I Fish Fall My Way
Light was failing fast, and so was I. My umpteenth cast of the evening landed just short of a ragged shoreline edged with marsh grass. The instant my four-inch top-water plug touched the water, I locked the spool down with my thumb and gave the lure a short twitch, creating a seductive gurgle to add to the splash landing. If a big rockfish had been nearby, I was certain it would have attacked the lure. It remained untouched.
The water, apparently, was empty, just as it had been the last three times I visited. One of my biggest angling shortcomings is insisting on using the tackle that I want to use to catch fish in places I want to catch them rather than fishing where fish are actually swimming with the stuff that’s delivering the goods.
Some areas in the Bay are experiencing good top-water action, while others are inexplicably fishless. The Poplar Island area off the Eastern Shore is a favorite, while the Eastern Bay in general is yielding superior rockfish as well as Spanish mackerel. Live-lining and jigging for rockfish are also scoring well at Gum Thickets (Buoy 86) and the Hill. On the western aide Podickery, the Bay Bridge, Tolley and Thomas Point are more likely to be holding good fish. Trollers are doing fairly well everywhere as long as they don’t concentrate in any one location for too long: The fish appear to be constantly shifting about.
My truest love is catching stripers in shallow water with a fly rod or plug-casting tackle, especially up on top. This year the shallow-water surface bite has been slow and erratic in developing, at least where I’ve been fishing. Yet I keep fishing my way.
I know full well that some anglers are scoring much better in deeper, more open water, targeting specific honey holes over hard bottom and jigging with light tackle and live-lining with spot. Their pictures of bulky rockfish and bright smiles haunt my dreams.
Others are trolling up nice limits by endlessly dragging small spoons and soft plastics through the list of traditional locations throughout the mainstem. When they bump their trolling speed up a few knots, they’re also knocking down a few Spanish mackerel.
Stripers Growing Here
I’m guessing water temperatures are still too high from our very warm summer to entice larger striped bass up into the skinny water. Plus the Bay’s population of resident stripers is well down from several years ago.
Though the last two seasons have seen wonderful spawns and vast numbers of young of year, the previous eight or nine years suffered miserable recruitments. The result is that along the way, as our resident stripers reached migratory age (about five or six) and left for a life in the Atlantic, the numbers leaving were not fully replaced by younger fish.
Hence, it has grown increasingly challenging to find good-sized stripers. Not impossible, mind you; it can be done. But you’ve got to stay in constant tune with the resident stripers’ movements and adapt your techniques to where they are and what they’re eating.
Now, most of the remaining larger stripers are holding in deeper water. I guess that’s where I should search for them.
Back to the Salt Grass
As a last-ditch effort that evening on the edge of the salt grass, I picked up an ultra-light spin rod rigged with a small gold Tony spoon in hopes of finding a few perch. I flicked it out over the water, and it landed at shore’s edge. I allowed it to sink about three feet, then began to swim it back, slowly, with a twitch every other second. It didn’t travel far before something lively pounced on it.
Within seconds there was a swirl on the surface, and a bright striped flank gleamed under the last light of the setting sun. Bringing the fish to hand, I beheld a frisky 12-inch rockfish, gripping my lure and eyeing me with anger.
I unbuttoned the little rascal and settled it back over the side. My next cast yielded another. I had been right after all: There were stripers in these shallows. I was just a couple of years early for this particular bite.