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.

I’ve also made a couple of trips to the Bay Bridge recently finding a few good fish each time.  That’s been the routine for the past three Septembers for me.  I can usually find lots of fun shallow-water activity in the mid-bay, or I can stay close to home hoping to find a few thirty inch plus stripers at the bridge.  This year, the bridge has been tougher because liveliners who are having a hard time finding fish in the open Bay are piling in around the pilings.  I don’t have a problem with livelining.  It can be a fun and effective way to catch fish.  My only issue is that there is a high likelihood of deep-hooking fish caught on live bait.  Unfortunately, most liveliners use J hooks instead of the more fish-friendly circle hooks.  That’s okay if they’re keeping all they catch, but deep-hooked fish don’t usually survive, so catch and release is not a viable option when livelining. 

I’ll rib the liveliners from time to time, but it’s all meant in the spirit of good-natured competition. I livelined frequently when I fished for fresh-water stripers and still do it occasionally. It’s a very easy way for less experienced fishermen to catch fish.  Where I take issue with livelining at the bridge is that the active spot they use for bait swim around the pilings and snag.  There’s no choice but to break them off.  This leaves hundreds of yards of heavy tangled braid woven like spider webs beneath the water.  It’s getting harder and harder to retrieve a jig through that mess. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to another aspect of the challenge.   The fish are still there, just harder to get to. Fortunately, the spot will be leaving soon and those guys will have to go back to trolling.

In the mid-Bay, we are fishing small points or the mouths of creeks or grassy guts.  Current is essential.  The biggest secret to finding where the fish will be stacked up is to look for deeper tide-swept banks that are exposed to the wind.  If the wind is from the south, look for areas with southern exposure or go to the north side when the wind is coming down the Bay.  It’s tempting to move toward the lee side of the points because it will be calmer there.  Resist and stay in the wind.  The stripers are using the wind to help them round up bait and push it against the bank.

I fished yesterday evening with my friends Joe and Gerald.  It was rainy with about a ten knot Southeast breeze.  Our first plan was to head south to look for speckled trout in the grass beds, but we were side-tracked by zealous stripers.  It turned out to be an amazing evening for top-water casting.  I didn’t think to bring my HD video hat cam, so all I had was my usual digital camera.  Nevertheless, I think I got some pretty good footage. 

There’s no way any video could really capture the fun and excitement of a fishing trip like this.  We were laughing like kids at Christmas time.  Since there were so many fish around, we removed all the treble hooks from our topwater lures and replaced them with barbless short shank 4/0 J hooks dressed with white or chartreuse bucktail.  We mashed the barbs on the J hooks because they weren’t necessary. 

The result was a virtual volleyball game with the hungry stripers.  At times they would hit the plug and knock it several feet into the air. Five, six, or seven strikes per cast were not unusual. One fish even threw a lure right back in the boat with us. Terns and gulls swooped close overhead or flew right down into the reeds after stripers who were feeding so shallow we could see their fins out of the water.  In the high trees above the creek banks several bald eagles seemed to enjoy the show.  Snow white egrets dove like ospreys on the baitfish as they were smashed into the air by the blitzing stripers.  It was a feast for the senses, early Fall Chesapeake fishing at its very best.  

I think the skinny water pattern will hold for a while. Water temperatures are now in the low to mid 70s. One word of caution, there are lots of rocks, stumps, and trees around those shallow banks and one mistake could cost thousands of dollars in engine or fiberglass repairs.  But if you have the boat for it and you know some safe spots, or better yet, you have the determination to paddle or wade, now is the time go shallow.  So, get out there and smoke ’em in the grass!

Posted Monday, September 13th, 2010 at 12:45 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Smoke ’em in the Grass – Video”

  1. RogerT says:

    All day yesterday I was thinking ,man this is the day for top-water.Glad you guys got on some good TW fishing.

  2. Tim Campbell says:

    Nice job on the video as usual Shawn. Thanks again for the invite. It was a blast!

  3. RiverCat09 says:


    Great video. Those rock are hanging even tighter to the shore than a couple weeks ago. I got a new hi modulus BPS inshore extreme to replace the Ugly Stick, and I cant wait to use it.

    You are so right about those structures being risky. I dinged my boat last year near some of those mid-bay structures that we both are familiar with. You can’t be too careful, although the siren call of topwater rockfish can be alluring.

    Thanks for posting and tight lines!


  4. JOE YACK says:

    GREAT EVENING OF FISH CATCHING… I’m still grinning… I am pretty sure that was Tim Cambel fishing with us up front… but everyone looks alike when you are catching fish like that… Thanks Again.

  5. Fletch says:


    Is that a stubby needle fish I see?

  6. Shawn says:

    I’m not sure, Fletch. That was a lure Joe brought on the boat and it sure was a fish catcher. Tim was throwing a Lonely Angler spook redhead. We took the hooks off and replaced them with singles so we could just grab the lures without worrying about getting a hook in the hand.

    Also, these fish are still holding in there. I’ve been back to the area three or four times with similar results, even bigger fish.

  7. jumbo1 says:

    Quote…It’s a very easy way for less experienced fishermen to catch fish. SK….I like that…great looking pics my friend…

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