I could hear the excitement in my fishing partner, Jamie Clough’s voice as he scanned the cloudy Chesapeake horizon with his binoculars.”
I slammed my 27′ Judge Center Console into gear and Thunder Road was off to the races. Up ahead, through the misty rain, we could see big herring gulls as they swooped and circled high over the water. As if on cue, a group of six or eight birds plunged toward a swirl on the surface. A savage fight ensued and the victor flew away erratically as the other gulls gave chase. In the lead bird’s beak was a 6-inch long silver fish.
“They’re on big bunker. That’s what we’re looking for,” shouted Jamie.
We bolted toward the spot where the birds were diving with our rods and reels at the ready. Before the boat came to a complete stop, we were both hooked up.
How was your fishing this fall? By most accounts, it’s been a great season for light tackle casting on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the reasons why we’re catching more fish than ever this year is that, thanks to recent harvest reductions, there is a lot of bait around, especially menhaden. In the Chesapeake, anglers refer to menhaden as bunker or sometimes (incorrectly) LYs. They’ve famously been called, “the most important fish in the sea.” That’s because menhaden are such a critical link in the Atlantic’s food web. At one time, menhaden made up over 70% of rockfish diets. Now, that number has dwindled to something like 8% because there just isn’t enough menhaden to keep the rockfish fed. In fact, the population of menhaden in the Atlantic Ocean is at less than 10% of historic levels. That’s a big drop and a huge problem, not only for recreational fishermen, but for anyone who makes their living in and around the Bay. Read More!
A lot has been written about the art in fly fishing. There is grace and beauty in a perfect fly cast. What is more satisfying than watching a colorful trout rise from a crystal clear pool to take a hand-tied floating fly? I just returned from Colorado where I had ample time to fly fish in the cold streams of the Gunnison National Forest. I don’t get to fly fish for trout much, but when I do, I’m always struck by the similarities to light tackle casting for rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the most important aspects of fly fishing is the ability to read the water and cast to where the fish are. Another is presenting the lure naturally so that it moves at the exact same speed as the current. While we don’t hear about it as much, there is comparable art in light tackle casting, even when it’s done with a spinning outfit or a baitcaster.
In my years of fishing both fresh and saltwater, I’ve had opportunities to observe the skills and artistry of some of the finest anglers in the world. As a teenager, I guided some of the best-known bass pros in the country when they practiced for tournaments in my home lakes in Tennessee. I’ve been fortunate enough to wade the pristine streams of the Smoky Mountains with the most knowledgeable anglers in the business, and I’ve fished for bonefish and pompano with the legendary guide families of the Bahamas. Most recently, I was joined on my boat Thunder Road by one of the best-known anglers in the world: the legendary Lefty Kreh. Lefty has been fishing for almost a half century longer than I’ve been alive. He’s forgotten more in his 92 years than I can ever hope to learn.
We caught all the fish we wanted that day, and enjoyed several hours of inspiring conversation. Lefty’s fly casting skills are legendary, but his prowess with a spinning outfit is less well-known. Between hooksets, we talked about casting and jigging techniques as well as patterns and the best ways to approach fishing spots. At one point, the conversation turned to the art in fishing. I’m happy to say that after listening to Lefty’s jokes, advice, and aphorisms refined over his long life of fishing, I came away a better fisherman and, hopefully, a better person.
Here are some of the thoughts I’ve collected about the art in light tackle casting: Read More!
Jamie Clough, Rich Jenkins, and I joined Phil Kirchner for a run south out of Hoopersville recently. The weather hasn’t been great lately, but we’ve been catching some nice fish down around the mouth of the Potomac River. The forecast of light winds and snow flurries had us looking forward to a nice smooth ride and the opportunity to find lots of fish. Neither of those things happened! Instead, the Delmarva Pennisula and Southern Maryland were hit with one to three inches of snow and twenty-mile-an-hour winds gusting to thirty. Let’s just say the ride back was a little wet and sporty. Click the photo for the video and you’ll see what I mean.
Below is my speaking schedule for the next few months. We were happy to see one of the biggest audiences ever for my talk last weekend at the Frederick Fishing Expo. There are several more coming up so I hope you can make it. Most of my talks this winter will summarize my top-ten tips for trophy striper fishing. I’ll also break down float-and-fly crappie fishing at the Bass Pro Shops talk and the following weekend I’ll explain bait migrations in the Chesapeake and what that means for light tackle anglers. Also, I’m stoked to be on the same speaking schedule as Lefty Kreh and Bob Popovics at this years Fly & Light Tackle Fest. This year it’s at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club just beneath the Bay Bridge on Kent Island. There’s more information about these fun events on my Amazon Author’s Page and I’ll keep you posted here and on Facebook and Twitter. I hope to see you at any or all or better yet, out there on the water!
Just as predicted, we’re right in the middle of the best summer for light tackle fishing in recent memory. Right now we have thirty-inch-plus stripers in shallow water above the bridge, and hoards of marauding bluefish down south. Here’s what it looks like:
“Anyone can get lucky and catch a winning or trophy fish. What separates the men from the boys is consistency.” – Bill Burton
The best anglers I know have a solid grasp of three basic elements. The first is a willingness to learn and change behaviors or techniques when necessary. That means incorporating the latest technologies and staying on top of the best research. It also includes sorting through the folklore to pick out the very best practices and discarding the nonproductive tactics that bog us down. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you’re not happy with the results you’re getting, it’s time to change. There are not many fishermen who have perfected their skills to the point where they are successful every time. The handful who have could teach us all something. These are the guys who need to write a book. I know I’d buy it. Fishermen with the right stuff are continually seeking opportunities to learn – to step outside of tried-and-proven comfort zones to find what works.
The second element is enthusiasm. Good fishermen eat, drink, smoke, and chew fishing. When they aren’t fishing, they’re thinking about fishing, and they’re probably planning their next fishing trip (or two). They seek out new information and pour over every tidbit of data they can find that might improve their skills. They surround themselves with like-minded people who share their passion for the sport. They also work to conserve the species they enthusiastically pursue. Read More!
Have you seen this yet? Lenny Rudow asked me to join him and his sons David and Max as they filmed an episode for his internet-based fishing show, Got Bait?. Sponsored by Boats.com, the series is professionally filmed and produced by Paul Cronin Productions. I was pumped about the invitation for several reasons, not the least of which is that I would get to fish with Lenny. He and I move around in similar circles, but we’ve only had one brief opportunity to fish together. I’m a big fan of Lenny’s informative How-To books about fishing the Chesapeake Bay, especially his iconic and aptly titled Rudow’s Guide To Fishing The Chesapeake. Additionally, I’ve heard great things about Max and David, so this would be my opportunity to finally meet them. To make the invitation even better, my friend Gary Reich would be joining us as assistant producer.
On the morning of the filming, I launched my 27′ Judge Center Console Thunder Road at Matapeake and zoomed by Thomas Point Light to our predetermined rendezvous point outside the West River. The plan was to use my boat as the chase boat for filming, and Lenny’s PowerCat for fishing. As I jumped on board with Lenny and handed the boat keys over to Gary, I pointed out that the weather was great and all signs pointed toward a successful fishing day. That might have been what jinxed us. Read More!