters, a new piece of technological boating gear has recently arrived in retail stores to satisfy a safety requirement of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Weems and Plath electronic flare and emergency SOS light.
    Flares are required to be onboard any craft larger than 16 feet that intends to go on big water or operate at night. Flares inevitably have an expiration date (usually three years hence) and are inherently dangerous to operate.
    This new electronic flare never expires, is safe to use and is superior in terms of visibility and effectiveness of operation. All boaters will eventually possess one of these new devices in lieu of the incendiaries. If you want your skipper to appreciate your thoughtfulness, and to keep safe at the same time, giving one of these new devices is a sure avenue to success.
    LED flashlights are also an ideal gift for the sports inclined, especially the small units with high light output (1,000-plus lumens). These devices can be lifesavers in emergencies. Every car, motorcycle, boat (or other floating or moving conveyance) should have one somewhere onboard.
    They’re also handy for non-sporting occasions as they thoroughly illuminate any dim, dark walks back to an automobile and can effectively (though briefly) blind and ward off anyone who threatens to approach uncomfortably close. The better ones are the size of a small candy bar.
    Another unique LED creation is the Larry Light, a small, inexpensive, bright stick of lights that is directional and magnetized so that it can be attached anywhere there is metal for hands-free illumination of dark recesses. They’re also handy for casual photographic applications.
    The incredibly efficient Yeti brand coolers have become quite popular of late despite their hefty price tags. Yeti also offers hot/cold drink cups and thermos bottles that are unbelievably efficient as well as more affordable. They make an ideal gift for almost anyone.

Adjust your dress and technique, and you might still catch one

This is the end my friend, the end.
It hurts to set you free.

Rock legend Jim Morrison’s words echo my thoughts as our rockfish season heads to a close on Dec­ember 20. It has been a fine year chasing my favorite Bay species, and I still hope for a few more encounters.
    I’ve gotten in some good December licks in the past. Jigging around the Eastern Shore rock pile at the Bay Bridge has been memorably productive during this last month. Though I’ve been out of action recently with unexpected boat motor repairs and foul weather, I am itching for another chance or two.
    Just a couple of years ago, a friend and I couldn’t get a jig with a small dropper to the bottom for all the big white perch that were schooled there. The reason? Four- and five-pound rockfish would pounce on the rig before it was halfway down. The year before that, a simple two-ounce jig with a lip-hooked minnow slow bumped along deep shell was the key to lots of striped winter action. I’m planning over the next few days to be trying them all, especially a chartreuse Bernie’s Bomber rig, a two-ounce feather-dressed jig followed with a fluorescent yellow Meushaw jig dropper. Stripers will be my target, but I won’t discard any chunky white perch that decide to jump the rig.
    Both rockfish and white perch are at their dinner-table best this time of year, fat as pigs from fall feeding and as firm as tuna from the deep cold water both species prefer this time of year.
    Of course Maryland’s winter weather will always play a role in deciding when to go.
    Since I’m fishing from a light 17-foot skiff, I’ll stick to windless days with temperatures in the mid-50s and won’t stray too far from the boat ramp. Though in my youth, nothing discouraged me until my rod guides started freezing up, the last few years I’ve discovered the December conditions much more uncomfortable than I remembered them.
    Waterproof (not water-resistant) foul weather coat and pants are a must, even on calm sunny days. It doesn’t take much for an errant bow wave to splash onto the boat and soak your clothes. I don’t care what the advertisements say: No matter what you’re wearing, it won’t keep you warm if it’s wet.
    A good hat is a must. Bring an extra along in case the first blows off while you’re at speed. Gloves are handy but don’t expect to keep them dry, so stay away from fleece. Wool is best. It’s also a good idea to bring a hot beverage in a good-quality thermos, as it will keep your core warm and make everything more comfortable. Limit your alcohol intake. In quantity, alcohol gives the illusion of warming you up while actually dropping your body temp.
    Keep in mind that as the water temperatures fall, especially below 50 degrees, fish will search for their prey more and more by smell and less by vision. Adding a strip of fresh bait to your lures or going strictly to live bait will generally improve your results. Using synthesized potions to make your baits more scent attractive can also be helpful. Slowing your retrieves and lure action to match the lower metabolisms of the cold-blooded quarry is wise.
    Expect extreme patience to pay off more than constant relocation and experimentation.

