If at first you don’t succeed …
Wednesday morning: It was 4:30am and I was on my third cup of coffee, still groggy, but preparing to chase a fish tale. A friend of a friend had reportedly taken a half dozen very nice sized rockfish on surface plugs in the shallows of a certain sweet spot we were all fond of fishing.
This particular spot, however, had never produced regularly for anyone until fall. Either the catch was a fluke, the story fabricated or the rock had changed their feeding patterns early. All of these were a possibility, but if the rock were arriving early, I definitely did not want to miss out.
Quietly coasting in about a half hour before sunrise at the hot zone, I anchored. The tide was perfect, just past flood and starting to ebb. The winds were calm, and a slight haze dimly hovered over the water. I couldn’t ask for a better scenario. If the fish were working the shallows, these would be the ideal conditions.
Casting my favorite plug, I began covering the water methodically. Nothing happened. I moved off of the point and began to cover the fallback locations. Same results. Time moved slowly as I drifted down the shoreline, hopefully firing out cast after cast. Zip.
I checked my watch. It was about 7am, and the sun was getting up in the sky. While it may have been possible that stripers had been crashing bait in these waters recently, they definitely would not arrive this morning.
Making the Best of Little
Glancing about my skiff, I realized that my wishful thinking for a surface bite had undone me for anything else. Three light casting rods and a tackle bag crammed full of floating plugs left me with zero flexibility and hours left to fish.
I emptied out the bag. In the bottom of one of the inside pockets, I found a single, No. 6 snelled hook and a couple of twist-on half-ounce sinkers. In another pocket, I discovered a few rusty 3/0 bait hooks and some stiff, old, artificial bloodworms. Plan B took shape.
A few minutes later, I was drifting over a shell bottom in 12 feet of water trying to entice a perch to eat the phony bloodworm. A small, live perch would make a good bait, and I knew that though the rockfish bite off of Podickery had slackened the last few days, there had to be a few stripers there on a beautiful morning like this.
It took a good 20 minutes before I got the first nibble. It was a seven-inch croaker: no good. Another 15 minutes passed before I got a second bite. A four-inch spot came wiggling up: rapture. Spot is even better than perch for enticing a striper to eat.
Emptying my cooler of ice, I filled it with Bay water and carefully dropped in the little devil. A half hour later, I had four lovely spot swimming placidly in my makeshift live well. I sprinted toward Sandy Point, the melting ice bags in the bow spraying a fine, cool mist onto my face.
There I found a perplexing scene: only three or four, widely scattered boats. I had assumed that there would be the usual fleet clustered over the prime areas, as there had been every day the last few weeks.
This was not good. Apparently the bite had dropped off worse than I feared.
Fish Are Biting
Fishing for rock, croaker, perch and spot remains great throughout the Bay. Crabbing is approaching excellent.
I sharpened one of the rusty 3/0 hooks as well as I could and tied it on the 20-pound fluorocarbon casting leader. Twisting on a half-ounce sinker up the line, I swam down one of the livelier spot while drifting the edge of the channel and scanning for fish sign. It had a barren feeling, and the fish finder confirmed it.
Moving a couple of times looking for structure where I had had success in the past, I passed the morning. I had to be home for an appointment by 11am, so that meant off the water by about 10. It was now 9:30am. A skunk was a definite possibility.
Finally, I noticed a tide line had formed. Marked by a long seam of foamy water, that edge was where the more or less still water was sheared by the tidal stream, now moving briskly out. Sometimes the fish like to hold there. It was worth a chance
I dropped my wriggling spot over the side directly in the seam, paying out enough line to get it down about halfway to the bottom, and started to glance at my fish finder. I never did see what was on the screen. The reel spool spun under my thumb.
Something had eaten the spot and was heading for the horizon Halleluiah! Redemption. Leaning back, I dropped the reel into gear and hooked up. A few minutes later I netted a very chunky 22-inch striped bass.
With trembling fingers, I quickly repositioned the boat and dropped another spot down. The critters below were waiting for it. Without hesitation, my line took off again. This fish was bigger than the first, and took a few minutes longer. It was now 9:45.
I burned for home. Plan B was a winner.