The Key to Catching

Sundown was only a half-hour away as I steered my skiff toward another deserted shoreline. Well out, I switched over to my electric trolling motor and eased into casting range. My target was a rip forming over the nearest of a number of mostly submerged stone jetties jutting sharply out from the shoreline. 

Fish Are Biting


Rockfish remain the stars of the fall bite. Live-lining, chumming and trolling are the preeminent methods of securing a limit as the water temperatures have been slow in falling and the fish hesitant to move into the shallower waters. Spanish mackerel linger in the Bay, as do spot and croaker — though they are all queuing up for the migration to saltier seas. No word of bigger ocean-run stripers, but their arrival is imminent. Some chillier weather should heat things up pronto in that regard. White perch are getting scarcer in the shallows but thicker in deep water over shell bottoms. Crabs are running fat and heavy. 

In Season

Snipe season: September 29
Sea duck season: October 2
Snow goose season: October 9
Duck season: October 16
Black bear (permit required): October 25
Squirrel season: Through February.

Morning dove season: October 9
Whitetail and sika deer (archery season) through October 20
Rail bird: November 9

Learn more at


Bird Hunters’ Invitation

I’ve gotten last-minute openings for up to two hunters on a grouse, woodcock, and pheasant hunting trip planned for Nova Scotia, Canada, Oct. 9-16. Anyone interested in making that trip (we’ll be driving up), call me at 410-757-5318. Guide fees, lodging and food costs will be $750 for the week.

Gently lowering a light stern anchor, I waited for a bite. Then I waited a good five minutes longer. Only after an absolute silence had resettled did I pick up my casting rod and send a three-quarter-ounce surface plug sailing to the far side of the rippling water. 

Popping the lure as soon as it touched, I immediately gave it a second solid chug. Then, almost on a whim, I lifted my rod tip near vertical and began to fast crank the bait, churning a noisy trail of bubbles through the seam of the rip current. 

Within three feet, an eager rockfish, launching through the water like a hot torpedo, smashed into my bait. I set the hook, the water exploded and the striper shot out for the deep, taking gobs of line against my lightly set drag. Subduing the handsome 22-incher after an especially careful battle (it’s bad luck to lose the first fish), I iced it down in the cooler.

Snugging down my drag setting, I hurriedly thumbed out a second cast near the same area. This time I started the plug skipping and boiling across the surface as soon as it touched down. 

Another striper, a twin of the first, socked that plug even harder. With the stiffer drag, however, I kept the battle close and quick. Netting the scrappy devil, I quickly released it. I wasn’t ready to limit out quite so soon. But as I slipped it back over the side, I asked it to send back a bigger brother.

Within three more casts, my request was filled. A monster hit engulfed my surface-skipping plug. The reel’s stiff-set drag hummed in my hand, and my rod bent double down into the corks. 

Plan for Success

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

Of course, what happened that evening doesn’t occur with nearly enough regularity, at least for me. Let’s face it. Even if you’re perfectly prepared, the fish often just don’t show up. But when they do, you have to be ready to show them something in a manner they can’t refuse.

That evening — after netting the seven-pound striper that filled out my limit and suspecting that there were still a fair number of fish holding over the jetties — I experimented with both different retrieves and other surface lures I had on hand.

It turned out that I caught zero fish on simple chugging retrieves, slow pops, swim-action and walk-the-dog maneuvers. That night, a fast and furious top-water retrieve, no matter which particular lure I used, was the one key to repeated, all-out attacks and hookups. 

I had been lucky to discover that on my first cast. But I like to think that I would have determined the correct retrieve action sooner rather than later that evening. Constantly varying lure presentation has always been critical to any success that I’ve enjoyed in consistently catching fish of any species.

When selecting the lures you’re going to use, always remember to be flexible with how you manipulate them on the water. Habitually presenting an artificial bait in one consistent fashion, no matter how much success you’ve had with it in the past, is a sure way to pass over fish that could be caught. What’s worse, you’ll never even know they’re there.