Volume XI, Issue 38 ~ September 18-24, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

There’s Not a Better Place to Be

The dull slap of water against the metal hull, like the distant din of pans clanging together, soon gave way to the mechanical hum of the electric motor pushing Chuck Foster’s skiff closer to the marsh bank. From a distance, it looked like a fishy spot: a jagged slice of land jutting out from shallow to deep water, the last of the flood tide rising nearly halfway up the stands of spartina. On one side of the point, moving water pushed past with intent while the backside eddy remained calm and inviting.

We looked at each other with predatory smiles.

“Man, that’s a fishy spot,” I hissed, putting words to our thoughts. “But is it holding rockfish? Only one way to find out.”

After a tough few outings, I was due. And we had conditions on our side. The water, surprisingly, was fairly clear with the temperature at its surface 71 degrees. Add to the mix a series of cool nights, and you had the near-perfect recipe for shallow-water rockfish action.

I started out playing a little bait-and-switch, sometimes called pop-n-swap, a technique of chucking the surface plug (often hookless) within inches of the shore, then retrieving it at a good clip. The trick is to bring it back barely too fast for the fish to hit but fast enough to draw its ire. It’s the next cast that counts, and it’s a proven way to tell if anyone is home.

Ten feet into the retrieve, a swirl the size of a pizza erupted behind the plug, just the tell-tale sign I hoped for. Grabbing my eight-weight fly rod, I shot the fly, a chartreuse popper, 15 feet behind the spot where the fish rose to the plug. This time my retrieve was more purposefully erratic, mimicking a wounded baitfish such as an anchovy or silverside among the hordes that gather in strong numbers this time of year throughout the Bay.

I watched as several fish followed the fly and cackled when a rockfish, only several yards from the boat, couldn’t stand it any longer and exploded on the ruse. Embarrassed, perhaps, it angrily peeled off line, making a good showing that belied its short stature.

Meanwhile, Chuck was using a cedar surface-popper he had spun on his lathe. In its guts he loaded rattles, then painted it white with a flash of red for gill plates. It proved deadly, catching his limit of rock and several more of nearly 18 inches.

We moved on down the line, and I took a legal rock hanging off a jetty on spin gear, using my St. Croix Tidemaster to deftly twitch a Chug Bug. It was a long tall thing, not nearly as fat as you’d expect but good enough to eat.

After a spell, Johnny Cash’s killer rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” broke through my brain. Billowy clouds strewn with contrasting deep and faint hues of grays wafted past the horizon. The air was welcoming, idyllic autumn rushing over my pores. I knew that there wasn’t a better place to be.

And where were we fishing, you wonder? You know the place. Out in that wondrous Chesapeake, where the salt meets the fresh and fish run wild.

Fish Are Biting
Pleasant weather and great fishing gave way to a cold front and showers. It moved on, but on its heels, and at time of this writing, Hurricane Isabel steamed toward the mid-Atlantic coast, slow and steady. Prior to that, fishing was set to bust loose. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, rockfish and weakfish are all in nearby waters. Sometimes you can find all four in close proximity, as we did recently. Now if the weather will cut us a break.



© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated September 18, 2003 @ 2:30am