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Regulars (Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle)

Gifts they’ll really appreciate

     What to give the dedicated Chesapeake Bay angler on your list?
     The most helpful suggestion I can offer — if you haven’t already received exact, specific instructions from the individual in question — is to remember the Rule of Don’t.
     Don’t guess. Don’t rely on your instincts (unless you fish a lot more than they do). Don’t ask a friend who kind of knows something about the sport. And don’t ask a sales clerk. If you’re not 100 percent sure that you’ve found a gift that will be gratefully accepted, don’t buy it. 
     There are, however, some exceptions, including a few of my favorites. 
Lenny Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Chesapeake contains verified, critical information on all the brackish water locations for all the species available hereabouts. His thorough coverage of every fishable honey hole on the Bay and when it is most fruitful remains remarkable and reliable. It should be in every angler’s arsenal.
     Chesapeake Bay Foundation naturalist John Page Williams is a treasure trove of information. The Chesapeake Almanac: Following the Bay Through the Seasons continues to be the best work that thoroughly describes the workings of the watershed’s ecosystems throughout an entire year, knowledge useful for every dedicated angler.
      My third book recommendation, Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner, has been around for almost a quarter-century. That means there are now a lot of adults who were too young to appreciate the Pulitzer Prize-winning book when if first appeared in bookstores. Beautiful Swimmers remains the most readable, informative book ever published on Maryland’s favorite crustacean and the watermen who pursue them.
      Technical gadgets for the angling and sporting adventurer include The Personal Locator Beacon. It may be just the answer for outdoorpersons who insist on traveling to god-knows-where, in any kind of weather, at all hours, in fanatical pursuit of their passion. If catastrophe befalls them and other forms of communication have failed, these small devices can lead rescuers promptly to the exact location of our more foolish loved ones.
      New electronic flares are safer to use, have a signal far more visible and last far longer than the older, fire-breathing versions. A set will be appreciated by any boater.
     My final suggestion is an item essential to any outing yet often overlooked: a small, good-quality flashlight. The newer light-emitting diode (LED) models are more compact, brighter, and longer lasting. These small wonders are invaluable when accidents or breakdowns occur or whenever operating in the dark. They make excellent stocking stuffers as well as presents at gift exchanges. I’m partial to the Surefire G2X and the Nitecore EA41.
You’ve gotta have hope to wring the last fish out of the season
     The pictures Mike showed me were what I hadn’t seen for too long, two nice 35-plus-inch rockfish with heavy bellies and dark, shiny stripes. They’d been caught by friends earlier that day.
      Then he made an offer I ­couldn’t turn down.
      “Ryan’s picking up the menhaden, chum, snacks and water in the morning,” he said. “Meet us at the dock at 7am.” 
      The morning was cold, in the 30s, but no wind. I dressed in my usual: thick fleece unders, flannel-lined heavy canvas shirt topped with a foul-weather vest. 
      We headed out believing that sizeable fish could still be loitering in the neighborhood. Ryan set the anchor at the channel edge off Sandy Point while Mike and I cut bait, put the chum bag over and set out rigs.
       Chunking the remainder of the two baitfish we had used, we pitched the pieces off the sides and stern and settled down to await the action. So far this fall, big fish have been darn few and far between. But you’ve gotta have hope, and those photos had prompted a lot of it.
      The first bite, not long in coming, hit a rod next to Mike. He picked up the rig and thumbed the spool as the fish slowly took the bait out cross-current. After a long count, he put the reel in gear. The line came tight, and he set the hook. The rod arced over, and the fish started its first run. A glorious moment, it seemed.
      About 10 seconds later, the line went slack. Mike cranked madly, hoping the fish had turned toward the boat. Then he dropped the bait back in hopes the fish was still following. Finally there was nothing but despair. How could it have come off after running that long after the hook set?
      It was easily an hour before the next bite. This time Ryan was the fall guy. He picked up the rod to check if the fish was still mouthing the bait.
      It had not only tasted the bait but absconded with it. Ryan was in the hot seat trying to explain how a fish could unbutton a piece of menhaden from a needle-sharp hook 30 feet down.
     We had a number of other tense moments as rods quivered suspiciously and otherwise acted as if something were molesting our baits. But nothing developed. By noon we had exhausted our bait and chum and headed home before the onset of hypothermia.
      We decided on the way in that we would immediately make plans for doing it again, soon, before the season ends December 20. 

