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The Appeal of Fly Fishing

Even when the fish don’t bite, energy runs thru it

"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."
–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It 
       I eased off of the deserted beach at early morn and made my way carefully toward deeper water. There were sunken tree limbs, water-logged and partially buried, scattered across the bottom, and I had to be careful not to stumble on them.
       Hoping that my hip waders would let me explore the area, I fingered the warm cork of my rod and continued toward the more remote part of the beach. I had not worked this area in years, but recently two friends commented that they’d seen some big fish as they’d passed by to begin crabbing. I was hoping they had seen rockfish.
      My favorite striped bass fly rod, an old, eight-foot-eight-inch, three-piece Scott, was cradled under my arm as I stripped the floating line off of the worn Billy Pate Salmon reel. Its drag was as silky smooth as ever and gave me a warm feeling of confidence. I had taken a lot of fish with that reel in every kind of weather.
      A dozen or more years ago the fly rod was my principal tool. Then I started writing about my outdoor activities. Realizing that only one out of 10 anglers in those days were fly fishers, I knew I would have to re-embrace other forms of tackle if I wanted to appeal to a wider audience.
      Today the ranks of long-rod fans have fallen even further. The burst of publicity back then provided by Norman Maclean’s best-selling novelette, A River Runs Through It, as well as the subsequent movie staring Brad Pitt, eventually subsided. Fly fishing is not for everyone, though its regular practitioners are madly devoted.
      Knotting a 1/0 chartreuse over white Clouser streamer onto my 10-pound fluoro leader, I worked out line with some slow false casts until I had about 30 feet or so in the air. Then hauling and hauling again I laid out about 50 feet of line. Muscle memory is a lovely thing. 
      One of the problems with fly fishing the Bay is that rockfish are light-sensitive. As the sun rises, they seek deeper and deeper water for security. If you’re going to fly fish exclusively for rockfish and want to catch, you’ll need to fish very early, in the early evening hours or after full dark.
      The conditions that morning were almost perfect, which is one of the reasons I had decided on using the long rod. It was first light, the tide was exceptionally high and just beginning to fall and there was no wind. The two-acre tidal pond, obscured by brush behind me, was creating a distinct current about 100 feet away as it outflowed into the Bay. I hoped it was also carrying shrimp, minnows and other tasty tidbits with it — and that there would be rockfish waiting for them.
       The only downside was the bright, full moon. Though rockfish can see in the dark, they can see much better under a big moon and they tend to feed throughout those nights, scattering the bait schools. By morning they are often sated.
       This was one of those post-bright-night days. The rockfish were missing in action. Though I pussy-footed around, laying out one delicate cast after another and reveling in the mesmerizing art of fly casting, I did not draw a strike. By 10am, with the sun high in the sky, I announced a cease fire.
      I had thoroughly scouted the area, however, noting the worst of the branch-strewn bottom, how the tidal current wended out from the brush-choked shoreline and where the deeper areas (above my hip-wader level) started. I would be ready the next time the winds died down and I could return, particularly around the dark of the moon.
Fish Finder
       The fall rockfish bite is hot when you can get out on the water. Trolling tandem bucktails, soft plastics and smaller spoons are working best. Jigging metal is also productive. When the fish aren’t too deep, throw Assassins and BKDs. Chumming remains effective. Bottom fishing cut baits and blood worms is working all along the channel edges and at Sandy Point, Matapeake, Romancoke, the Bill Burton Pier and the bridge on the Honga. Fish have been 20 and 21 inches; a 25-incher is a bruiser and rare these days.
      White perch are gathering on their wintering grounds just south of the Bay Bridge and eating bloodworms and razor clams.
Hunting Seasons
Deer, antlered and antlerless, archery, thru Nov. 23
Snow geese, limit 25, thru Nov. 23 
Sea ducks, limit 5, Nov. 3-Jan. 11 
Rabbit, limit 4, Nov. 3-Feb. 28
Ducks, limit 6, Nov. 10-23
Migratory Canada geese, limit 2, Nov. 17-23
Squirrel, limit 6, thru Feb. 28