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The Skunk and the Ghost Fish

Encounters under the full moon

An angler’s skunk may stink only metaphorically, but it can be every bit as unpleasant as an encounter with the actual Pepe Le Pew. I’m talking about a day spent fishing without catching a fish. 

 

Fish Are Biting

Drifting eels is producing really nice-sized rockfish, with 36-inchers being boated on occasion. Chumming and fishing cut bait is working now as well. If you don’t have a favorite honey hole, try the mouth of any of the Bay’s tributaries for some good action. Vertical jigging around the Bay Bridge can take some keeper rock as well as some nice jumbo white perch. Plugging the shallows continues to wax and wane with the wind and weather but is the most exciting way to enjoy the fall bite. Crabbing around the Bay continues to be excellent though in deeper and deeper water. The Ocean City surf bite is reportedly on fire right now with big stripers and hefty redfish regularly being encountered in the suds.

 

In Season 

Details at: www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide/pdfs/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf

 

Woodcock: Nov. 6 thru 26
Wild turkey: thru Nov. 6
Rail bird: thru Nov. 9
Light geese: thru Nov. 26
Snipe: thru Nov. 26
Whitetail and sika deer, bow: thru Nov. 26
Sea ducks: thru Jan. 29.
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Squirrel: thru Feb.

 

Hunting Notes

Over six days from October 26 thru 30, 558 hunters harvested 67 bears in Maryland’s 2010 black bear hunting season. The bears’ average weight was163 pounds. Averages can be deceptive. The largest bear killed was a 433-pound male.

Last week that feared odor was definitely wafting under my nostrils, and it shouldn’t have been there. The water looked great. There was a nice tidal current running the last two hours, and evening was approaching: prime conditions for big stripers in the shallows. But there were no fish.

The insect in my otherwise savory aquatic stew had been placed there by the weatherman. The moon was going to be near full, which in my experience bodes ill for shallow-water fishing, but I had been promised a heavy overcast. Cloud cover rescinds the negative effect of a full moon on fishing skinny water.

I’m not sure where the rockfish go in late afternoon during the full moon phase. Wherever it is, I haven’t found it. I suspect it is very deep and far from all the shorelines that I prefer to frequent this time of year.

All that day the clouds had been thick and low. It had been a uniformly dreary fall day, sunless, chilly, calm — and perfect for rockfish. Perfect until I trailered my boat to one of my favorite locations and launched. 

Within 20 minutes, the skies had miraculously cleared into a shiny bright afternoon that was now transitioning into a crystal-clear and luminous evening. 

I knew from experience in these conditions I could count on no magic lure, no sudden, last minute appearance of a school of ravenous rockfish. A full-moon skunk was my fate.

 

Fishing for Naught

Since I was already on the water, I decided not to waste the trip. I had a good number of shallow-running, subsurface lures in my bag I had not yet used in many of the locations I frequent. I also had untried techniques for these skinny water areas in the back of my mind.

Many subsurface baits don’t swim properly and must be adjusted; others don’t operate quite as the information on the lure box indicates. Baits will run deeper or shallower than advertised, and some snag easily on structure while others will bounce off.

I cranked lures deep, noting areas where my baits could bounce bottom without hanging up, which is a great tactic for drawing strikes. I identified the jetties where I could swim a bait deep and close in, and others that had lots of submerged hang-ups that would trap diving lures. 

Of course I spent a lot of time noisily moving the boat in and around each location to free snagged plugs and check depths and otherwise thoroughly disturb the water. That would be anathema if there were fish to be had. That day, it was of no consequence. 

As the bright moon rose higher in the night sky, it became a relaxing exercise, casually throwing baits and trying different approaches in the glistening, empty water. After a time, with many of my questions answered, I decided to call it a night.

On my last cast I lofted out a plug on a high easy toss in no particular direction to clear my line of irregular tensions and to allow it to lay uniformly back on the reel. As I retrieved it, distracted by the tranquil, moonlit seascape, I had a smashing strike.

My pole bent hard over, and the drag wailed as line sped out from the reel. My heart raced, and I thumbed the spool and hauled back on the rod to get a good hook set. Just as suddenly, the fish was gone. Stunned, I sat motionless in that silent, eerie light. 

For a split second I had an odd feeling that I had just been visited by a specter of nature, a ghost fish that had announced, though the stripers I sought had been absent that evening, my presence and activities had been duly noted. But of course that was just foolishness.