Fish Finder
      Anglers out on the rare good day with calm winds are finding nice rockfish and getting limits, sometimes promptly. The warm water discharge areas of the shoreline utility companies are concentrating nice fish and sometimes really big ones. 
      Farther south (mouth of the Potomac and down) and north (the Patapsco and above) fish 30 inches and above are coming in from the ocean. In-between areas (the Magothy to the Thomas Point Light, down to Chesapeake Beach and over to the mouth of the eastern Bay) are finally holding fish into the mid 20s.
      Fresh alewife and sizeable bull minnows are producing when fished deep over good marks. Trolling with mid-sized and smaller plastics, spoons and surgical hoses along the shallow shorelines near the mouths of tributaries and deep along channel edges are doing well. Trollers also have an advantage in searching out schools still on the move. Shore anglers are beginning to score in the evenings on fresh menhaden or jumbo bloodworms.
      White perch are gathering in deeper water (30 to 50 feet) over shell bottoms.
 
Hunting Seasons
Whitetail deer and Sika deer, firearms season: thru Dec. 9
Seaduck: thru Jan. 12
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
http://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Documents/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf
 

You can catch a fish, but take care not to catch hypothermia

     Yes, it can be uncomfortable but it can also be exhilarating to catch fish this time of year. Even in the low 40s, you can catch fish, particularly rockfish and white perch.
     But before you even think of going out, take two precautions.
     Do not go out on the water when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
     Do not go out alone this time of year. The chief danger, hypothermia, manifests first in clumsiness and confused thinking, neither conditions you should deal with by yourself. 
     If you go, your keys to success are clothing and tactics.
 
Clothing
     Layering is the primary consideration, with the innermost layer being key. Always start out with expedition-level undergarments. Fleece is warm and comfortable, but high-tech synthetics excel at wicking moisture away from the body, an important feature if part of your trip involves strenuous exercise, such as kayaking, hiking or flyfishing.
     Heavy shirts, sweaters and vests are intermediate layers to give you an added edge against cold temperatures. In this category, wool is excellent. Insulators such as down and down-like synthetics don’t function well when compressed, and almost all are poor to non-performing if they get wet. 
     A good warm hat, particularly one that covers your ears, is essential. It conserves your body heat and, in the case of flyfishing, can protect your ears against an errant back cast. Carry a backup. Motoring by boat, a hat can easily be lost overboard, and if you have a ways to go to reach home, you will quickly be miserable, if not in pain, without one.
      Complete your angling outfit with a waterproof breathable shell or insulated jacket. The Gore Tex models or their clones (the patent for Gore Tex material expired long ago) are the best and will keep you dry and immune to frigid winds and high-speed slipstreams.
     Shoes or boots should also be waterproof and, if not insulated, must be roomy enough to allow for a thick pair of wool socks. Neoprene is excellent for waterborne footwear, as is any shoe designed for winter sailing, the only other aquatic sporting activity that has a similar, fanatical following.
     Gloves and mittens are a final necessity. Mittens are superior in the warmth department though they sacrifice dexterity. For digital angling activities, I prefer simple fingerless all-wool gloves that can be coupled with air-activated hand warmers such as Hot Hands. 
     Always place the handwarmers in your gloves or mittens on the back of your hands. They are less likely to get wet there and the back of your hand is where the veins are most exposed. Warming up your blood will warm up the whole hand.
 
Tactics
     The tactics of the wintertime angler may also require some modifications from traditional techniques. 
     Fish are cold-blooded, and their metabolisms slow down significantly with low temps. They will feed more tentatively and become much more reliant on their sense of smell/taste to find food, although they will take an artificial bait if presented properly. That generally means low and very slow for everything.
     Don’t stay out too long. Don’t give in to that urge to prolong a good bite while suffering extreme discomfort. Extended exposure to cold can produce poor mental functioning and bad decisions. Stay safe, go home early and save some fun for tomorrow.
 
