Two's a Partytesttest
Three weeks of big wind and steady rain got me thinking about a trip this time of month last year. Back then, it was calm and lovely, and we were drifting a bit south of one of the Bay Bridge rock piles in 30 feet of water. I had just lowered my rod tip to let the flashing lure at the end of my line flutter back down to the bottom.
Fish Are Biting
The relentless wind and rainstorms have pretty much killed the fall bite. Besides muddying the water and scattering the rockfish, bluefish, perch and baitfish schools, the weather has also pushed out the few remaining Spanish mackerel and probably sent the croaker on their way south as well. However, when the weather calms, the fall patterns should re-emerge along with the bite. The wind, rain and chilly nights will drop Bay water temperatures into the red zone for fish feeding. Good crabbing will return as well. With the last big shedding moon behind us, the delicious swimmers will now only get fatter and fatter. And what’s better, those barely legal 51⁄4-inch males will have been transformed into Number One prime Jimmies.
Ruffed grouse: Oct. 2
Sea duck season: Oct. 2
Snow goose season: Oct. 9
Duck season: Oct. 16
Whitetail and sika deer muzzleloader: Oct. 21-23
Whitetail and sika deer, bow and muzzleloader: Oct. 25-30
Black bear (permit required): Oct. 25
Wild turkey, fall season: Oct. 30-Nov. 6.
Squirrel remains open thru February
Morning dove season: Oct. 9
Whitetail and sika deer archery Oct. 20
Rail bird: Nov. 9
Learn more at www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide/pdfs/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf
We were vertical jigging for white perch, yo-yoing our lures only about 18 inches up and down just off of the oyster beds that carpeted the bottom below. On the last jig, when the weight of my lure reaching the end of its fall didn’t immediately transmit up my line, I yanked my rod upward in a quick strike.
There was immediate resistance. My rod tip bowed, slightly at first, then arcing over firmly. My drag started to give up a bit of line. I could feel a good fish surging in a tight circle deep below. I guessed it was another fat 11-incher.
I was using a short, six-foot, medium-power graphite rod with 10-pound Power Pro braid spooled on its small, low-profile, bait-casting reel. It’s my favorite rig for October, when the perch are at their table-quality best. Thick, fat and firm, they move into large, deep-water schools in the chilling waters of autumn and enthusiastically feed up for the long winter ahead.
The rod I was using was light enough to feel every bit of the spirited fight these spunky fish provide. The fast-action stick also had the spine to handle the jigs it took to get down to where the schools of perch were cruising.
At that moment the tidal currents were gentle, and the thin diameter of the Spectra Braid line allowed me to reach bottom with a light, three-quarter-ounce chartreuse metal Tsunami jig as the bottom lure and a small, size-four, white streamer fly about a foot higher up. The big perch loved both of them.
Suddenly, the rod, arcing over much harder, was almost pulled out of my hands. I had to point it down toward the water to transfer the stress more directly to the reel; otherwise I risked breaking the rod. Line peeled out into the Bay’s depth.
My guess was that a marauding striper, attracted by the struggling perch, had hit the second lure on my leader. I had my hands full with an unexpectedly fierce and prolonged battle.
Finally netting the flashing silver five-pound rockfish, I was only slightly disappointed to see that the big perch that had started the melee had shed the hook in the touch-and-go struggle. But that is the luck of the draw when you’re using vertical jigging.
Mastering the Art
Targeting one species won’t preclude a second species of fish from homing in on the action. I have caught eight-inch white perch on a two-ounce, four-inch feathered rockfish jig, as well as hefty stripers on the small, two-inch dropper flies I favor for white perch. Sometimes a bluefish will jump on, and if his sharp teeth don’t snip off the lure he has bitten, you can welcome the blue into the cooler as well.
Sea trout, when they are around, are particular suckers for the vertical jigging technique. Flounder can surprise you as well by attacking your lures when you least expect it, which of course is just about any time you catch one in the mid-Bay.
When our spate of horrible weather passes and we can get out on the water once again, I heartily recommend that you try vertical jigging. Drifting and fishing straight down beside the boat is a deadly technique and simple to master.
The most difficult part is keeping just the lightest contact with your lure on the drop side of the jigging motion. Fish are most apt to strike as the lure falls toward the bottom. If you feel just the slightest bump — or the opposite, the sudden absence of weight — you probably have a fish on. Strike quickly, or it will be gone.
A good electronic fish-finder is the one critical key to consistent success with this technique, if only to eliminate working empty water. While you may not always be able to get the fish that you find on your sonar screen to bite, you will never catch fish that aren’t there.