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No man, after catching a big fish, goes home through an alley. – Ancient Chinese Proverb

Maybe you’ve heard someone recite another old saying about “the three stages of a fisherman’s life.”  It goes something like this:  The first stage is when the angler’s main objective is to catch as many fish as possible, the second stage is when the angler only searches for the larger fish, and the third and final stage is when size doesn’t matter and the capture is unimportant, but satisfaction comes from the way the angler tricks the fish. I usually nod my head in agreement when I hear that, but c’mon now, I don’t know one single fisherman who, when given a choice, doesn’t cast toward the biggest fish in the pond.  We can wax poetic about the joys of baptizing ourselves in the boundless beauty of nature, and we can sing the praises of that peaceful solitude we find out on the open water, but screw it – the bottom line is, no matter how we are fishing, we want to catch a whopper!  In this third and final segment of the Gimme a Breaker series, we’re looking at ways to get the lunkers out of surface blitzing Chesapeake rockfish.   Read More!

If you’ve looked down at the water flowing beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge recently you’ve surely noticed that it’s the color of butterscotch syrup. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the flow over the Conowingo Dam on March 12 was the highest since Tropical Storm Ivan in 2004.  Water clarity is worse than it’s been in recorded history. We’re currently experiencing an annual event called the freshet.  Although I never heard the term before I moved to this region, I now know that a freshet occurs in saltwater estuaries when spring rains and snow-melt cause upstream rivers to flood.  This results in the additional flow of hundreds of billions of gallons of muddy, sediment-saturated water into the Bay.  The map on the left is a NASA satellite photo of the Chesapeake region taken this week.  I’ve labeled a few places for reference.  It shows a plume of muddy water flowing from the Susquehanna River south though the main stem of the Bay to the mouth of the Potomac River.   Note that the water is muddiest in the area between the Susquehanna Flats and the Bay Bridge.

Although the freshet occurs every spring, there is more flow in some years than others.  During an average year, about two and a half billion pounds of sediment wash down the Susquehanna into the Bay.  In very wet years it can be twice that.  It remains to be seen how this spring will turn out, but for now things are above normal.  Since there is research proving striped bass spawn more productively in fresher water, the news is both good and bad for fishing. Read More!

Savvy Chesapeake anglers recognize an event that happens every fall that has significant impact on light tackle fishing. In summer months, the waters in most areas of the Chesapeake Bay stratify so that it is cooler, denser, and saltier down deep, but lighter and fresher near the surface.  In the fall, as temperatures cool and strong cold fronts bring lots of wind, the water is stirred up so that the top layer eventually reaches the same density as it is down deep.  When that happens the surface water sinks so that for a while, temperatures and salinity are about the same top to bottom.  It doesn’t happen all over the Bay at the same time, but it’s easily recognizable to fishermen because we start noticing that fish are feeding at much deeper depths.  In some parts of the Maryland portion of the Bay, we are currently experiencing the fall turnover.  This can be both good and bad for fishing.

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Since I’ve been reporting bigger migratory fish on my recent trips, I’ve been overwhelmed with questions about where the fish are.  My apologies if  I’ve yet to return a call or answer an email, but the absolute truth is  – I don’t know. These big fish are moving around very quickly and they haven’t been at the same place twice.  I think we sometimes put too much emphasis on locations, and not enough on patterns.  Tell someone where to go to catch a fish and you may help them for a day, but teach them how to identify specific patterns of how fish behave, and you’ve helped them for a lifetime. Ask any good fisherman the secret to repeated success and he’ll tell you it’s the ability to distinguish specific feeding habits.  I believe that you can drop a good fisherman into any body of water in the world and he’ll catch fish as long as you give him enough time to establish a prevailing pattern.  It’s especially important on the Chesapeake where conditions change quickly and a rapid thirty degree temperature drop in October is not unusual.  I think fishing conditions change faster and more often here than anywhere I’ve fished before.  Fortunately, fish are usually creatures of habit and there are distinct patterns we can identify in the way they behave. Read More!

Fall is coming fast to the Chesapeake region bringing changing patterns in fish behavior.  This is the time when resident Bay rockfish move shallow and start feeding heavily in order to put on winter weight.  While there are still active fish in the open waters over the oyster bars and around the mid-Bay islands, the real fun is close in to the shore; so close in fact that you really don’t need a boat.  A kayak or even waders are more appropriate this time of year, the only challenge being access to the best fishing spots.  It’s tough to get most center console style fishing boats in tight enough to shore. Many light tackle anglers compromise by going with a bay style boat.  That’s a good idea, but since I also fish the big water in the worst of the winter, I prefer a larger ride with a steeper deadrise.  Due to the savvy design skills of Eastern Shore boat builder Bill Judge, I feel like I have the best of both worlds.  Thunder Road, my 2010 Judge 27 CC only draws about 16 inches.   I’ve put all 16 to use and then some over the past couple of weeks while working the grass beds of Talbot and Dorchester counties.  Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean. Read More!

I’ve collected a number of sunset photos over the past eight or nine days.   As water temperatures begin to fall, stripers are moving into shallower water where they can find cover while chasing bait.  I’ve been setting our drifts over humps in the 4 to 5 foot range in the flats around Kent, Poplar, and Tighlman Islands.  While almost any kind of top-water lure will work, I prefer Lonely Anglers, Stillwater SmackIts, and Heddon Super Spooks.  The fish can bite anytime, but they always turn on right about the time the sun hits the western horizon. There have been a few birds working in the shallows, but some of the most successful trips have just been blind-casting over structure.  Any area where the bottom comes up a foot or more over the surrounding flat can hold fish. Aquatic grass is a plus. Good water quality is essential.  So is flowing current.  That’s been somewhat hard to come by lately. Hurricane Earl has made its way past the mouth of the Chesapeake and up the Atlantic Seaboard with very little impact on our region except for a disruption in the normal tidal patterns.  I’ve been compensating by Read More!