Volume 14, Issue 33 ~ August 17 - August 23, 2006

The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle

A Skunk by Any Other Name

(Skunk n. 1. A small, smelly mammal. 2. An overwhelming defeat.)

It was August 10, and by 10pm I had two fat, keeper rockfish that measured 27 inches and weighed about 10 pounds apiece. I had lost count, after about a dozen, of fish of equal or slightly lesser size that I had landed and released. That they were all taken on the fly added an extra bit of fine flavor to the evening.

Unfortunately, according to my log, that particular August 10 was in 2002. August 10, 2006, was resulting in a different and disappointing outcome. That this was also occurring with a fly rod was nothing to improve the experience.

The conditions, as recorded, were closely the same: same date, same location, clear night, lots of moon, falling flood tide, no wind. The only real mismatch was the fish: There weren’t any. At least there weren’t any yet. I had been casting a number of different flies over the last three hours with virtually zero results.

I had been eagerly anticipating this evening for quite some time. In past years, I’ve noted that the second week in August is when the fall patterns first emerge. Larger rockfish start cruising the shallower estuaries in the evenings to feed, the shorter days triggering an urge to fatten up for the colder times ahead. I was counting on them sticking to the schedule.

I had an hour and a half of legal fishing time left, and I refused to admit defeat. A lot can happen in 90 minutes. But fatigue was settling in, and my casting was beginning to suffer — along with my attitude. In the copious moonlight, I could also discern an irritating little tailing loop insinuating itself into the end of my cast.

A tailing loop is a fault caused by a number of things, but in my case it comes as a result of a final bit of frustrated extra effort in my casting stroke, trying for a bit more distance. This extra effort causes the line to smack itself as it turns over, and that can result in a nice little knot forming in the leader as well as collapsing the cast. Fly fishing can be so rewarding. Arghhhh!

But in all fairness to myself, I knew that this would be an exploratory trip, the first leading to the fall season, a reconnaissance really. I began to make mental notes to myself of what I needed to do to be better prepared. My flies were the first thing on my list. Over the course of the summer, my supply had dwindled. What was left, while adequate to the task, was definitely the dregs.

Many of the poppers in my box were cracked and battered from collisions with the side of the boat when the wind had collapsed my back cast or from the impact with rock jetties and pilings when I had thrown too close. My streamers were bedraggled from attacks by fish, poor storage or poor construction (my faults again). The next week I would be busy, refurbishing the supply.

I worked on my casting in the moonlight, ridding myself of the bad loop and once again reminding myself to haul more gently, putting my effort into grace rather than force.

I checked out my gear, discovering one of my flashlights was malfunctioning, my extra line nipper was rusting badly and I needed a new hook hone. The list grew, and the time slipped away. I continued to cast into empty water.

Finally I decided that this reconnoitering trip was complete. I had learned all that I needed to know to make the next outing of the season a success. I would tie up a bunch of new flies, restock my battered poppers, repair the flashlight, get a new line nipper and hook hone and — as an afterthought — clean my fly lines, as well. All together, this had been quite a useful shakedown cruise for the coming fall.

As I motored easily back to the dock, cradled by the soft seas and basking in the beautiful moonlight, I felt restored and eager to get on with the season. In my pre-autumn reverie, I could almost ignore the lingering odor that trailed my journey home. There was definitely a big skunk around somewhere.

Note: Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle teaches Light-Tackle Fishing on the Chesapeake — covering spinning, plug casting and fly fishing techniques, knots, rigs, lures, finding fish, fighting fish and related subjects — for beginning to intermediate anglers. September 16 at Anne Arundel Community College. Register for class AHC318: 410-777-2325.

Fish Are Biting

Rockfishing this August remain inconsistent. The mouth of the Chester and the Eastern Bay are producing the most fish. Trolling seems to be the most effective technique for stripers on both shores. Perch are abundant, and spot available to bottom fishermen. Large bluefish are reported around the Stone Rock in the Eastern Bay, but they remain elusive elsewhere. Spanish mackerel are at Hooper’s. Stories of breaking rockfish are getting numerous, but the locations and the times vary greatly — no patterns yet. Luck is important right now.

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