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Follow the Birds!

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As I took a sip of coffee after unhooking yet another schoolie striped bass, I swear I detected a hint of pumpkin spice. And was there a little nip in the air at daybreak? I think so. After a morning like this one, I was hard-pressed not to have feelings of autumn. Here we are in late-August and, yes indeed, the first signs of early fall may have dropped this week. Sure, the water temps hover in the high-70sF and the mercury still reaches damn-near 90F by high noon, but at dawn’s magic hour you’ll want long sleeves and a hot coffee in hand. The early chill coupled with mini-blitzes and good fishing has Fall season written all over it. It’s starting to happen folks. And the birds are leading the way.

We found a nice school of striped bass willing to hit topwater and subsurface baits.

For this outing, I met my good friend Derek at his dock, which lucky for me is two blocks down the street. When he buzzed my phone at dawn and suggested we head into the main stem of the Severn River to find birds, I was at the dock in no more than 10 minutes. Hell, I beat him to the boat. We lowered his Sea Hunt center console into the drink and off we went in search of gulls circling overhead. And we found them in short order.

Maneuvering into the Severn’s Round Bay was our move of the morning and it’s amazing how quickly a flash of gulls will seemingly appear out of nowhere. We’d spot a few stray gulls, motor toward them, and then, BAM!, a flock would flutter up, around, and begin their dives into the water below to feast on peanut bunker. And there were the striped bass, ambushing the baitfish from below. Enough so, that we’d see plenty of fish breaking surface. For me, this is topwater time. I tied on a Shimano ColtSniper Walk Hi-Pitch, size 95 in bone white, and started heaving it in and around the swooping birds and splashes. It only took a couple twitches to get hit. And the hits kept coming. Derek tied a Rapala X-Rap XR10 that would dive just under the surface to about 4 feet and was getting whacked too, pulling in fish on almost every cast. Our fish were schoolie size, from 16″ to 21″. Not the largest fish, but great, consistent pullage. We harvested two for tablefare.

Derek holds a catch before releasing the fish back into the Severn River.

With little wind to speak of and an ebb tide that was steadily in the middle of its outbound cycle, the conditions were slick and perfect for working just about any twitching lure on or just below the surface. We’d follow the gulls from spot to spot, motoring up to, but not into, the flock, and pitch lures. Catch and repeat. Follow the birds! By the time the sun reached three fingers above the horizon, I tied on a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad in silver and hooked up several times. By four fingers high we pulled the boat into a position about 50 yards off the end of a point in 25 feet of water and switched to snap jigging from the bottom up, connecting on a couple fish, one of which was our largest at 21″. Not too shabby. The key is to adjust and fish a touch deeper as the sun moves higher. The fish will often shut off the topwater bite when sunshine is high and mighty. So tie on lures that ply slightly deeper water, and deeper, until you connect.

And though we didn’t hook into any monsters (we’d have to venture further to the Chesapeake Bay proper for them), we couldn’t help but anticipate the months ahead and what the autumn season will bring. More birds, more bruiser-sized fish making way upriver to gorge on bait, and tired arms. We got a taste this morning, and it tasted great. See y’all on the water again, real soon!

Another fine fish caught just after sunrise in the Round Bay area of the Severn River.