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A Twitch in Time Nets Dinner

Saved by an old bait sporting a new name

It was extremely frustrating. There were rockfish working the rip in front of me, but they wouldn’t hit my lures. I could see their occasional feeding boils marking the surface, and it was obvious that they were eating — and at least a few of the feeders were good sized.

Fish Are Biting

When the weather cooperates, the fishing for stripers is excellent. Shallow water plugging is anywhere from decent to fantastic just about everywhere along both sides of the Bay. Aficionados are throwing Smack-Its, Chug Bugs, Top Dogs and sometimes Mirro Props and Kelly-Js. When they’re not hitting on top, try a Rat-L-Trap, a Red Eye Shad or a Bass Assassin.

Light tackle jigging is producing nice fish at structures that hold pods of fish like the Bay Bridge, the Sewer Pipe and any channel edge with a school of stripers hanging around. Bass Assassins, Trout Bombs and Stingsilvers are doing most of the damage down deep.

Perch continue to provide autumn dinners for anglers drifting bloodworms over shell bottom in 15 to 30 feet of water. Crabbing die-hards are netting lots of big, fat succulent fall crabs all over the Bay.

 

In Season 

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

Now Open

Ducks thru Oct. 23
Rail bird thru Nov. 9
Snipe thru Nov. 26
Light geese thru Nov. 26
Sea ducks thru Jan. 29
Ruffed grouse thru Jan. 31
Squirrel thru February

About to Open

Whitetail and sika deer, bow and muzzleloader: Oct. 25-30
Black bear (permit required): Oct. 25-30
Wild turkey: Oct. 30-Nov. 6

 

I had only been casting from my skiff for about a half-hour. It was near dusk. Another angler was working from the shoreline, but despite our best efforts neither of us could get a hit from any keepers. 

Finally the shore-bound angler gave up, leaving me alone with the recalcitrant stripers. These devils had ignored the surface lures that both of us had been using, lures that had almost always been sure things for rockfish in skinny water. 

They had also disdained the subsurface baits we had both tried. They had even spurned the Bass Assassins that I risked swimming down along the snag-strewn bottom. Time was running out.

 

The Lure that Caught My Dinner

I examined my box of lures to see what could solve the problem. At this location in the past, as the dark of night fell, the fish didn’t linger. They always moved out. I had maybe 20 minutes before whatever was happening was over.

Then I saw the shiny propellers nestled among my collection of surface plugs. 

Prop bait is the old, traditional name for a top-water plug with silvered propellers, usually on the front and back of the lure. When the plug is retrieved, the propellers spin, generating a noise and flashing turbulence that can have a peculiar attraction for predatory fish.

They have never been particularly favored for stripers, but they do regularly take largemouth bass. Recently they have become more popular for saltwater species. They’re going by a newer, sexier moniker as well.

They are referred to as twitch baits. Twitch baits (still called prop lures or prop baits by us old timers) are generally fished with a short, quick pull or twitch of only about a foot, with the lure throwing a short, noisy string of bubbles — then being left still. That’s a presentation not commonly used when targeting stripers, which generally prefer a more continuous, aggressive retrieve. However, I was out of options and desperate enough to try anything.

I selected one of the propeller baits, clipped it on my line and sent it sailing into the heart of the rip. Letting it swing with the tidal current for a minute, I gave it a short, hard twitch. It churned through the water, trailing a foaming wake. Then I let it lie. Nothing happened.

I waited as long as I could, then, lifting my rod tip, I tried to give it another short twitch. Surprise! I was already tight with a good fish. It had taken my bait without even disturbing the surface. 

When it felt the sting of the hooks, however, it made its mark. Crashing the water hard, it took a good, strong run down the shoreline.

A few very exciting minutes later, the keeper was in my net. Quieting the still acrobatic devil with a tap on its noggin, I buried it in ice and sent the propellered lure flying back out.

Two twitches later, I was hooked up again, this time with a larger fish that was even more outraged. Revenging itself, it tore apart the quiet of the evening as well as the shallows.

I fought, netted and settled this one in my cooler as well. I usually don’t like to limit out so quickly, but I needed a pair for dinner and didn’t trust my luck enough to get picky.

But I needn’t have worried. The prop bait was the killer lure that evening, and I was rewarded with a strike on almost every other twitching drift until full darkness finally put a stop to the bite. My evening of angling and next day’s dinner had been rescued by a great old bait sporting a new name.

•   •   •

Bad News in Striped Bass Survey

The Department of Natural Resources has announced that the Striped Bass Young of Year Survey this year is below the long-term average for the third consecutive year. It is far below (5.6 vs. 11.6) the long-term average. 

There hasn’t been a really good striped bass spawn for many years — specifically since the Susquehanna Flats was opened in the early spring for catch-and-release fishing. The department promised to monitor its effects on the spawn. What happened with that?

This season, which targets the big cows, can’t have been beneficial under the best of conditions. The trophy season that follows close behind is also suspect, with many, many roe-laden females caught.

Perhaps it’s time to err on the side of caution instead of waiting for yet another fisheries’ crisis.