Adios to Summer but Autumn is the Best
By Dennis Doyle
Could summer be over already? It was in the low 60s overnight a few days ago, Labor Day has passed and I, for one, am happy it’s finally happened. With the pandemic still around us, the onset of fall can only be the start of a better tomorrow.
The 100-degree days will now recede further and further into our memories. My own August this year was punctuated by an act of benign desperation. Facing a mostly dismal summer rockfish season, I fled the state with my buddy from New Jersey, Vince Ransom, for a more sensible clime, way north to the Kenai Peninsula. (Local Maryland angler Jack Mister doubled as a guide for Drifters Lodge at Cooper’s Landing on the Kenai River, an invaluable service!)
Basking in the mist of 40-degree mornings and about 16 hours of sunshine, I found Alaska the perfect antidote for Maryland’s hottest month. The first coho salmon run was under way, roe-laden crimson sockeyes were everywhere, pink salmon well into their even-year run (they are MIA during odd years) and the native rainbow and Dolly Varden trout in their usual, but still unbelievable abundance.
I won’t torture you with tales of screaming drags, gorgeous fish, cool days and incredible surroundings. Suffice it to say that after well over a week of constant action I eventually felt the full effects of every one of my 78 years of excessive sport and lack of adult supervision. It took me a full week to get my legs back under me and begin preparing for the best of Maryland’s calendar.
And the best it always is. Rockfish reports are already encouraging. Fish in the 26-plus inch range are starting to shoulder their way into the main Bay to savage the schools of yearling menhaden, perch, silversides, anchovies, spot and croaker forming up. Cooler temps and decreasing hours of sunlight will ignite all of these species’ instincts like few other stimuli, for they know winter is coming.
The many tributaries to the Chesapeake are nurseries to out baitfish as well as our gamefish and each will react a bit differently. Though the Norfolk spot are spawned somewhere offshore in the Atlantic as are the croaker and a lot of the menhaden, they somehow make it up the length of the Chesapeake to reside in the fertile headwaters of creeks, streams and rivers, staying relatively safe from predation and growing larger.
Our rockfish, perch, silversides and Bay anchovies are birthed here in the Chesapeake but are now feeding more voraciously for the coming cold weather. They have also been joined by some late toothy visitors from the open sea. Spanish mackerel have arrived as have some schools of bluefish.
Though the Spannys are specifically targeted most often by fast trollers (seven knots plus), they are also hooked by prepared anglers chasing other species and spying feeding birds. A 7-foot, medium action spin or casting rod armed with a 1-ounce Kastmaster spoon, or a similar clone, will usually entice an attack by a Spanny mack or a blue.
Tailors and snappers (smaller bluefish to 14 inches), choppers (blues at 24 inches) and slammers (over 24 to sometimes over 36 inches) will be found in greater and lesser concentrations depending on the density of the rockfish population. The two species will rarely be found in large numbers simultaneously, bluefish preferring to range the open ocean when rockfish are numerous.
Our rockfish numbers are considerably down so the presence of blues may be more pervasive this year and there is nothing as enervating to an angler as a school of these toothy devils attacking a gathering of baitfish. Birds will be in abundance as bluefish will bite off the latter half of a bait first then often neglect the other half.
The larger choppers and slammers also have the habit of eating until gorged then vomiting their stomachs and starting all over again, a behavior much appreciated by the feathered and finned species that follow them to feast on their leavings.
The Bay is alive with active gamefish and panfish putting on some weight for winter. Trolling will generally locate your favorites but the mouths of the tributaries and the more prominent points along the Bay will usually produce fish. Live lining may suffer as bluefish will be eating the latter half of your spot. The tailors and snappers will also invade the chum slicks causing havoc with your baits on the bottom. Birds will be unusually active now due to the presence of both the Spanish mackerel and bluefish so keep a casting rod loaded with fast moving, hard lures in silver or gold. Avoid soft plastic jigs, they’ll suffer from the toothy strikes. White perch are schooling well, getting some size and can be found from 15 to 40 feet of water and the blue crabs are at their fattest of the year. Winter is coming, enjoy the Bay now!