Filling Your Thermos
     Drinks for cold weather angling should definitely exclude alcohol, the only liquid that can give you the impression of warmth while actually reducing your body’s ability to produce it. A large thermos of hot water, tea, coffee or similar beverage (I know of one gentleman who prefers steaming Dr. Pepper) will keep your core temperature up and maintain your hydration.
Getting equipped to clean your tackle will postpone that day of reckoning
     First it was wind and plenty of it. Then rain. Gazing at the dreary, sodden, gale-racked scene from my writing chair, I admitted that foul weather is finally descending on us. We will get days on the water, but more often than not, we won’t.
     Behind me was the tangle of gear I had ignored for some time. Two rod racks hold more than 20 outfits, sufficient for most of the rigs I commonly use. When I’m in a sweet run — weather, tides and fish all cooperating — I don’t put the rods where they belong. I lean them somewhere convenient. My room looks like a forest of falling timber. 
     With fishing in the near future doubtful, I considered cleaning my gear in preparation for wintertime storage. Taking stock, I saw missing maintenance items, mostly products that had been hijacked for household use.
     A list was what I needed. I liked the idea. A list would take me a while. Then I would have to make a trip to buy what was missing, thus putting off cleaning anything. Perfect. 
     The first item on my list is Soft Scrub. A wonderful cleaning product containing a mild abrasive, Soft Scrub is perfect for resurrecting a fresh gleam from a fish slime-encrusted rod. I made a note to get the kind without bleach, as I always get some on my clothing and it leaves its mark.
      The Soft Scrub is used on a sponge so I’ll need a few of those. There are at least one or two in the kitchen, but my wife would not like me using them on tackle contaminated with menhaden residue or worm goo. She might think I would return them for further use on pots or pans, though I assure you I would not.
     A toothbrush is also handy for cleaning the guides on a rod or the crevices of a reel. They are useful for many applications and, with a good dollop of Soft Scrub, can make a tedious job much easier. I added a couple of inexpensive brushes to my list. I offer a word of caution: To avoid embarrassing confrontations, an angler should not purchase any toothbrush in the same color that anyone else in the household is using.
     Regular powdered sink cleanser is also a necessity for a thorough cleaning job. I don’t recommend it for rods or reels as it is too abrasive, but it can bring a dirt-encrusted cork or foam rod handle back to great condition. It should be applied with a sponge. Never use a brush to clean cork as it can easily erode the softer parts of the surface.
     A can of WD-40 is also on the list. Both a cleaner and a preservative, it is wonderful for a quick cleaning of the surfaces of any tackle; a light covering will protect most metals during winter storage. Do not spray it directly onto reels; it is not a lubricant. As it contains a potent solvent, it can dilute or displace heavy grease or other interior petroleum lubricants. 
     As a final item, I include line conditioner. Monofilament and fluorocarbon fishing lines can dry out in storage, becoming stiff and brittle and retaining spool memory. As a last step, a thorough and generous application of a good-quality line conditioner on your spooled reels will minimize these effects and keep all types of fishing lines soft, fresh and ready to use come spring.  
     Now I’m ready to go shopping. When I get back with my replenished supplies, it will be too late to start cleaning.

Fish Finder
     On the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, another nor’easter descended on us. Expect the gale to break up and relocate the large migrating schools of baitfish as well as the rockfish that have been following them. All bets are off on how or where the bite will resume. The storm will also close down crabbing, and any spot, croaker or Spanish mackerel action. 
 
Hunting Seasons
Wild Turkey: thru Nov. 4
Sea Duck: Nov. 4-12
Duck: Nov. 11-24
Snow goose: thru Nov. 24
Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Muzzleloader season thru Nov. 21; Bow season thru Nov. 24
Woodcock: thru Nov. 24
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28

