The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
A Little Magic on Skinny Water
Who knows what’s alluring?
Bigger rockfish usually like to eat big, so I make it a policy to have a supply of larger lures, particularly in silver, chartreuse and white. That’s why on Tuesday last week I felt such dismay at finding I had somehow left my plug box at home.
The only lure I had was a six-inch soft-tailed jig still on my rod from the last outing. My friend Steve, who was with me on this fishing trip, assured me he had plenty of lures. But when I looked in his box, I saw that they were too small to my liking. None was even four inches long, and very few in the colors I like.
With just Steve’s selection of smaller plugs, I was concerned about our prospects that morning. But as often happens in an angler’s world, I would find out that there are exceptions to all of the rules, particularly my own.
My friend had been looking forward to this day for some time and was eager to try fishing surface lures on the shallow flats. Experiencing quite a bit of good luck recently on skinny water, I was hoping to show him a few good rockfish. Both of us were going to be more than surprised, though in different ways.
We started out working a small point of rocks at the mouth of one of the Bay’s larger tributaries just before dawn. At the barest glow of sunrise, Steve got the first fish, a nice five-pounder, on one of his surface plugs.
After I sorted out the kind of action my bigger softtail needed to attract a hit, I got its twin. Then the action stopped. We changed baits and over the next half hour tried a number of different lures with no success. I imagined the fish had gone until we were both surprised by a heavy splash near our stern. They had simply moved, now aggressively working the surface behind us.
Steve offered me a small silver popper, and I hurriedly accepted. Unbeknownst to me, he had graciously given me the lure on which he had caught the first fish. On a whim, he selected for himself one of his more unusually colored lures.
The diminutive popper had an odd gold iridescent tone to its sides and an off-colored muddy brown streak down the back. It was not a particularly productive-looking bait, but that one decision would make the day memorable.
I flipped out my silver popper and worked it over the better-looking water to our stern. Immediately a solid strike rewarded me. As I turned to gloat at my friend, I saw he was hooked up as well. When we boated them, both were keepers, but Steve’s fish was larger by several inches. My striper went back to swim again. Steve’s went on ice.
From then on, using that odd little gold plug, my friend hooked fish after fish. I continued to catch stripers too, but his were more frequent and invariably larger by a good margin. At first it was frustrating; then it became just fascinating.
As we moved on down the shoreline, I mimicked his retrieving style and threw to the same areas. Results remained the same. With our lures separated by only two or three feet and working in a syncopated chug, that small gold plug invariably drew the first strike and caught the larger fish. I was doing very well by any standard, but Steve’s short, off-color lure was on fire.
I changed lures; same result. I changed again; still, he caught two fish to my one, and they remained consistently larger. This angling experience extended into the late morning, long after most surface fishing stops. Yet the last fish was the most incredible.
It hit my friend’s plug harder than most, but we knew it was extra special when his drag started a long screeching wail. A 31-inch striper in two feet of water can be quite a spectacle, and this one certainly was. When it was finally netted, the beast had that small gold plug firmly clenched in its jaw as if it didn‘t intend on ever giving it up.
With the big fish in the boat, our day was complete and I was in awe. Steve and his odd little plug had skillfully counted coup on an impressive number of excellent fish. It was quite a display of fishing magic, and I was glad to be there to witness it.
Fish Are Biting
Last week’s heavy rains have moved the better rockfish bite in the main stem to the south again, but plug fishing for stripers up in most of the tributaries remains hot early and late in the day. Sea trout, which were assumed to be a no-show, have recently surprised anglers in the Eastern Bay and around the Bay Bridge. Many are legal sized (14 inches), but lots are shorts, as well. Deep jigging with Trout Bombs and a dropper will get you a piece of the action. Big schools of perch remain available, the spot are mostly gone and roaming schools of blues continue to savage the baits of happy fishermen.