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Outlaw-X and the Martian Cricket

This pair can catch stripers

The trees in my neighborhood were thrashing in agitation as a 25-knot wind gusted up and complained to a dark, threatening sky. It did not bode well for the fishing trip planned for that afternoon. I shrugged my shoulders and thanked my lucky stars on the size of our intended craft.

The boat was the Outlaw-X, a 31-foot Rampage newly acquired by friend Mike Zittinger. The origin of the boat’s name, bestowed some years ago by the original owner, a successful charter captain and friend, was a little murky and may have involved some modification to a fishing lifestyle. But by the time we left the dock that afternoon, she seemed a lucky boat.

The seas had calmed, the wind had abated and the sun was suddenly shining in full force. I was accustomed to deteriorating conditions on any given fishing trip, but this was the first time in recent memory that weather had turned for the better.

As we motored out of Mill Creek, we came up on a soft plane and headed out across a placid Chesapeake toward the Gum Thickets. Mike instructed Rick Carty, the friend acting as mate, on setting up planer boards and the 14 trolling rigs we would be using.

Mike had been the mate on the Outlaw-X for three years before assuming ownership, and he definitely knew how to handle that boat and how to fish for big stripers. We trolled single baits on each line with no added weight, no umbrella rigs, no tandems and no daisy chains. “Don’t need ’em the way I set up,” Mike said. “Besides, we’re here to fight fish, not to struggle, cranking in a ton of hardware at the end of the line.”

“Where do you want the Martian crickets?” I heard Rick ask.

Fish Are Biting

Rockfish season is here. Fish are distributed well north of the Bay Bridge down to the Gas Docks. Cruising mainly on the channel edges in 30 to 40 feet of water, the fish are holding at about 15 to 20 feet down. White was the bait color mentioned most over the weekend.

Shad fishing has been red hot, but it won’t last much longer. The bluegills are now solid on the spawning beds, and largemouth bass are scooping out nests as well. Poppers and other surface baits will get immediate attention. Winter is definitely over, and paradise has returned to the Tidewater.

“What’s a Martian cricket?” I inquired. “Did I hear that right?”

Mike was grinning. After a dramatic pause he explained, “A Martian cricket is a special parachute bait with a big soft shad in a particular color combination. It’s been producing a lot of big rockfish for us. We call it the Martian cricket so when we’re talking about it on the radio or at the dock we don’t give the secret away.”

Turning back to the trolling rigs festooned with parachutes of just about every color, I asked, “Which one is it?” Mike considered before he replied: “If I tell you that it won’t be a secret anymore, now will it?”

Just about that time we began laying out the rigs and clearing away the boat for action, so I couldn’t pursue the matter. Shortly after that we got a fish on. And not too long after that another, then another, and another after that. It went that way for about five hours of consistent action. The smallest striper was 34 inches; the largest just under 40. Our arms were aching as we finally pulled the baits.

Live and Learn

Sipping ice cold, adult beverages and basking in the warm air as our boat sped home, we congratulated each other on a wildly successful outing. Rick was in the stern, hosing down the gear and combing out the nylon hair on the umbrella rigs with a bait brush when he commented, “You know, I think we got almost three out of every four fish on the crickets today.”

Dang! I had forgotten about the secret bait in all the excitement. Now I turned again to the many rigs racked in the stern and tried to remember which lures had caught fish. But of course I couldn’t. And Rick was just grinning.

“C’mon, which baits are the Martians?” I pleaded.

“Sorry.” they both said, shaking their heads in mock seriousness Then Mike smiled. “You’ll have to come back out with us, and next time pay attention. Maybe you’ll figure it out.”

We all laughed at that, and I understood I had the perfect excuse to hook up again with a lucky boat, good friends and great fishermen.

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