The Long Rod in Late Autumn
By Dennis Doyle
There’s an old saying among linguists that you’re not really adept in another language until you dream in it. Last night I dreamed of fly fishing … all night long. It was the first time in a while that has happened. Years ago, it was a regular occurrence and, upon reflection, I’m ashamed that I’ve let my long rods languish to the extent I have.
I no longer have the energy level that casting a fly rod requires over a long day but this is a false argument. Actually, I’ve likely been distracted by the multitude of outdoor sporting opportunities on the Tidewater. As for fly fishing, one can slow down the casting and searching efforts without sacrificing any of the experience. The thrill of angling does not depend on production, especially with fly fishing.
All of my favorite fly rods remain within reach on the racks just across the room so I firmly resolve to renew the artful experience they have long provided me. It seems that many anglers have had similar lapses. It’s been a long time since I’ve observed anyone casting a fly for a striper. With the current predicament the species is experiencing it may be the perfect solution to increasing the experience of catching one without unduly stressing an already stressed population.
I’ve often heard the opinion, which I share, that catching a rockfish on a fly rod is ten times the experience of hooking and landing one any other way. If you’ve put up your fly gear in years past, now may be the ideal time to break it out and renew the artful experience. Fall is the best season for tangling with rockfish on the fly and with the falling temps you won’t even break a sweat.
If you’re never fly fished, the experience these days is yours for the taking. Fly tackle has never been better made nor more affordable. Lessons and information on technique are as accessible as the internet. A process that once took hours and hours of lessons and practice, which had to be provided by experts, can be achieved with a little web surfing in just days and a few repeated backyard tryouts.
A first class eight weight rod and reel with a floating line 30 years ago would have set an earnest angler back almost $2,000; now it can be had for the same cost as a similar quality spinning rod and reel (under $100).
Heading into winter, locating rockfish is as difficult as finding the mouth of the nearest river as it enters the Chesapeake. Rockfish up to legal size are schooling and feeding up for the cold and the Bay’s baitfish are schooling up as well and heading downstream at the same time. They meet consistently every morning and evening near the river’s mouth, marked clearly by large flocks of seabirds. The hungry rockfish will take any offering imitating a 3- to 4-inch minnow. The only requirement is stealth: you can’t be too clumsy, but even if you are they will resume feeding within minutes and you can cast to them again.
The lure colors are consistently simple as well, white, chartreuse or yellow. A 10- to 20-pound leader at the end of the fly line will get the job done and a fish is rarely injured and almost always lip hooked and easily released. Since you can keep one fish of 19 inches or more, dinner for two may also be included in the experience. What’s not to love?
The fall feed-up is reaching the climactic stage for Bay game fish with schools actively feeding throughout the Chesapeake. Seabirds are marking the action and making it an easy experience on days that are mild enough to get out and look. Though the fish are mostly throwback rockfish, the action more than makes up for it and for those who want a seafood supper, there will be legal-sized keepers. There are also still a few Spanish mackerel mixed with a few bluefish cruising about and making the bite interesting. Small, 3- to 5-inch bucktails, jigs and crankbaits will get the most attention. Soft plastics are most readily accepted but toothy blues and macks can make the experience expensive. White perch are schooling deeper and deeper in the tributaries and now is the time to put some in the freezer for the winter. Hi Lo rigs with small hooks (#4) and shrimp, worms, clam, minnows or grab will entice them. Get out there while you can, sometime soon it will all be over for the season or at least too uncomfortable to enjoy.