Four faults that lead to lost fish — and how to correct them

That moment is clearly etched in my memory. It was early evening as my skiff softly coasted into a deserted shoreline. I was a long cast off a small tidal pond outlet at the first stages of a falling flood. Firing a top-water plug to just a foot or two off the sand, I gave the lure the slightest pop. A mighty swirl engulfed the bait, and my pulse went sky-high.
    Feeling immediate pressure on my line, I set the hook, and a large, powerful fish took off, sending its wake cascading along the shoreline like breaking surf. The reel drag started its song, and my rod bowed deeply.
    Then, inexplicably, the fish was gone. My heart plummeted. Reeling in the line, dejected, I had a strong suspicion of what had just happened. As I lifted the plug to my hand, my fears were confirmed. My line had fouled the front hook during the cast.
    Sometimes there is little you can do to prevent entangling the lure. But, minimally, keeping the lure steady and not tumbling during its flight can be critical, and not just for optimum distance. Avoiding excess wrist snap at the end of the casting stroke tends to produce a smoother, more controlled throw.
    If a multi-hooked plug tumbles in the air, there is a good chance the loose trailing line will foul, particularly on that front treble hook. An angler might not notice the problem during the retrieve, but it will most definitely impact the outcome of any rockfish battle.
    Since the line has become wrapped around the bend in the front hook and the front of the lure is, inevitably, the end a striper will attack, the pressure from the angler in fighting the fish will eventually pull that fouled hook backwards, out of the fish’s mouth.
    The next most frequent cause of losing a good fish just after the strike is slack line. This is particularly true of spin-casting tackle. If the arc of the line trailing the lure is excessive — either because of a high overhand cast or from the effect of a brisk wind — a large amount of loose line will be pulled off of the spool.
    Before the angler can again come tight to the lure and regain control of that slack, a fish may have struck and spit the bait. Even if the force of the fish’s strike sinks a hook without much angler pressure, that slack may have allowed only light hook penetration.
    The fight from a lightly hooked fish is usually short and not in favor of the angler. Keeping the casting arc low to the water during windy conditions and avoiding high-arching overhead casts minimizes this problem.
    Another cause of many lost game fish is the quality and condition of the hooks. Saltwater is relentless for encouraging rust. There are no remedies for hooks that become oxidized except replacement.
    Under magnification, a rusted hook will show a very rough surface requiring a much greater force than an unaffected hook to penetrate a fish’s jaws, particularly larger fish that tend to have age-hardened mouth structures. A rusty hook will still get bites and strikes, but a fresh, sharp hook will always get the fish: So goes the angling dictum.
    The last significant cause of losing a good game fish at any stage of the fight is rod-handling technique. Close syncopation with the rod and reel is necessary to bring a fish to hand. The key is gaining line by stroking the rod smoothly and forcefully back (preferably to the side), then reeling in the gained line while continuing to maintain pressure on the fish, especially while lowering the rod in preparation for another retrieval stroke.

