Into October Fishing, I Gotesttest
The tide was beginning to briskly move out as I lowered the hydraulic spike on my shallow-water anchor. Positioned a dozen or so yards off a long, heavy rock jetty in four feet of water, my skiff came to an abrupt stop, then swung about with the current. The light was already getting low in an overcast early evening gloom.
I took my time getting my tackle ready and letting the water settle. When the bite has been difficult, it’s always a good idea to be cautious with sound and the effects of a boat’s intrusion, especially in skinny water.
If there are fish in the area, they know something has arrived, make no mistake. But if you don’t create any additional disturbances, they’ll usually forgive your presence and resume their hunt for food.
The rockfish bite is slowly improving on the Western Shore. From Chesapeake Beach down, fishing is much better than above. But if you want more consistent action and larger fish, the Eastern Shore, especially the Eastern Bay and points south, are where to look.
Rigging the Odds
Rigging one outfit with a top-water plug, the second with a rattle trap-type crank bait and the third with a Bass Assassin on a light jig head, I felt ready. If there were fish and they were feeding, the odds were good one of those three baits would get them.
I started with the surface lure, working it gently in a fan-shaped pattern toward the rocks. Hitting the best-looking areas first, I hoped for some quick success. I had been skunked my last three outings, and the frustration was beginning to weigh on me.
Since early August, I had been enjoying superb shallow-water action with lots of good-sized rockfish. Then Lee creamed the Chesapeake with a deluge of rain followed by a torrent of silt and storm debris washing down the Susquehanna.
Dirty water and striped bass rarely mix. During the past few weeks, my favorite sweet spots remained empty. No one I spoke with who fished the Western Bay areas I frequent had found fish, either.
Assuming perseverance to be the antidote, I kept fishing. I knew the stripers would eventually return — though it was beginning to feel as though it might not be in my lifetime.
Getting Better All the Time
Getting no response from my surface plug, I switched over to the rattling bait, a Red Eye Shad. Swimming the fast, wiggling lure deep and bouncing it off of the rock-strewn bottom, I finally hung my first fish. It was a sweet feeling, and I played the schoolie carefully. Netting the thrashing, not-quite-legal striper, I gently unhooked it and eased it over the side.
A couple of weeks earlier I would have been irritated at the intrusion of an under-sized striper. Today I was thankful. A few casts later I hooked another, a twin of the first, then another, and another.
For a time that evening, I hoped there would be some sizeable fish in the mix, especially when a few of the scrappy schoolies fooled me into thinking they were much bigger than they were. Eventually I settled down and enjoyed the bite. It lasted until full dark.
I turned on my navigation lights and continued to cast for another half-hour, hoping that the big brothers would show up. But the show was over. Finally, wiping my hands and stowing my tackle, I prepped the boat, levered the anchor spike up into its place on the transom and fired up the Yamaha.
It may not be rational for an adult’s mood to depend on success in fooling a cold-blooded aquatic vertebrate of dubious intelligence. But such is the fate of the fervent rockfish angler. So I was merry as I stood at the console of my skiff, riding on a soft, slow plane, peering into the darkness for floating debris and carefully making my way back to the boat ramp.
Though the fish had been small, they were enthusiastic, and so was I. Barring another nasty storm, fishing would, I knew, continue to improve.