Volume XVII, Issue 35 # August 27 - September 2, 2009

Fish Are Biting

The mouth of the Eastern Bay is the place to be for breaking fish, some of them of impressive size. Rock, blues and Spanish have all joined in the apparently endless melees. Take plenty of lures, for there’s a lot of sharp teeth at work in the scrums. Bottom-fishing remains excellent for spot and croaker. Perch are appearing in their regular shallow-water haunts, and larger fish are finally in evidence. This is the start of the autumn grand finale. Be sure to get there: Winter is on the horizon.

The Season of the Long Rod

We fly anglers are about to enter heaven on earth

The silence of a pre-dawn, fly-fishing sortie on the Bay’s thin water is mesmerizing in the fall. Words are sparse, and whispers replace normal tones as the skiff drifts silently to a long cast from a murky shoreline. Noiselessly an anchor is slipped over the side and carefully secured.

The sun is merely a soft blush, still beneath the horizon. Leader knots are checked with squinting eyes and shielded flashlights. Care is taken not to cast the beam over dark and undisturbed water. Caution has become mandatory in moving gear about the deck. In this water, a sudden light or a loud noise will flush every fish.

Then, with murmured agreement, all is at last ready. The sun is peeking. The soft clicks of line being stripped from precision, saltwater fly reels onto the bare casting decks quicken the pulse of even the most seasoned angler. For a fly rodder, this is magic time.

Then comes the gentle hiss of line false-cast into the dark morning’s sky. Soft grunts of effort accompany the final haul as the anglers’ lines shoot toward the dim outline of shoreline structure. The moment of truth has arrived.

Breathing almost stops as line is stripped back, sliding dark streamers and ripping cup-faced poppers gurgling and sputtering through still water. The feathered lures are moving frantically, helplessly, like panicked baitfish. Then comes the payoff.

A thunderous tail slap on water echoes off of the shoreline. Thick fly line snaps tight, pulling a rod’s tip hard down. The rod is slammed back in a strike, and a heavy rockfish, well hooked, crashes wildly through the water, making for the safety of the deep.

Loose line burns through trembling fingers, snaking up and hissing through the straining, slender rod’s guides. The fish finally comes tight to the reel. Then the drag begins singing its music, yard after yard of line disappearing into the still dark waters of the Chesapeake. For a fly angler, this moment is heaven on earth.

The Brink of Heaven

The earlier trophy and summer rockfish seasons on the Chesapeake are not kind to advocates of the long rod. With the spring Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release action the exception, the remainder of the earlier months greatly favor trolling, jigging and live bait.

During those months, only by utilizing high-density sinking lines can the fly fisher get down to where the fish lurk. Deep water is not where the long rod’s talent lies; other tackle is better suited there.

September, however, changes all that. Rockfish now begin to charge into the skinny water they once shunned, and skinny water is the undisputed realm of the fly rod. It alone can quietly deliver virtually weightless lures far onto waters sometimes only inches deep.

Here, pods of rockfish are now seeking out the baitfish that have also begun feeding and congregating in the shallows, all of them urgently driven by instincts aroused by the approaching winter.

A fish fight on this water is no fathoms-deep, boring tug-o’ war. It is all-out, no-holds-barred, full-speed, shallow-water combat.

If you try to stop a good striper on its first run off the flat, it will smash your tackle, guaranteed. You have to let them have their head. Then the rockfish will likely turn back on you and, if it gets any slack, it will be gone. To free itself of your lure, it will broach, mouth wide, slashing the water with vicious headshakes.

Big fish will leap, airborne berserk, or crash dive under the boat to shred your line and leader on the hull. They will deliberately wrap off on your motor or any rock or piling they encounter to rid themselves of your hook. These are battles you will remember forever.

“To every thing there is a season,” the Bible says, and September is, finally, the season of the long rod.

© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.