The Bay at Its Best

Top-water fishing’s all about how you play the lure

The quiet waterscape flowing around us was only dimly illuminated by the first blush of a calm and breaking day as my son and I made our casts. Drifting slowly in our skiff on the fresh start of a gentle ebb, we were moving about 100 feet out and parallel to a long, weathered bulkhead, footed by heavy, barnacled stone piled along its base.

Fish Are Biting

Rockfish, Spanish mackerel and bluefish are making life interesting for anglers enjoying our nearly perfect weather the past week or so. Trolling small flashing spoons at six to seven knots is tricking the mackerel. Live-lining spot is still working for rockfish. Bluefish are attacking anything shiny and fast moving.

The Eastern side of the Bay is getting the better part of most of the action, though the bite around Poplar Island has tapered off. Plugging the shallows has started up in the early am and late pm and should get more reliable as the waters cool.

Croaker are still here, though they won’t be too much longer. Perch are staying reliable, though they have been pushed out of the shallows by August’s warm temperatures. In deeper water, it seems that the difference between good-sized perch and great-sized perch is the choice of bait. Peeler crab is producing the better fish by far. It is tempting better-sized croaker, as well. The only problem is finding peelers. You have to call around to bait shops and move fast before they are sold out.

Spot are around, but last year’s jumbos never showed up. Nor did the sea trout. Crabbing remains in the doldrums because of the warm water but should go ballistic when temperatures begin to drop. Stay ready. Autumn crabbing is the best, and the jimmies will be at their fattest.

In Season

Hunting season is open for mourning dove, railbirds and resident Canada geese. Resident goose season continues thru Sept. 15 in the eastern zone and Sept. 25 in the western zone; dove season thru Oct. 21; Railbirds thru Nov. 9; early teal season runs Sept. 16-30

Squirrel season Sept. 5-Feb. 27; Whitetail archery season: Sept. 15-Oct. 21.

Check www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide for important details.

The receding flood still pushed well up onto the bulkhead, and a sharp morning chill announced, as few other things could, the end of summertime on the Chesapeake.

A dozen or so yards out from the bulkhead, a dimpled and swirling seam was forming from water flowing over the submerged remains of an old stone wall that had, many decades ago, fallen in a futile effort to protect the eroding shoreline.

Our top-water lures splashed down not far from the foot of the bulkhead, and I immediately threw my reel into gear and gave my plug a good twitch. We were both using three-quarter-ounce Stillwater Smack-Its, a popping plug that has become our favorite fall rockfish lure over the last five years.

After a brief pause, I started up the lure with a frantic, erratic splashing and swimming action. If my ears were as good as my son’s, I might even have heard the rattles inside my plug knocking and banging out the sounds of baitfish panic.

Instead I settled for concentrating on watching the water gurgle and erupt at the movement of my lure as it approached the seam marking the fallen stone wall. I intended to swim it across in a full fit of aquatic hysteria, for it was there that I expected lurking stripers.

Then, at the last second, I couldn’t resist a father’s impulse to look for my son’s lure out of the corner of my eye. It was apparent that he had a different tempo from mine. Just briefly, I was distracted by his popper’s odd dance. At that instant a big striper ate my bait.

Even with my hearing long dimmed by age and abuse, the sound of a violent strike came clearly to me across the water at the same instant that I felt the savage pull on my line. I leaned back into the fish, hard, and did my best to recover my wits and hammer in a good hook set.

Striped bass often attack top-water lures with such a brutal jaw grip that they can prevent penetration of the plug’s hooks during their strike. Then, when they become aware of the deceit, if the angler hasn’t answered with his own effort to sink a barb, the fish needs only to rise up out of the water, open its mouth and give a good head shake. This rids them of the offending lure and sends it flying across the water. It also destroys an angler’s composure, sometimes for days.

But this time, despite my surprise and as evidenced by my deeply bowed rod, a long trail of torn water plus the scream from my reel’s drag, I had buried the barbs well.

Then from the bow of the skiff, I heard my son call out, “Hey, I got one too, Pops,” just as the crash of water from his fish’s strike and its escape antics started up.

Both of my fondest wishes, at that moment, had been answered. My son and I were hooked up on our first casts, and the fall bite had started right on schedule.