Volume 16, Issue 35 - August 28 - September 3, 2008

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Fall Fireworks

Rockfish are exploding in shallow water

Thumbing my weathered Shimano casting reel, I fired the top-water plug deep into the quiet cove. A sigh of contentment came with my breath as I began to bring the lure back, making it pop and splutter and swim across the placid surface of the water.

Although July 4 is gone, along with pretty much the whole summer, I knew that the fireworks in Chesapeake Bay had just started: the rockfish surface bite.

Not 15 minutes into my idyll, an obliging five-pounder inhaled the plug. It must be disconcerting for a fish to find that the easy meal it just ambushed has suddenly turned the tables. This striper was especially upset.

First it came out of the water sideways. Then it breached like a runaway torpedo. Then it just flung itself out in wild summersaults, trying to unbutton the plug stuck in the corner of its big jaw. It didn’t work. After some long and excellent minutes of this wild tantrum, the fish surrendered and agreed to join me for dinner.

My fingers shook with excitement as I cleared my lure from the net and prepared to go after another fish.

Fish Are Biting

The bigger bluefish and Spanish mackerel showed up all at once last week at the mouth of the Eastern Bay. Acres of breaking fish up to 24 inches moved up and down the Chesapeake off the Eastern Shore, giving many lucky anglers a treat. Chasing hundreds of birds wheeling and screaming over feeding fish and losing count of hookups was average for anyone that made that trip. They’re still in the area; so if you’re looking for insane fishing action, head in that direction.

In the Mid-Bay white perch fishing remains excellent, but the spot are starting to leave and the croaker have pretty much gone. Rockfish started up their fall feeding patterns early this year, with marauding bands of good-sized fish already moving into the tributaries to hunt early mornings and late afternoons. It looks like the start of an excellent fall season.

Six Lures That’ll Catch ’Em

I’m always amazed at how deadly these lures are, for many of the best really don’t look much like real baitfish at all. But they have been around for over a century and keep getting better.

James Heddon officially started us on this path to fishing success in 1894 with the first patented fishing lure. His creations were intended for freshwater largemouth bass, but saltwater anglers quickly found them effective in their venue as well. His legacy, the Heddon & Sons Lure Company, still manufactures one of the most deadly surface lures of all time, the Zara Spook, as well as a great popper called the Knuckle-Head. Both of these creations still take countless striped bass from the Chesapeake.

Cotton Cordell, an Arkansas boy born in 1928, was one of the later developers of great fishing lures. When he retired in 1980, the Cotton Cordell Lure Company was manufacturing 22,000 lures a day. His Pencil Popper is still made and is a great rockfish plug.

Around 1976 Gary Storm, of Norman, Oklahoma, thought up a lure called the Chug Bug. Designed for largemouth bass, this lure has turned deadly on stripers, particularly in the Chesapeake. The saltwater model is one of my favorites, especially since the company added the rattles in 1994. I’m never without this plug in several colors.

A more recent lure developer, Lauri Hoke (Stillwater-lures.com), of nearby Pennsylvania, created a series of uncannily effective poppers called Smack-Its. Available in two sizes and a dozen color patterns, these top-water baits have put large numbers of very nice rock in my cooler over the past three years.

The newest local talent to further the artistry of the surface plug is Allen Mracheck (AMlures.com) of Havre de Grace. Developed with over two years of prototype testing on the Chesapeake, his Captain Karl’s Special is deadly on big fall rockfish. If you’re serious about fishing up on top, you’ve got to have one of his wooden creations. They’re the best. Super tough, they throw a mile.

The most outstanding aspect of the fall top-water bite is that it will last until the first extended cold snap sends the baitfish out of the tributaries and down the Bay to deeper waters. That means that September, October and at least part of November will be exciting times indeed for fighting flying rockfish.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.