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Outdoors commentary: Changing Bay demands changing ways

"Everybody knows the Bay is changing. That change is accelerating in the last five years."

-Guide Richie Gaines

Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland (CCA MD) sponsored "First Annual Light Tackle & Kayak Fest" on March 22. I attended to see new kayak models and get some kayaking tips. What I got instead was the best seminar I ever heard on Chesapeake Bay light tackle fishing. Richie Gaines led off the seminar with the above opening remark and added that the pool of Bay stripers is a lot smaller now, and the fish are behaving differently. Fly and light tackle fishermen who stick with old methods will be disappointed with their results until they adapt to the changing realities.

Richie then introduced the panel of guides:

• Mark Galasso, (http://exploredelmarva.com/tuna_the_tide_charter_service.htm, phone: 410-310-1200) who primarily fishes the Upper Bay, including the Bay Bridge, Kent Narrows and Eastern Bay;

• "Walleye Pete" Dahlberg (http://walleyepete.com, phone: 703-395-9955) who fishes Calvert Cliffs in winter and the Bloodsworth Island area of the southern Maryland Chesapeake Bay in summer;

• Richie Gaines (http://anglers-connection.com/index.htm, phone: 410-827-7210) who fishes primarily the same areas as Galasso.

All three guides also fish Susquehanna Flats in spring and Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT) in late fall/through the end of the year.

Each was asked to begin his presentation by naming his top five lures.

Mark Galasso

His top five lures:

1. Size 17 or 18 Tony Accetta spoon, dressed with reflective tape, preferably green. Sharpen the hook; use a slow, steady retrieve;

2. Bust "Em Baits Split Tail Jig. Superglue the plastic to the jighead. Cast 90 degrees to the current and let the lure swing;

3. Specialty Baits Bucktail with added pork rind or plastic twister tail, cast or trolled;

4. Stillwater Popper fished into the shallows from deeper water. Or you can remove the hooks and attach a trailer fly or jig off the rear eye via an 18-inch leader;

5. Rattle Trap is a great lure under the lights, but it has weak hooks.

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Walleye Pete Dahlberg

His top five lures:

1. A 6 or 10-inch BKD (Bass Kandy Delight) in pearl, chartreuse or purple attached to a jighead;

2. Any of several paddletail jigs, e.g., Gulp Swim Mullet, Powerbait Mullet, Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad, Powerbait Sea Shad, all in chartreuse colors;

3. Yoguri Crystal Minnow;

4. Specialized baits Lil Bunker;

5. Storm Chug Bug in pink, substituting stronger hooks.

Current + Structure is the formula for finding fish. Use Google Earth and Bing Maps to find likely shallow water areas such as Bloodworth Island. Zoom in to identify guts, bars, grass beds. Speckled trout, redfish and stripers inhabit these waters from late spring through fall, but the stripers will not be in the shallows in mid-summer.

Richie Gaines adds that when current stops, you can motor south to find it - the last of the outgoing tide, the first of the incoming tide.

Richie Gaines

His top five lures, the only five lures he fishes:

1. BKDs as above;

2. Action tails, long and thin models, like Berkley Havoc, Bass Pro Sassy Sally;

3. Small bucktails;

4. Lil Bunker spoons, one ounce in pearl or silver;

5. Stillwater Popper in color 017.

Asked to elaborate on colors of lures, bucktails and plastic tails, Richie said the only colors he uses are chartreuse (especially in cloudy water), albino and alewife. He uses plain leadheads. Walleye Pete adds purple to this color list.

In Gaines' view, fancy-colored jigheads are unnecessary. He uses circle jigheads made by Specialized Baits in Virginia when fishing barnacle-encrusted pilings at the CBBT. Circle jigheads snag far less, and the angler can hook the fish simply by beginning to reel in. Richie is trying to get this company to make circle jigheads in small sizes, so he can fish them for trout.

Gaines, Dahlberg and Galasso then elaborated further.

Stripers are not hard to catch; finding them is the hard part. Stripers are dumb. Trout are aggressive. Redfish are super aggressive. Guides catch more fish, because guides fish where fish are.

Look for patterns;

1. Water quality = oxygen content;

2. Food;

3. Structure.

You need at least two for these three; all three is a bonanza.

You can see life on your depth finder. Bay anchovies are the big fish food now. They hang in the upper water column. Fish are roaming a lot more, chasing bait. Mobility is the key. Sometimes he'll hit the same spot three or four times in a day. Baitfish and gamefish are often affected by the "temperature/oxygen squeeze" in summer, i.e., the fish will avoid the upper level water temperatures and the lower oxygen-depleted depths.

Study printed or electronic maps to find likely fish-holding areas.

Look for "live bottom" structure, such as hard, deep flat bottoms, especially clam flats, the larger the better. Four feet is a good depth for grass beds. Fish holes within the beds. Fish the "spots within the spots."

The best waters are different in different parts of the Bay.

In the northern sections, including the Bay Bridge areas, fish the shallows 20 percent of the time, deep waters the other 80 percent. Further south, such as Bloodworth and Smith Islands, fish deep 10 percent of the time, shallow water 90 percent of the time.

Study these tips. Mark Galasso, Walleye Pete Dahlberg and Richie Gaines provided invaluable advice for Chesapeake Bay fly and light tackle fishermen.

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