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Three Times Tryin’

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Last week, I wrote of autumn teasing us anglers with early-morning air temps holding in the high 60s/low 70sF, the cooling surface water (under 80F now), the abundant bait, birds, and hot striper bite. Would the next few days hold the same promise. Well, we gave the fishing three tries this past week; each of varying success and not without challenge. Let’s get into the daily breakdown.

On the heels of a great morning with good friend Derek helming his center console through Round Bay in the upper Severn River, chasing birds, and the two of us hooking into a consistent schoolie striper bite on topwater and subsurface (see previous post), I had to give this plan another shot while the moon was new and the tide cycle strong.

8/28: Easy Like Sunday Morning

On Sunday morning, I woke an hour predawn. So did my 8-year-old son. We loaded up and made the morning a father/son fishing trip.

My son admires a fine schoolie striped bass that hit a topwater walking bait.

Zipping down to Round Bay in our 14-foot McKee Craft side-console was a breeze. The water was flat at 6:30 a.m. and there were subtle winds—not more than 5 knots. We hit 30mph and made way to this widest expanse of the Severn, scanning the waterline and horizon for swirling seagulls. I spotted a bird batch and heeded to the shallow flat that sat adjacent to deeper water. Casting the Shimano ColtSniper Walk yielded several healthy stripers, about 17–19″, which gave us the hot start I was hoping for. Though not as prominent a bite as a few days earlier, the fact that we found fish, got them to hit topwater, and had fun doing it, already made this quality time together a success. Several of the stripers coughed up peanut bunker (juvenile menhaden), confirming their baitfish of choice, as well as our ideal lure. (Of note: for this outing I pinched the barbs down on the ColtSniper’s stock trebles for easier releasing of fish; though I landed several, I lost three right at the boat’s gunnels, one of which was probably the largest fish of the day. After this trip, I swapped those trebles with inline single hooks.)

A couple stripers coughed up peanut bunker, which made it easy to “match the hatch” and choose our lures.

The bite cooled down, so we moved across the river to the Severna Park side, to another shallow flat and weedline. I pitched the ColtSniper and picked up another 19″ fish. I had my son reeling in a 3″ Sassy Shad in pearl on a 1/4oz swimjig as a search bait (he loves to reel fast). No hookups on that setup. Soon it was 9 a.m. and, in the distance toward Sullivan Cove, I spotted another flock of seagulls swirling over bait, so we zipped to them. With the sun higher, I decided to go subsurface and throw a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad into the fray. First cast was a hookup with another nice schoolie. There were no subsequent hookups and with the morning sun bearing down, we called this trip a success and headed back home.

8/30: Kind of Blue

Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. I receive a text from Derek that he’s got Spanish Mackerel on his mind, is lowering his boat into the water, and that I should meet him at the dock ASAP. Done deal!

Gorgeous morning and we quickly made way into the main stem of the Severn River, which we’d cruise the length of southward into the Chesapeake Bay. Our plan was to run #1 and #2 planers off the stern with classic mackerel trolling setups. Anglers Sports Center put together this excellent video of the exact rig we used. On the way to the bay, we passed an amazing flock of gulls crushing surface bait. It took extreme willpower to pass that up, as we continued south to our destination.

Thing is, by the time we got to wider open water where the river meets the bay, the calm winds and flat surface gave way to increasing gusts and swells that made our trek a bit more dicey than anticipated. We persisted south and eventually Thomas Point Lighthouse came into view. We set the trolling planers and spoons overboard and started our cruise at about 8mph, the preferred speed to pick up torpedo macks. Poplar Island was in the southern distance on the horizon.

Unfortunately, we had zero mack attacks. However, several small bluefish triggered the planers—each measuring just over 8″ which we could harvest and put on ice. Perfect smoker-size, which will be made into bluefish dip this coming weekend. Regardless of the miniscule catching, the sites to, from, and within the middle-Chesapeake are plentiful—from the Naval Academy and Greenbury Point at Severn’s mouth to Thomas Point, the container ships offshore, the Bay Bridge in the northern distance, and all manner of wildlife above and below, this region is special in my eyes.

Trolling spoons at a fast clip (about 8mph) produced a few bluefish, but no Spanish mackerel on this trip.

After a couple hours bouncing along and plying the bay, we made haste toward home port. Our day jobs beckoned. We cleaned the fish, iced the fillets, shook hands, and called it a day. Do check out the Anglers video linked herein for the Spanish Mack setup.

9/2: Something, Anything

It’s been a week since the new moon and I knew heading into this morning trip that the tide would be weak. The weather forecast called for fair-to-steady winds with gusts up to 14–15 knots, but coming from the northeast. This is not a recipe for success. Despite this, I rose early, prepped my boat, launched, and headed to Round Bay for, hopefully, another shot at birds, bait, and stripers on topwater.

This was not to be. I found a few birds on the leeward side of St. Helena Island, in the middle of Round Bay, hitting scattered patches of bait. I saw a few lone stripers break the surface, but nothing compact and easy to attack. Coupled with an increasing wind and choppy water, the topwater bite was all but dead. I tried pitching the ColtSniper and walking it back (eagerly so, with the inline hooks), but it was too rough for walking baits. I swapped in a Stillwater Smack It, Jr. plug and tried the popping bite, but that too proved fruitless, though there was one swipe at the lure. On another rod, my 6’6″ St. Croix Mojo Inshore spin setup, I had a Rapala Twitchin’ Mullet in pilchard color ready to retrieve just below the wave action. I figured this was a good imitation of the peanut bunker that the stripers have been feeding on lately. Multiple casts only saw one chase, but no hookup. Damn.

With the wind getting consistently stronger from the northeast, I decided to push across the river to the leeward side (Severna Park) and ply the calmer waters from Asquith Creek northward to Sullivan Cove. And when the striper bite seems cold, I reach for my white perch rod—a 6′ medium light setup with a 1/4oz Acme Kastmaster—to hook into any action. Usually, it’s a good bet there will be perch huddled around the deeper ends of docks. And my hunch was spot on, as I played around a few pilings to pick up some fish here and there. Finally a few hookups to shake my bones and feel somewhat good about waking up early to fish.

White perch shook the skunk off the boat on this trip.

But I had stripers on my mind—how could I not after the last several stellar outings? This called for one last spot—a money spot that I’ve had a good degree of success at in past outings. A spot where I’ve picked up a rogue striper when no others wanted to bite. I figured this would be my last shot of the day, so upriver I went to a large, open, sandy flat that averages 4′ depth with an outside edge in 7′ that sharply drops to 20′. If fish don’t bite here, then the bite is shut down period.

With that damn wind bearing down, even along a somewhat protected shoreline, I had to set the boat on a perfect drift across the outside edge where the flat meets the drop off. From the drift, I cast the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad (silver color to mimic the bunker) and worked the jerkbait from the shallow water back out toward deeper. This would imitate baitfish cruising off the flat, where hopefully a few striped bass would be sitting off the ledge to intercept. And this hunch also paid off with a couple bites, resulting in one solid hookup with a 19–20″ striper. She gave a proper tug, pulling a touch of drag, came boat side, let me have a look at her/take a photo, and off she went after a clean release. This fish scratched my itch for something, anything after a rather trying couple hours. I reset the drift across the flat one more time, but couldn’t find another bite. I called it a day and made port. See y’all on the water again, real soon!

Lone striper caught by drifting a shallow flat adjacent to a significant dropoff. He bit the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad.