The Convergence of the Twain
Big fish meet little fish in a sporting event without equal
I fired the glittering, four-inch popper well out past the long, broken jetty. Thumbing the spool lightly to affect a controlled entry into the water, I put the reel into gear as soon as the lure splashed. Then I began to make it dance.
My friend Mike had made his first cast as well, closer to the structure. Except he couldn’t give his plug any movement. It was already in the jaws of a hungry striper that he was trying to keep out of the rocks. A few long and anxious minutes later, there was a nice 22-inch fish on ice and we were looking for more.
Mid-August can be early for shallow-water plugging, but we had been raring to get started. That evening last week proved the fish were showing up.
The fall feeding activity of striped bass in the Chesapeake is the stuff of a light-tackle addict’s dreams. With shortening days and just the hint of dropping temperatures, particularly in the evenings, a behavioral change occurs in our rockfish starting sometime about now.
The big schools they have been holding and feeding in the channels and structures in deeper waters throughout the Bay now begin to break into smaller, more efficient groups. They also begin actively roaming into the shallows of the rivers and creeks to satisfy their hunger and put on the body fat they need in the coming cold months.
At the same time, white and yellow perch fingerlings, spawned in tributary headwaters just months ago, have reached three and four inches. They are schooling and becoming more active, moving down into the lower portions of their birth-waters.
Yearling menhaden, spot and croaker hatched off of the Atlantic Coast last fall have migrated up into the Bay’s many tributaries and have spent the summer feeding and growing. Now they are congregating and getting ready to head back out to the ocean.
Smaller forage fish such as the killifish, silversides and bay anchovies are also schooling in the shallows and getting ready for their eventual migration to winter quarters.
The collision between these baitfish moving down and the foraging stripers moving up can be violent. For the light-tackle angler, it is a sporting event without equal, and for me the best time of the year.
One of my favorite ways to fish this season is with a medium-weight plug-casting outfit. This is a class of tackle that utilizes a small, precision-made, revolving-spool reel and a seven-foot, medium-action rod to throw four- to six-inch top-water plugs. Spinning rigs of similar size and action are equally effective.
The lures themselves are also worthy of note. Bordering on folk art, especially the wooden varieties, the plugs are unique and accurate representations of the sizes, colors and types of baitfish that the stripers are hunting.
Cast out and noisily worked back in various modes of presentation, this class of lure has one thing in common: All varieties elicit spectacular surface strikes from the stripers. On one occasion last year, I had a 23-incher leap clear of the water behind my sputtering bait and engulf it on the way down.
Sometimes they will swim by your lure and smash it out of the water with their tail, then turn and eat it if you have nerves steady enough to let it lie. On rare occasions, the plug will just disappear with a small dimple marking its last location. Normally the attack is heart-stopping.
Effective Bay surface-plug varieties we’ve used during past seasons include the Stillwater Smack-It series, Storm Chug Bugs, the Lucky Craft Sammy series, Zara Spooks in all sizes and the Creek Chub Knuckle-Head lures, particularly the five-inch model.
Colors and patterns can fill a number of tackle bags to overflowing, and the fish themselves are the prime reason for this. They can be as fickle and as changeable in their tastes as any six teenagers. But solving that problem is part the challenge of the season.
What started out as a scouting trip resulted in some surprisingly great fishing that evening last week. As sometimes happens, Mike’s first fish was our biggest. But we had counted coup on at least a dozen other contenders by the time the bite ended. On our way back to the dock, all we talked about was the action to come. It was our idea of paradise.