Anglers get that sinking feeling as fish head for deeper waters


Along more than a mile of river channel drop-off, small schools of rockfish were coming to the surface to feed on large schools of bait fish riding with the falling tide toward deeper water.

Most casts with a small, silver spoon the other morning caught rockfish from 12 to 16 inches, but bucktails dressed with sassy shads, fished a little deeper and a little more slowly, took a pair of keepers.

Over the next several weeks, as the daily mean temperature drops and river temperatures fall with it, the exodus of bait and predators toward warmer habitat will continue.

For the time being, casting to breaking fish is providing great sport and, for anglers with the patience to get their lures under the feeding frenzy, there are occasional keepers.

But soon, once night temperatures are consistently in the mid- to lower-50s and the warmer days reach only occasionally into the upper 70s, angling for rockfish will change.

Bait fish will be in deeper, warmer water. The eel migration will be diminishing. The rockfish will have gone deeper, too.

And many bay anglers will have made the switch to bottom-bouncing bucktails and larger plastics.

From, say, the second week of October through the end of the recreational rockfish season Nov. 19, trolling will be the mainstay for rockfish. But rather than placing the rod in a holder, the most successful trollers will slow their boats to a crawl and hold their rods to ensure they have frequent contact with the bottom.

For bottom-bouncing, switch from the in-line trolling rigs that have been successful for suspended fish or shallow trolling.

Instead, use a drop sinker rig, which should keep the weight on the bottom and the lure suspended a foot or two above it.

The basic elements on the drop-sinker rig are a three-way swivel, bell sinker of 8 to 20 ounces (depending on the depth), a strong leader and the drop line for the sinker.

In most cases, the best fishing will be around oyster bars, sunken boats and other structures that easily can abrade monofilament line.

So for leaders, opt for 40- to 60-pound test monofilament to prevent the line from being cut or rubbed through. Leaders can be from 15 to 25 feet long, with shorter range less likely to allow the lure to foul on the bottom during turns. A barrel swivel tied in the middle of the leader will help the lure run best.

The two-foot drop line for the sinker should be about half the strength of the line spooled on your reel, whether the reel is spooled with wire or mono. That way, if the sinker snags, you are more likely to lose only the sinker rather than the full rig, from the three-way swivel back.

Use only enough sinker weight to keep in contact with the bottom. To make changing sinkers easier, use a snap swivel at the sinker end of the drop line.

Smaller bucktails -- 1/0 to 3/0 once was the standard -- probably will catch a lot of rockfish, but larger bucktails are more likely to catch larger fish.

Once the chill stays in the air past 10 a.m., try stepping up in size to an 8/0 bucktail and a six-inch sassy shard or twister tail. Probably you will catch fewer fish, but more keepers.

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