Research is what you call it when you’re not catching

      Thumbing the spool, I cast my lure just off a placid riprapped Chesapeake Bay shoreline. The morning had been perfect for surface plugging to cruising rockfish: The tide was in flood stage, there was little wind and the water was 66 degrees. Yet there were no fish.
      Having just worked about 50 yards of rocky shoreside with my favorite popper, a black Smack-It, I switched to a Rat-L-Trap-type lure in gold, a sub-surface producer. The three-quarter-ounce lure was easy to cast long distances, and I often used it when prospecting large unknown areas for stripers.
     “Research is what we’re doing when we don’t know what we’re doing,” Albert Einstein said, and that popped into my head after another half hour of casts and retrieves. I imagined this as angling research, unproductive but still research.
      That stretch of shoreline was one of the last resort locations for the day. Farther up the river, I had already tried a half-dozen prime spots, all places where over my many years I had caught a fish. But the results so far, no matter where I fished, were zip, nada, nothing, a big smelly skunk. This was not my first skunk of the week; it was more like the third.
     I was now into a desperate pattern, working locations where I had never caught a fish but that looked as if I should have. 
      It’s easy to remain focused when I’m fishing areas that have been productive in the past or after I have caught a few fish. I can envision the slamming strikes, the angry boils, the charging fish that I experienced in the past. But when I’m getting tired after long episodes of no fish, my shoulders starts to ache, my back begins to complain and my attention can wander.
      Long stretches of no fish can also result in depression. This will never get you any sympathy from your spouse or friends. Plus, you’re actually getting a beautiful day on the water. But any serious angler knows what I’m talking about.
      So I have to hope. I concentrate on my casting. When throwing plugs with a spin rig, you simply gauge the distance and make the throw. You’re either on target or not. But with the revolving-spool casting rigs that I use, that action can be more complicated. 
      If the initial throwing effort has caused the lure to tumble in the air, you can steady it with very light thumb pressure on the spool. Steadying the lure will cause it to become more aerodynamic, increasing your distance, and also minimize the chance of fouling the lure on the line that trails it.
       The angler with revolving-spool tackle can also alter the trajectory of the cast. Holding the rod tip off to the appropriate side and thumbing the spool will cause the lure to move to one side or the other. Thumb pressure will also shorten the cast and, if it is done just before the lure hits the water, soften the landing.
      I imagined instances where these actions might be important and practiced variations.
     At this point, a large bird wafted overhead. I looked up and realized it was a juvenile bald eagle giving me the hairy eyeball. I love to see eagles flying over the Chesapeake; they’re the only creatures I don’t resent for out-fishing me. 
       By that point the day had worn on past lunch. Hungry, sore and still fishless, I decided that the eagle would have to do it for the day. Tomorrow would be another cause for hope. Tomorrow things would be better.

Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.
     Watching the numbers increase as the bottom fell away, I tensed as it descended through 14 then 15 feet, the depth that had proved the sweet spot.      Then the screen’s bottom image showed a long bright blob marking a tight school of perch. Seconds later, as my baited rig passed through those marks, my rod tip surged down and I felt the heavy weight of a good fish. It arced deeper as another fish jumped on. Double-header!
     Years ago, during a particularly good panfish bite, I experimented with a number of variations of two-hook bottom-fishing setups, termed hi-lo or top-and-bottom rigs, to see which were the most effective. The best setup — quite a surprise — has remained the top producer for bottom fishing throughout the years, despite any troubling instincts to the contrary. 
     I knew that twisted wire or heavy mono two-hook (maximum permitted in Maryland) setups would scare off every fish with any sense. So I started from scratch designing my own barest fluorocarbon-rigged setups for stealth and effectiveness.
     My creations of light fluorocarbon leaders, fine wire hooks and minimum construction worked well and caught lots of fish, just as I anticipated. But for due diligence, I also tried more popular rigs and hook setups. 
     What I discovered was amazing. The outlandish and all-too-obvious twisted wire top and bottom (or hi-lo) constructions out-fished everything I had so laboriously created. Far from scaring the fish off, the clumsy contraptions seem to attract the attack of panfish of all sizes.
     This was also true of the snelled hooks that I bent on the wire top-and-bottom rigs. The simple small black hook snelled with light monofilament caught fish. But the more obvious bright red No. 4 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a silver or fluorescent spinner blade, caught more panfish of every type, including the bigger, older fish that should have known better.
     Over time, I have also developed a strong preference for baiting with bloodworms. Though soft crab, grass shrimp and razor clams can sometimes provoke more bites, the bloodworms remain on the hook longer, are far more difficult for a panfish to filch and, as a result, reduce the need to rebait empty hooks. More time for your rig in the panfish zone means more hook-ups.
     My day on the water this past week with that bait and those big, obvious setups once again proved the efficacy of the terminal tackle and bait system. Perch as big as 12 inches — with the smallest just under 10 inches — made up the dozen fat keepers that accompanied me home that day. There were of course many throwbacks, but the constant action kept the day exciting.
     If you’ve a yen for some productive fall fishing, this commonly available gear will maximize your chances of a good catch. 
 
