|Moon for the Season
It rose out of the eastern sky like a behemoth jack-o'-lantern, replete with a menacing grimace carved into its face. The fiery orange blaze cast a long swath across Tangier Sound and lit up our campsite, making firelight unnecessary. Sitting on one of the lower Bay's marsh islands, I could not think of too many other places that afforded a better vantage point of the Harvest Moon. Under the jealous scrutiny of our dogs, my girlfriend Mimsy and I fried soft crabs we had bought from a Smith Island waterman and roasted over an open flame the wood duck I had killed. The meal satisfied our appetites, and the the moon and wildness of the Bay quenched our parched spirits.
A 1997 article in Sky & Telescope described the harvest moon as "the next full moon closest to the autumn equinox, when the Ecliptic forms a very shallow angle to the horizon at sunset. Venus and the crescent moon are very low above the horizon even though they can be very far in elongation from the sun. This results in the 'Harvest Moon' effect, in which the moon is close to the horizon after full and rises quickly after sunset."
Before the technological advances of 60 years ago, harvest moons gave us more than inspiring moonrises and interesting cultural lore. Since the event occurs at a time of year when farmers are busy gathering their crops for the coming winter, many farming cultures in our part of the world used this natural floodlight to harvest well into the night. And because a harvest moon rises only about 20 minutes later each successive evening, farmers could count on a week's worth of extra light, as long as the skies were clear.
As we looked out over Tangier Sound, work was the furthest thing from our minds.
Fish Are Biting
Chumming remains the preferred method to take legal stripers in the fall fishery, although many sub-legal fish are hooked as well. If you chum, use circle hooks and handle these undersized fish carefully to cut down on mortality. After all, these are the stocks of fish we will be targeting in the years to come.
Overall, the chumming has been hit or miss in many of the traditional spots in the Bay. Fred Donovan from Rod 'n' Reel (800/233-2080) says that most of the charter fleet has been chumming the regular haunts in the mid-Bay - the Stone Rock, Gooses and Diamonds - with fair to good success. Most fish are in the 18- to 24-inch range, although trollers off Breezy Point working umbrella rigs with sassy shad reported better size fish.
From below Poole's Island to Tangier Sound and the mouth of the Potomac River, small schoolie rockfish and snapper bluefish are breaking the surface, with nice sea trout deep beneath the fray. Metal spoons, feather jigs and other types of jigging lures are effective.
Good-sized rockfish hold in the guts of tidal flats and up in the rivers and creeks. At Smith Island, fly casters and light tackle anglers were burning up the fish at night off the county dock and in the guts. If the pattern holds again for the fourth straight year for me, the skinny water-fly and light-tackle action in the rivers and off points in the Bay's main stem and Eastern Bay should stay productive through November or until the water temperatures dip below 50 degrees. But the window for this type of fishing is only an hour or two at low light.