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Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle

You can catch a fish, but take care not to catch hypothermia

     Yes, it can be uncomfortable but it can also be exhilarating to catch fish this time of year. Even in the low 40s, you can catch fish, particularly rockfish and white perch.      But before you even think of going out, take two precautions.      Do not go out on the water when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

No matter your gear, you’ve got to be over the fish if you’re going to catch

     After five consecutive skunks over the last 10 days, I shared my grief with friend and neighbor Frank Tuma, a charter boat captain.      “Yeah, I’ve heard that the middle Bay is empty of rockfish,” he said. “But I’ve found a nice bunch that I’ve been working over the last few trips. Going to take a couple of friends out tomorrow. Want to come?” 
Getting equipped to clean your tackle will postpone that day of reckoning
     First it was wind and plenty of it. Then rain. Gazing at the dreary, sodden, gale-racked scene from my writing chair, I admitted that foul weather is finally descending on us. We will get days on the water, but more often than not, we won’t.

Research is what you call it when you’re not catching

      Thumbing the spool, I cast my lure just off a placid riprapped Chesapeake Bay shoreline. The morning had been perfect for surface plugging to cruising rockfish: The tide was in flood stage, there was little wind and the water was 66 degrees. Yet there were no fish.

Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.

Follow the birds to find the action

     We were at warp speed approaching Man O’ War Shoals, a large oyster reef that stretches for over two miles some distance southeast of Baltimore’s Key Bridge. Col. Dennis Robinson’s 20-foot Sea Hunt center console was barely touching the water as we covered the distance to the wheeling and diving gulls that had located feeding rockfish there.

We’re not the only ones that bite at that delicacy

     Flipping my bait over the side, I spooled out line, letting my bait disappear into the shaded depths and off the down-current side of the Bay Bridge pier. The tide had been moving for under an hour; the gentle current was just slow enough to allow my hook to sink to where I hoped the rockfish were holding.

As daylight and temperatures drop, fish alter their feeding habits

     Fishing, especially for rockfish, is about to get better. Decreasing temperatures mean that baitfish of all types —peanut bunker, silversides, anchovies, spot, yearling white perch and baby croaker — are moving toward deeper water.      The days are also getting shorter, with the sun rising about a minute later every morning and setting about a minute earlier each evening. While not particularly noticeable to us over the short term, it definitely has an effect on the fish.

Don’t give up on that missed strike

      I sent the Rat-L-Trap sailing out over the water in the longest cast I could manage. Pausing for a slow four-count to allow the lure to sink near the bottom, five feet down, I began the retrieve with long upward sweeps of my rod, followed by brief pauses to allow the lure to descend back toward the bottom.

Turns out it’s complicated

     I was casting to a rip-rapped, Bay shoreline laden with the remnants of an aged dock. There were multiple piers, railings and decks, long fallen into total disrepair. Curiously, there were no nearby buildings of any kind that explained the structure’s presence. It was, however, a white perch playground.