Fish Finder
     The middle Bay is plagued with barely keeper sized rockfish. Trolling has been the top producer, simply because it is superior in covering a lot of water. Bigger fish are falling to vertical jigging, but in this endeavor relentlessness is key. Bluefish are roaming the Bay, providing some lively action but ruining the bite for live-liners using spot.
     White perch are schooling in the tributaries, particularly in 14 to 16 feet of water. They’ll be leaving soon for their main Bay wintering grounds, so if you intend on putting any in the ­freezer, now is the time. 
     Spanish mackerel have shown here and there. Clark Spoons, red hoses and Captain John’s spoons all trolled at about five knots are the key to hooking up with these swift migrators.
 
Hunting Seasons
  • Ducks: thru Nov. 21
  • Snow geese: thru Nov. 24
  • Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Bow season Oct. 22-Nov. 24; Muzzleloader thru Nov. 21
  • Black bear: Oct. 23-26
  • Squirrel: thru Feb. 28

The crabs were fat, plentiful and willing to be caught

I had violated my sacred rule never to promise blue crabs before they were caught. To further increase the danger of a dinner failure when an ever-growing number of people was expecting to be fed, I had not run a trotline in more than a year. Now, at well past dawn, we were only laying out the baited line at the mouth of a neighborhood creek.
    Friends from New Jersey were staying with us, and, while I had been intending to celebrate my 75th birthday with them as quietly and inconspicuously as possible, other influences were at work. I foolishly had not factored in my children, some of their friends and, not the least, my long-neglected and forgotten Facebook account, which had automatically spewed a birthday announcement far and wide.
    My wife had asked the night before, as Vincent Ransom from New Jersey and I were baiting my 600-foot line with chicken necks and sipping adult beverages, “what happens if you don’t catch enough crabs?”
    I answered that pizza would just have to do. She gave me the old arched eyebrow and stalked off. I was beginning to get a little tense and could only hope that my premature promise of enough jimmies for dinner would not jinx the crabbing.
    Adding to my growing terror, I had no actual idea where in local waters the crabs were. Luckily my charter captain friend Frank Tuma had given me a good idea of a nearby site to lay our line.
    The results of our first run of the baited line dispelled a great deal of my trepidation. With Vince manning a trotline net for his first time ever, we managed an even dozen fat jimmies that didn’t even need to be measured. After that, crabs kept flying out of his net and into our basket.
    Within an hour and a half, we were over the three-quarter bushel mark and lauding each other for our skill and luck. Of course at that same point the tidal current died, as did the crab movement. It took more than two hours to finish, but we were back at the ramp by noon with a bulging bushel of the blue beauties.
    Back at the house, Vince and I accepted our spouses’ surprised congratulations, settled our gear and cleaned up. I took a birthday nap, leaving the interim preparations in the hands of my sainted wife, Deb, and Tarin, the other half of the couple from New Jersey.
    Eventually, growing crowd noise and a constantly ringing phone woke me from my decadent mid-day slumber, and I was forced to rejoin the world below who were slowly accumulating to remind me how ancient I had become.
    My youngest son, Robert, who had flown up from his place in Florida, had taken on the task of assembling the propane tank and gas burner, tongs, cardboard platters and adding in just the right mixture of beer, vinegar and water to the crab cooker to steam the tasty devils just the right amount. Just as the feast was almost ready, our middle boy, Harrison, and his partner, Jerica, arrived from Baltimore, having finally extricated themselves from the weekend traffic.
    The pile of hot, fat crabs, heavily dosed with that familiar, steaming spice mixture, was soon heaped on the newspaper-covered dining room table, a sight as beautiful and fragrant as anything ever beheld.
    Somehow we all got seated, a platter of steamed corn and salad miraculously appeared, cold beverages distributed, a bottle of birthday champagne popped and the meal commenced. As I glanced around the room at what had transpired in my home, I wished that living on Chesapeake Bay would forever be just like this for all my family and friends.

