The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Plugging the Autumn Shallows
The secret is technique, not color
Autumn is rockfish time on the Chesapeake like no other season of the year. The stripers are ravenous, and while they prefer the sanctuary of deep water most other seasons, in the fall their appetites overcome their caution.
Last week the first faint rays of morning light found my two friends, Charlie and Mike, and me quietly drifting into a rocky cove near the mouth of the Severn. The promising forecast for a calm and temperate morning had proven false. A chilly, stiff breeze blowing out of the southwest stacked up short, hard waves all the way into the shallows.
Mike lowered the anchor as Charlie, at the helm, cautioned him not to let us drift in too far. With that wind, we could quickly end up in a field of barely submerged boulders nearer the shore. Not a comfortable feeling, but the cove looked like prime striper territory.
I grabbed my heavier casting rod, while Charlie and Mike picked up light spinning rods rigged with medium-sized red and white surface plugs. Looking at the dark water and the steep chop, I knew that the big silver popper I had chosen would do the trick.
Punching out a long cast toward the shoreline, I began to chug the big plug as soon as it splashed down. It threw an impressive spray as I worked it through the turbulent water. Expecting a major swirl to engulf the lure, I was poised to respond. Nothing. I cast again, making even more noise with the big plug; then again. It wasn’t happening.
Behind me I heard Charlie grunt, and out of the corner of my eye I saw his rod arc sharply toward the water. First fish. It took some effort for him to get the striper in with the light outfit he was using, but he worked it quickly. It was a nice keeper: about six pounds, shiny and healthy. Our spirits went up; the skunk was gone.
Eager now, I threw again and again and again. Charlie got another, then Mike lost one. I started to change lures. Charlie asked me what I was going to do, and I replied that I was looking for something red and white. He laughed that perhaps it had more to do with technique. I ignored the jibe.
My red-and-white swimmer didn’t work either, and as Charlie landed another keeper, Mike released one, his second fish. I finally started to pay attention; it was the technique after all.
They both retrieved their lures in a manner that produced just an intermittent spurt of trailing bubbles and a small bit of spray, hardly noticeable in the choppy water. That was what the stripers were looking for. As I watched, they both hooked up again. I tied on a floating plug.
When I finally got it to stand up and make that small jetting trail of bubbles through the short waves, there was a jarring take. A hefty fish swirled and tore away. Even with my stiff casting rod, the fish was a handful, about a seven pounder. But once it was in the net I relaxed. Just as my friend had advised, the technique was key, not color.
Chilly and exhilarated, we headed back to the dock, limited out and content. The excitement of the morning was just settling around us and it wasn‘t quite 9am. We were on the way to a great autumn.
A Curious Incident at Kent Narrows: Judy Barrett and her husband Dick saw the makings of a fable for our times at the Narrows last week.
Taking a stroll after an early dinner, they noticed an osprey struggling in the channel. It was entangled in monofilament line trailing from a fish it had caught. The bird could not get airborne. After struggling on the water for some time, it managed to make its way to the service dock where Judy and Dick stood watching.
Observing the osprey’s plight, an attendant ran for a landing net while the bird huddled patiently below. He scooped up the bird and deposited it on the dock.
The big fish hawk then sat quietly while the courageous, and somewhat amazed, attendant untangled the monofilament from its wings and talons. At no time did the bird protest or resist the efforts of the young man helping it.
Finally clear of the line, the bird stood up, calmly shook itself, looked around and took back to the air.
It was an amazing exercise of trust by both parties. Perhaps we can all get along after all.
Fish Are Biting
Shallow-water action is in full swing early and late in the day as schools of good-sized stripers chase bait wherever they find it, usually points and coves. Very nice fish are traveling well up into the tributaries. Medium-sized blues into the 20s are still charging around the Bay Bridge area and taking any kind of metal, and most live bait, presented to them. Spot are lingering in live-lining size, and perch remain abundant. Puppy drum have been encountered near Hacketts.