The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
A Fine Madness
Autumn on the Chesapeake can be bliss or lunacy
The water in the cove was flat calm with a thin nighttime fog still comforting its softly flashing surface. Sunlight was scarce this cloudy morning last week, but I could still make out my surface lure cutting an undulating wake as it worked across the shallows.
I punctuated its leisurely swim with a frequent downward stab of the rod tip that caused the lure to rear up and spit, disturbing an otherwise placid setting. Yard after yard the plug swam and sputtered back toward my skiff until it was just a few rod lengths away. Then it disappeared in an abrupt roil.
Pausing until I felt the weight of the fish, I slammed my rod hard against it. The water imploded, a broad tail swept a gout of water into the air and a hefty striper took off trailing a foamy wake. My drag shrieked. Autumn on the Chesapeake can be bliss.
The rockfish top-water bite has been phenomenal the past two months, and I have embraced it to the point of lunacy. Fishing early mornings and late evenings as often as possible, I have fallen under the spell of this visually spectacular type of angling.
The lures in particular have captured my affection: Zara Spooks, Chug Bugs, Thunder Dogs, Knuckleheads, Atom Plugs, Smack-Its, Lucky 13s. All of these top-water artificials crowd my dreams when I’m not on the water.
My enthusiasm for them has become virtually obsessional; the lure bag is so chock full I can barely carry it.
When I have a good day on the water with a particular plug, my immediate impulse is to pick up one or two backups to that model. Along the way, I usually acquire additional variations in a hope that they may prove even better. This adds up over time.
The collection I have acquired has drawbacks other than just its bulk. Whenever I’ve accumulated a comfortable number of a particular lure, the fish immediately lose interest in it.
Conversely, if I only have one of a model, that’s the one that will draw the most aggressive action and I will likely lose it sometime during the day. Subsequent efforts at re-supply will be met with the discovery that the manufacturer discontinued the model last year. I lay awake at night dreading this event.
When friends fish with me they only bring one or two lures at most. If they do well with their obviously casual choices, they find good sport joking about my over-the-top inventory. If they don’t do well, they can always help themselves to my more than ample supply.
Today’s artificial plugs are lovely creations, some looking quite real, but many others don’t look like bait fish at all. If they didn’t have hooks festooned at strategic places, one would be hard pressed to deduce what their purpose is.
As an example, one of the more popular types of lures on the shallows of the Chesapeake has a propeller at the rear. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a live baitfish with a propeller at any of its ends. Nevertheless, I have a number of these lures, some in colors that also cannot be found in nature. They work splendidly. Fish can be weird.
My wife has begun to notice my growing supply of these items and has inquired as to the financial outlays involved. So far, conversational misdirection has postponed the exposure of this aspect, but it is only matter of time.
Perhaps I should consider the absurdity of the notion that this manic acquisition increases my effectiveness on the water. But on reflection, sometimes it does.
Recently I was working a shallow-water cove that I frequent with consistently good results. This time, I would catch a nice fish and the action would stop. Switching the lure would bring another strike, but just one.
Then I would have to change lures again to get more attention. But it only worked if I went to another style and color of plug. Over two hours, by continually varying the style, color and action of the lure, I managed to net six nice fish out of that one location.
As the season and my collection have progressed, I have decided to stop fretting and simply enjoy the situation. Fall will be over soon enough, and my lure acquisition mania will stop at the same time winter temperatures end the fishing
I can then get on to my next sports associated dysfunction, whatever that may be. They are all fine forms of madness to me. My hope is to savor each and every one.
Fish Are Biting
The fall bite is still hot. Rockfish are breaking in schools all around our area but are mostly small, though some keepers are in there. Surface action for nice stripers continues in the tributaries early and late and around the main stem at shallow water points and rocky coves. Bottom fishing is yielding jumbo perch and a few trout. Blues are on the way out, and big ocean-run stripers are on their way in. Fish hard; winter is coming.