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The Evening Hours

Angling early and late takes quiet self-control

      Darkness was closing in, and I had almost exhausted my repertoire of lures and presentations. Surface lures and swimmers had drawn no attention. My last resort for this location was a fresh-water bass rig, a dark-hued but sparkly anise-scented Bass Assassin, rigged snag-less with a lightly weighted (1⁄8-ounce) hook and its point buried just under the surface of the soft plastic body.
      The rock-strewn bottom of the shallow cove I was fishing was the main reason for this lure. Those boulders eat up tackle.
      My mental picture of the cove’s seabed had been hewn by many evenings of losing tackle to its unforgiving bottom. I had a fair idea of where the worst snag traps resided. Unfortunately they were also the favorite hangouts of the fish that cruised the cove this time of day.
      Tossing my offering into the darkening distance, I allowed time for it to sink. Since the depths of this striper haven rarely exceeded four feet, that was not long. Lifting my rod tip, I imagined the lure coming to life, scooting two to three feet forward, then easing itself back to the bottom. Repeating this maneuver periodically, I was finally rewarded by just the lightest of tugs.
      I lowered my rod tip until it was pointing at the distant lure, reeled up the slack line, then lifted the tip again. Feeling resistance, I snapped my wrist and gave my rod a strong, exaggerated sideways sweep in an emulation of a competition bass angler’s hook-set.
      Most salty sports use a softer approach to hook-setting than their freshwater brethren, but the green bass guys have a definite reason for their excess of effort. Their hooks are almost always buried deep in the soft plastic lures, so the hook-setting can penetrate the fish’s bony mouth only after boring through the lure itself. 
      The reward for my effort was a deeply bowed rod and the protesting hiss of my drag. Fish on, and not a second too soon. It was full dark by the time I led the hefty devil into my net and headed back to the ramp.
      Fall skinny-water fishing in early morning and late afternoon has a definite downside in the lack of time to find your fish. If you don’t score within two hours, you probably have a skunk on your hands. You’ve got to have your target locations already decided. Plus, it’s helpful to have a number of things in your favor before you begin.
      First are the higher sides of the tide with its accompanying currents. Second is a good overcast or the darker phases of the moon, for low light is the best light. Rockfish are very nervous about being in the shallows; that is where they do their best hunting, but also where they are most exposed. They cannot flee by diving down, for there is no down in skinny water.
     Noise discipline, therefore, is also a big plus, with electric motors or quiet paddling a distinct advantage. Sound travels seven time faster (and farther) underwater and is further amplified by lack of depth. Rockfish are definitely alerted by unusual sounds. If you are totally dependent on your outboard, you should plan on low approach speeds and drifting as far as possible to reach the area you intend to fish.
      Quiet anchoring, likewise, is critical. If you want to finesse your approach, don’t begin to fish until you’ve rested the water for a good five minutes. Cautious use of any lighting is also advised. Though rockfish can definitely be attracted to light during the dark hours, they like only stationary light that they’ve cautiously scouted before approaching. Intermittent or sudden appearance of a light source is verboten.
      For successful angling, luck partners with skill.
Fish Finder
     The fall rockfish bite is on, when you can get out on the water. Trolling small to medium bucktails and soft plastics deep will produce rockfish. So will jigging around structure. Chumming and chunking is probably the most reliable method, though hordes of channel catfish roaming the mid-Bay will help themselves.
     The cats do enjoy a fresh piece of menhaden, and they are often bigger than the rock. Try a recipe for Southern-fried catfish, and you may become a fan.
     The only common complaint among all the anglers chasing stripers is that few exceed 20 to 21 inches. The decision by DNR to lower the size limit to 19 inches this season suddenly looks quite prescient. The regulators should be congratulated in anticipating the mortality of releases among the most prevalent year class.
      When the wind stops blowing, the surface bite is on in early morning and late afternoon. Rockfish are charging most small to medium poppers and walk-the-dog type lures in just about any hue imaginable. When they’re not active on top, try a swim or jerk bait below.
     White perch have abandoned the shallows and are gathering in deeper waters. Spot and croaker are mostly gone. Crabbing has experienced its last good splurge of activity and is mostly done for the year. The winter dredge survey should indicate just how bad things have gotten for the poor critters. Hopefully some females are left to carry on the species.