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Back on Top!

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This mid-July morning was one of gorgeous metamorphosis; a scenic transition from ethereal moonscape to honeycomb delight. With the nearly-full moon overhead (at 93 percent waning), the 5:30 a.m. start of today’s adventure was draped in a purplescent dawn as I motored from home port in the creek to my first round of spots. A whisper of a breeze and a comfy-for-mid-July temperature of only about 70F made for ideal conditions. Surely, there would be several other anglers vying for the choice sandbars and points in our Severn River, right? As I made headway, out and toward stop one, I remained a lone soul on the river. Nary another boat in eye- or ear-shot. “Hot damn,” I thought to myself. “Here we go!”

The goal of the morning was striped bass on topwater. This is the pattern I’ve been trying to play for the past several outings. Admittedly, this season I have not been as aggressive in getting on the water at dawn. Time and circumstance have levelled the playing field between me and the bass. I just haven’t been out as much as the past two seasons, averaging only one trip per week, if that, versus two or three. So, my game is a little off. To date this summer, I had not taken a striper on top. But today, I brought with me a lure that I believed would hold the key to success. And I was right.

Motoring the jon boat through the creek during early dawn. There was a stillness this morning and nary another angler in sight.

Last go-round on the river, I hit my favorite sandbars and points. You can read about that here, during which I brought several go-to lures for the topwater bite. Said lures did not get any hits at the time. Couple follows, but no hits. So, I felt I needed a changeup if wanted to hook up this morning. On the St. Croix Premier/Penn Spinfisher VI medium combo I switched my leader material from 17# test Berkley Trilene Sensation clear mono to 12# test. On the business end, I tied a Shimano Coltsniper Walk 95 in bone white. This walk-the-dog bait has a 3 and 3/4″-inch profile, which is about a 1/4- to 1/2-inch shorter than the lures I used last week—a better match to the size of the baitfish currently dominating the river. It’s easy, subtle walking action also gives the presentation the proper surface flicker that seemed to appeal to the bass I had observed.

After spot one didn’t produce, I motored to spot two and this is when paying attention to the water paid off. You must be observant at all times while on the water and in all directions. Use your hearing to cue you into the action in front, around, and behind you. Listen, look, adjust. I was close to leaving this spot after fishing its perimeter and making several interior casts over the shallow sandbar, when I heard several eruptions on the surface about 30 yards starboard of my position. Curiously and quietly, I motored to within casting range and launched the Coltsniper past the ripples, then walked it back through them. Bam! A nice-sized schoolie striper hit the bait and took a cute run through the water before settling down and allowing me to introduce myself, take a photo, and release her back to safety. It was game on! The water temperature hovered at 81F, which is tolerable for the fish but still necessitates careful and quick handling to ensure survival. This being mid-July and the last day of Maryland’s “first half,” so to speak, of summer striper season, I took utmost care of the fish I caught and did not harvest any. From 7/16 until the last day of the month, striped bass are off-limits in Maryland’s Chesapeake waters—a bit of reprieve for the beleaguered fishery. 

First striper of the day at first light. A nice hit on the Shimano ColtSniper Walk lure.

As the sun inched higher over the horizon the topwater action faded—the stripers retreating to slightly deeper water. With time to fish on my side, I had the opportunity to work the ends of a couple points with the swimming paddletail baits I tied onto two of my other spinning combos. I had a red 3/8oz VMC Boxer Jig with a white 3.75″ Old Skool Tackle Hammer paddletail and 1/4oz Boxer Jig paired to a 3″ Mr. Twister Sassy Shad in a sort of off-pink/purple iridescent color. Both produced several striped bass, though nothing larger than a 18″ fish. Still fun nonetheless.

And as the sun creeped even higher, I opted to play the docks and fish for white perch using a 1/4oz silver Acme Kastmaster. This always produces. The key is to fish the shaded side of the docks/water. This is where the fish retreat, to avoid predation themselves. Cast or pitch the lure into the darkest shade you can find, let it sink to just above bottom (use your sonar), and twitch/jig it back on the retrieve. If there’s fish there, they will hit—no two cents about it. The perch I caught ran up to 10″ long—good eating size, though I wasn’t in a fish-cleaning mood. Guess I was just a happy catch-and-release kind of guy today.

As the sun inched higher, the topwater bite died off and I switched to swimming paddletails through the water column around sandbar points.

The action finally all-but-died as the incoming tide this morning rose to it’s slack high by about 8:15 a.m. A few here-and-there fish were caught—even a couple feisty spot—before the peaceful return to port…and peace of mind that my instincts were more than intact. I got the topwater bite right this morning. I was back on top. See y’all on the water again, real soon!

Spot and white perch hit the Acme Kastmaster time and again when pitched into shade under and around docks.