September’s Top-Water Bite
The conditions were finally right. I was fishing along a tree-lined, rip-rapped shoreline that ran for hundreds of yards just outside the mouth of the Severn. Interrupted only by the occasional stone erosion jetty that eased out underwater every hundred yards or so, this area had proven a hot shallow-water rockfish hunting ground this time of year in the past, especially at first light.
While some anglers have located small pods of rockfish feeding up in the rivers or in the Bay along deep channels, for the most part the big fish are just not here. Conversely, small rockfish, none measuring over 10 inches and blanketing enormous areas of the Bay, point to some incredible fishing in two to three years.
The water lay flat and tempting, and the sky was thoroughly overcast. Throwing a Smokey Joe pattern Smack-It top-water plug, my thumb was relearning the touch skills necessary to put the lure down a just-so distance from the rocks.
If it traveled too far, it would hit among the hard stuff, knocking off paint or getting wedged in the stony jumble. If the lure dropped too short, it would likely escape the notice of any marauding striper.
That focus occupied me for well over an hour as I worked down the shoreline with no results.
Then I had a major blow-up.
How to Handle a Blow-Up
A blow-up occurs when a game fish makes an attack on a top-water plug but misses it. The disturbance can be violent and nerve-wracking, often causing the angler to reflexively set the hook — though the fish isn’t there.
The result of that misguided action is to jerk the lure out of the water and away from the area of the fish, sometimes sending it rocketing back toward the angler’s head. None of these are good things.
The proper response to a blow-up is to allow the lure to lie still for at least a long five-count. Then, if nothing happens, give it just the slightest amount of flutter. This is intended to emulate the actions of a stunned baitfish regaining its senses, hopefully prompting another strike.
However, I had become so mesmerized by my focused, repetitive casting that the ferocity of the strike unglued me. I responded, of course, by setting the hook into nothing and pulling my plug flying, almost back to the skiff.
Reeling in my slack line and regaining my composure, I cast again, this time as far away from the previous strike as possible. First I worked a few throws off to the left, then off to the right, then I paused and gave the water more time to settle down.
Finally I launched a long, careful throw, tight to the shoreline and past the area of the blow-up. I worked the popper slowly but frantically back toward my skiff. At the exact same spot as the previous attack, the fish slammed my lure again.
This time I remained calm. At first I felt nothing. Then suddenly my line came tight. The fish had gotten the plug. I hauled back with a solid strike, and the water exploded into a cascade of flying suds. Redemption! I worked the striper carefully as it ran toward deeper water, pulling line out at will.
I applied only low, side pressure with my rod, first one way, then another. Fighting a top-water hooked fish with a high, vertical rod, for reasons I still don’t completely understand, can often result in a lost fish. I intended to make no further mistakes.
My net was lying on the deck right beside me, so when the fish at last approached the boat there was no further drama as it came safely to hand. It was bright, fat and exhausted. Removing my plug from its mouth, I noted it also was not a stranger to errors in judgment. Its upper jaw showed the distinct scar of an old healed hook wound.
Thanking the scrapper for the fine tussle, and hoping for future karma in the ensuing top-water season, I eased it back over the side to go about its business. A two-time loser now, the battle scarred vet and I might meet along this shoreline again.