Though not Bay natives, channel catfish are worth an angler’s time

Despite a firm New Year’s resolution to rise earlier during the hot summer months to take advantage of the cooler dawn hours when the rockfish are on the hunt, I once again failed to get out of bed and on the water until 8am. The day by then was already heating up and the striper bite a memory.
    Unwilling to brave the heat and the daytime crowds chumming, I decided to focus on white perch with ultra-light tackle since the tides would remain favorable until at least noon. I was only a little sorry I wouldn’t be tussling with some heavier adversaries. But surprises were in store for me that morning.
    I was casting along a rocky shoreline to the remnants of an old lengthy bulkhead that had succumbed to storm erosion and age. Submerged rotting wood attracts grass shrimp and small minnows to feed on the decaying timbers, and that attracts and holds white perch.
    Having already put two or three bulky white perch on ice and released another half-dozen lesser-sized scrappers, I was settling into a relaxed rhythm of casting to clearly visible areas near the more substantial bulkhead remains and enjoying the action. Then my spinner bait stopped dead from a heavy strike.
    Lifting my rod smartly and expecting another spirited tussle, I was met with a strong and determined run against my firmly set drag. For the first few seconds I dreamed of a state-record white perch. When the run continued into the distance, I began thinking of a hefty rockfish. The power and determination of a striper’s run was there, but not the speed, so eventually I had to cross a keeper rock off my list of possibilities.
    When the fish finally paused, I recovered some line. Almost immediately, it took off again. Trying to slow its progress stretched my six-pound mono dangerously close to failure. Eventually the fish paused, only to continue resisting with intermittent rushes in random directions.
    I took my time. When the fish made a rush anywhere near my direction, I applied as much pressure as I could to lead it closer. Then the beast started crossing, again and again, under my hull, using my own boat against me.
    I could do little to stop that tactic. It was only chance that kept my line away from my outboard. I was on borrowed time. At last, stressing my light five-foot spin rod till its cork creaked, I netted a fat and healthy 25-inch channel catfish.
    It was the first of three I would put in my cooler that morning, losing a fourth to my outboard.
    The most numerous catfish in North America, the channel cat’s wide popularity as a sport and table fish has made it the official state fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee. Channel cats have whiskers, deeply forked tails and golden brown flanks with small dark spots. It’s a species introduced to Maryland via the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers but becoming an increasingly appreciated addition to the Chesapeake’s seafood cornucopia.
    The Maryland record of 29 pounds 10 ounces is held by Kevin Kern at Mattawoman Creek, but the whiskered rowdies can reach up to 60 pounds. Channel cats are generally caught in the three-to-five-pound size on the Chesapeake, but their average size is likely to increase as they become more numerous.
    The Chester is the most highly regarded river for chasing catfish in this area, but cats are found with increasing frequency in all of the Chesapeake’s tributaries, particularly around laydowns (fallen trees) and derelict docks and pilings. They also show up in mainstem chum slicks — much to the surprise of those targeting rockfish.
    Cleaning these catfish for the table requires a different technique than most of our sport-fish, as all catfish need to be skinned rather than scaled. These fish produce thick, succulent and boneless fillets with little effort.

Here’s what you need to have fun

Afish caught on the fly is easily twice as much fun as one caught any other way. Right now is an ideal time to fish the long rod for rockfish and white perch.

The first rule is to leave your conventional tackle at home. If you’ve decided to use the fly rod, it’s best to be fully committed.

A nine-foot, eight-weight rod is a good allaround stick. It can handle just about any sized striper you’re apt to encounter and will still allow a decentsized perch to show its stuff. Choose a floating line as it is relatively easy to cast and can handle such weighted flies as the Clouser minnow or surface poppers as the Blados Crease Fly.

You’ll be targeting areas no more than five feet deep to rocky  shorelines, jetties, bulkheads, piers and docks where stripers and perch hold. As you may lose a few flies to these structures (or else you’re not casting close enough), be sure you have an adequate supply.

The Clouser minnow in sizes No. 1 and larger, in chartreuse over white, is the most popular pattern and color on the Chesapeake for striped bass. However, any fly, both floating and sinking, can produce a strike, especially anything two to four inches long that resembles a minnow or a grass shrimp.

When fishing after dark or on overcast days, nothing beats a black weighted Lefty’s Deceiver crept across the bottom.

For rockfish, leaders can be on the heavy side. Rockfish aren’t typically leader shy, and you will be plying waters strewn with rocks, boulders, timbers or the remnants of steel or concrete structures. Heavier tippets can withstand lots of abrasion both from the fish and the environment. I recommend a short (four- to five-foot) monofilament leader plus 18 inches of at least 15-pound tippet.

You may also make your own leaders by blood-knotting together a threefoot butt section of 30-pound mono to two feet of 20-pound and ending this with a loop knot, which is then easily joined, loop to loop, with a 12- to 18-inch section of your 15- to 20-pound tippet.

