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The Season of the Long Rod

Perfect your cast to battle with autumn’s big fellas of the Bay

Our skiff was slowly drifting off of the Western Shore, just below the Bay Bridge, pushed by a light northwesterly wind along with the beginnings of a falling tide. My eyes were glued to some strong arches on the fish-finder indicating we were passing over a pod of good fish holding close to the bottom in about 20 feet of water. Bending on a 3/0 Half and Half (a Deceiver-style fly with a Clouser-type head) in chartreuse and white, I lifted my stiff nine-foot rod and started to cast.
    Beginning with a roll cast directed to our rear and about 60 degrees off the line of drift, I worked a short length of the 350-grain, sink-tip fly line out. Just as it touched the water I cast again, working a bit more line out, and yet again, until I had the full 30 feet of black, high-density line extended. Then, as that heavy line touched the water one last time, I made a hauling, sidearm backcast, shooting the dark tip and about 25 feet of running line to the rear.
    As the cast straightened out behind me, I changed the plane of my forward cast to almost straight overhead and began a strong forward haul. As the line leapt out in front of me forming a narrow loop, I made a circle with the index finger and thumb of my left hand and guided the rest of the pile of line (about 40 feet of it) laying on the deck, sizzling through the guides and out over the water.
    The weight of the sink tip took the fly deep as I stripped off another 10 feet of line from my reel and fed it into the drift. Allowing a full 10 count to let the line get close to the bottom, I began a slow strip-jerk retrieve to impart the motions of an injured baitfish on my streamer. About the time I imagined the fly was reaching the area behind us where we had marked the pod, the line came tight. I cinched the fish up hard, and another autumn fly rod battle was on.
    Usually, the long rod is associated with sweetwater and the more pleasant months of the year. Casting a tiny Adams upstream in May to tempt a dimpling trout or working a small popper in June along the spawning beds for bull bluegills are more usual pursuits.
    But the less comfortable chill of autumn sends another signal to the long-rod enthusiast of Chesapeake Bay. This is just the time to break out the eight- and nine-weight saltwater rods, tie on a 20-pound leader and do some serious battle with the big fellas of the Bay, our rockfish.

How to Do the Chuck ’n’ Duck
    Casting a heavy-taper floating line over shallow water (six feet or less) with big, bright streamers and poppers can be a relaxing and especially enjoyable saltwater tactic. But the window of opportunity is inconveniently short, usually lasting only an hour or so after first light. As the sun climbs, the light-sensitive stripers tend to move to a deeper stratum until evening. Unless a fly angler can find large stripers actively feeding and breaking on the surface, fishing a floating line is no longer an option.
    If you want the bigger rockfish you’ve got to follow ’em deep, and that means using a high-density sinking line. Sink-tips, as they are called because only the first 20 feet is heavily weighted, can work depths of 15 to 25 feet.
    Sink-tip lines come in various weights, usually measured in grains (1,000 grains to an ounce). A 350-grain line is intended for eight- and nine-weight rods, 450 grains for 10- and 11-weight rods, etc. The heavier the rod and the heavier the line, the deeper you can reach and the larger the fly you can throw. Keep in mind the axiom, bigger fish want bigger baits.
    Casting these lines requires some adjustments to your normal casting stroke. It is wise to prepare by lawn casting before taking your show on the water. The technique of throwing sink-tips is sometimes called the chuck ’n’ duck, you’ll understand why the first time you try it.