The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Farewell Island Time
Summer’s idyll isn’t something you can discard on a mere whim; it’s a serious condition that has to be handled gently
This year, the cadence of our Chesapeake summer has been particularly languid. A subconscious expectation of endless warm weather and non-scheduled time has insinuated itself more successfully into my bones than any year I can remember.
Distinct tan lines on my feet show I haven’t had anything resembling shoes on them for quite some time. My tattered supply of shorts and T-shirts indicate a pattern of extended and enthusiastic abuse.
The weather has been pleasant beyond pleasant. Fishing has been remarkably good during the long, hot spell, and crabbing productive as well. Rockfish dinners, crab feasts and perch fries have been our casual fare for so long they aren’t so much anticipated as expected.
Afternoon naps have become a habit. Indecision whether to shower again before or after our first beverage of the evening has supplied the only unruly moment of the day. I’ve gotten a bad case of island time. Nothing seems as important as maintaining this comfortable pace of life.
But lately I can sense the end of my languor. The mourning doves are hustling about the yards in our neighborhood, their whistling wings providing prelude to something stirring. The shortening days are sending a message.
The mallard ducklings in the creeks have grown as big as their mothers. Now, suddenly airborne, they hurtle down the length of a creek I frequent, tearing noisy whispers into the air over my head.
The squirrels are also unusually manic, scampering and gathering and burying the treasures they find growing in the local trees and yards.
Of course I knew our summertime idyll had to end; it always does. But the real problem heading my way is not that outdoor life in Chesapeake Country is over for the year. The problem is that this good life is going to accelerate significantly. Sporting opportunities will explode. Action will be required. Sleep is going to suffer.
The fall fishing is already getting better. The Bay baitfish silversides, bay anchovies, yearling perch and menhaden have begun schooling and moving out of the sheltered headwaters of the estuaries to begin a staged migration to their deepwater wintering grounds. Striped bass, white perch and bluefish are schooling at the mouths of the rivers and moving to meet them. The urge to feed up for winter now dominates their behavior. It is an ideal angling opportunity.
But the sporting field beckons, as well. My German shorthair pup Sophie has become anxious, staring intently out the front windows at the squirrels, the doves and other interlopers that have suddenly increased tempo. She knows something is up. Our retrieving games have taken on a new intensity.
I began an autumn planning checklist last week, and it is daunting. It starts with the horrifying item exercise. I’m well past the age when I can expect a natural second wind, or any wind at all for that matter. I’ve got to start out putting some serious miles on these legs if I expect to be in shape for any vigorous hunting excursions.
My bird guns haven’t had my hands on them for quite some time, either. This relaxed state I’ve placed myself in will not be conducive to swinging on a 60-miles-an-hour feathered missile dodging through tassels of field corn, sunflower blossoms and misdirected shot strings.
It can be seriously embarrassing to have fellow hunters pick their stands nearby because they know a generous percentage of the birds you shoot at will continue flying on toward them. It’s time for the humiliation of the skeet and trap ranges.
I have scheduled my first serious, aerobic-paced hike. But wait, I see the weather forecast is for light winds, and there is a new moon and a late-afternoon high tide. That is such a perfect scenario for an evening rockfish trip that I cannot pass it up.
I’ve got four hours till I have to be on the water, just enough time to gather up my tackle, tie up a few flies and catch a quick catnap. Fall planning has worn me out. Island time isn’t something you can discard on a mere whim; it’s a serious condition that has to be handled gently.
Yes, that’s it. I’ll extend my transition plan. Tomorrow there will be plenty of time to initiate an autumn phase; this afternoon I’ll have a nice relaxing fishing trip. But first the nap.
Fish Are Biting
The fall pattern is emerging. Marauding schools of stripers are starting to break on schools of baitfish all over the Bay. Evenings and mornings will find them in the shallows chasing bait. Perch and jumbo spot are on hard bottom and the Bay lumps, as well as hanging at rock jetties and piers and sometimes in the smaller rivers and creeks. Bluefish have become larger and more evident, and a vanguard of Spanish mackerel has arrived mid-Bay. Trolling is producing, and live-lining still deadly. Casting soft baits, plugs and spoons is also starting to succeed. September will begin the best light tackle action since springtime. Enjoy!