November On The BayPosted on: November 5, 2020 FHMD
Early November brings some of the best fishing on the Chesapeake. When the leaves turn and the bay water temperature falls below 60 degrees, the rockfish begin to fatten up for winter. With the abundance of bait in the main stem of the bay, the rockfish school up and gorge. It’s a perfect time for a catch.
Starting the Day Right
When I wake up, the first thing I do is plan my day by checking various apps. I look at the wind forecast, live wind speed and direction and predicted tide times. If the forecast calls for more than 10 mph winds, I focus on wind direction and plan my day for an area where I can get some shelter. A sheltered location just makes fishing easier and much more fun.
Before sunrise, I start shallow, throwing large top water plugs at the shore line with grass banks and RipRap. I also “broadcast” on shallow flats of 2-3 feet in depth. If you haven’t had your coffee, seeing a 25-inch rockfish blow up on your lure in the early morning light will definitely wake you up. I also use my trusted St. Croix 7-foot-long medium power fast action rods to go long distances with a stealthy approach. In most situations, I use a Spook-style lure and sometimes a chugger.
Tackle Fishing Action
I follow the fish into deeper water as the sun rises, hoping to find a marauding school balling up bait fish and pushing them to the surface. I also look for the cartwheeling, squawking gulls that bombard the helpless bait from above. From a distance, I check the gull types. If they are smaller birds with small terns mixed in, this indicates small bait and generally small fish. When I see the big birds, sometimes only in groups of 5 or 6, I approach carefully by idling up to the mele to get close enough for my client’s casting range.
At this stage, I look for fish sizes on the surface of the water as their tails slap and they push the bait into the air. Here, we typically cast BKD ¾ oz. jig heads with plastic paddle tails from Bloody Point Baits of 4 to 6 inches. We can also use topwater lures if the weather is overcast. After letting the lure sink for a few seconds, we retrieve it with a sharp snap and a pause while keeping tension on the line. After everyone hooks up, I focus on the fishfinder to make sure we stay on the fish. When the fish go down and we’re in deeper water, I switch to heavier jigs to make sure my group can get to the bottom.
I keep an eye on the direction of my drift using the track feature in my GPS. I also try to understand in which direction the school is moving and look for any underwater feature that will concentrate on the feeding fish. If there’s a good grade of fish in this school, I try to stay on top of them as long as I can. I’ll reposition the boat as needed and as quietly as possible to repeat a drift. The typical tackle set up I use on my boat is the “Tom Weaver Combo” available at Alltackle. It’s versatile and durable combo of the 6-foot” MF St. Croix rod with a 3000 NASCI spinning reel spooled with 15 lb. of HISEAS braid.
Fly Fishing Adrenaline
November is also an outstanding time for the fly fishermen. For large schools of blitzing fish, we set up with 9wt. rods, weight forward, sink tip line and 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader capable of throwing large flies for long casts. I’m always careful when approaching a school of fish breaking on the surface. I try to quietly position the boat upwind to give the angler the best opportunity to reach the school. Long and fast strips interspersed with a short pause normally get the job done.
Know What to Look For
Through the day, the run and gun style will dominate. Tide cycles are less important at this time of year. The feeding fish will move around a large area balling up bait, often on channel edges and depth contours. If the bite slows down, I pull out the binoculars and scan the horizon for birds. The birds will usually take a break sitting on the surface, which means the fish are not far.
Understanding bird behavior can give you a leg-up in this fast-paced action style of fishing. Birds are very organized and work as a team. When you see scattered birds flying over a large area at seemingly equal distance, they are looking for food just like you. I watch and listen carefully. One bird squawking and hitting the surface can signal a new surface frenzy, as the other birds fly to the blow up. Getting there early will give you an advantage over other fishermen in the area who can spook the fish and put them down.
By the end of the month, the water temperature will drop into the 50s, heralding the return of the fish that migrated to New England for the summer. They’ll enter the bay to forage and feed on the large schools of Menhaden. Some years, they make it all the way up to the mid bay in Maryland. Jumbo fish of 40 to 50 lbs. are also not uncommon and the aerial show can go off the charts with swarms of dive-bombing gannets and pelicans hitting the boiling surface as they destroy large bait fish. If this happens, just throw the biggest bait in your tackle box and hang on for this exciting experience.
I encourage careful handling practices since this is mostly a catch-and-release style of fishing. Fish are generally hooked in the lip. Always support the bigger fish under the belly when out of the water. Before releasing, make sure the fish has recovered boat-side. With colder temperatures, their survival rate is very high. I have a personal policy of not harvesting any fish over 35 inches since they’re the most productive and healthy breeding-aged females. In this case, just take a quick picture and release. The memory will last a lifetime.
Plan and Explore
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