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Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle

Fine dog work, great company and challenging birds make for a ­memorable hunt

A double layer of warm technical clothing, heavy brush chaps and a stout hunting coat were barely holding the elements at bay.     Out front a wild pheasant had just broken from cover, speeding low over dense treetops and right at me. Backlit by the sun, I couldn’t tell if it was a rooster or a protected hen, so I held my fire, waiting for the bird to display its colors. Fingering the safety, I tried to warn my partner of its approach but doubted that he heard me over the roar of the wind across the thrashing prairie grasses.

Wellingtons, ties and ­double-barrel shotguns

We finally heard the sounds of the unseen men and dogs driving the game birds toward us, shouting and beating the thick brush off in the distance. In the midst of nine hunters strung out in a rough line some 200 yards right and left, I fingered the safety on my borrowed over-under 12-bore and tensed.     A few others working the hunt near the crest of the hill now began to wave large white flags to encourage the approaching game birds higher and faster.

The one that got away

Perhaps at birth I got an extra dose of the hunter-gatherer gene. Maybe it was early exposure to a rural life with family and friends who thought fishing a desirable skill. Whatever the reason, I have a strong affection (perhaps compulsion) for the sport.     As a result, I will be troubled, sometimes relentlessly, if I’ve experienced angling failure.

Perfect your cast to battle with autumn’s big fellas of the Bay

Our skiff was slowly drifting off of the Western Shore, just below the Bay Bridge, pushed by a light northwesterly wind along with the beginnings of a falling tide. My eyes were glued to some strong arches on the fish-finder indicating we were passing over a pod of good fish holding close to the bottom in about 20 feet of water. Bending on a 3/0 Half and Half (a Deceiver-style fly with a Clouser-type head) in chartreuse and white, I lifted my stiff nine-foot rod and started to cast.

Dress warmly if you want to get in on the nighttime bite

Darkness had fallen. The scattered fishing boats had headed home with little success. I was alone on the water, and it was a good deal colder than a few minutes earlier, when the sun was shining its last.     But I had dressed well. Zipping up the neck of my fleece turtleneck under a flannel-lined shirt and closing my foul weather coat around me, I settled down to wait.

You’re missing out on the fun if you don’t have a boat

It’s almost impossible to look out over our Chesapeake Bay without also gazing at a graceful waterman’s workboat or anglers in a skiff speeding to the next honey hole, a family in a cuddy or cabin cruiser slowly trolling for trophy rockfish or heading for dinner at a waterfront restaurant. Sometimes all of them at the same time.     The plain fact is that if you live in our area and don’t have a boat, you are missing out on enjoying one of our nation’s largest maritime playgrounds.

Some days it takes perseverance to fill your cooler

It was nearly noon. My skiff was getting low on gas, a chop was building and my cooler was still empty. Having started in the early hours, searching and fishing from Sandy Point to Hackett’s and Tolley’s then up to Podickery and over to Love Point, I was now on my way back to the ramp without a single rockfish.

Could a new lure out­perform a tried-and-true white perch favorite?

The Super Rooster Tail in the Clown Coach Dog pattern has been the king of white perch shallow-water spinner baits for Bay anglers for the last decade.     Why that is, no one can explain. The bait looks like nothing in nature. It is a safety-pin-type spinner bait with a cylindrical bright-yellow lead body marked with irregular red-orange fluorescent spots, dressed with dark spun hackle and finished with a double hook. It swings on its wire frame under a single silver willow-leaf blade.

Only a very good friend shares a perch honey hole

My small spin rod was bent down deeply, and the delicate six-pound mono sizzled through the water as a small but mighty fish cut hard away, my spinner bait sparkling at the corner of its mouth.     The sound of the lightly set drag feeding line was a sweet melody to my ears, reassuring me that its measured resistance would be unlikely to tear the hook from the perch’s delicate mouth. I intended to let that rascal run until it tired; then I would invite it to dinner, that very evening if things worked out.

Hot weather is hard on anglers and hard on the fish, too

The first big fish came rather promptly, though in the end it proved a questionable blessing. I had flipped the half soft crab out to one of the bridge pilings and fed line under my thumb. The tide was crawling along, just slow enough to allow my quarter-ounce lead to sink the bait into the sweet zone.     The sweet zone that day was at about 15 feet, halfway to the bottom. That’s where the fish arcs had shown on the sonar with our first exploratory drift past the bridge support. On our next pass we had dropped the baits.