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Fall Fishing’s Mad Frenzy

Follow the birds to find the action

Joe and Col. Dennis Robinson.
     We were at warp speed approaching Man O’ War Shoals, a large oyster reef that stretches for over two miles some distance southeast of Baltimore’s Key Bridge. Col. Dennis Robinson’s 20-foot Sea Hunt center console was barely touching the water as we covered the distance to the wheeling and diving gulls that had located feeding rockfish there.
     Judging the direction that the rockfish were pushing the panicking menhaden, Robinson came cautiously off plane, then cut the engine. We quietly coasted to the near edge of the breaking fish. Picking out the largest water boil in range, I thumbed my spool and sent my white, soft-plastic jig sailing into the melee.
     Four turns of my casting reel’s handle, and I had a solid hook-up. My seven-foot rod bent hard over, and line began pouring off of the reel against a stiff set drag. My heart was thumping and a grin spread across my face as I heard my friends’ voices behind me claiming, Got one on. Me too. Oh boy, oh boy.
     For over two hours we had been chasing birds and throwing lures at the breaking fish between working over deeper swimming schools with soft plastic jigs. Guests of Col. Dennis Robinson, the retired Baltimore County chief of police (hence the traditional rank of Colonel) and his youngest son Joe, a current county officer, my friend Ed Robinson (no relation to Dennis and Joe) and I were enjoying the most exciting fall fishing on the Chesapeake. It’s a spectacle of many parts: actively feeding rockfish, screaming sea birds and anglers trying to control five- to seven-pound fish hooked on light tackle and streaking to every point on the compass. 
Rules of the Chase
     A number of other boats were also chasing the fish, and I was impressed at the courtesies on display.
     Feeding sea birds are such an obvious sign of fish that just about everyone within sight rushes to join in. Conflicts easily occur. Never run your boat into the middle of the breaking fish. That behavior will immediately put the fish down and perhaps run them completely out of the area. It will also make you persona non grata.
     Judge the direction the bait school is being pushed, take into account the wind effect and aim to intercept the fish at a distance of a long cast. Cut off your engine before you get there, drift silently into range and don’t give others plenty of room. This is an equal-opportunity endeavor.
     The fish feeding violently across the surface won’t hit on just anything you throw at them. I started out that day with a five-inch chartreuse Bass Assassin on a half-ounce jig head that drew no attention. When I finally switched to the white seven-inch model, I quickly made up for lost time. The reason for the discrepancy became obvious later that evening as I cleaned my catch. The stripers were stuffed full of seven- to eight-inch menhaden.
Fish Finder
     The fall bite has gotten interesting. Two weeks ago, I hooked a small summer flounder in the shallows on a perch spinnerbait. This week, while drifting for white perch on a nearby river in 14 feet of water, I caught five spotted sea trout, alas below the legal minimum of 14 inches. Spotted sea trout are the prettiest fish that grace our waters, however infrequently; these are the first I’ve encountered in this area of the Chesapeake in over 25 years. The white perch, incidentally, were big, fat, numerous and tasty.
     Mid-Bay rockfish remain middlin’ sized and unpredictable as the fish are constantly on the move. Jigging soft plastics and metal jigs, such as the Stingsilver and the Lil’ Bunker (Specialized Baits) over marked schools can produce some bigger fish.
     White perch are schooling in the deeper waters in the rivers in preparation to move to their wintering grounds. They are taking bloodworms, soft crab and small metal jigs like the Pline and Hogy’s epoxy minnows, both also good for taking breaking rockfish. A few crabbers are reporting awesome fall catches, but most have retired their gear for the season.