If you are targeting white perch specifically, use a lighter leader, constructed similarly to the above but in a 25-15-8 pound mono combination. Flies for perch should also be on the smaller side, with those tied on a No. 2 hook the largest. Shorter fly rods from six feet up can also increase the sport with perch. But lines less than five-weight may cause casting difficulties with heavier, bulkier flies.

A chartreuse-over-white Clouser minnow in sizes No. 2 to No. 6 is an excellent choice for perch. Other great picks are a bead head, Crystal Wooly Bugger or a Crystal Shrimp in pearl, tan, rootbeer or chartreuse. A traditional fly rod lure such as the Hidebrandt Flicker Spin is especially deadly in shallow water. Don’t hesitate to add a small split shot in front of your fly or lure to get it close to the bottom.

If you can pick your days, overcast skies with a solid high tide in the morning and low wind predictions are just about perfect for both rockfish and perch. Both species like the upper phases of the tide when they visit the shallows. Using an electric engine, poling or — at the least — practicing extreme noise discipline will result in larger fish of both species as the older, smarter fish are very shy of noise when they are in the skinny water.

When the days are too hot, try the hours before midnight

The temperature in the low 70s seemed cool after the scorching sun, just a few hours ago, had sent the mercury into the high 90s. The multitudes of motorized craft churning the waters had long ago headed for home. I had the spot to myself, a rather surreal feeling in the silence and darkness.
    I motored slowly into position and lowered my Power Pole anchor firmly into the bottom on the spot I had marked on my GPS. As my skiff swung stern to on the freshening tidal current, I relaxed, reached for my casting rod and fingered the swimming plug rigged earlier that evening. Carefully, I made my way to the bow.
    At 10pm, the waning quarter moon threw little light. But I had fished here often and knew exactly where I was located. I was anchored in four feet of water over the remnants of a jetty reduced by years of relentless storms and currents that swept by the prominent point.
    Surrounding depths reached five to six feet in most places, but I had chosen a shallow-running lure because I intended to target another inundated jetty well down current. It rose up to about three feet under the surface, creating a nice rip occasionally but barely visible in the meager light.
    I knew from experience that rockfish would stage just below that jetty to pick off baitfish swept along and disoriented by the swirling waters cresting the rocks below. The questions that night were two: Would they show up after the disruptions of the daytime boat traffic? If so, just what sections of the long jetty would they prefer?
    I had only an hour and a half to complete my quest, since possession of a striped bass on the water is illegal after midnight, and I needed at least a half-hour to get back to the ramp.
    Casting my plug out about 30 degrees crosscurrent, I let the lure swing, the tidal pull giving it all the action it needed. As my line straightened below me, I pulsed the lure one time, then cranked it back in a slow, steady retrieve.
    Working the rip methodically, I targeted first one area, then another. If the fish were there, would they show up in time? The clock was ticking. If I was to secure a dinner for the next evening, it would have to be soon.
    On the fourth or fifth cast, I can’t really remember, I felt my line stop, then surge out, pulling my rod tip down almost to the gunnel. Lifting smartly, I set the hook and felt a good fish begin its run. Lifting my rod high to keep the line clear of the sunken jetty’s rocks, I was alarmed to feel the grating vibrations of contact.
    Thankfully I was using braided line, which is much more forgiving than mono. Still, one sharp edge and I could kiss the fish and my expensive lure adios.
    The fish continued to take out line against my lightly set drag. I relaxed as its distance from the jetty increased and my line’s contact with the rocks ceased.
    It ran off well to one side as I applied extra pressure with my thumb, lifting, reeling and working the fish gradually to the side of the boat. In poor light I could glimpse a solid swirl from time to time as it neared me. I groped for the net.
    Eventually I led the fat rascal in and brought it over the side. I didn’t have to measure it to determine if it was a keeper. It was a heavy one. Pulling out my small flashlight rigged with a red lens so that my night vision wouldn’t be compromised, I removed the plug from its jaw.
    Burying the handsome fish in the ice, I double-checked my rig for any tangles or line fouling and prepared to cast again.
    A few casts later to the same spot brought a virtual twin of the first.
    As I judged that I had tempted the fates enough that evening, I headed back in with plenty of time to make curfew. At the ramp I was still totally alone. That’s a real rarity in the summer, unless you play in the dark.