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Thinking Like a Fish

It shouldn’t be hard to outsmart a creature with a brain the size of a marble

The gentle temperatures of May were welcome after April’s cold winds and rain. But then a friend and I fished all day Friday under near-perfect conditions, chumming with fresh menhaden that tempted hardly a single bite.
    I tried to rationalize the failure by reminding my partner that bait fishing is frequently unreliable while the rockfish remain in spawning mode. But reports of fellow anglers boating keepers to our south (we were up around the Baltimore Light) only emphasized the odor of a second straight skunk this trophy season.
    I’ll be gearing up again, and my hopes remain high to score a couple of trophies on light tackle before the big migratory fish are gone. Reports of egg-bearing female stripers continue to dominate, so it’s a pretty good guess that we’ve got two to three weeks yet to get a few big ones in the box.

Well-Equipped
    I had gone over much of my tackle during winter, giving the bearings and drags of my reels some much-needed maintenance and replacing all of the lines. Both my buddy Moe and I switched to fluoro-coated monofilament for our bait fishing this season.
    Last year full fluorocarbon lines produced a slightly better bite than mono, but after a couple of weeks the fluoro lines turned stiffer, had a lot of memory and were not pleasant to use. I’m hoping the coated lines deliver the more reliable softness and low memory of mono while retaining the reduced underwater visibility of fluoro.
    We’re sticking with sliding fish-finder rigs, two-ounce sinkers and 7/0 J-hooks for most fishing days. But we’re prepared to jettison them for circle hooks the minute undersized throwback fish appear.
    For the first time, we’re also experimenting with chumming high and low, a bag sunk to within a dozen feet or so of the bottom and another bag at surface level. That should attract the rockfish cruising higher in the water column this time of year as well as those hunting the bottom contours. We have to drift a bait back weightless, or nearly so, to fish the upper waters. It will be interesting to see how many rock (if any) we score that way.
    Both my friend and I continue to use the round Abu Ambassaduer 5600 four-bearing casting reels, equipped with line-out clickers. The extra control of a revolving spool, the superior drag and the handiness of the line-out alarm overshadow the irritations caused by an occasional backlash.
    Six-foot-six-inch medium and medium-heavy rods remain my favorites for both chumming, live lining and jigging.
    Despite our poor start this year, I am hopeful for the balance of the trophy season. The motto I follow is Find out what makes you come alive and do it because what the world needs is more people who have come alive. For me that means being on the waters of the Chesapeake and trying to outsmart a fish with a brain the size of a marble. Even though the fish continue to win that matchup an embarrassing percentage of times, the adventure of the activity never wears on me. Even after two skunks. Really.