- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

PORT TOBACCO, Md.
A strong northeasterly breeze pushed the Potomac River's water into puffy, white-crested waves, so it wasn't easy to find a hiding spot where an 18-foot aluminum bass boat could sit still long enough to let its two occupants comfortably cast an assortment of surface lures during the dawn hour. However, we succeeded, eventually.
The place of sanctuary was somewhere between the Port Tobacco River and the Nanjemoy Creek, where a fairly pronounced spit of land poked out into the tidal Potomac. Thanks to a high, tree-covered shoreline, the wind couldn't seriously threaten and make life miserable for a long-time friend, Bob Rice, or myself.
In the distance, three commercial crabbers worked from their narrow deadrise boats, their lights still dangling from the boat roofs to illuminate the decks as they sorted the blueclawed delicacies, re-baited their pots, and went about their chores under heavy, gray skies.
If ever there was a type of weather that suited one of the tougher creatures that thrives in our waters, the striped bass, this was it.
Ask any old-time Chesapeake Bay Marylander or Northern Neck Virginian and you'll learn that the stripers, or rockfish as locals call them, love nasty weather as much as a duck does. We're not absolutely certain whether a wild duck enjoys bad weather, but we do know that it keeps their feathered bottoms from sitting in one place too long. Nasty weather keeps them on the move. But over the years, I've learned that if rockfish don't bite readily in perfect, warm, sunny weather, they sure as tootin' will snatch up a fake food offering when the skies look like lead and the wind howls.
Could be it has something to do with the arrival of low pressure systems and how they can trigger the feeding instincts of some fish species. In the case of the striped bass, a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence seems to support such a theory.
So there we were, standing on the power pedal of an electric, bow-mounted trolling motor, when suddenly a tiny wrinkle could be seen on the quiet waters no more than three feet from the shoreline. It was followed by a lightning-quick surface eruption, a loud splash, followed by dead silence.
"Rockfish," I told Rice, as if he needed to know what he had known all along.
"Yeah, I'm sure it was a striper," said Rice, an ardent angler and hunter who never follows the crowd when it comes to doing anything.
I cast a bright chartreuse/blue topwater popper, a floating Strike King bass model that splashed, gurgled and hopped across the extremely shallow shore water, while hoping for an attack by the baitfish-hunting rockfish. Rice, meanwhile, calmly looked at one of his spinning rods and said, "I think I'll tie a Mirro surface lure on." His demeanor showed no urgency as if he had all day, even though he knew we didn't.
I kept popping with the Strike King lure and whoosh something strong and feisty was on the business end of the rear treble hook. It was a rockfish, a 19-incher it turned out after I netted and measured it.
"It's over the 18-inch minimum size requirement," I said more to myself than to anybody else. The fish was put into an aerated tank known as a livewell.
Rice, never one to be hurried, now made a cast. Pop, splash, pop, the lure sounded. Whoosh another rockfish struck, missed the lure's two treble hooks entirely, and Rice laughed loudly.
"How about that?" he asked, simultaneously recasting the popper to the left side of the point while I cast to the right. This time both of us received strong hits from rockfish. The rods bent sharply, but my fish broke free, while Rice brought in a 25-incher. It soon provided company for the first striper we'd caught.
A soft rain began to fall, but the rockfish kept busting bait, chasing some of the frightened shiners and young alewives practically onto the river point's gravel.
Rice and I slipped on rain jackets while talking about the great action we'd stumbled onto. Rice joined me once more in making long, blind casts toward areas we hoped might hold more of the marauding rockfish, and again we hooked, landed, or lost stripers of various sizes on the surface lures.
Suddenly, the fish stopped biting. However, when we tied on 4-inch-long shallow-diving, minnow-like jerkbaits in blue/white or black/silver, or a small shallow-water bass crankbait, we soon were back into the fish. They now seemed to prefer anything that darted and swam about under the surface.
By the time we could feel the rain penetrating our fishing caps, the rockfish assaults slowed to a crawl. Any other day, they would have left the shallows with the rising sun. The overcast sky this day provided a little extra cushion.
Can you do the same? Most assuredly. This time of year, around long river points in the Potomac from St. Clements up to the Route 301 bridge, and from Persimmon Point on the Virginia side to just above the bridge upstream to Maryland Point on the other side, even above that, you'll find early-morning or late-evening rockfish visiting the shallows until late November if the weather remains kind. Cash in on it. The same can be done in the tidal, lower parts of the Rappahannock, Pamunkey, Patuxent, Choptank, Nanticoke and Pocomoke rivers.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]


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