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Volume 16, Issue 43 - October 23 - October 29, 2008
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The Beginning of the Grand Finale

Watch out: You might find yourself in the thick of it

We had just eased up to a small rip line created by tidal current pushing against a long rock jetty. It ran out at an unusually acute angle from the wooded shoreline, and we had to approach carefully. This morning most of its boulders were invisible, submerged by a still running full-moon tide. Having taken an occasional fish on the structure in past weeks, we had fair expectations. But we were really on the spot because it was a planned stop on the way to our target destination.

Fish Are Biting

Breaking schools of blues and rock are now moving along both sides of the Bay following the baitfish migrating toward the ocean. Casting bucktail jigs tipped with pork rind, spoons and slab lures to the breakers will get lots of action, but there may be many throwbacks before you can get a limit. Live-lining spot is still producing most of the larger fish, although trolling is beginning to show success. With both blues and big rock often mixed in the same schools, surgical hose in red and black is the wisest choice in trolling lures.
Really large perch are showing up after being scarce the whole of the summer, and the big spot are sticking around later than usual. Bloodworms will easily tempt both of them to bite. Sea trout are rumored to the south; not particularly large but in good numbers is the quietly spoken word.

Easily within sight just a quarter-mile down the shoreline, the cove we were eventually aiming for looked inviting in the early morning sun. Its protected waters were already being riffled in two or three places by schools of frightened baitfish. The memory of our most recent success at that location made it difficult to make a stop at the jetty. But a plan is a plan.

Only half alert, I cast an all black top-water lure out just past the rip line. Most of my attention was taken up by the nearby cove I kept in the corner of my eye. Mike’s cast with an identical lure was only a second behind mine. I twitched my plug once, and the water erupted. Whoa: Fish on! And it was a good one.

Then Mike hooked up, and we began to look for the net. Action so soon was unexpected. Eventually managing my striper to boat side, I got it onboard. Quickly quieting the chunky six-pounder, I buried it in ice as Mike struggled with his particularly uncooperative fish.

Thumbing the small, green casting reel, I fired another cast inside that same rip line. The plug was attacked the second it touched the water: an immediate hook-up. Behind the jetty, the calmer water exploded in three or four places as surging pods of obviously big rockfish aerialized helpless peanut bunker. Our lovely cove just down the shoreline was suddenly and completely forgotten.

My reel hummed as its striper made for the safety of deeper water, peeling off line and keeping my rod arced hard over. Mike finally got his bass into the cooler and quickly cast again. The lure barely touched when two or three fish broke water in a competition to eat it. His rod bent over again as well. “Hey, this is getting fun isn’t it?” I said with a grin. It was the fall bite, nature’s grand finale on the Chesapeake, and we were suddenly in the thick of it.

The shorter days, colder water and millions of baitfish moving in endless, tightly packed schools, first down the tributaries and then south, provide perfect conditions for the bluefish and rockfish feeding frenzies of a Chesapeake autumn. These predator fish are consumed with consuming, answering the primal urge to put on weight for the long winter ahead.

We tangled with at least two dozen fish within the next 45 minutes, all easily five pounds and over. By 9am, our skiff was headed back to the ramp with limits nestled comfortably in the cooler.

I guessed we could have easily doubled or tripled our catch-and-release score had we continued on, but we decided to leave the rest of the shoreline unmolested. Never educate too many fish too fast. Save some of that schooling for another day. Our intention was to make this autumn’s action last as long as possible.

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