Gas, oil and battery need attention before the freeze hits

There’s lots to do to winterize your boat and motor, and lots of checklists online and at marine stores tell you how. Let me remind you of the steps that can be the most critical.
    Topping off your boat’s gas tanks and dosing with the correct amount of fuel stabilizer is first on the list of must-do’s. Seek out ethanol-free gasoline (E-0), as it is relatively stable during storage.
    Ethanol is an additive present in 90 percent of all gasoline sold in this country. E-10 contains 10 percent ethanol, and E-15 has 15 percent. Ethanol is mandated by the U.S. government to reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources. Modern marine motors are designed to run on all of the ethanol-added fuels, but problems can occur in extended storage.
    Gasoline itself can absorb a small amount of moisture. Ethanol can accumulate 50 to 60 times more, generally from condensation inside the fuel tank. When the ethanol accumulates too much moisture, phase separation occurs. The fuel separates into two distinct layers, a top layer of (now) low-octane gasoline and a bottom layer of water-rich ethanol. Neither of these is desirable in a modern outboard engine. Both can cause damage.
    If your motor will not start or it suddenly runs poorly, phase separation might be the cause. Do not try adding fresh gas, as it will not effectively mix with the separated fuel. Drain the tank and dispose of the spoiled gasoline at a hazardous waste site.
    The next most important step is changing the lower unit oil. The lower unit of an outboard contains the drive gears and prop shaft, rather like the transmission of an automobile. The gears are lubricated by thick 90-weight oil. It’s a good idea to change it every year.
    Winterizing is the best time, for two reasons. First, so you don’t forget to do it. Second, to be sure the prop shaft seals have retained their waterproof integrity. When drained oil has a white or milk-colored tone, your seals are failing and should be replaced.
    If you do not drain your oil and the engine is stored outside over winter, any water that has leaked into the lower unit will eventually separate from the oil and accumulate at the bottom. When temperatures drop below 32 degrees, that water will freeze. Expansion can crack the unit’s casing, disabling your engine and incurring a costly repair.
    Replacing the seals is not a difficult operation, and manuals and websites describe exactly how to do it. If you prefer to have a professional mechanic handle the operation, be sure that you do it over the winter while their workloads are at a minimum. If you wait for springtime, the busiest time of year for marine mechanics, you may wait weeks.
    The last must-do is to disconnect your engine’s battery. Optimally you should remove it from the boat, store it in a temperature-stable area and place it on a maintenance charger. At minimum, it should be completely disconnected.
    Most boat motors, bilge pumps and general electronics are sophisticated enough to include some monitoring devices that will continue to operate even if the unit is off. While drawing only a miniscule amount of power, they will drain the battery over time, then keep it drained. And you’ll need a new battery come spring.

Give yourself plenty of options for catching stripers this time of year

I knew exactly what I wanted to do. With ice in my cooler, a couple of bottles of water and a box of surface lures, I headed out just before sundown for the mouth of a nearby tributary. Planning a top-water assault to repeat a recent evening’s triumph, my hopes were high.
    Everything was perfect: low light, high water, moving tide and no wind. The only missing element was the fish. I worked up and down the shallow shoreline to no avail. Finally, searching in my boat bag, I discovered a lone Rat-L-Trap. On my third cast with it, I finally came tight with a rockfish. However it was only a 16-incher, and worse, it was alone.
    Looking about in frustration I noticed a group of boats working a distant channel edge. Time was running out as I quietly motored near. One look at my electronic finder explained the fleet’s presence. Scattered marks of sizeable fish suspended at 10 feet were along the edge, definitely a rockfish signature. I drifted and cast through the area, allowing my crank bait time to sink. No success.
    The other anglers appeared to be casting assassin-type baits. I dove into my under-seat storage, praying I had some stashed somewhere. Near the bottom, I came up with a small, weathered box of half-ounce jig heads and a couple of old five-inch assassins in white. That would have to do.
    Keeping an eye on the nearest skiff to see if anyone was actually catching, I finally noticed an angler lean over and furtively lip a fish in the mid-20s up and over the side.
    The boats were crowding each other unceremoniously close. It was getting dark. The action would soon cease, if the presence of so many craft wasn’t forcing it already.
    Flipping my jig out and giving it a chance to sink below the marks, I worked it back with an erratic stop and go. It took two or three drifts and a few dozen casts, but I finally hooked a good fish. Letting it run a bit, I began to think I wasn’t going to get skunked. Then it was gone.
    For another hour, I worked the water. As it grew deep dark and the fleet dissipated, I reconstructed my poor decisions. I should have been on the water earlier … I shouldn’t have wasted so much time working a poor method … I should have had a wider selection of baits. Betting all my chips on surface action in one area was too risky.
    The mouth of this river had become recently popular. I knew that rockfish get lure- and boat-noise shy after just a few encounters. I persisted. Yet I knew better — and will do better the next time.
    For spooky fall fish, assassin-type bodies on jig heads tend to be the most reliable bait. Even better are assassins rigged Texas-style with a bullet-shaped head weight and the hook point buried just under the soft body.
    Such bait is virtually snag-free, a real advantage in working the shallows. It will also fish well in deeper water, and it can be retrieved extra slow, allowing the stripers to mouth it, another real advantage with tentative fish.
    As my ace in the hole, I’ll have four or five small white perch in my live well. They might do the trick in the end. It’s hard for a hungry rockfish to resist the real thing.
    As I headed for home, the skunk smell following me, I swore that the next time I would be better prepared.