Angling into Irene
It was the day before Irene was due to arrive, and though I should have been home cleaning out the rain gutters, gathering supplies and checking the generator, I wasn’t. Friend George Yu, who has as little common sense as I do about these things, had met me at 5am, and instead of making hurricane preparations we were skimming down the Chesapeake over the calm, pre-storm waters in my small skiff.
I had a hunch that the low pressure front descending upon us would generate some nice high tides that morning. Since it is a popular (and unconfirmed) theory that striped bass go on a feeding frenzy shortly before a storm breaks, I suspected those tides might make a certain section of shallows to our south very inviting to the rampaging rock.
Irene proved to be more inconvenient than destructive around the mid-Bay angler-wise. Fishing has resumed virtually undiminished with clearer water and lower temperatures.
George is frequently my go-to guy for chasing hunches. Over the years, often at ungodly hours, sometimes over long distances, he has displayed one unfailing attribute: He has never complained when plans don’t work out. That’s important because lots of my hunches don’t work out. But I had high hopes for this one.
I killed the engine a good hundred yards outside our first stop and ran the electric trolling motor into the outside edge of a quiet cove. A submerged erosion jetty ran well out from that edge, creating a long, subtle rip and presenting an ideal location for stripers to hold and ambush bait being carried along by the now-falling tidal current.
George was rigged up with a light spin outfit spooled with 15-pound braid and tipped with a four-inch Stillwater popping plug. As I quietly positioned the skiff and levered in the spike of my Power Pole shallow-water anchor, George got off the first cast.
“They’re here,” he hissed, “I can see them. They’re all over the place.”
Then his plug disappeared in an explosion of spray. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his rod arc hard over as I fumbled with my own and searched out a popper.
By the time I got into action, George had lost his first fish and was already fighting a second. I finally got my tackle right and threw my plug toward the rip with an easy sidearm cast. It wouldn’t do to get a backlash now, and putting extra effort into your first cast is a sure-fire formula for getting a bird’s nest.
My plug landed short. I worked it for a few feet and, as it was too far from the rip, sped up my retrieve to get the lure back quickly for a better cast. The plug didn’t move two feet before it was smashed hard.
An hour later and exuberant with success, we had three nice 21- to 22-inch fish on ice and had worn out the bite with well over a dozen releases of fish easily as large. But we weren’t finished yet. There were a couple more spots that had held fish in past seasons, and we were going to try them all.
The next stop was a shallow point with a small cove on one side and another long, submerged jetty on the other. Once again, the fish were everywhere. We filled out our limit this time with a beautiful 29-incher that gave me fits before I finally got it in the net.
As I removed the plug’s front hook from the corner of the fish’s mouth, I saw that the rear hook had been ripped from the lure. A second fish, perhaps even bigger than this one, had tried to steal the plug and gotten hooked as well. The power of the two fish had been enough to straighten the split ring, which had held the rear hook to the lure. Only a great deal of force could do that.
George next hooked up with the twin of my big fish, but that devil wrapped him on the engine, which I had neglected to raise. There was hardly time to lament a lost fish, however, when the next one was just a cast away.
We landed and released another dozen stripers at that stop, then a half dozen at the next before brightening skies finally chased the shallows empty of the bigger fish.
Top-water fishing is always exciting, but on that morning it was phenomenal. To send it over the top we hadn’t seen another boat since we had launched.
By 9am we were racing for home to get ready for Irene, laughing and congratulating ourselves and quoting the old A-Team movie chant, Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together.