Chesapeake Outdoors
Signs of Autumn
By C.D. Dollar

Can you feel autumn? In this crisp, exhilarating time, creatures of the Chesapeake watershed prepare for the changing seasons. I am captivated by autumn because the natural world is on the move, and signs of this process are everywhere. Two of the main influences that trigger the movements of the fish and birds - temperature change and duration of daylight, called photoperiod - are right on schedule with the official start of fall.

Nearly all of the Bay's osprey, our spring and summer sentinels on channel markers, have departed for the warmer climes of South and Central America, or maybe Florida. Breaking fish, when not scattered by hurricanes, are more prevalent. Crabs are more active and of larger size as they swim out of the rivers to deeper water. The sooks (mature females) have begun their migration to the Bay's mouth, where they'll spend the winter developing their eggs that they will release next spring.

This is my favorite time of year, not only because the weather is so pleasant - the suffocating heat of August has cleared and the biting chill of November winds is a ways off - but also because the options to experience Chesapeake outdoors are nearly limitless. I took advantage of the break in the weather one evening this week, and I went chasing bluefish at the Bay Bridge stone piles with a handful of homemade flies and a nine-weight fly rod.

I wasn't disappointed. I was surprised to see how quickly the water had cleared in the wake of Floyd. Casting into the rips created by the torrent ebb tide, I hooked up with a couple of snapper bluefish. As the sun went down, the wind blew straight from the south, increasing in its intensity. In the lee of the stone pile, the intensity of the fishing increased proportionally, and for more than an hour, the top-water action was frenzied.

Ironically, blue was the only color I found that didn't produce a solid hook-up, even though bluefish are notorious cannibals. Tied to an intermediate line (a sinking line might have meant bigger fish), flies that were green and yellow over white, tied Clouser-style or in a near facsimile were the best producers. When the action was over, I had enough blues to smoke and had more than my share of fun.

In our part of the world, bluefish range from Argentina past Cape Cod Bay, with some wandering adventurers appearing off Nova Scotia. Worldwide, bluefish migration patterns were long believed to be north-south, but researchers think they travel more east-west, with coastal stocks (like those that invade the Chesapeake every summer) partially migrating north-south. Bluefish, the only member of the pomatomidae family, are marked by green-blues on the dorsal portion and silvery-white along the belly.

As any fisherman who has tangled with these toothy hooligans can attest, nature equipped bluefish with a set of ribbonwire-sharp canines. They aren't afraid to wield them - with all the subtlety of a hacksaw - on careless fishermen trying to extract a hook. Bluefish possess all the etiquette of the Hell Angels at a Rolling Stones concert.

Apparently, bluefish can see almost as well out of water as in the water, giving weight to anglers' claims that a bluefish bite is premeditated. Of course, if I were dragged over the gunwale of a boat by a steel hook stuck through my lip, I wouldn't stick out my hand and say howdy. I might be looking for some payback.


Fish are Biting

Despite the storms, the fishing hasn't been that bad for some anglers. Bottom fishing is still solid everywhere, particularly for big white perch. Rob Jepson from Angler's (410/974-4013) near Annapolis reports that some flounder have been taken off gum thickets. The Bay Bridge stone piles are holding rockfish in the rips, and the blues are still breaking the surface. Love Point has produced keeper rockfish for those drifting crabs (which are scarce). The Narrows and Eastern Bay are still a bit slow but might pick up with the colder weather.

Farther south, action is not as consistent as it had been pre-Floyd, but still-legal rockfish are around, according to Fred Donovan of Rod 'n' Reel (800/233-2080). Timing the tides is the key, apparently, and Parkers Creek south seems to hold the best concentration. The Diamonds had been hot for rock, and the Gas Docks, James Island area and Hooper Island are all decent bets.

| Issue 38 |

Volume VII Number 38
September 23-29, 1999
New Bay Times

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