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Change Your Lures for Autumn

As daylight and temperatures drop, fish alter their feeding habits

The revolving rear fin of Larry Dahlberg’s Whopper Plopper attracts big fish and triggers smashing strikes.
     Fishing, especially for rockfish, is about to get better. Decreasing temperatures mean that baitfish of all types —peanut bunker, silversides, anchovies, spot, yearling white perch and baby croaker — are moving toward deeper water.
     The days are also getting shorter, with the sun rising about a minute later every morning and setting about a minute earlier each evening. While not particularly noticeable to us over the short term, it definitely has an effect on the fish.
     Decreasing sunlight drives rockfish to feed up for winter. They are gathering in ever-larger schools in the Bay’s mainstem to avail themselves of the sudden presence of those gathering baitfish schools. They are also haunting the mouths of tributary shallows in the early morning and evening to dine on bait holding there.
     This change in their feeding habits requires a change in lures. Top-water anglers now favor surface plugs such as the MirrO Lure Top Dog series, especially in red and white, the Heddon Spook and Chug’n Spook series in chartreuse and bone colors and the Stillwater Smack It and Smack It Jr. series in Smokey Joe, Classic Black and Firetiger. 
     Another is the Whopper Plopper, a lure designed for muskies by IGFA Hall of Fame angler Larry Dahlberg. This unusual lure features a revolving rear fin that creates a distinctive commotion upon retrieve and attracts big fish and smashing strikes.
     For one of the best light-tackle experiences on the Chesapeake, use medium-power spin and casting rods six and a half to seven feet long and reels spooled with 10- to 20-pound test monofilament and braided lines. When you hook up with a good striper in three to four feet of water, the fish has only one option for escape: an all-out run for deep water. Even a 20-inch fish will give a good account of itself under these conditions. The sound of a screaming drag will become much more common during the next two to three months.
     Anglers who favor soft plastic jigs such as BKDs and Bass Assassins will also continue to share in the action. Using a lighter jig head in one-eighth to one-quarter-ounce sizes — and weighted worm hooks on the soft-bodied lures in even lighter weights —allows anglers to search out their fish through the often rock-cluttered bottoms of the shallows. You’ll occasionally lose a lure, but the structure collisions will trigger any number of strikes during the retrieve.
     The better colors include Albino Shad, Opening Night, Ripper, Electric Chicken and white and chartreuse in the five-inch standard and paddle tail models. If you’re fishing under the lights, a bubble gum pink model can also produce exceptionally well.
     Another type of lure that can prove deadly during the fall in four- to six-foot depths is the lipless Rat-L-Trap in one-half and three-quarter-ounce sizes. The better color schemes are the black back, chrome model and the same in gold, as well as the glow models (charged by flashlight) for late evening and nighttime fishing.
     In deeper water, rockfish schools are now driving bait to the surface. For those breaking fish, virtually any lure that mimics the size of the bait being chased will draw strikes in a surface-feeding melee. Particularly effective are the Pline series of metal jigs. The Hogy epoxy minnow series does a great job of emulating silversides and anchovies as well as passing for peanut bunker in a pinch.
     Look for flocks of swirling and screaming gulls to find this action.

Fish Finder

     Rockfish are schooling and moving looking for baitfish schools now moving out of the tributaries. Fish are breaking in the early morning and late afternoon. Trollers are dragging medium-sized jigs adorned with Sassy Shads in four- to six-ounce weights. White is in favor with chartreuse not far behind. With the bluefish in the mix, Plan B is to switch to medium-sized spoons in silver and gold and red surgical hose in seven- to nine-inch sizes behind six to eight ounces of lead. Jigging on the schools with soft plastics and metal jigs is also effective throughout the day.
     White perch fishing remains productive as the fish school up in deeper water. Spot and croaker will not be here long. Crabbing is dying out.