We’ve crossed into mid-autumn. The weather is chilly and messy, with misty mornings, brighter afternoons, and spits of cold rain seemingly every other day. Leaves have hued into gold, orange, red, and all shades of brown, coloring the treetop horizon in seasonal beauty. Quickly cooling tempertures and whipping winds have oxygenated the entire water column of our Chesapeake Bay and it’s many tributaries. Baitfish are abundant and moving out of the shallows into deeper water. Bigger fish follow. So do the blue crabs. On the shoreline, bald eagles perch high above, searching for the same fish as anglers. Bucks and does are in the nearby thicket getting ready to dance. Wildlife all around, it seems, is actively prepping for the winter months ahead.
The fishing, many say, is possibly at its best this time of the year. That’s what I thought when planning two days off work during the week of Halloween to fish (plus another couple early morning outings tacked into the mix). The fish would surely cooperate right?
It was a tough go all around. But one thing I’ve learned is that it helps to have a couple action plans in the tackle bag, so to speak, on any given trip. If and when the fishing for one species gets tough, I can adjust and try catching something else. Sometimes this works and sometimes not.
On Halloween and the day thereafter—that’s two solid days of fishing—my gameplan was laser-focused on targeting chain pickerel, which should become increasingly active in the river systems as fall trudges into winter. On day one, I spent my hours in the way, way upper reaches of the Severn River, poking and prodding several creeks and all shoreline cover with a 1/4oz Z-man willowvibe tipped with several colors of Zoom flukes. I particularly like this combo of chatter and trailer for probing laydowns, and shallow to deep transisitions around docks. It has a easy-to-feel quality, attractive vibration, and jitters wildly on the jig. All things that should attract both angler and pickerel to this bait. Despite this, I only experienced two follows and one solid pickerel hookup all day, which unfortunately for “show and tell” purposes, came unbuttoned boatside. I estimate the pickerel was a solid 20″ to 22.” Randomly, I also pulled in one white perch that hit the willowvibe.
I should note, the conditions were rainy, on and off all day. I got soaked. The wind was negligible though, so that was a bonus. I could push in and out of the spots I wanted to fish with ease.
Day two saw better weather—that is, no rain and plenty of sunshine. In fact, the air temp hovered in the mid-60sF and had me wondering if it was cold enough to actually fish for pickerel yet. Sure didn’t feel like it.
Having mostly struck out the day before, on day two I decided to alter my approach entirely and spend my time in the middle portion of the river—drifting over dying grass flats in the morning hours before moving into back creeks and casting to cover by noon. The drifts in shallow water (2–5 feet) felt great, with the boat in perfect position and just enough northerly wind to gently track along the grassline where it met the open sandbars. This was on the northeastern side of the river. Over the grass, I threw a 1/8oz Gamakatsu swimbait hook tipped with a 4″ Bass/Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad in chartruese/glitter. The lighter weight and weedless lure design is perfect for slowly swimming and, even, walking the dog. During an hour of cast and repeat, I only had two pickerel follows—both clearly chased the bait but didn’t attack. Darn. Transitioning to the back creeks and pitching a lure rotation of the willowvibe, an underspin/paddletail, and my go-to confidence bait—a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad—into docks and laydowns without a bite to show for it all afternoon had me doubling down on the notion that the pickerel simply weren’t active yet. We’ll try again next week.
With basically two target species skunks on my back, I needed an easy bankfishing trip to soothe my angling soul. On a suntopped morning, I ventured to Annapolis Waterworks Park and threw 1/16oz weedless crappie jigs tipped with Mr. Crappie Lightning Shads (of course!) to hook into several crappies—all pulled off sunken debris. Of note, the number of crappie was significantly down, which leads me to believe they’ve pulled back into deeper water for the season.
Lastly, and because I was craving a big fish bite, I planned to end the week with another river trip, but to target striped bass. The weather report looked promising—a somewhat strong ebb tide and flat conditions (no wind). But come morning, a dense fog had blanketed the canopy and settled atop the water. Much too dense to navigate the open water safely by boat. I had to temper my enthusisam, pivot entirely, and choose a quick outing with potential to produce a big fish. To Governor Bridge and the banks of the Patuxent River I went.
Simple trip. Brought two rigs. A medium-heavy setup to throw a chatterbait in and around cover for, hopefully, a large northern snakehead and the panfish setup with the weedless crappie jigs for anything else that would bite (heck, I’ve landed a 10lb. carp on this rig!). I plied the banks and casted into every fishy looking spot along the narrow expanse of river I fished. No snakehead present. But a nice school of yellow perch had staged at this location. Averaging about 8–9″, they weren’t the largest, but large enough to have fun with, save the morning, salvage a tough week of fishing, and give me hope for future outings. It’s fall after all. See y’all on the water again, real soon!