The Beat Goes On

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The beat goes on… the drum beat that is!

Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) and speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) are both members of the family Sciaenidae, informally known as the drum family.  Of the 270 Sciaenidae species, 17 are found in the Chesapeake; some of the most recognized are croaker, spot, grey trout and black drum.  Many members of this family have special swim bladders and muscles that can produce noise – hence the name “drum.”

Anglers are often surprised to learn that specks, despite their appearance, are not actually trout but drum.  Only male speckled trout make noise which resembles a grunt.  When you are fishing next time, take notice that plump, roe-laden females are silent but slender males produce grunts when you land them.  It is believed that males make grunting noises to attract females during spawning.  Here is a fantastic article by Jerald Horst of the Louisiana State University about speckled trout grunting behavior – http://www.seagrantfish.lsu.edu/resources/factsheets/grunters.htm.  I learned a lot of new facts from the article.  There are four specific types of grunting sounds and the majority of grunting occurs from sunset to three hours after sunset.  Most important from an angling perspective, speckled trout do not feed when they are grunting.

Grunting and body shape can be advantageous for conservation minded anglers looking to take home a tasty meal of trout.  In any fishery, it is important to protect breading females to ensure sustainability of the population.  So try to release the potbellied females full of roe and keep those grunting males.

Impress your fishing buddies with this lesson in speckled trout “gruntology”!

Tossing Rocks: An Aid in Fly Casting

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“Tossing rocks” is a game I designed to aid in fly casting instruction.  This game helps replicate the cast and teaches some of the cast’s fundamental principles before a student even picks up a fly rod.

First, collect some pieces of gravel and attach a target (paper plate) to a tree at shoulder level.  Stand facing the target at a distance of about 6 feet with the target in line with the dominant hand’s shoulder.  With the dominant hand, make a fist with the thumbnail facing upward.  Hold a piece of gravel between the thumb and pointer (index) finger knuckle.  Try tossing the rock at the target and stop the forward motion at the moment the rock is released.  Have a second target set up about a foot higher than shoulder level.  Try turning around backwards about 3 feetaway from the target.  Toss a piece of gravel behind you at this target remembering to stop as soon as the rock is released.  When playing this game inside, try replacing the rocks with pennies and attach the paper plate targets to a wall.

After playing the game for a while, you can demonstrate how it applies to fly casting.

First, it teaches a good grip of the fly rod with the thumb behind the cork toward the target.  Show the student how the grip of the fly rod is the same as holding the rock during the game.

“Tossing rocks” also teaches acceleration through the casting stroke with an abrupt stop.  Make a short overhead cast with the fly rod and show the student that the speed up and stop of fly rod is similar to the speed up and stop used to toss the rock.

Finally, the game teaches proper tracking during the casting stroke.  Show how the motion of tossing the rock when applied to casting encourages a straight-line path of the rod tip and tight loops.  Demonstrate how an inaccurate toss of the rock is the same as stopping the rod tip in a direction not toward the target (i.e. the fly line & fly travels in the direction the rod tip speeds up & stops).

Play this game for yourself or as a competition with friends.  You’ll find that it enforces good mechanics the next time you pick up a fly rod.

Get Down with Tides & Current

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Understanding the influence of tides is vital to fishing success.  Tide is generally referred to as the vertical rise and fall of water due to the gravity of the moon and sun.  Under a full or new moon, the gravity from the moon and sun are additive.  During these times, the greatest tidal changes occur.  The tides of the full or new moon are called spring tides.

Tides in the Chesapeake Bay are semi-diurnal, meaning there are two highs and to lows per day.  It takes a little over six hours for the tide to change from one extreme to the other.  While vertical tidal changes on the Chesapeake are small (~2ft.), they impact the location of fish in shallow water.  As a general rule, gamefish like striped bass move closer to shore on high tides to feed around structure that they cannot safely reach on low tides.

When fishing the shallows, it is important to notice the tidal height when you find fish at specific locations.  During extreme highs or lows, you will find fish in areas that typically do not hold them.  Generally extreme tides are the combination of the general gravitational forces plus the influence of wind.

Strong wind can push large amounts of water causing a raise or fall in water level.  Here on the western shore of the Chesapeake, strong northeast wind will stack up the water causing abnormally high tides, while strong southwest wind will cause abnormally low tides.  I also find that during fall and winter, the tides tend to run lower on average – possibly due to the tilt of the earth’s axis.

Horizontal current is created from vertical tidal movement.  Fish are opportunist feeders and rely on current to catch smaller prey in the fast moving water.  As a general rule, fish feed most actively during times of strong current.  For example, it is critical to fish a fast moving current at night when targeting stripers under the bridge lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Current direction will influence where fish will congregate.  I will only fish certain spots on an outgoing current and others on an incoming current based on the way water moves around particular points, channels or structure.  Understanding local variations in current flow for your given area is important.

I find that the time of slack current can vary greatly in a short distance.  There are spots that I fish 1 mile offshore where the time of slack current occurs 1.5 hours later than directly inshore.  Using this knowledge can help you plan your day to take advantage of moving current.

Wind can play a role in current, as well.  If a strong wind is blowing in the same direction as the tidal driven current, the current speed will increase and vice versa.  On the Chesapeake’s western shore, it is a good idea to plan to fish an incoming current during a strong NE wind, because the wind and tide will be working together causing faster moving current.  During a strong SW wind, you will want to do the exact opposite and fish the outgoing current.

I hope you have found this tutorial to be useful, because understanding tides and current can help decode the mystery of fishing!