The Season of Hungry Fish
The autumnal equinox is not yet upon us, but fishing patterns are already changing. September 22 marks the date when the length of day and night are briefly equal, 12 hours each of sunlight and dark.
Because the earth’s axis is tilted in relation to the sun, the big bright orb will soon be transiting ever lower on the horizon and our days will be getting shorter, the nights longer. This will bring less of the sun’s energy to the northern hemisphere. Thus the chill of fall begins.
Rockfish are moving up into the rivers, and top-water action is coming more regularly in early mornings and late afternoons. Concentrate around the mouths of the tribs or on structure up into the rivers. Fish Assassins and BKDs in the same places later in the day, especially at high water.
Hunting Season Dates
Resident Canada goose: thru Sept. 25
Stripers are already searching rivers and creeks. The baitfish there, sensing the same seasonal changes, have begun schooling up and heading downstream toward deeper waters. This autumnal collision of predator and prey prompts the best fishing of the year.
The bluefish and Spanish mackerel currently haunting mainstem Bay waters are also feeling the approaching changes and feeding more rapaciously.
Schools of these fish, as well as hungry stripers crashing equally large gatherings of baitfish in the open Bay, are usually evidenced by flocks of screaming gulls working over the melees. This activity becomes more regular as temperatures drop. Focus your search near the mouths of the tributaries, especially along the Eastern Shore.
Getting in on the Catch
Since the overall bite for rockfish in deeper water has become ever more uncertain, many anglers are pursuing them up into the rivers and creeks and targeting shallow-water structures such as piers, docks, rock groins, jetties and bulkheads. Throwing soft plastics on light jig heads, anglers are already encountering packs of good-sized stripers searching for bait.
Topwater plugs are flying off sports store shelves these days. The most exciting of all types of light-tackle fishing in the Chesapeake is hooking up with a good-sized striper in shallow water after an explosive surface take.
Cast surface lures to rocky shorelines, jetties and points near the mouths of creeks and tributaries early and late in the day for this action. Poppers such as Chug Bugs, Smack-Its, Atom Plugs and Knuckle Heads will get violent attention. Zara Spooks, Badonk-A-Donks, Sammies and similar prop baits — all walking-type top-water lures — also get their fair share of rockfish (and sometimes bluefish) attacks when the predators don’t prefer the noisier poppers.
What’s That Fish?
This year there are some new players in the Chesapeake. Encounters with redfish are becoming more frequent. Because of the minimal rainfall earlier this year throughout the Tidewater, Bay salinity is very high. That’s why the reds — also known as red drum and puppy drum — are present in numbers rarely seen before in the mid-Bay. They resemble a croaker with a more pronounced copper hue and one or more large, black spots on their tails.
Most of these delicious rascals are undersized and must be released, but there are accounts of bigger fish up to 40 inches. The legal size for a redfish in the Bay is a slot, 18 to 27 inches, and only one per day may be kept.
Small black drum are also here. Likewise known as puppy drum, these fish are a silvery grey and sport bold, black, vertical stripes that eventually disappear as the fish ages.
Adult black drum are not infrequent visitors to the Bay, all the way up past Baltimore Harbor. These younger fish are rarer and far more delicious than the larger variety. Minimum size for a black puppy drum is 16 inches, the limit is one.
Spotted sea trout are still another saltwater game fish that’s a more frequent visitor to our now saltier neighborhoods. Similar to the weakfish or grey trout, this beautiful fish sports silvery vermillion flanks with numerous black spots and a yellow canine-fanged mouth. Minimum size is 14 inches, and the possession limit is 10.
In the words of poet Robert Lowell, “Now is the high tide of the year. Fish it while you can.”